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Moving to Australia: Tips to Make Your Transition Easier

23 Jan

Your permanent resident visa in Australia has been approved and you are preparing for the big move. So what exactly do you need to arrange once you have landed in the Land Down Under?

We have a lot of friends moving to AU this year and my husband and I thought it would be helpful to share the things we know that have been helpful to us in our early days in Melbourne.

We came here without knowing anyone in the area. I have relatives in Sydney but they’ve been here for more than 20 yrs so it’s been a while since they’ve settled in, and obviously, they’re in a different Australian state. So Law and I pretty much took a plunge into a relatively unknown world, but with enough research (really proud of Law when it comes to this), moving wasn’t so difficult for us.

So here are our tips in moving to Melbourne/Australia –

1) Get assistance from IOM (International Organization for Migration)

If you are eligible, you will be given discounts to airfares for your landing in Australia. Plus you are entitled additional baggage allowance.

2) You can look for a house/apartment/flat to rent or buy even before you land in Australia.

Websites such as www.domain.com.au and www.realestate.com.au give very detailed information about each property, photos included. Couple this with Google maps and you will find that it is very easy to shortlist potential houses. Use the street view option in Google maps to get a more visual view of the places you are looking at (unless the house/apartment building is brand new, street view is quite reliable).

3) As per the usual immigration policies, you cannot bring so much cash on hand when travelling to Australia.

So you may want to open an account with a bank in your originating country that provides you the access and flexibility to transfer money to you once you are in Australia, without any charges. We opened one with Citibank Singapore and once here, we opened one with Citibank Australia. I believe other banks offer this service, too (like HSBC).

4) Your visa is already linked to your passport number.

You can go old school like the paranoid me who insisted to get my passport updated with a hardcopy of the PR visa (just in case they somehow can’t find it in the system :P), but this is not really necessary as your visa would already have been updated into the online system. Upon arrival, you just need to tick off that portion in your disembarkation card that you are a migrant making the first landing.

5) In determining how much start-up money you need in going here, prepare to spend for appliances and furnishings for your house, and enough money to be able to pay at least 6 months of rent.

Keep in mind that most rentals here are NOT furnished (so unless specifically stated, those furnishings in the photos you see in the real estate websites may not be there any more once you move in). Also, unlike in Singapore, where rentals would commonly include the washing machine, stove and refrigerator, here in AU, the basics that go with the rent are the dishwasher, stove, and oven.

Also, the deposit on the house is not for assurance of a month’s worth of rent. It is for insurance of the rental property for any damages that may be incurred. If you need to move out before your contract is due, you may need to pay for re-advertising and re-letting fees and pay for the rent until the end of your lease.

6) Research on which suburb is most suitable for you.

Perhaps the most important thing for a new migrant is to feel at ease in the new place he/she is settling into. Read around about the demographics of the state you are moving into. You will want to find a place where most people from your country stay. Stores selling food items from home and restaurants serving familiar food will be in close range, and people with similar interests and culture will help greatly in making you feel at home. As an example, you will find that most Filipinos reside in the west of Melbourne. Box Hill, where my husband and I are staying now, houses a big Chinese community (so yeah, we feel very much like we’re still in Singapore 😉 )

Wikipedia actually talks about such demographics in detail –

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Melbourne#Ethnic_groups_and_multiculturalism

7) Be a savvy shopper when buying appliances/furnitures.

There are electronics/appliance retailers such as JB Hi Fi and The Good Guys, where you can ask for discounts or haggle when buying from them. Let them know that you have found another store which offers a lower price, and you can get them to match or even beat that amount, or maybe throw in a few freebies.

There are online sites offering both brand-new and second-hand items, not just from retailers but from just about anyone in Australia wanting to sell something. You will be able to get good bargains (of course, at your own risk, so take precaution). Try www.gumtree.com.au or www.ozbargain.com.au to see offers and deals on a lot of items up for sale.

8) Be prepared to arrange for connection of multiple utilities for your home.

I remember paying simply for water, gas, and electricity in Singapore and the Philippines. And there is just one company providing each service.

Here, depending on where you live, you may have to pay for hot water and cold water separately. This was something new to us. And there are so many providers for gas, electricity, water in every area. Again something new to us. We had to go through plans of numerous providers, for each utility! And just when we thought we’re done figuring things out, we were informed a few months later that the company providing the meters in our apartment building is different from our actual electricity provider. So we have to choose between paying a rent for the meter, or switching providers.

Since our apartment is a brand new one, there was initially no telephone connection yet. So we had to arrange for that first and pay the $200+ one-time installation fee (which the owner gladly reimbursed later, thank God), on top of paying for monthly telephone service fees.. It is only after we have been connected to the telephone network that our internet provider allowed us to sign up for a contract with them. And so before we had internet connection at home, it took about almost a month of waiting… Good thing mobile internet is available.. Also a good thing  we didn’t want cable TV, or else that’ll be another matter to take care of.. 😀

Talk about making life complicated.

9) If you are a Filipino migrating from Singapore, better get a driver’s license in SG before coming to AU.

Singapore and Australia have a similar driving system, so the SG license can get converted directly here without taking an exam. Having just the Philippine license is just like not having a license at all. You will need to take the exam and start from the probationary license. This also applies to migrants coming from other countries driving on the right side of the road.

10) Apply for Medicare as soon as you arrive.

Just for security in case something happens, you may want to apply for health insurance once you make your landing in Australia. For Medicare, you will need your passport and proof of visa (i.e. visa grant letter) to apply. You can do this as soon as you come to Australia. You will be asked for your bank details for payments of any claims you make. This can be provided later if unavailable at the time of application. Also, you can can choose to be on separate Medicare cards or be included with family member at the same address in one card.

And lastly…

11) RELAX! 😉

Don’t be bothered much by those ‘scary’ stories being passed on about racism in Australia. We’ve been here for 2 years now and we only would hear about a few encounters here and there and never experienced being marginalised first-hand.  My personal take on that is that it’s not something only known to Australia. I felt it in SG, and I believe even my own countrymen (and myself) are guilty of ‘having a feeling of superiority’, if you will let me put it that way, from time to time 😛

Family Life in Australia

26 Jul

Had a good chat with friends in our life group a few Saturdays ago.. Our life group is composed mainly of Singaporeans and Malaysian-Chinese couples with children. I was able to get a picture of how family life here in Australia is and thought of sharing with you.

FAMILY TIME

I’ve mentioned in my earlier post about how most of Australia has a good work-life balance (and so there my disclaimer goes 😉 ). So that translates to more quantity and quality in family time. [And if I may respond to those who frown upon stores closing so early here, even on weekends, this is so you can spend more time with your family and not on retail, don’t you think? ;)]

There are also flexible work options that one can avail of, such as part-time work or work from home on selected days of the week of your choice. I was pleasantly surprised by this. Most Asian employers would frown upon such an arrangement (though they won’t admit that :)). With such a large supply of applicants clambering for each job opening, who will hire someone who can just commit part-time when there are a lot who are available full-time?

Where I used to work in before in Singapore, there is also such a thing as a part-time arrangement, but it is not encouraged. For both the Philippines and Singapore, you would rarely hear of having a work-from-home arrangement that’s based on employee’s choice. It would usually be based on project demand.

So these work options in Australia are definitely a plus for professionals with kids.

There may be a downside, though, when both parents are professionals and the kids are still young. Child care is quite expensive. The salary for a nanny is quite high (around $15-$25 per hour) and child care centres charge a lot as well (about $60 and above per day). So if you are not willing to spend as much, you will need to brace yourself for some serious hands-on parenting 🙂 And you have to do your house work on top of that. House help is also available, though. The charge is about the same as what you pay for nannies.

HEALTH CARE

The first thing a family should do after landing in Australia as migrants is get their Medicare card. This is because immediately after getting your health card, you’re immediately insured in case anything happens to you. Medicare usually pays for most consultations and treatments.

BUT.. Yes, there is a big BUT.. your Medicare insurance is good only if you are willing to consult only bulk-billed doctors and go into a long queue (which can last several months) for non-life threatening medical procedures. If you want to be able to choose your doctor, be covered under immediate ambulance care, have good dental health coverage, maternity coverage, etc., you will need to avail private health insurance. For a couple/family, this costs about $200/month or higher, depending on the cover that you want.

Most people here don’t mind having just Medicare, though. And the important thing, as many can attest, is that for life-threatening scenarios, Medicare actually covers almost all your expenses for that.

Don’t be misled that everything’s free, however. Upon filing of taxes, there is what they call a medical levy, based on your income tax. So, at least for those who are working, you are actually contributing to medicare. So I guess we can say that health care is free for the underprivileged. For me it’s a good thing, if I may say… One can just think of it as helping others in need 😉

By the way, if you are paying for private health insurance, you get to pay less for medical levy 🙂

EDUCATION

Asia and Australia are definitely worlds apart when it comes to children’s studies.

Educational institutions create a more competitive atmosphere for learning for the kids. The teaching method is more rigid – most of the time, the case is that the teacher educates, while the students listen.

In Australia, on the other hand, the study culture is more relaxed. Homework is uncommon, and I’ve been told that it’s only when a student reaches year 11 or 12 that homework pour in and children feel the pressure to keep up in school. But students are encouraged to speak up and express themselves. Kids grow up to be more confident of themselves, and are quick to quip and react on scenarios that face them. Having said this, I now understand how people at work seemed such good conversationalists and why I feel such a snob compared to how people here are so good in ‘small talk’.

Asian parents would admit that they are afraid that if the kids are suddenly relocated back to their home countries, they may not be able to cope well. This has actually been tackled on air when a documentary in TV tells of how there is concern that education in pre-tertiary schooling here is behind its counterparts in Asia. It also talks about how Asians are the ones who seem to be finding themselves on top in schools here, as Asian parents tend to put higher premium on having good grades in school than locals here do.

I believe it’s a matter of a difference in culture. People here are allowed to explore where they are good at from the time that they were kids. You won’t feel the usual premium people in Asia would put in ‘prime/prestigious’ jobs here in Australia. There aren’t jobs that are looked down upon, people just do what they’re good at or enjoy doing.

As for the cost of schooling, I’ve been told that private schools can charge up to $10,000/annum for one student. The same friend who told me this says she pays the same amount, however, in total for her three children combined (they go to a private Christian school). Public schooling is the popular choice, as public institutions here are not so bad, anyway.

FINANCIAL SUPPORT

Unlike in the Philippines, where you can’t imagine where your taxes are all going to, here you can actually see where your taxes are being used.

There is a baby bonus for each child given birth to here (like in Singapore) and depending on the combined household income, each of the kids will have monetary support until they are 18 years of age. There are allowances for low-income families such as subsidies for those who could not find work, and rental assistance. For children going into tertiary education, there is a ‘study now, pay later’ scheme.

The bad thing about this is that it encourages laziness among many. Some tend to rely on the government for support even though they should be able to support themselves on their own. Parents would opt to work up to a certain extent only, in an effort to keep the combined earnings from reaching the income ceiling and lose their financial support. The good thing about this is that you have a security blanket which takes away financial worries, in case something unfortunate happens to the family.

Where to Live – Singapore or Melbourne?

27 Jun

My husband and I moved to Melbourne from Singapore because opportunities were opened up for us here. Our immigrant visa was approved, and my husband was offered a job here in Melbourne. It was a long decision-making process, as it wasn’t easy for us to leave good jobs and close friends that we had in Singapore. After much contemplation and prayers, our resolution was to give this opportunity a try and see how it goes once we’re here.

So more than five months into this trial stage of living here in Australia, particularly Melbourne, we thought of writing down what we think so far to help organize our thoughts and give you a few points of comparison between Singapore and Australia –

HOUSING

In Singapore, people tend to buy or rent HDB flats and private condo units. Landed houses are pretty much for the uber rich or expats whose homes are provided for by employers.

In Australia, there are also condo units and apartments equivalent to flats in Singapore. But families opt for landed houses.

In terms of cost, homes are more affordable in Australia. Basically, the amount you will need to buy a flat/condo unit in Singapore can already be used to buy a landed house here. New apartment type units like the one we are renting now cost about the same, though.

Rental price just varies a little from those in Singapore.

Currently, we are renting a two-bedroom unit apartment less than 30 minutes away from Melbourne CBD by train. We pay AUD1700 (SGD2200 as of this writing) per month for this. Our rent is considered high by local standards. But we opted for this because our main consideration is accessibility. We are still deciding whether to buy a car or not because we have no kids and we are still in that trial stage of staying here.

Restaurants, markets, and shops are just five minutes away and a couple of minutes further, you can hop on the train or tram to get to the city. Also, this unit is brand new and the rent comes with a reserved parking space.

For the same amount of space, but not as new or a bit farther away from transpo/amenities (which is not a problem if you have a car), rent can be as cheap AUD1300-AUD1500 for a decent landed house or unit.

One thing to note, though, is that when renting here, the place would usually be unfurnished. Only the stove, oven, and dishwasher would come with the rent. So when moving here, you need to consider this when determining your start-up budget.

TRANSPORT

The cost of brand new cars here start at around $17,000, which is just a fraction of Singapore’s COE. You can pretty much picture out how big the difference is in the amount you have to put up to own a car.

As for public transport, Melbourne has quite an extensive transport network compared to Singapore (and Sydney). But the fares are incredibly expensive. A single day pass covering both zone 1 and zone 2 would cost around 11 AUD. If you are buying a monthly pass, it will be reduced to around 6 AUD. Still considerably higher than what you will spend going to and from work in Singapore, where the maximum you pay would be less than 4 SGD.

WORK

Work passes are not as common as in Singapore. So normally, the path one would take is to get an immigrant visa first, then find a job. As for finding a job, it is usually quite challenging and takes a long time, because most companies would hire only if you have prior local experience here. My husband and I have been blessed on this area, though. He was able to get a job from outside Australia (while we were still in Singapore). I was able to get hired three months after landing. Both of us did not need local experience. So we believe it depends on the need for your skill, and on God’s will 🙂

It is common knowledge that the working hours in Australia are family-friendly, which is the ultimate selling point for migrants to decide to come here. Being an IT professional, I was doubtful about this before we went here. But I was pleasantly surprised that the same applies to my field, too. People go off at 5 PM, or earlier, and do not do overtime unless required.

Now about work compensation (are you glad I’m finally touching this topic? :p ), we believe it depends on the field. Top earners here are those in the mining industry, the ones largely supporting Australia’s economy and are based in Perth. As in any country, the IT industry pays well, too. But whether IT is paid more here or in SG, there is no general index that can be used as basis. It depends on which IT field you are in. For the sake of my friends in mainframe, I have good news for you, though. The NET pay here is largely higher than in Singapore. If you are curious about how much your field is being paid here, the answer lies in just a simple Google search 🙂 But for estimating your net salary, you have to consider the high tax rates here, which takes off a big chunk from your pay.

PEOPLE

Australians or residents of Australia have been migrants at one point or another, so there is quite a mix of races in the country. Melbourne, in particular, is a melting pot of racial origins such as Greek, Italian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian and many more.
So going into the concern of most people about the problem of racial discrimination, considering the fact that there are so many migrants here, I believe it is not that much of an issue. Also, there are laws against racial discrimination to protect an individual. Though, come to think of it, the fact that there are laws such as these means that the problems exists.. But personally, we do not have an actual, evident experience of being discriminated. We have been asking around as well for opinions on this problem, and people’s stories and observations differ.. So I guess, yes, there will still be instances that some sort of prejudice will come to surface, but then, does this not happen in any country where there are differences in culture? From my five years of living in Singapore, I can attest that this can also be felt there, too.. Especially now that locals are becoming increasingly threatened by the large influx of foreigners in the country.

So far, I find the people I come across with and the people I work with quite friendly. I am still getting used to the standard small talk that one engages you in when you enter a shop or when you meet someone you know – “Hi! How are you today?”. And you are actually expected to answer or ask back 🙂 Having lived in countries like the Philippines and Singapore, I’m certainly not used to this. Not wanting to be misjudged as a snob or a non-English speaker, I eventually adapted and learned to reply. So hmm, I think the culture here is on the friendlier side.

FOOD

For groceries and fresh produce, the cost is about the same. There are products that are more expensive here, but there also products that are cheaper. So the difference in amounts just cancel each other out. But there is definitely more variety here. Not just food itself, but in the kitchen tools and trinkets that you can buy. Probably because, unlike Singaporeans, Australians normally cook at home. Not sure though if it’s because they love to cook, or because as we have observed, eating out here is quite expensive.

In Singapore, hawker centres are everywhere, and probably more than half of the population would like to eat out. You can get a decent meal for as low as 3 SGD. Here in Melbourne, a meal would cost at least 6 AUD. A more elaborate meal in Singapore for about 15 SGD will cost you more than 20 AUD here..

When it comes to variety, on the other hand, a typical food court here would contain stalls for Western/Aussie, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Indian, Japanese, Mexican, Italian and occasionally, Thai food. In Singapore, the variety includes Chinese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Western and Indian.

SHOPPING

If you like faire des courses, then we can tell you outright that shopping is definitely better in Singapore. There are more brands, and retail is definitely generally cheaper. Yes, one can still stumble upon good finds in sales here, but it still doesn’t compare to those authentic, branded items you can buy for a fraction of its cost in Singapore.

The only place where you can find cheap buys that I’ve come across so far here in Melbourne is Queen Victoria Market, but I still find myself missing Bugis Junction or Toa Payoh 🙂

Only big supermarkets and a few stores are open til late night daily. Stores usually close at 5 or 6 PM on Saturdays to Wednesdays here, but are open til 9 on Thursdays and Fridays. Something to adjust to when you’ve been used to shops closing at 9 or 10 PM everyday in Singapore.

WEATHER

This did not seem like a big consideration for us before coming here, but moving from a warm/tropical country to a cold country definitely requires a change in lifestyle. If you like the warm weather in the Philippines/Singapore, you will really miss that, especially when you are in Melbourne, where it can still be cold even during a summer day. I can now understand why Australians are loving Singapore “because it’s summer all year round”.

So there. Again, we are still in that trial stage of living here.. Not really leaning on a particular decision yet. As you can imagine, there are a lot of things to consider. But basically, it all boils down to what your preferences in life are 🙂

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Update on 2012/02/26:

For information on Family Life, I’ve created another post – https://livinginmelbourne.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/family-life-in-australia/

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Going About Melbourne

31 Mar

Most people would say that in Australia, just like in the United States, it is a must for you to have a car to be able to go around. While this may be true if you need to go outback or places along the countryside, I believe that in Melbourne, you don’t really need one. As my husband says, you just need to familiarize yourself with different kinds of public transportation.

If you find Singapore taxi fares expensive, in Melbourne, it is even more expensive, almost about double. So taxi is not really the way to go. If you really want to go by car, you can opt to rent out a car instead from rental companies like Budget. My husband and I do that, renting a car for the day if we are in the mood for driving around.

But the more practical way to go (and if you want to avoid rush hour traffic or having to drive around stressful tram roads) is through public transportation. Metcards or Myki cards can be purchased for 2-hour durations for travel on public transport. These cards are based on travel duration and do not work like those in Singapore, where travel fare is calculated based on entry and exit points per ride. And yes, these can be used on any of the three modes of public transport in Melbourne – buses, trains or trams.

Did I mention trams? Yes TRAMS. Melbourne is one of the few cities in the world that operates trams, and this is one of the things I love about the city. I’m not sure why I love trams so much. Personally, I think a tram ride is a more relaxing and eco-friendly way to travel. (A side note though, in my opinion, Swiss trams are still much better than the ones here in Melbourne. Just my opinion 🙂 ).

City Circle Tram

Trams in Melbourne

Public transport is quite expensive though, especially for short term rides. That’s why most commuters opt to buy long term passes. For tourists, however, there is a City Circle tram and a few buses that go around Melbourne CBD for free.

To know more about commuting around Melbourne, you can check out the Metlink website: http://www.metlinkmelbourne.com.au/

For info on tickets and fares, click on the link below:

http://www.metlinkmelbourne.com.au/fares-tickets/metropolitan-fares-and-tickets/myki/