Want to get away for good? What you need to know about moving to Australia from the United States.
According to the US State Department, some 6.32 million Americans (not counting the military) live overseas, and many of them have made their way to the land Down Under.
With friendly locals, a thriving economy and some of the best beaches in the world, Australia is a very attractive destination for US expats. It’s a developed country where the locals speak English, the weather is warm and the right people can enjoy strong job prospects and good pay. It's also practically the opposite side of the planet, and almost as far away from America as you can get. Some people might be turned off by this, while others may consider it an added bonus.
If you want to move to Australia from the USA, here’s how to do it.
Visas available to American nationals
Americans moving to Australia will obviously need a visa. Use this free government visa finder tool to see some of the options that may be available.
- If you already have family living in Australia, or you have family members who are Australian or New Zealand citizens, then you should probably look into a family visa.
- A student visa is suitable for students looking to study or undertake professional training in Australia.
- If you won’t be coming in on either of the above, then a working visa is probably your best bet.
Who can get a student visa?
You will be eligible for a student visa if you’re enrolled as an overseas student at an Australian university. If not, there are a number of exchange agreements that you may be eligible for. Learn more about your options for getting a student visa here.
Who can get a working visa?
The easiest way to get a working visa is to get hired by an Australian company who can then help bring you into the country. You can also do it yourself, although you will need to be a strong candidate and pass a points test. You can earn points by:
- Being under the age of 40
- Having good English language skills
- Having prior employment in a skilled occupation
- Having professional qualifications, doctorates, degrees, diplomas and other awards
- Having existing financial resources and other assets
What's the easiest way to get a working visa?
The easiest way to get a working visa in Australia is to find a job in Australia before leaving the US. Being sponsored by an Australian company can make it significantly easier for you to be approved. Alternatively, if you work a job that’s on the skilled occupations list, you might also have a good chance of success.
Use the visa finder to see which types of visas you may be eligible for and choose one whose requirements you can meet.
What do I need to apply for a visa?
Requirements vary, but basic eligibility remains the same. You will need:
- A completed application form. This can be found on the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) website
- 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
- Visa payment fee
- Police clearance (applicable when applying for a permanent residence visa)
How much will my visa cost?
The cost depends on the visa. For example, a Work and Holiday visa (subclass 452), will cost only AUD$420, while a Migrant or Provisional Partner visa (subclass 309 or 100) will set you back AUD$3,085 in application fees.
How long will it take for my visa to be processed?
Once again, this depends on the visa you apply for. Partner and family visas might take months while tourist and working visas are often processed in just days.
If you have any other questions about getting a visa for moving to Australia, you can learn more here.Back to top
Getting to Australia
Many airlines offer flights from the US to Australia, with most landing in Sydney or Melbourne, but also Perth, Brisbane or Adelaide. Direct flights from the USA to Australia leave from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Honolulu International Airport, Burbank, San Francisco International Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. The most popular route of all, however, is the fifteen hour leg from LA to Sydney.
Flights are offered by several airlines including Qantas, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Virgin Australia, Hawaiian Airlines, Jetstar, Air New Zealand and United Airlines. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding a flight on your chosen travel date, though cheap tickets on the most popular routes and peak periods (around July to August) tend to sell out quickly. To get a deal on airfares you might try planning ahead and booking online.
Australia is almost the opposite side of the planet, and even the quickest routes from the US west coast to the Australian east coast will take you at least 13 or 14 hours.Back to top
Moving: Tying up loose ends before you leave
One of the decisions you’ll face when moving overseas is what to do with all your stuff. Relocating is a good excuse to sort through all your possessions and get rid of any junk you don't want. When moving from the US to Australia, you might want to be especially ruthless with this because the cost of transporting your belongings usually depends on how far you're moving, and Australia is very far away indeed. In some cases you might be able to save money by selling the bulkier items and having a fresh start in Australia with new belongings.
When deciding what to sell or store, and what to take with you, remember that you may be charged certain fees for importing goods to Australia. Belongings you have owned or used for more than 12 months won’t be subject to duty and taxes, but possessions that are new or less than a year old may be subject to fees.
Tick off what needs doing.
- Cancel your subscriptions and ongoing transactions. Mobile phone, Netflix, energy supplier, opticians, car and life insurance, water supplier, ongoing charity support, TV license, Spotify, broadband, landline and anything else.
- Advise banks and offices that you’re leaving. Specifically your bank, the IRS, the immigration department and governing bodies that deal with voting, jury service, and other mandatory civic duties
- Take care of loans, including mortgages and student loans. Ideally you will be able to move to Australia with a clean financial slate.
- Obtain required 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 mail. Make sure mail going to your old house ends up in the hands of friends and family, or gets sent on to your new home in Australia.
It can be worth setting up your new Australian finances before you leave the States in order to hit the ground running as soon as you arrive.
Many major Australian banks offer migrant programs to help you organise your finances before leaving. While the exact services offered differ between banks, you can typically apply online for an account while you’re still in the United States, and can then start transferring money into this Australian account as soon as you like. That way, as soon as you arrive you'll have access to an Australian bank account and the funds in it.
These migrant programs can also make it easier to get savings accounts and credit cards, and also provide other migration resources to help expats succeed in Australia. If you're moving to Australia from the USA and still need to open an Australian bank account you read the full guide here.
- Will you still be doing business in America? If you'll be needing quick and simultaneous access to both US and Aussie dollars, consider looking into multi-currency accounts. This lets you hold funds in more than one currency and can be especially useful for those who are still receiving an income from the United States. They can also make it easier to take advantage of fluctuating exchange rates and more quickly convert between US and Australian dollars.
Employment and tax
For better or worse, you'll be leaving some things behind when you move to Australia. Your tax obligations are not one of them. The Australian equivalent of the IRS in Australia is the ATO (Australian Taxation Office), and it doesn't work in quite the same way as its American counterpart. This guide can explain how to fill out an Australian tax return.
Income and tax in Australia
You are typically considered an Australian resident for tax purposes if you are intending to live here permanently, are an overseas student enrolled in a course more than six months long, or have been in living and working in the same place in Australia for six continuous months.
To report your earnings and file a tax return in Australia, you’ll need to apply for a Tax File Number (TFN) from the ATO.
Income and tax in the US
Don’t automatically assume that moving overseas will free you from having to report your income to the IRS. Every US citizen and green card holder is still required to file a US tax return when residing overseas, even if they're also be filing a tax return in Australia.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be double-taxed. If the foreign income you earn is less than a certain amount, and if you meet time requirements for overseas residency, you might not have to pay US taxes at all, but will still need to file a return. If you don’t satisfy these requirements, but are still paying tax in Australia, then you might receive Foreign Tax Credits to offset your liabilities to the US Government. To adjust to these complications, US citizens residing overseas may receive an automatic two-month extension on their tax returns.Back to top
Social Security in Australia
If you work for an employer in Australia, that employer is required to contribute a portion of your salary into your superannuation fund. Australian superannuation is a lot like an American 401(k) in that it's the money you will use to fund your retirement. Australian employers are required to contribute a certain amount of a worker's salary towards their superannuation fund.
One consideration in how to move to Australia from the USA is what to do with your 401(k). It may be possible to rollover your 401(k) into an Australian super fund or withdraw the proceeds as cash, but doing so may incur tax penalties, so it's often a good idea to get professional advice for navigating this situation. It might be easier to find this advice in Australia than the US, as tax agents in Australia can be more likely to know about the relevant laws in both countries.
- Americans are eligible for social security in Australia: US residents who have worked in Australia may be eligible for the Age Pension, Disability Support Pension for the severely disabled, pensions payable to widowed persons and Carer Payments to partners of people who receive an Age Pension or a Disability Support Pension. Americans living in Australia may get social security benefits even without becoming a citizen.
- The Office of International Operations is in charge of administering the Social Security program outside the US, while the American Citizens Services unit (ACS) assists recipients of US federal benefits who are residing in Australia.
- In the majority of cases, if you’re a non-US-citizen and you’re outside the US for more than six months in a row, your Social Security payments will be stopped.
Driving in Australia
First things first, remember that Australians drive on the left. Other than that:
- Most states and territories will allow you to drive on a valid overseas licence.
- In the Northern Territory, anyone holding an overseas licence must also hold an International Driving Permit (IDP), which must be obtained from the country where the licence was issued.
- If you’re a permanent resident, most states and territories will require you to convert your overseas licence after having been in the country for a set period of time, typically three to six months.
For more information regarding driving in Australia on an international driver’s licence, see our Living in Australia section.Back to top
Australia's public healthcare system
Medicare is the name of Australia’s public healthcare system under which all permanent residents can access free essential medical services. Every Australian citizen is eligible for a Medicare card and free or subsidised treatment by health professionals such as doctors, specialists and optometrists.
- Learn more about Medicare, and free or subsidised healthcare for citizens and permanent residents.
- Learn more about private health insurance and how it can help you access extra subsidised treatments and private hospitals.
Studying in Australia
Much like the United States, Australia is also home to a number of world class universities whose accreditation is recognised worldwide.
There are also a number of scholarship and exchange programs in place, giving dedicated American students a chance to continue their education in Australia. In the States, the Fulbright US Student Program, The Institute for International Education and others can offer valuable ample opportunities to study overseas.
To legally study in Australia as an international student, you will have to obtain a Student visa, which you may become eligible for once you’ve been offered and have accepted a placement in an approved Australian educational institution.
If you’re still paying back a student loan...
Even Australia isn't far enough away for you to escape your student loans. While specific circumstances, including a period of unemployment, inability to find full time work or other economic hardship may qualify you for an extension, being in Australia might not.
Skipping loan repayments may mean that your loan will go into default, which might result in a poor credit rating and actions taken by the lender to recover their funds. If you have a student loan, don’t ignore it and try to have it paid off before arriving in Australia so you can start with a cleaner financial history.
Feeling at home in Australia
Australia is a lot like the United States, and culture shock isn't usually a problem for American expats.
- You'll notice the obvious differences as soon as you arrive, but for the most part Australians and Americans speak the same language.
- There’s plenty of US culture to be found in Australia. For better or for worse, you’ll come across a lot of familiar faces and voices.
- You can still buy your favourite American products in Australia. whether online or in speciality stores around the country.
- Join a US expat group in your area, and keep celebrating the Superbowl, Independence Day and all your other favourite holidays in Australia.
Important translations to know about
Interview with an American expat in Australia
- Origin: Sheboygan WI USA.
- Destination: Sydney, Australia.
- Employment status: Full time.
Visa status: Over the years I've been on a couple of visas. They are a special visa like a working holiday (I don't think it exists anymore) that was good for four months, a student visa to get my masters degree, a one year working holiday visa, a de facto visa, a bridging visa and finally, permanent residency!
NB: Kristen has been in Australia since 2008, but she returns back to The States to visit family quite often.
Why did you decide to move to Australia?
I've always loved the ocean and the Great Barrier Reef, plus it's a good climate! I hadn't been planning on it being for good when I came initially. I just graduated and I was coming abroad before getting a proper job and career.
What were some of the things you had to consider before migrating?
The very, very far distance from home.
What were the steps involved with obtaining a visa? Did you find it difficult or easy?
The two working holiday visas were pretty easy. The student visa was mediocre, I think I had to do a medical check but can't remember for sure. De facto and permanent residency were very, very hard, expensive and a LOT of work!
How did you set up a bank account? Did you face any difficulties here?
I just went to the Commonwealth Bank and did it, no trouble.
How did you find accommodation? Was it easy/hard?
I think I found accommodation on GumTree, I lived and worked with a family. It took some work but not too terrible. Then I lived in university housing when I studied.
How have you found adjusting to Australian life?
Overall not bad, the time difference is hard talking to people at home and things are MUCH more expensive! Rent is way more too, at least more than the Midwest, although minimum wage is much higher here. (I did have one job where the boss hired internationals and didn't always pay minimum wage, so it's worth checking)
Do you have any tips or advice for other expats in your situation when moving to Australia?
To girls: Buy cosmetics in America and bring them over, then ask family to mail you what you need when you run out - things like nail polish are painfully expensive here! For some of my clothing basics and staples, the stores ship here now and it's cheaper to order from The States and pay for shipping than buy things like shorts and tanks here. (As long as you know your size, that is)
WhatsApp and Magic Jack are both apps that are a great cheap way to stay in touch with people at home.
You don't have to tip here, at least not much, but I still find it hard not to! Drinks cost WAY more than Wisconsin, but make sure you take your turn and buy a round - your "shout"!
Resumes seem to be formatted a little differently here, you don't have to have just one page.
Buy an NFL game pass or head to the pub if you miss football. Go to the Great Barrier Reef! Go to the beach! It's all beautiful, but look out for blue bottles (and box jelly fish up North!) and swim between the flags!
If you could do it again, would you change anything in the way you went about migrating?
Not that I can think of!
Handy contacts and addresses
Embassy of The United States Moonah Place
Yarralumla, ACT 2600
Telephone: (02) 6214 5600
US Consulate GeneralLevel 10, MLC Centre
19-29 Martin Place
Sydney, NSW 2000
Send money to Australia: Compare money transfer services
If you're sending funds to an account down under, or will be sending money to, or receiving money from The States after you move here, it's important to make sure you're not losing too much of it to poor exchange rates. Consider double checking your current bank rates against the service rates below and signing up if you can get a preferable deal. You can read more about a particular service by clicking 'More' in the table below, or click 'Go to Site' to be taken to the product website to start an application or registration.