Living in Australia: What happens after you settle in?

Adapting to life in your new country can be difficult. Here's a handy guide that may help you settle into your new Australian home.


When moving to a new country, it's impossible not to create a picture in your head of exactly how your new life will be. Unfortunately, though sometimes that transition may not be as smooth as you'd like, and the reality is that some do struggle to adapt to their new surrounds.

In order to help you adapt to your new life in Australia, we've put together this guide to help make that settling in process easier and less stressful. From mastering the language to getting your driver's licence, here's our guide to life in Australia.

Cost to move to Australia

If you're applying for a working holiday visa to Australia, it's expected that you will have enough funds to support yourself (for 1-2 months) until you are able to secure work. This is approximately AUD$5000. You may have to provide documentation during your visa application of these available funds. If you are applying for a visa and are already sponsored this amount or criteria may differ due to you already being employed.

Cost of living in Australia

Generally speaking, Australia is an affordable place to live for many. However, whether or not the cost of living here is suitable for you will depend on your lifestyle, your spending habits and your employment prospects in Australia. Where you choose to live will also influence how much it will cost you to live Down Under.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics' 2009-10 Household Expenditure Survey and information from, the average household is estimated to spend almost $70,000 on general household living costs each year. To put this more into a location-based context, the average weekly spend for a NSW household is $1,265, while an average Western Australian household spends $1,285 per week.

Australia's Consumer Price Index (excluding rent) is 114.05. Depending on the size of your family and your personal tastes, this means you can expect to pay between $80 and $200 per week on groceries and eating out, with gas and electricity prices setting you back at anything from $60 to $100 per week and weekly phone and internet costs between $20 and $50. Then there's public transport ($10 to $50 per week), car running costs ($150 to $250 per week) and entertainment ($50 to $100 per week).

Rent can be quite expensive in Australia's capital cities, with properties in popular suburbs of capital cities being in higher demand, and therefore having a higher price.

Learning English and the IELTS test

If you're not already aware, English is the language spoken in Australia. You'll need to have functional English to obtain a visa, but learning English is also crucial to help you settle into your new surrounds. Mastering the local language will help you meet new people, perform simple tasks like buying groceries, and greatly enhance your employment prospects.

To prove that you have functional English and can therefore qualify for a visa, you'll need to provide proof of your competency. These include:

  • A positive assessment by an Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) service provider in Australia that you have functional English. AMEP provides up to 510 hours of free English language tuition to help you settle in Australia.
  • Completion of four years of primary education and at least three years of secondary education in an educational institution in or outside Australia where all instructions were given in English.
  • Competition of a minimum of five years of secondary education in an institution in or outside Australia where all instructions were given in English.

However, the most popular way to prove that you have functional English is to take an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test and achieve an average band score of at least 4.5. The test has four components: speaking, reading, listening and writing, and you must complete the test within 12 months of lodging your visa application or while your application is being processed.

The test takes two hours and 45 minutes to complete, with the possibility of completing the speaking test separately to the other three components. There are two different IELTS tests available: an Academic test for those who want to study at a tertiary level, and a General Training test for those who want to do work experience, complete a training program, or migrate to an English-speaking country.

In order to prepare for the test, you can order the Official IELTS Practice Materials online or at your nearest test centre. These explain the test format in detail and provide you with practice tests and answers. In addition, certain universities and training institutions offer courses to help you prepare for the IELTS.

See our studying english in Australia article for more information on IELTS and learning English.


Keeping in touch with family and friends

Australia might sometimes seem like it's a long way away from everywhere else, but keeping in touch with your loved ones back home is easier than ever before. The world is becoming increasingly connected and with services like Skype, international phone plans and global roaming, you can maintain constant contact with the people you love. Just remember to keep track of time zone differences when phoning home.

Skype makes it simple and affordable to communicate via text, voice and video with people around the world. Rather than using a phone to call the old-fashioned way, Skype allows you to communicate online. You can make Skype-to-Skype calls for free, though you will have to pay a small fee if you call a landline or mobile number.

All you need to do to set up this service is download Skype onto your laptop or smartphone, create an account and decide whether you want a free or subscription option. Once you're connected to wifi you can start calling family and friends.

You can find the latest Skype deals and credit promo codes in our deals section.

Here are question to consider when comparing international phone plans:

  • Does the plan provide certain on-peak and off-peak schedules? Some plans will offer cheap international rates that are valid at any time, not just at certain times of the day.
  • Are your calls charged per second or per minute? At what rate are they charged? Comparing these features will help you save a whole lot of money if you're regularly making overseas calls.
  • Does your plan offer cheaper rates to certain countries? You may be able to save by choosing a plan that offers cheap calls to your homeland.
  • Do different rates apply for landlines and mobiles? As more and more people shift from landlines to mobiles, keep in mind that you may be making the majority of your international calls to mobile phones.
  • Can you bundle your phone plan with your broadband internet and save money in the process?
    Can you get better value from an international phone plan for your mobile or for your landline? Compare both options to see which offers you the most bang for your buck.
  • If you're on a mobile plan, what limits are set on your text and MMS capabilities?
    Does your plan offer a certain amount of minutes of free international calls each month? If it does, you may be able to use your plan wisely to avoid paying any international charges.

Compare phone plans and current deals to get the best value when making a call.

International driver's licence

Australia requires that all drivers obtain a licence and have their motor vehicle registered with the government. The state and territory governments issue driver's licences and vehicle registrations, and driving without either is an illegal offence.

The treatment of your foreign driver's licence will vary depending on the state or territory in which you live as well as your permanent residency status. Generally however, visitors and temporary visitors may use their current foreign licence for as long as it's valid (with a formal translation of that licence into English, if applicable). However, if you're a permanent resident, it's common that states will require that you hold their state-specific driver's licence typically within three months residency in the ACT, South Australia, Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia, and six months residency in New South Wales and Victoria.

Certain states will also accept an International Driving Permit (IDP), which can be obtained from the country where the original licence was issue, or an English translation of the licence if applicable. The Northern Territory, in particular, requires that overseas visitors hold both their current foreign licence, as well as an overseas issued IDP to legally be allowed to drive. However, as with the other states and territories, after the driver has been in the country for three months, they will be required to obtain a Northern Territory licence if they wish to continue driving in the territory.

Of course, you must only drive vehicles which your overseas licence entitles you to drive, must follow all of your state's road rules and regulations, must not have been disqualified from driving, and must not hold a suspended/cancelled/expired or otherwise withdrawn licence.

As a resident, if you do not hold a foreign licence, you will have to pass a Driver Knowledge Test in order to receive a learner's permit. You may then continue through Australia's provisional licences, which, if successful, will award you with a full licence to drive.

In most cases, New Zealand driver's licences will be treated like interstate licences, and may not be subject to time restrictions. However, you may be required to transfer your licence to a state specific licence.

The information below will help you find out more about applying for a driver's licence and registering a car in your state or territory:

RegionAgencyPhone No.Website
ACTRoad Transport Authority02 6207
NSWRoads and Maritime Services13
NTMotor Vehicle Registry1300 654
QLDLicensing and Registration,13
TASTransport Tasmania1300 851
WADepartment of Transport13 1156,

Migration Agents

If you're looking to move to Australia, you can get much-needed help with the visa application process from a migration agent. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) accepts all applications it receives, regardless of who lodges them, so this can take a whole lot of stress out of the process for you.

The simple fact is that applying for a visa can often be tricky. There's paperwork to fill out, a range of requirements and other technical jargon to wrap your head around, and the whole process can be especially difficult if English isn't your first language. In addition, some people may have complex cases that are hard for the layman to understand, while others may simply not be comfortable filling out all the necessary forms.

This is the main benefit of using a migration agent. While they cannot influence the outcome of your application or fast-track it in any way, they can make sure all your paperwork is filled out correctly and your application is submitted through the correct channels.

If you choose to use the services of a migration agent, check that your agent is fully registered with Australian authorities. Migration agents must be registered with the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority.

However, remember that you'll need to pay for the privilege of using a migration agent, and that it's ultimately your responsibility to ensure that all the information and documentation you provide is accurate.

Migrants in Australia

Generally speaking, the vast majority of Australians welcome migrants with open arms. Ours is a multicultural country that people of all different backgrounds and races call home, and new arrivals can all find a place for themselves and their families in this wide brown land. The 2011 census revealed that there were 5.3 million migrants in Australia, which means more than a quarter of the population was born overseas.

The Recent Arrivals Survey and the Local Area Survey, written by Monash University's Professor Andrew Markus, studied the experience of recent migrants to Australia. Eighty-one per cent of respondents were happy with life in Australia, though roughly four out of 10 immigrants of non-English speaking background did report discrimination due to skin colour, ethnic origin or religion.

Having said that, anyone who has ever moved to a new country will know that it can often help to be around fellow expats when you settle in Australia. This can help you overcome the pangs of homesickness, get advice from people who have migrated before, and help you stay in touch with your culture and heritage.

Large concentrations of migrants from different countries tend to group together in different areas of the country. For example, Melbourne has a large Greek population, Parramatta is home to plenty of Indian expats, while a large number of British expats now call Perth home.

There are also plenty of support structures and services in place for new arrivals. Each state government offers assistance to all its residents, including everything from help with finding housing to assistance with health services. In some areas, independent bodies have been set up to help new arrivals settle in, for example the Migrant Resource Centre of South Australia. The Red Cross can also offer emergency relief to new arrivals experiencing financial hardship.

In terms of federal government assistance, the Department of Human Services offers a one-off Crisis Payment to new migrants who are in desperate need of financial assistance. Other government programs include the Assessment Subsidy for Overseas Trained Professionals program to help you qualify to work in Australia, the Adult Migrant English Program to help you learn English, and the Assurance of Support scheme to ensure you won't have to rely on income support payments when you arrive in Australia.

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