With our sunny shores and strong historic ties, it’s easy to see why Australia’s the number one destination for English emigrants. Are you soon to be one?
If so, we’ve got a few handy pointers to help you settle in.
The numbers speak for themselves. In 2012-13 alone, over 21,000 UK nationals were granted permanent Australian visas and another 46,000 were granted working holiday visas. If you’re a British citizen considering becoming an expat in Australia, then rest assured you’re in good company.
You can also find comfort in the fact that the passage of migration to Australia for British nationals is pretty straightforward, with a number of visas on offer for both skilled and unskilled workers due to our continuing strong relationship.
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Visas available to British nationals
While the list of available visas is quite extensive, here are the most popular ones for British citizens moving to Australia:
- Temporary Work (skilled) visa (subclass 457): This visa requires sponsorship by an approved Australian employer and enables them to work with their sponsor for a maximum of four years.
- Visitor (600)/eVisitor(651): Naturally, if your goal is to immigrate to Australia with the intent to work and potentially become an Australian citizen, a visitor visa is not your best choice, but if you’re after an extended visit with no need to work, then a visitor visa (max 12-months stay) can cater to this need.
- Working Holiday visa (subclass 417): Stemming from a reciprocal agreement to enable young citizens the chance to work abroad and experience a different culture is this youth mobility visa. It’s only open to English citizens between 18 and 31 and is valid for a year. During that year, the holder can choose to work (up to six-months with any one employer) or study (up to four-months altogether). At the time of writing, this visa costs AUD$420 (excluding credit card surcharges, non-internet application charges and other requirements like health checks), although the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) states that fees do change from time to time, so we advise that you use this as an estimate only.
What do I need to apply for a visa?
Depending on the visa that you’re applying for, this may vary, but the basics do remain the same:
- A completed application form. This can be found on the DIBP website
- A valid passport
- Certified copies of the biographical pages of your valid passport or travel documentation
- Certified copies of your birth certificate
- Two recent, passport-sized (and passport appropriate) photos
- Proof of ready finances (at least $5000 for subclass 417), or employment (for subclass 457)
- Visa payment fee
- Police clearance (applicable when applying for a permanent residence visa)
How can I apply?
You can lodge your application online with scans of your certified documents, or you can lodge your application through the post.
- Can I apply for my visa inside Australia? While some visas allow you to apply inside Australia, if this is your first working holiday or your first sponsored visa, you will have to apply for it outside of Australia.
- How much will my visa cost? Working Holiday visas are estimated at AUD$430/GBP£250 while the Skilled 457 visa is estimated to start from AUD$1035/GBP£605. If you are a skilled worker and have been sponsored by an approved employer, this may be covered by your employer.
- How long will it take for my visa to be processed? This depends on which visa you’re applying for and the level of risk your passport considers you to be. As a UK citizen or national you are in a low-risk category, which means the processing time is likely to be a lot faster. Generally, a Working Holiday visa will be processed within six days if it’s your first Working Holiday visa or 21 days if it’s your second. The 457 can take up to two months to process.
- When does my visa become valid? Those who have been granted the Working Holiday (417) visa have 12-months from the date it’s granted to enter Australia. Your visa does not become valid until you enter the country. Those on the Skilled 457 visa are subject to the visa conditions stipulated in their letter of sponsorship, which will dictate when the visa is granted and for how long.
Getting to Australia
Once your visa has been approved, you can start looking into flights to Australia. There are daily routes from London to Sydney, which are serviced by some of the world’s largest airlines including; Etihad, Emirates, Qantas, Thai Airways, Singapore Airlines, and China Southern. There are no direct flights to Australia from the UK, which is probably a good thing as the flight time (e.g. from London to Sydney) is typically 23-24 hours long.
Pro-tip: If you’re here on a working holiday or planning to go back, why not add some stopovers on your way back home and see a little more of the world?
Those looking to cash in on cheaper flights can take advantage of off-peak season, which occurs from September to November and April to June. It’s also advised that if you’re planning to return to the UK, to book your return flight at the same time to save on costs as; a) return flights are usually cheaper than single flights and b) flights between the UK and Australia generally cost more when purchased from Australia.
Of course, if you do see a sale flight that’s too good to resist, you may want to jump on it while it’s available. (So long as you’ve received your visa, naturally.)
Moving: Tying up loose ends before you leave
Before you hop on a plane, you will need to tie up some loose ends at home, including storage and shipping.
The UK is not short of storage units with Big Yellow and Safestore being two of the larger and more accessible storage facilities. Pack and shop around first to get an idea of what’s available and how much storage space you need.
Again, the UK has no shortage of shipping and freighting companies to send larger items to your new home. 1st Contact, AngloPacific, PPS, and Seven Seas are among your many choices. Most companies will provide you with packing material and flexible pick-up times. Quotes can be provided via their websites, but beware of hidden charges. When shipping to Australia, you might be subject to tax, customs, and quarantine examination fees that may be charged to you post-delivery.
Other things you should consider before you leave
Here’s a quick list of things you might need to do before you leave:
- Cancel your subscriptions and ongoing transactions: mobile phone, Netflix, energy supplier, opticians, car and life insurance, water supplier, Oyster card, ongoing charity support, TV license, Spotify, broadband, landline.
- Advise banks and offices that you’re leaving: specifically your banks, HM revenue and customs, and council/government bodies that deal with voting, jury service, and other mandatories that may be required of citizens
- Take care of your loans: mortgages and student loans.
- Obtain medical documents and history: contact your doctor and dentist for your medical history in case you need hospital or health care in Australia.
- Redirect your post: Either to your family and friends or to your new home in Australia.
Setting up a bank account before you arrive is easy and can be done through the bank’s online migration service. However, it’s quite possible that your bank in the UK either has a branch in Australia or has ties with an Australian bank. Your best bet is to ask them first, but here’s an overview of some UK banks that have relationships with Australian financial institutions that might be helpful.
This universal bank has it’s own bank in Australia (HSBC Australia) with branches and ATMs being accessible nationwide. While HSBC UK has an expat bank account, this only allows for transactions between the UK, US, and EU currencies, however HSBC has an overseas account that does service Australia. One of the perks of an HSBC account is that, if you’re already a member, your credit history can be transferred over which can help with obtaining financial services such as loans and credit cards in Australia. HSBC members can open an Australian account before they leave, which typically takes about 15 days to complete.
Both Barclays and Australia’s Westpac banks are members of the Global Alliance, which means that if you’re a Barclays cardholder, you can withdraw funds from a Westpac ATM without being charged the £1.50 Non-Sterling Cash Fee. However, you will still be charged the 2.99% Non-Sterling Transaction Fee on all withdrawals.
Yorkshire and Clydesdale banks
These smaller UK branches are affiliated with NAB (National Bank of Australia) and may have migration programs available.
Norwich and Peterborough Building Society
Although this bank doesn’t have an Australian affiliate, they do have a Gold Account that doesn’t charge any overseas fees. Note that you may still incur fees and charges from the ATM you are withdrawing from in Australia, however you will be notified of this during the transaction.
As an aside, there are a number of UK credit cards that don’t charge for overseas transactions and withdrawals. These include the Halifax Clarity credit card, and over-50s provider, Saga’s Platinum credit card. While these cards don’t charge you fees, cash advance fees and local bank processing might incur charges.
Employment and tax
Income and tax in Australia:
During your working life in Australia you will be subject to income tax and be required to lodge a tax return with the Australian Tax Office (ATO) every year between June 30 and October 31. When/if you return back home to the UK, you may be able to lodge your Australian tax return early if you leave before the end of the tax year. Again, advise the ATO for details on how to complete this.
Income and tax in the UK:
Now let’s not forget all the niggling tax requirements you might have to consider before leaving the UK. First, advise the HMRC of your move and check to see if you’re eligible to pay tax for that tax year. This can be easily done by using the HMRC’s Self Assessment service. Depending on your circumstance, you might also have to complete the following:
- The P85 Leaving the UK form: This form will enable you to claim any tax relief of refund you’re entitled to for the financial year and also assess if you’ll become a non-resident as a result of migrating to Australia.
- Ongoing tax returns: If you’re still receiving income in the UK, you may have to continue lodging your tax returns with the HMRC throughout your time away.
- Ongoing National Insurance (NI) contributions: Expats wishing to eventually return to live in the UK might consider continuing making voluntary NI contributions to build their State Pension and protect certain state benefits and allowances upon their return. Those who choose to continue making payments will need to apply to complete form CF83 ‘Application to make National Insurance Contributions abroad’ which can be found on the HMRC website. Payments are accepted through Direct Debit or an agency.
Other taxation information you should be aware of as a non-resident of the UK:
- You won’t have to pay UK tax on income earned from working overseas unless you are still earning income from a UK employer
- You will still have to pay UK tax on your UK pensions
- You won’t have to pay UK tax on government services or local authority pension but you will have to pay tax on it in Australia
- You will still have to pay tax on UK bank and building society interest, however you may be able to claim a refund against UK tax allowances using the R43 form
- You may have to pay take on other UK investment income, however depending on your circumstances you may be able to get relief or exemption on this due to the double taxation treaty between Australia and UK. The double taxation agreement means that you won’t have to pay tax on your worldwide income, only the income – even if tax is due in the UK
- You will have to pay tax on the income earned from a rental property. Again, you may be eligible for a tax relief due to the double taxation treaty between Australia and the UK
Other tax refunds: If you purchase items in Australia and return home with them, you may be eligible to claim a refund on the goods and services (GST) and wine equalisation tax (WET) through the tourist refund scheme. For more information regarding eligibility, contact the ATO.
Under Australian law, you cannot transfer your superannuation to your UK fund while you’re in Australia, however you can access your funds upon retirement or, if you’re on a temporary-resident visa, upon your final departure from the country (known as the Departing Australia Super Payment (DASP). The DASP can be applied for online through the ATO, but bear in mind that any withholding tax will be taken before your super is paid to you.
Those who are planning to immigrate to Australia permanently may wish to transfer their pension fund to an Australian fund. This is possible as long as certain requirements are met – including that the receiving fund is approved as a Qualifying Registered Overseas Pension Scheme (QROPS). At the time of writing, there were close to 1,500 qualifying schemes. Note: if your nominated Australian pension fund doesn’t meet all requirements, your transfer will be viewed as an unauthorised payment and will be subject to a tax charge. Again, this is an option for those seeking permanent immigration into Australia as, when you transfer your pension, you’ll lose any right to a protected pension age, lose any fixed or enhanced protection you had prior to the transfer, and lose any right you had to a tax free lump sum of more than 25% of your pension pot which you had under the pension scheme before 6 April 2006.
For a list of qualifying recognised overseas pensions schemes and more information on how to process your transfer, visit the HMRC website.
Driving in Australia
A comforting thing to know is that Australians and Brits both drive on the same side of the road: the left. Something else that’s nice to know is that you can use your UK license to drive in Australia indefinitely so long as the license remains current and valid (not cancelled or suspended), and that you haven’t been disqualified from driving here or have had your driving privileges revoked.
If you are here on a permanent visa, you will have to convert to an Australian license after you’ve been in the country for three months. UK residents who hold a UK driver’s license are exempt from taking a knowledge or drive/ride test to obtain an Australian license. If your license expires while in Australia, you will also be eligible for an Australian license.
Health care in Australia
It’s highly recommended that you have health cover while in Australia. Something reassuring is that the UK and Australia hold a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement, which allows Brits to benefit from the national health care system, which is called Medicare.
By enrolling in Medicare, you will be able to obtain essential medical treatments for the length of your stay in Australia. These benefits include free treatment as a public in- or outpatient in a public hospital, reduced medicine under the Pharmaceuticals Benefits Scheme (PBS), and any Medicare benefits available for out-of-hospital treatments by a registered doctor.
Remember Medicare is the public healthcare system, and therefore will not provide as many benefits as private health care or travel health insurance. If you require the services of private health care but don’t have private health insurance, you will have to pay your doctor’s bill in full. That being said, you might be eligible to claim a partial refund of this through Medicare, which you’ll be advised of by reception at the doctor’s surgery.
Note: anyone who has applied for the Subclass Visa 410 (Retiree visa) after 1 December 1998 is not eligible for Medicare, regardless of this agreement.
Studying in Australia
Aside from your the exchange programs, scholarships, and general international student pathways that are available through Australian universities, some British universities have more specific programs and relationships in place to cater to your studying abroad needs. For example, Loughborough University in Leicestershire has an international exchange agreement with Curtin University of Technology in Perth and the University of Technology in Sydney, while the University of Central Lancashire is partnered with the University of Western Sydney. By going through a university, you might find it easier to obtain a student visa and study abroad than by applying outright. Your school might also have scholarships and other subsidies available to make studying in Australia more affordable.
If you’re currently studying with an educational institution in the UK, you might like to look into their available exchange programs to see what’s available to you.
If you’re still paying back a student loan...
Currently repaying a student loan in the UK? You will still have to continue paying it back while working or studying in Australia so long as your annual salary exceeds the repayment threshold, which is currently £21,000 in the UK. Once this threshold is met, you are required to repay your loan and 9% of your earnings over this threshold.
Due to differences in the cost of living, as well as changing interest rates, the threshold and percentage you have to pay while you’re in Australia will vary. If you’re planning to be in Australia for over three months, you’ll have to fill out an Overseas Income Assessment Form to be charged an accurate repayment amount. Failure to inform the Student Loans Company (SLC) of your overseas income will result in a default repayment amount (calculated for your specific country of residence), which you will be liable to pay monthly.
Feeling at home in Australia
Let’s face it: at some point during your stay in Australia you’re bound to feel homesick. So here are a few key things that can remind you of home while you’re on our sunny shores. (Clearly sunshine, that’s not one of them – hehe.)
- Sunday roasts: Many Australian pubs have Sunday roasts to remind you of mum’s cooking.
- Fellow English expats: In Sydney? Many English expats tend to cling to the beaches (Bondi) or the North Shore (Mosman). Wander around and you’re sure to hear the sound of a familiar accent.
- British confectionary: Many supermarkets have an international food aisle, which house British treats like Haribos, Hobnobs, Yorkie Bars, Marmite. Oh, and something called Irn Bru…
- British Film Festival: Held every year throughout the country.
- Jimeoin: The English-born comedian is a permanent fixture Down Under. We tried to return him, but he wouldn’t stick.
And naturally, a few key translations to make the transition that much easier:
|How you going? (Yeah, we probably don’t say g’day as much as we used to.)||You right?|
Oh, and just a tip. When you get on the escalators, the LEFT side is for standing and the RIGHT side is for overtaking/moving. Same goes with footpaths.
- City and country that you’re originally from: London, UK.
- City and country that you’re living in: Sydney, Australia.
- Employment status: Full time.
- Visa status: Working holiday visa 417 (for now!)
Why did you decide to move to Australia?
The industry I’m in is behind, also better pay, more sunshine, free water, super and better looking people.
What were some of the things you had to consider before migrating? (Employment, finances etc.)
Finances. It’s not cheap moving abroad. Also, tying up loose ends at home, renting my flat out, finding a job and finding somewhere to live before I moved.
What were the steps involved with obtaining a visa? Did you find it difficult or easy?
So simple. Quick, easy and came through within two hours.
How did you set up a bank account? Did you face any difficulties here?
I set up a Westpac migrant account, had a 40-minute meeting in the London office and my card was ready to collect with my money in my account the day I arrived.
How did you find accommodation? Was it easy/hard?
I used AirBnB as we didn't want to sign a lease and be unhappy with the area. It was hard finding somewhere that was a reasonable cost but an easy process.
I put a lot of thought into my plans and was really organised arranging everything.
How have you found adjusting to Australian life?
I’ve settled really quickly, it feels normal already because I’ve got a routine.
Do you have any tips or advice for other expats in your situation when moving to Australia?
Apply for your TFN (tax file number) before you get here if you're starting work. Stock up on free drugs from the NHS and be prepared for Aussies complaining that 16⁰C is cold.
If you could do it again, would you change anything in the way you went about migrating?
No because I put a lot of thought into my plans and was really organised arranging everything.
Handy contacts and addresses
It’s always good to keep the contact details of your embassy on hand in case anything goes wrong or you have queries.
- United Kingdom High Commission (in Australia)
Address: Commonwealth Avenue, Yarralumla, Canberra, 2600
- United Kingdom Embassy (in Australia)
Address: 17th Floor 90 Collins Street, Melbourne, Victoria, 3000
- United Kingdom Consulate General (in Australia)
Address: Level 16, Gateway Building, 1 Macquarie Place, Sydney, NSW, 2000