Australia is a great country. Though it’s often depicted as a one-note desert with a couple of ramshackle villages strewn about, there are actually a lot of diverse environments and people to learn about before you move there.

To help you get a grip on the Australian way of life, here are 21 useful tips and tricks to help you navigate the culture, people, and country itself. Throughout the article, we’ve sprinkled in quotes from American traveler Leland Swift, who spent a few months galavanting through Australia this year.

Australia Sydney

If you’ve ever thought that Australia wasn’t capable of having thriving urban centers, take a look at Sydney Harbour

1. Their sense of humor is very different

One of the most deceptively important aspects of a country’s culture is its sense of humor. Since Australia started out originally as a British colony, a lot of British values have been carried over across the seas.

A boiled-down comparison of American humor vs British humor would tell you it’s a battle between American optimism and British cynicism. Australian humor is a strange hybrid of the two – firmly on the British side, yet with a signature air of “no worries” that mirrors American optimism. For a good example, a classic Australian comedy called “The Castle” encapsulates Aussie humor perfectly.

But the best way to embrace Aussie sensibilities is just to go out and experience them.

“Get involved with the community. This one might be tougher for those just looking to travel and see the sights, but if you have any friends in Australia, I highly recommend getting in touch with them and asking if they would be willing to show you around.

“I was lucky enough to live with friends while I stayed there, but what it taught me was that there is no way to truly experience Australia without making friends with some locals. Everybody I met was fun, kind, and proud to introduce me to their culture to show me all the best food and activities.”

– Leland Swift, an American who lived in Australia in 2019

2. They spell “humor” as “humour”, among others

We had to resist the urge to use Australian spelling in the previous section. The word “humour” is a great example to show that Australian/British spelling sometimes diverges from American spelling. The reason for this is that American printing companies used to charge by the letter, meaning some letters were deemed unnecessary and dropped from American English.

Colour, moustache, programme, jewellery – there’s a lot of small changes, and there’s no real way of knowing them all without simply encountering them, one by one. You won’t embarrass yourself by not knowing them in a chilled text conversation, but you’d want to be sure if you were drafting an email to a professional colleague. Throughout the rest of the article, we’ll point out some examples of different spellings.

3. Some entire words are changed

Apparently it wasn’t enough to have different spellings between countries – some people went the extra mile, and changed some words entirely. You might know some of the more famous ones, like America’s “fries” vs Australia’s “chips,” but there are plenty more.

However, there are some that you might not know. Ask for “gas,” and you might be met with a raised eyebrow, since Aussies call it “petrol.” Tell someone you need a “trashcan,” and you might be sarcastically directed towards a “rubbish bin.” Looking for “candy?” Ask for “lollies.” 

And even if you know some British equivalents to American words, it might not be enough. Where you say “sidewalk,” the British say “pavement,” and the Aussies say “footpath.” It’s an undeniable mess, and the best way to understand it is just to grin and bear it until you figure it all out.

4. There’s a lot of slang

Our final stop on our mini language expedition will cover Australian slang. You know how every state in America has its own little slang collection? Well Australia has tonnes (there’s another different spelling for you.) Here’s a website devoted to a good amount (warning: there may be some profane examples.)

A lot of them can be deduced through logic and context – a mozzie is a mosquito, and a barbie is a barbeque. Some of them, however, really do sound like nonsense. A “googie” is an egg, “chucking a wobbly” is throwing a tantrum, and if you’re ever called “a seppo,” don’t get offended. It’s just Aussie slang for “an American.”

A lot of the slang refers to various Australian food. You’ll have to learn a lot of new brands and snack names.

“You will have to decide for yourself on the Australian chicken parmesan debate: try some in different states, and decide which is right about whether it should be called a parma or parmy (although be careful, because it can get pretty heated).

“There are also tons of snacks unique to Australia. Shapes are way better than Ritz crackers, Bunnings makes fresh snags (sausages for the uninitiated) on Sundays, and if you bite off the corners of TimTams and use it as a straw to drink milk, tea or hot cocoa, you will get the most melt in your mouth chocolate bar of all time.”

– Leland Swift, an American who lived in Australia in 2019

5. It’s almost as big as the US…

Both Australia and the continental US are massive. Australia is the 6th biggest country in the world, and the US is 3rd. Remove Alaska from the equation, and they’re almost tied, with the continental US covering 8 million km2 (3 million sq mi), and Australia close behind with 7.7 million km2 (2.9 million sq mi.)

Keep this in mind when moving to, or even visiting Australia. There are horror stories of people going to Australia – thinking it’s a relatively small island – and making plans to drive from coast to coast. This is basically equivalent to driving from LA to NYC.

“Australia is a massive country filled with beautiful remote landscapes. If you just stick to the major cities, you will be doing yourself a massive disservice by missing the real heart of the nation. You will need a car, but the people in more remote areas are incredibly friendly, and will help you uncover some real gems – some of which were the highlights of my time there.”

– Leland Swift, an American who lived in Australia in 2019

6. … with less than 10% of the US’s population

The US has a population of around 330 million. Australia has a population of around 25 million. For countries with similar landmasses, this is a surprisingly small fraction. This is due to the fact that most of Australia’s population is heavily concentrated on the coasts of the country.

If you imagine a cross-section of a cake, all the exterior frosting is most of Australia’s population. The interior of the cake is the interior of the country – pretty dry and human-less. This makes a cross-country drive even less advisable, as there are fewer towns and settlements to come across during your drive. If you get stuck in the middle of nowhere, you might really be stuck, with no humans for hundreds of miles in any direction.

7. It’s possible to be off the grid for a while

We cannot overstate how stuck you’ll be if you do get stuck out there. Once you leave a settlement, like a city or town, your mobile signal (“mobile” means “cell phone”) will be compromised, and eventually gone entirely.

This means if you do get stuck, your best bet is to wait for a good Samaritan to come by and offer some help. Obviously, waiting on a lucky encounter with a stranger is not the most bulletproof plan if you get stuck in the outback, so make sure people are aware of where and when you’re going – that way, if you don’t show up at your destination, help can be dispatched.

And on the topic of help and phones, remember the emergency number in Australia is 000, not 911.

8. The weather varies, but never gets too cold

Due to some, shall we say, narrow minded representation in pop culture – as well as our previous couple of points – it’s understandable to think that Australia is a sweltering desert where your only chance of survival is being near a shady oasis. Like we said in our introduction, this isn’t really accurate.

30% of the country is classified as desert, with an additional 40% considered “arid” or “semi-arid.” This may sound like a lot, but the remaining 30% of a 7.7 million km2 (3 million sq mi) landmass is still over 2 million km2 (770,000 sq mi) of wet tropics and snowy peaks. And yes, it snows in Australia!

“Come prepared for the weather. Most travelers in Australia end up having to buy a whole new wardrobe over there, when they could have saved that money and traveled more. Where I was in Victoria, you can get all four seasons in a day. Don’t be fooled into thinking the whole country is warm all the time.

“The southern states, Tasmania and Victoria, can get pretty chilly in the winter. And although it’s hot there in the summer, the other states get truly scorching, so be warned.”

– Leland Swift, an American who lived in Australia in 2019

9. The weather is flipped

If you know your meteorology/geography, then you might be aware that the seasons are inverted between the northern and southern hemispheres. Leaving America in a blazing summer? You’ll be showing up to a more grey (another alternate spelling for you) and subdued Australian winter.

It’s not the biggest deal in the world, especially considering that Australian weather doesn’t vary too much. However, if you’ve always loved a nice and cozy white Christmas, then be aware that that won’t be happening, as late December temperatures climb up to 30°C (86°F.)

10. Learn the metric system

If the measurements we’ve used so far have thrown you for a loop, either get used to being confused, or learn the metric system. Of the 195 countries in the world, there are only 3 that don’t use the metric system: Liberia, Myanmar, and the US of A.

So if you’re moving to Australia – or really anywhere in the world – you’re going to have to learn the metric system. Don’t worry, though – it’s really not hard. All you need to know is that for every ten units, you go up one level of measurement. It makes sense in practice.

11. Australia Day is January 26th

January 26th – written by Australians as 26/01, with the day before the month – is a day dedicated to celebrating Australian pride. It is the anniversary of the first British ships arriving in Australia, and is often celebrated the way Americans celebrate The Fourth of July – with fireworks, barbecues, and nice warm weather (what a nice coincidence that Australia Day and Independence Day are smack dab in the middle of their respective summers.)

It’s not all sunshine and kangaroos, however – we compared it to The Fourth of July, but Australia Day is also Australia’s equivalent to Columbus Day. While some people view it as a point of pride, some indigenous groups view it as a celebration of cultural destruction – referring to it as “Invasion Day” or “Day of Mourning.” Either way – if you’re in Australia, it pays to be aware of this date.

12. Not everything is trying to kill you. Only some things

Possibly the biggest stereotype people associate with Australia is the hundreds of thousands of evil critters that live there, whose sole existence hinges on poisoning and eating you. As you can tell from the fact that people still live in Australia, this is not true – very few Australians live the life of an outback explorer. There are lots of poisonous and venomous animals, from snakes to spiders, but sometimes the legends of these mythical beasts are a bit overblown.

Living in the suburbs, you might come across a few big bugs from time to time – shaking out your shoes before putting them on is always a good idea – but nightly insect-reptile sieges are not exactly commonplace, especially in the more populated urban centers. Just be careful to not let your children or pets stray too far into the wilderness, and make sure to be cautious around tall grass. However, we are obliged to inform you about the dreaded drop bears.

Australia Nature

For every deadly species, there’s a view like this – The Twelve Apostles on the East Coast of Australia

13. They drive on the left

A nice simple one, but easy to forget. Australia’s road rules dictate driving on the left side of the road. It would be nice if the world could come to a consensus on this, but if there’s one thing humans are good at, it’s being stubborn.

If you’re curious as to why Australia drives on the left, the answer is actually pretty interesting. Australia began as a British colony, so many of their rules originated from the Brits. When roads were becoming commonplace in Britain, you could never be sure who you were going to come across. This is why you wanted your right hand (your sword hand) to be free and accessible, hence driving (or more accurately – riding your horse) on the left.

14. Their ABC is not your ABC

No, not the alphabet. In a small act of etymological mercy, all English speaking countries use the same alphabetical order. We’re talking about the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which – while it has the same initialism – is entirely removed from the American Broadcasting Company.

The ABC is Australia’s national broadcaster. It is modelled (another different spelling) on the UK’s BBC, in that – while it is funded by the government – it is outwardly independent and bipartisan of any political parties or events, in an attempt to deliver objective news to the Australian population. They also own the ABC Music label, which is responsible for the worldwide exposure of numerous Australian artists – including The Wiggles!

15. There is no culturally-enforced religion… 

Regardless of your faith, you’ll find yourself under no pressure to conform to any kind of religion. You’ll also find every opportunity to practice whatever you want, especially in bigger cities, since Australia is a big cultural melting pot.

There is a large majority, though, as the church accounts for around 50% of the religion in Australia. However, all major religions have representation in the larger cities. You’ll find Australia is extremely tolerant of all lifestyles, as it’s a country that mainly comprises immigrants.

16. … except sport

Australians love their sport. A lot. Much like America’s triad of baseball, basketball, and NFL, Australia has its own triad made up of cricket, rugby, and Australian Rules Football (known as AFL, football, or footie.)

One of the biggest culture shocks cited by Americans when visiting Australia is the country’s massive obsession over a sport few Americans have ever even heard of. If you’re apprehensive due to British football (soccer) being slow-paced, then we really recommend watching a few clips of AFL. It’s fast-paced, visceral, contact-heavy, and allows for some astonishing sporting moments.

“I’ve seen a wide variety of live sports in both America and the UK, and none of it even came close to the atmosphere at AFL games. The rules can be a little confusing at first, but Aussies love teaching foreigners and they bleed passion for the game.

“If you get a chance, go support the footy at a local club too. People watch from their cars parked around the oval and honk whenever the game gets intense; the clubhouse food is homey and great, and the team will love the support; it’s a great experience overall.”

– Leland Swift, an American who lived in Australia in 2019

17. No guns allowed

Whether you’re pro or anti gun laws, you should know that Australia has its guns in strict regulation. Ever since 1996, when a mass shooting took place in Tasmania (an Australian island,) Australia began enforcing the National Firearms Agreement, which heavily limits the purchase of some guns, and outright outlaws the possession of others.

Since then, there has not been a single mass shooting in Australia. Some small scale gun crime occurs, as is inevitable, but by and large, the policy seems to be working wonders. In the words of John Hopkins University health policy researcher Daniel Webster, “here’s a society that recognized a public safety threat, found it unacceptable, and took measures to address the problem.”

18. It’s one big island, so beaches are a cornerstone

One of the lines in Australia’s national anthem is “our home is girt by sea.” “Girt” is an old timey past tense of “gird,” which means to encircle or surround. When a country’s national anthem emphasizes how much ocean they have, you can be certain that beaches are a central part of their culture and lifestyle.

Some of the more famous beaches include Bondi Beach, Mermaid Beach, and 80 Mile Beach, which has an approximate length of – drumroll – 140 miles (220 km – remember your metrics!) These beaches and the nice weather are a great recipe for all kinds of surfing and beachside activities.

19. You might have to work on a farm for a bit

Australia has a very unique policy when it comes to immigration. If you’re a young person looking to explore the world and make some money, Australia is a great place to start. There is a program known as the “working holiday visa,” wherein you’re given entry into the country in exchange for a few months of paid work.

This work used to be exclusively agricultural, but has expanded to cover all sorts of different societally beneficial qualifications. This is ideal for a gap year, or to get a feel for Australia before you decide on a permanent move. The program has been universally praised, with feedback describing it as a fun and fair way to see the world while making money.

“Go with a plan. This is where I fell flat the most. Whether you’re just traveling or looking to work, go in with at least some idea of what you want to do. You don’t have to plan out every day – some of your best ideas will only come once you’re there, and have the chance to find those hidden gems you won’t find online. Just make sure you do some research first.

“If you’re looking for work, apply online in the areas you’re interested in, or ask online about how to find housing. I ended up being too broke and working too much to really experience some of the things I wanted.”

– Leland Swift, an American who lived in Australia in 2019

Australia Work Visa

No, this isn’t a ranch in Montana. If you go to Australia for an extended period of time, you might end up doing a bit of farm work yourself

20. Tipping is entirely different

On the topic of money, this is a big cultural disconnect between the US and Australia. A big American cliche is that tipping everyone for everything is the way to go. Waiters, taxi drivers, bellboys – everyone gets a tip! In Australia, however, tips are a nice little cherry on top, intended to reward genuinely outstanding service.

Don’t worry – those in the service industry are respected and paid enough to survive on just their wages, so a tip is just a nice little bonus, not something intended to make up for a weak paycheque (paycheck!)

21. They twice lost a war against emus

A fun final point, tying back slightly to the wildlife we discussed earlier. In the ‘30s, Australia was having significant issues with emus (smaller Australian ostrich-like birds), destroying farmers’ crops during a mass migration. This lead to the farmers requesting aid from the Australian military in order to cull the emu population.

On paper, it sounds like an easy victory for the Aussies, but it turned out that emus are a lot more resilient than you’d believe. Despite Australians using machine guns and trucks, the emus overwhelmed them, and the military failed to reach their emu-death quota. After this failure, a second attempt was made. Despite using tactical ambushes, the military was still overwhelmed numerous times, and did not respond when summoned a third, fourth, and fifth time. The country then reverted to a bounty system, and slowly the problem was solved.

This will have no impact on your life in Australia, but is definitely a good story and cultural milestone.

Conclusion

Australia is a great country. Like all countries, there are some pros and cons, but overall it’s got a lot of potential for a great life for any incoming immigrant. If all these points haven’t convinced you, you should know that Australia ranks highly on both the Human Development Index and the Better Life Index – two systems that measure the quality of life based on environment, work-life balance, and other various metrics.

If we’ve swept you off your feet and convinced you to make the move, then feel free to use our form to look at estimated rates for your move. Also, as a final tip – don’t use the phrase “throw a shrimp on the barbie.” Just… Please don’t.