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15 Realities of Living Abroad in Australia

australia, flag

“You live in Australia? I’m so jealous.” If you’re an expat, intern, or study abroad student in Australia, you’re probably familiar with this phrase. Australia has a reputation for beaches, hot weather, and a kicked-back, ‘no worries’ attitude that continues to draw tourists from around the globe.

When we talk about the golden beaches and sunny days, we often leave out some of the quirks that round out its personality.

Let me be the first to say that this reputation is accurate and deserved: Australia is a kick-ass place to live [Ed note: Our own Andrew Dunkle would strongly back that up!]. However, when we talk about the golden beaches and sunny days, we often leave out some of the quirks that round out its personality. Here are just a few of the things that foreigners living in Australia quickly learn about their adopted country.

1. Sticker Shock

I kid you not: a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food will run you almost 12 dollars at the supermarket. Six dollars for a beer is average, and when you pay 15 bucks for a dish at a restaurant, you’ve got yourself a bargain.

Even when you factor in the exchange rate against the US dollar, those prices can come as a shock. The good news is that if you're working in Australia (either as an intern or via their amazing working holiday visa), you’re typically earning Australian dollars, which means that your wages are proportionally higher. But still -- it’s hard to shake the ingrained feeling that things shouldn’t cost this much.

2. What You See Is What You Get

Kangaroo

To ease the pain of paying three dollars for a can of coke, expats can take solace in knowing that the price tag reflects exactly what you’re expected to pay. All hail the GST, also known as the goods and services tax.

You know how in the US, you mentally tack on a rough percentage before buying an item to compensate for sales tax? You don’t need that here, because the tax is built in. Same goes for tipping -- servers’ salaries aren’t based on gratuity, and it’s not expected.

3. Holy Crap, That’s a Kangaroo!

No matter how many times I see a kangaroo in the wild, I never fail to experience a little thrill. I understand that they’re a scourge to farmers and about as common as deer in the midwest, but OMG! It’s a kangaroo!

Same goes for koalas, humpback whales, goannas, fruit bats, and huntsmen spiders. I don’t care what people say -- any spider large enough for me to count the hairy bristles on its legs is not one I wish to befriend, even if it is allegedly harmless.

4. Living in the Future

You know it’s 5 o’clock somewhere? In Australia, we’re clocking off for the weekend before the northern hemisphere has even gotten out of bed on Friday morning. The downside of this is that our Mondays come first, too, and all of those birthday greetings from well-meaning Facebook friends inevitably come a day late (it's OK, we forgive you).

5. What’s the Deal with Winter?

Winter in many parts of Australia is famously mild; it’s not unheard of to hit the 70s in mid-July. HOWEVER. Prepare yourself, because when you’re inside, it’s a different story. Consider the fact that the ‘cold’ season lasts... oh, roughly three months, and it may explain why most houses lack insulation and central heating.

Good thing the summer makes up for it.

To someone coming from climate-controlled America, waking up in a freezing house can be an unwelcome sensation. I’ve taken to wearing a wooly hat, scarf, and Ugg boots as I walk around indoors, only to shed most of my layers as soon as I step outside. Good thing the summer makes up for it.

6. Doppelgängers

There’s a particular fast food chain called Hungry Jack’s, but I know a Whopper when I see one. Expats may also notice eerie similarities between Woolworth’s ‘Big W’ and Wal-Mart. You can say they’re different things, but I don’t have to believe you.

Sweet Chili Fries

7. Wedges with Sweet Chili and Sour Cream

If you haven’t had crispy potato wedges with generous sides of sweet chili and sour cream, you haven’t lived. End of story.

8. A 20 Hour Flight Is Standard

Remember those days when you could fly for six hours and hit Europe? Those days are gone. Now, we think nothing of boarding a 20-hour flight; anything less is like a commuter flight.

9. International Shipping Hurts

I tried to send my sister in the US a packet of Tim Tams for her birthday, but the woman at the post office strongly advised against it. “Just eat them yourself,” she said. “It’s too expensive. Send her a card.” The same goes for trying to order things into Australia; international shipping costs make online shopping a whole lot less appealing.

10. RIP Graham Crackers

Not even the expat candy store in my town sells graham crackers; the owner told me she’d been trying to source them for years, but for some reason couldn’t get anyone to export them. S’mores remain a distant memory, but I have faith that one day I will find the elusive graham cracker in Australia.

11. What’s That Guy’s Name Again?

I have known people for months without actually knowing their real first name. Nicknames are rampant, often based on someone’s shortened last name or a tenuous link to a childhood incident. For reasons I still don’t fully comprehend, everyone calls my Australian fiancé’s brother ‘Milo’... even though his name is Kyle.

12. The Pain of Apartment Hunting

melbourne at night

So you need somewhere to live. Great! Call up the agent and ask if you can see it over the weekend. What’s that? You have to wait until the scheduled showing, which is next Thursday from 8:27-8:33 in the morning?

OK, you shift your schedule around and make it to the open house, only to find that there are 97 other people there, all with completed applications in hand. Defeated does not even begin to describe the feeling.

13. Salad Is Versatile

I grew up using the word salad to describe a whole host of culinary options -- egg salad, tuna salad, pasta salad -- the possibilities were endless. Also, they usually included an unhealthy amount of mayonnaise.

When I use the term ‘salad’ in Australia, it is expected to apply exclusively to salad greens. Many an Australian has given me the side-eye when I refer to a ‘salad’ that contains little besides cholesterol-spiking ingredients. Hey, I never said it was healthy, okay?

14. Pronunciation

This goes two ways. First, there’s the humiliation of realizing that you’ve been saying ‘Mel-Born” all wrong; it’s supposed to be Melbin. Same for Aussie (Ozzie), Bris-bane (Brisbin), and Cairns (Cans).

On the other hand, it still needles me to hear ‘Nike’ pronounced with a short ‘e,’ or ‘maroon’ said as mah-rone. That doesn’t mean that the way I say things is the right way, but it’s what I have stuck in my head.

15. No Worries, Mate

It’s true; this phrase rolls off the tongue of Australians so often that before you know it, you’ll be saying it, too. Better yet, you’ll mean it. If there’s a better attitude to approaching expat life, well, I don’t know what it is. Sure, there’s a learning curve to living down under, but no worries -- it’s worth it.

Photo Credits: marragem, wedges, kangaroo, and melbourne.

Photo of Lauren Fitzpatrick

Writer, expat, and former working holiday addict setting up shop in Australia. Embracing surfing, reversed seasons, and cricket, but not Vegemite.