Meet Laura: Our latest expat interview is with an American who moved to Australia from the United States with her husband.
Laura answered what it’s like to live in Melbourne after living in the States, the biggest lifestyle differences, and how to make the most of moving abroad. Follow her adventures on her blog.
Real Moves: USA to Australia
When did you move to Australia and how did the decision to move come about?
My husband and I moved to Australia in July 2014 for his job working with a local university. We were living in Springfield, Missouri at the time and knew we were going to be moving that year, but we expected it would be to another location in the States.
One day, my husband got an email about an opportunity that had come up within his company in Melbourne and he immediately expressed interest in the job.
Within a few weeks he had interviewed, was offered the position, and we were filling out visa paperwork. We moved about two months after first learning about the position, so it was a pretty quick process.
What are some of the differences you adjusted to in Australia ?
One of the biggest changes for us was the weather. My husband and I grew up in Minnesota, so we’re used to really cold weather. I can’t say we miss the winters there one bit.
That said, the summers can be a bit unbearable in Australia, and the sun feels much more intense. One of the things we have noticed is the relative absence of air conditioning in Australia, despite the hot summers.
In the States, when you walk into a mall or restaurant in the summer months you’re met with a blast of arctic air. In Australia it’s quite common that restaurants remain open-air in the summer with the occasional luxury of a small fan.
When we are lucky enough to find some air conditioning, it’s definitely much less intense than we are used to! The other thing we had to get used to was the opposite seasons. It will never feel quite normal to celebrate Christmas in the summer!
Culturally, people in Australia are generally more laid-back and seem to enjoy a healthy work-life balance. It’s not uncommon for professionals to take three or four weeks of vacation at a time and totally unplug from work during their holiday.
One of the Aussies’ favorite phrases is “no worries” which pretty much sums up their view of life.
Cost of living
Another difference that sticks out is the higher cost of pretty much everything in Australia. Clothes, alcohol, and cosmetics are generally quite a bit more expensive than in the States.
Food varies by product, and the ticket price at restaurants is definitely higher, but the tax is included and tipping is not expected, so that helps offset the higher price.
Lastly, the Australian lingo is truly its own language. Instead of asking “how are you doing?” or “how are you?” Aussies will say “how are you going?” which was a bit confusing at first.
My favorite Australian word is ‘fairy floss’, which we know as cotton candy in the States (candy floss for UK readers).
How did you make Melbourne feel like home when you first moved here?
We really only brought over clothing and necessities so it took a bit of time to make our apartment feel like home. I jumped right into meeting friends through a Meetup group specific to girls in their 20s new to Melbourne.
I met most of my friends through that group, but also met another one of my good friends through my blog! We luckily didn’t experience much homesickness, mainly because there’s so much to see and do in Melbourne, but it has been helpful to be able to communicate with friends and family back home via FaceTime.
What is the most expensive part of living in Australia?
Like I mentioned, pretty much everything is more expensive in Australia. Our rent here is twice as much as it was back in the States and utilities are also much more expensive. We don’t have a car here, but I’ve heard the registration fees are quite expensive, as well as gas (called petrol here).
When we first arrived in Melbourne, I went to the drug store to buy some generic mascara and almost fainted when I saw that the cheapest one was $18. Likewise, my husband went to the liquor store and couldn’t believe a six pack of beer cost $20. Needless to say, I’ve stocked up on cosmetics on each trip back to the States and Peter has acquired a taste for wine ;).
What are the three things you like most about living there?
All of the travel possibilities! There are endless places to explore in Australia, from beaches to mountains to the outback to the Great Barrier Reef. It’s an amazing country full of beautiful scenery and more adventure than you could ever dream of.
The people! Australians are very friendly, welcoming, fun-loving, and often hilarious. They don’t take life too seriously and are always up for a good time. Plus, they take advantage of the generally ideal climate and spend most of their free time outdoors, which creates a lively city atmosphere.
The food! Melbourne has an amazing brunch/cafe culture and some of the best food anywhere I've ever been. We are still discovering new restaurants and bars after nearly two years.
What are your favourite neighbourhoods in Melbourne?
Oh, this is a tough one! The inner suburbs of Melbourne are so unique and each have their own vibe. I love South Yarra for its posh, preppy feel and Chapel Street shopping. Fitzroy and Brunswick are northern suburbs with a grungier feel and some of the best brunch spots around.
In the CBD, Collins Street is home to some fabulous shopping, Chinatown is amazing, and of course the laneways scattered throughout the city are a must-see.
We live just across the river from the CBD in Southbank, which boasts tons of riverfront bars and restaurants as well as the Crown Casino. Really, you can’t go wrong!
What are some underrated things about Melbourne?
The Royal Botanic Garden is highly underrated. It’s a really pretty, clean, serene city park that feels much more remote than it actually is and serves as a fabulous escape from the crowded city streets. There are certain laneways that are well-known and frequented by tourists, but plenty of lesser-known, highly underrated laneways as well.
Russell Place is right in the middle of the city and contains several really unique bars and I didn’t even know it existed until last night. The South Melbourne Market is often overshadowed by the larger and more well-known Queen Victoria Market, but it’s much less crowded and has a really unique selection of both food and clothing.
Lastly, St. Kilda is the go-to city beach, but if you continue down the bay a few suburbs to Half Moon Bay Beach, the water is crystal clear, the beaches are much quieter and less crowded, and you feel like you’re worlds away from the city (and the murky waters of St. Kilda Beach!).
What are some common misconceptions about living in Melbourne?
When we first moved to Melbourne, family and friends from home begged for kangaroo pictures, not realizing that you have to travel quite a ways out of the city to encounter stereotypical Australian animals. We do have some wildlife in the city, but it’s more of the pigeon variety ;).
Also, people often think it doesn’t get cold in Australia, but that’s definitely not true, especially in Melbourne. Our winters are mild compared to friends and family in the States are used to, but temperatures still dip below freezing from time to time and the greater Melbourne area does occasionally get snow.
What are some things that Australia does better than home?
We have definitely grown to appreciate the slower-paced Australian lifestyle and laid-back attitude. Melbourne, and other large cities in Australia, are safer and cleaner than cities of comparable size in the States.
Also, the public transport here can’t be beat. We were a bit worried about relying solely on public transport before we moved to Melbourne, but I can count on one hand the number of times since we’ve moved here that I’ve missed having a car.
What one piece of advice would you offer someone who is moving to Australia?
I would say be flexible and open to new experiences. Also, make an effort to meet people and try to learn as much as you can about the culture and way of life here in Australia. And expect to experience some serious sticker shock.
That is, prepare to pay a ridiculous amount of money for things you know you can get for a third of the price at home.
Would you ever consider moving back to home?
We are on a two year visa, so we have always known that our time in Australia would be limited. However, there may be an opportunity to extend our visas for another year in the spring, so we will see what happens!
We would love to stay in Melbourne another year or longer if we have the opportunity. I may be biased, but I’m pretty sure it’s the best city in the world!