Living in Australia
It is exciting to think of living and studying in Australia. You will be looking forward to experiencing a different culture, making new friends and exploring your local surrounds. It can be a daunting process though but be assured that Australian’s are extremely welcoming and are ready to help you if needed. To start helping you make the move to Australia, here is some information about our culture and what you can expect.
Stunning landscapes greet visitors in every corner of our great country. Golden beaches stretch along our coastline; amazing natural structures litter our deserts; lush tropical rainforests meet the Great Barrier Reef. And equally as startling is the wildlife that makes their home in Australia.
Some other differences you will note:
- Australians are more laidback and informal. Clothing is less formal and nearly everyone is referred to by their first names.
- Australians love giving people and places nicknames. Check our section on Australian Slang.
- Australians expect everyone to be treated equally. It is customary to thank shop assistants and other service staff when they assist you.
- Smoking is not permitted in bars, restaurants, shops, nightclubs, public transport and other public covered areas such as train stations.
- Littering in public is prohibited.
- Drinking in a public place is prohibited.
- Australians are very welcoming and helpful and are always happy to lend a hand in the time of need.
Culture and Society
Australia is the only country in the world that covers an entire continent and is also the largest island in the world. In fact, Australia is so large that the European continent could fit into our island and some remote properties are the size of a small European country!
Six states and two territories make up Australia. New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Western Australia, Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.
Australia is a true melting pot of cultures. Our population is just over 24,500 million and over 55 countries are represented. We have a proud history of immigration and regularly celebrate our diversity through festivals and events each year.
History of Australia
Australia’s indigenous people have the oldest culture in the world. Aboriginal Australians are believed to have first arrived on the Australian mainland by sea from an unknown area of Asia, between 40,000 to 70,000 years ago. Today their artistic, musical and spiritual traditions are passed on generation to generation through their art, performances and unique ceremonies.
The first known landing in Australia by Europeans was by Dutch navigator, Willem Janszoon in 1606. Twenty-nine other Dutch navigators explored the western and southern coasts in the 17th century and dubbed the continent, New Holland. In 1770, Captain James Cook first set foot in Botany Bay, New South Wales. He claimed Australia as a sovereign state and chartered the eastern coastline. In 1802, Captain Matthew Flinders was the first to circumnavigate Australia and declare it a continent. The first fleet of British ships arrived in Botany Bay in January 1788 to establish a penal colony. As time went by and more colonies were established in Australia, more settlers arrived to make their home here. Gold rushes and agricultural industries brought prosperity and helped Australia grow. Mass migration after World I & II assisted with our multiculturalism and today we stand proud of our heritage and of the future to come.
The climate varies dramatically in Australia with warm summers and blistering cold winters in the south, tropical climates in the north and dry arid weather in the centre.
As Australia is located in the southern hemisphere, the summer months are December, January, and February and the winter months are June, July, and August.
The southern areas of Australia have four distinct seasons of summer, autumn, winter and spring whilst the northern tropical areas have only the “wet season” during the summer months, and “dry season” the remainder of the year.
The majority of the population live in the coastal cities of Australia, where ocean breezes keep temperatures cool. The desert regions experience a harsh, arid climate with temperatures often soaring to over 40˚C (104˚F) during the day and dropping to as low as -7˚C (19.4˚F) at night.
Australia is a democratic society, where all people are believed to be equal and can take part in the political process. All citizens aged over 18 are required to vote in local, state and federal elections. The Commonwealth of Australia is a constitutional monarchy and the formal head of state is the Queen of England, Queen Elizabeth II. The Federal Government is responsible for defence, quarantine laws, telecommunications, taxes and welfare. State Governments work in conjunction with the Federal Government and are responsible for police, public schools, roads and transport.
The Australian Flag
Chosen in a competition in 1901, the Australian flag has a blue background with the union jack in the top left corner, representing our ties to England. The seven pointed star on the bottom left represents the states and territories which make up Australia whilst the five stars to the right represent the southern cross constellation which can only be seen in the southern hemisphere.
A number of public holidays are observed in Australia each year. On these days, workplaces and education providers close and some retail, entertainment facilities, restaurants and public transport systems may be affected.
Australia Day – 25 January: recognising the arrival of the first fleet in 1788, when the tall ships sailed form England to establish a new colony in Australia. Citizenship ceremonies are held where migrants become Australian citizens. Many celebrate at festivals and concerts or get togethers with friends.
Anzac Day – 25 April: recognising all those who have served Australia in times of war and conflict. It is commemorated on the day that Australian and New Zealand soldiers landed in Gallipoli, the site of a historic 1915 battle during the First World War that shaped Australia’s identity as a nation. Emotional dawn services are held at Anzac memorials around Australia followed by a parade of past and present servicemen, or those representing those service men and woman who have passed. Many proudly wear medals awarded during these conflicts.
Easter: a traditional Christian celebration marking the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Many attend church services on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Easter is also celebrated with the giving of Easter eggs, representing new life as well as hot cross buns.
Melbourne Cup Day – November: whilst only a public holiday in Victoria, Melbourne Cup is known as the “race that stops the nation” and in fact, stops the world. Melbourne Cup events are held all over Australia, with some events raising money for local charities through auctions and cup sweeps.
Christmas Day – 25 December: a traditional Christian celebration marking the birth of Jesus Christ. Christians and non-Christians alike celebrate Christmas with most celebrations commencing early December. Christmas decorations of holly, lights and Christmas trees adorn businesses, shops and homes. Gifts are exchanged and many attend festivals such as Carols by Candlelight and church services. On Christmas Day, families and friends come together to feast, think of the year past and enjoy each other’s company.
Boxing Day – 26 December: usually a day to clean up and recover from Christmas, there are those who brave the crowds as the large retailers start their largest sales of the year. Sport lovers enjoy the start of the gruelling Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race and the Boxing Day Cricket Test.
New Years Day – 1 January: a day of recovery for many, New Years Eve celebrations start early on 31 December. Friends and family unite at New Years Eve parties and public festivals. At midnight, millions watch the fireworks in Sydney, Melbourne and other locations around the country.
Other key public holidays are Labour Day, Queen’s Birthday and agricultural show days.
Living and accommodation costs will vary depending on your type of accommodation and where you are located. The Australian Government website, Study in Australia has provided some costs for living and studying in Australia. * All costs are in Australian dollars and linked to the consumer price index.
- Shared rental: $85 to $280 per week
- Hostels and guesthouses: $90 to $150 per week
- On campus: $90 to $280 per week
- Rental: $165 to $440 per week
- Homestay: $235 to $325 per week
Other living expenses
- Groceries and eating out: $80 to $280 per week
- Gas, electricity: $35 to $140 per week
- Phone and Internet: $20 to $55 per week
- Public transport: $15 to $55 per week
- Car (after purchase): $150 to $260 per week
- Entertainment: $80 to $150 per week
Minimum cost of living
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has financial requirements you must meet in order to receive a student visa for Australia. From 1 July 2016, the 12-month living cost is:
- You: $19,830
- Partner or spouse: $6,940
- Child: $2,970
Generally speaking, if you are living in the larger capital cities such as Sydney or Melbourne your living expenses will be higher than in smaller capitals or regional towns.
Whilst Australia has an idyllic lifestyle, it is not crime free. Therefore students must be aware of how to avoid being placed in vulnerable situations.
- Note the emergency number for emergency services (fire, police, ambulance) – 000.
- Always let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return. Go out with a friend where possible.
- Stay in well-lit areas at night and avoid shortcuts through secluded areas such as parks.
- Try to keep all outdoors solitary exercise to the daytime where possible.
- If you wear headphones when exercising outdoors, keep the volume low so that you remain aware of your surroundings including pedestrians and cars.
- Always keep your house and car doors locked and keep valuables out of view.
- If taking public transport at night, try to sit close to the driver or in the first carriage of the train. When in a taxi alone, sit in the back seat not in the front with the driver.
- Australian waters can carry strong undercurrents, which can be dangerous to swimmers. Only attend a beach manned by surf lifesavers and swim between the flags. Do not swim in rivers during or after heavy rains.
- The Australian Government has established a student hotline for international students who are concerned about their welfare: 1300 363 079. If immediate emergency assistance is required, the best thing to do is call the Australian emergency telephone number: 000.
A number of dangerous animals, insects and reptiles live in Australia which overseas students must be aware of.
- Jellyfish live in the tropical waters of northern Australia. The sting from these jellyfish can cause immediate pain and disabilities and in some cases, may kill. Always swim in designated stinger nets at beaches or wear a stinger suit. If stung, seek immediate medical attention by calling 000. Apply vinegar to the sting (normally available on the beach foreshores) and keep the patient calm.
- Crocodiles live at the beaches and river ways in northern Australia. Do not swim at beaches closed to crocodile sightings, do not swim at dusk, dawn or night and be aware of crocodile sightings signs and if unsure, do not swim.
- If bitten by a snake, call 000 for medical assistance immediately. Apply a pressure immobilization bandage to the limb bitten and keep the patient calm. Do not wash the area, as any venom left from the bite will assist with identification of the snake.
- Many deadly spiders live in Australia, however many are only found in distinct areas of the country. If someone is bitten by a spider, look for the following symptoms : sharp pain at bite site, profuse sweating, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. If these symptoms are displayed, seek immediate medical assistance by calling 000.
Transport in Australia
All capital cities of Australia offer public transport, which includes buses, trains, trams and ferries. Taxi and uber services are also available in all cities and major towns. The types of transport available vary between cities. With the exception of Tasmania, all states offer student concession fares. See our State Snapshots for further information regarding public transport.
To move between cities and states, Australia has a train and bus network as well as air services to all cities and towns.
To drive in Australia, you must hold a valid Australian or overseas drivers license, which you must carry when you are driving. If your license is not printed in English, you must also carry either an English translation or an International Driving Permit (IDP).
Australians drive on the left hand side of the road and have different driving regulations so it is important to familiarise yourself with the road rules. You should also familiarise yourself with how to drive to certain road conditions if travelling in the country and outback Australia.
Staying in touch in our vast country and with family and friends overseas is easy. There are many mobile phone providers in Australia offering a range of mobile phones and plans and payment options including pre-paid and monthly accounts. Phone cards can be purchased for overseas calls, which offer cheap rates.
The major mobile phone network providers are :
- Virgin Mobile
Ensure you do your research as to what each prepaid or monthly plan offers, what you require and what the costs will be.
The Internet is widely available in Australia, with the National Broadband Network (NBN) rolling out across Australia. Your education provider will generally have free Internet when studying on campus and Internet cafes are common throughout the country. Public libraries also offer computer facilities, sometimes at no cost. Before you connect the Internet at home, double check plans including download limits, speed and monthly costs.
Post offices are located in all cities and are open from 9am to 5pm weekdays and some have extended open hours. Australia post sends letters and packages around Australia and the world and next day services between capital cities are available. Some Australia Post outlets also offer other services that may require an appointment. For more information, visit the Australia Post website.
The electrical current in Australia is 240/250 volts (AC 50Hz). Australia uses a three-pin plug so you will need to purchase an adaptor plug for any appliances you bring with you. If your appliances do not operate at 240/250 volts, you will also need a voltage converter. Adaptor plugs and voltage converters are easy to find once you arrive in Australia.
Quarantine & Custom Laws
When preparing for your move to Australia, or if you return to your home for a holiday or travel to another country during your stay, it is important to know what you can and cannot bring into Australia. Australia has very strict quarantine laws and food, plant material and animal products from overseas could introduce pests and diseases that could be harmful to Australia’s native wildlife, pristine environment and agricultural industry.
Do not pack:
- Soil, Mud, Clay – anything such as shoes or boots with soil, mud or clay on them. All footwear should be clean of soil, mud, clay, animal faeces or plant material like leaves and bark.
- Firearms – no firearms of any sort are permitted including imitation firearms, paintball firearms and soft air firearms.
- Food or drink – no fresh fruit or vegetables are permitted. Dried fruits are also not permitted. Meat products are also not available in any form. Meat jerky from Indonesia can be brought it in but conditions do apply.
The following items may be permitted in Australia under certain circumstances : medicines, substances, some weapons.
Items Not Permitted
- Terrorism materials
- Pirated DVD’s
- Electric shock devices
- Automatic knives
- Extendable batons
- Throwing blades
- Pepper spray
- Concealed blades
- Soft air firearms
- Illegal pornography
- Fake designer goods
Duty Free Limits
- General goods adults: $900
- General good children: $450
- Alcohol (18 yrs plus): 2.25 litres
- Tobacco (18 yrs plus): 50 cigarettes or 50g tobacco
For further information, visit Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
And whilst you may be tempted to bring some food or treats from home, the good news is that most of them are available here in Australia in specialty stores.
Food and Entertainment
Australians are known to work hard and to party even harder. We take advantage of the great climate most of Australia experiences by spending the time outdoors exercising, at festivals and concerts, food events, bushwalking, camping or heading to the beach. Going out with friends for dinner or to bars and nightclubs are also popular get togethers.
Australia is a cultural hub and has something for everyone. Cinemas, live shows, ballet, music concerts, opera, art galleries, symphony orchestras, and museums – the list goes on.
Whether you want to participate or simply spectate, there are plenty of sports to choose from. Australian Rules Football (AFL), Rugby League or Rugby Union, basketball, soccer, tennis, swimming, surfing or cricket. The list is endless. And joining a local club is a great way to make new friends with people who have a common interest.
Dining out can take you to many places around the world in Australia. Cuisine ranges from Chinese, Italian, Indian, Greek, Vietnamese, Japanese, Swiss, German, Mexican, Nepalese, Thai and many more. You can dine at noodle bars or highly awarded restaurants – there is something to match everyone’s taste and budget.
Australia is also fortunate to have a wide range of quality fresh produce including meat; seafood, dairy, wine, fruit and vegetables, all of which are available at markets and supermarkets. Specialty shops including bakeries, butcher’s shops, fruit & vegetable shops, delicatessens and international food shops are also common.
For something uniquely Australian, try:
- Pavlova: a sweet dessert of meringue covered in cream and topped with fresh fruit
- ANZAC biscuits: made in honour of Anzac Day, a biscuit of oats and golden syrup
- Lamingtons: sponge cake with jam in the middle, coated in chocolate and coconut
- Tim Tams: a chocolate biscuit usually dipped in a hot drink like coffee or hot chocolate
- Vegemite: a spread for your toast or bread. Don’t spread too thickly though! Also a delicious additive to vegetable soup.
- Damper: bread traditionally cooked on the campfire
Shopping is also a great love for Australians. Large shopping centres have major retailers and chain stores whilst boutiques are located in street shopping strips. Top end designer clothes through to cost-saving stores make their home in Australia. Shopping hours are generally 9am to 5pm weekdays with most stores open all weekends. Check your local shops for their opening hours.
Major grocery stores in Australia include Coles, Woolworths, Aldi, and IGA with Costco now opening. Major department stores include David Jones and Myer. The major discount department stores include Target, Kmart, Big W and Best & Less.
There is a large range of accommodation options available to international students. Once you have decided which course you will be studying and where you will be located, it is important to research what accommodation is best for you. You will need to consider if you will be travelling by yourself or if family members will be accompanying you, your lifestyle choices and budget. The cost and availability will be dependent on what city you will be living in.
Following is a list of accommodation types and expected costs:
A private rental suits those who wish to either live by themselves, with family members or who wish to share the cost with a housemate. Most properties are not fully furnished so it is important to consider whether you can provide furniture. Rental agreements usually ask for two months rent upfront – one month to act as a “bond” (insurance against skipped payments or damage to the property) and the other rent paid one month in advance. To find a rental property, you can check online (www.realestate.com.au, www.domain.com.au, www.gumtree.com.au) or in local newspapers. You will also need to pay for electricity, internet, phone, gas and water costs. Tenants in Australia have legal obligations and rights. Check the Residential Tenancy Authority website in the your state.
- Cost – shared rental: $85 to $280 per week
- Cost – individual rental: $165 to $440 per week
These are ideal as temporary accommodation until you find long-term accommodation. Most offer private rooms with shared kitchen and bathroom facilities. Residents cook for themselves. This type of accommodation provides good opportunities for social interaction.
Cost: $90 to $150 per week
The cost of onsite accommodation will vary depending on your education provider. You will need to contact them to find out if they provide onside accommodation, what type is on offer and the cost associated with it. Some institutes may not offer onsite accommodation however have student accommodation partners.
Cost: $90 to $280 per week
Residential colleges provide accommodation, meals, cleaning and a wide range of support services for social and academic needs. They are generally more expensive than halls of resident because of the facilities and support services offered. Most offer private rooms with shared bathrooms, dining halls and recreation areas.
Accommodation is provided in a lively social atmosphere but with fewer facilities and services offered than in residential colleges. Some meals and cleaning is included but self-catering facilities are provided. Most offer private rooms with shared bathrooms, kitchens and recreation areas. This style of facility enables students to be independent whilst engaging with other students.
Off site institutes sometimes offer accommodation, which is close to campus. Apartments can be one or two bedroom with full self-catered living.
Homestay accommodation gives international students the opportunity of living with an Australian family in their home. This style of accommodation suits an individual who maybe younger or wishing to practice their English skills when at home. Meals are usually included in the costs and household duties are negotiated. Your education provider should have a list of approved homestay options.
Cost: $235 to $325 per week