Moving to a new country is exciting, sometimes daunting, often confusing - but also incredibly rewarding. While of course it’s normal to miss the things at home you take for granted, the learning opportunities, the new friendships you form, and the memories that you make, will enrich you for the rest of your life.
No matter how much research you have done prior to arrival in your new country, you might find it different from what you imagined. The best possible way to minimise this gap - and to thrive in your new environment - is to seek advice from those who have gone through the same process. We spoke to international students who have come to Australia, to find out some of the things that they consider essential to know about life here.
1. Check your visa conditions
There are a number of different visa types for students in Australia. Ensure you understand all the conditions of your stay on the Department of Home affairs website.
2. Make a financial plan
The cost of living in Australia, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, is higher than many countries including the US and China. The average living cost in Sydney and Melbourne is about $250 a week excluding rent.
3. Research rent and travel costs
Rent varies wildly within the same city, depending on the area. In popular regions of Sydney with good public transport links, prices can go up to $500/week for a single room. Use sites such as realestate.com.au to research rental costs in your desired area, then check the time it would take, and the cost of travel between those areas and your place of study.
4. Cash up
Bring enough Australian dollars to last you until banks are open during Australian business hours (Monday to Friday), because you will getter better value for money at home than if you try to convert money on arrival at Australian airports. We’d recommend AUD$250 to $300.
5. Know what NOT to pack
Australia has strict quarantine laws, designed to protect its unique native plants and animals. All arriving passengers to Australia are required to sign an Incoming Passenger Card requiring you to declare if you're carrying any food, plant material or animal products with you; if you’re caught with any prohibited products that you haven’t declared, you could face a significant fine plus have your items destroyed. You can see a list of prohibited goods on the Australian Border Force website.
6. Book airport pickup
Many schools and universities provide airport pickup for new students at no cost - you’ll need to register for this in advance with your education provider once you’ve confirmed your flight details. If this service isn’t available expect to spend anywhere from $20 to $80 depending on your location.
7. Give yourself time to settle in
We recommend that you arrive at least two weeks before the start of your course, to give you time to arrange accommodation, banking, enrolment and orientation.
8. On-campus living
If you’re lucky enough to be able to secure on-campus accommodation, you’ll save on many up-front costs such as furniture, appliances, etc - and utilities such as electricity and internet are included in your weekly rent. It’s also a great way to meet new friends, you don’t have to travel far to get to most lectures, there are plenty of social activities going on, and security is good. There are also some good private student accommodation providers such as Scape, Urbanest, and Iglu.
9. Private accommodation
If you’re looking for private accommodation and you’re over 18, sharing with others is the most cost-effective option - you’re not just sharing rent but also utility bills such as internet, electricity and water. Start your search for shared accommodation online through websites like sydneytoday.com and flatmates.com.au.
10. Put it on paper
You should always sign a tenancy agreement / rental lease which protects your rights but also lays out your obligations as a tenant, before moving in to any accommodation. Read the lease terms carefully before signing and if any terms seem unreasonable, negotiate them before signing. Many universities provide housing advice if you are unsure.
11. Be aware of up-front costs
When you take on the lease of a property (either as an individual or sharing with others), in addition to the rental commitment, you will be required to make an up-front bond payment; normally a bond equivalent to at least 4 weeks rent is required. This payment will be lodged with an official agency who will hold the money in trust until you vacate the premises. You should receive your bond back within 4 weeks of vacating your property.
12. Protect your bond
It’s important to inspect the accommodation before making any payments or signing the contract. If you are not in Australia during that time, you should find someone that is trustworthy to check the accommodation for you. You will be required to sign a condition report that shows any damage prior to you moving in. If any damage is noted at the end of your lease and it was not included in the condition report, you may be liable to pay for the damage, with an amount being deducted from your bond.
13. Open a bank account
There are four large banks in Australia: Commonwealth Bank (CBA), Australia and New Zealand Bank (ANZ), National Australia Bank (NAB) and Westpac Bank. Most students open accounts with these banks. Some banks allow non-residents to open an account online when overseas, however when you arrive in Australia you will need to visit a branch and show ID in person to complete your bank account set up and access funds.
14. Shop around for student deals
Most Australian banks offer student account deals, with no annual fees and other special offers. Use a trusted comparison website such as Canstar to see which deal is best for your situation.
15. Debit vs credit
Some banks issue a student credit card when you deposit certain amount of cash, though a debit card is a safer option as credit card interest rates are very high (20%+) if you don’t make your repayments in time. It normally takes at least a week for the bank to process and send your card; in the meantime you can use your bank’s mobile app to get cardless cash from ATMs.
16. Bank locations
All major banks have branches across cities and regions. Their services are easily accessed, including ATM, phone banking and online banking.
Working while you study
17. Looking for work
Most international students attending university will hold a Student Visa (subclass 500) which entitles them to work up to 40 hours per fortnight when their course is in session, once the course has commenced. A fortnight means 14 days, starting on a Monday. Many universities and colleges will offer job-seeking resources for students to find part-time work in the local area.
18. Know your work rights
International students can be tricked into accepting pay or conditions that are not considered fair under Australian laws. As a Student Visa holder you are entitled to receive the same pay and conditions as any other worker in Australia. To check which pay rates apply to you, visit the PACT website. As a general guide, the minimum legal wage for over-18s in Australia is around $18/hr.
Confused or worried about any issues with your visa or work conditions? Sonder is here to help. If you are a Sonder member, connect to our helpful support centre via the Sonder Australia app, and our team of multilingual experts will help you understand your rights.
Getting an Australian phone number and internet access will be high on your priority list when you arrive in Australia, so that you can stay in touch with your friends and family.
19. Mobile SIMs
If you’re happy with your mobile phone, simply purchase a pre-paid SIM card as soon as you can as this will give you immediate coverage while you decide which phone / internet service you want to move to.
20. Choose a phone and data plan
For longer term phone access, you can choose from pre-paid phone and data deals which don’t lock you in to a provider over a long period; or contracts which may save you money if you’re living in Australia for a longer time. The main phone and data providers are Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, but it pays to look for deals as the coverage across networks is pretty similar. Shop around for the best deals using a comparison site such as Canstar, and don’t forget to ensure international calls are included in your plan if you want to make calls to home from your mobile.
21. How to make international calls
To make international calls from Australia, dial 0011 then the country code, the area code (if relevant) and the telephone number.
22. Getting online
Most phone companies also offer internet packages for use at home, if you’re in accommodation where wi-fi isn’t included. If you choose the same provider as your mobile plan, you may be entitled to package discounts. Be aware that Australia is undergoing a nation-wide switch-over to the National Broadband Network (NBN), with the government due to complete the rollout by 2020. You should check whether your residence is NBN-ready when choosing your provider.
23. Public Transport
Most major cities and regional centres use smart cards which you top up with funds that will allow you to travel easily using the available public transport options (such as buses, trains, trams and ferries). For more information visit the relevant websites:
- Sydney: Opal
- Melbourne: Myki
- Brisbane: Translink
- Perth: SmartRider
- Canberra: MyWay
- Adelaide: metroCARD
- Darwin: Tap and Ride
24. Pay by card
Some public transport networks will allow you to tap on to transport using your credit card, though you should check any fees as it can be a more expensive option.
25. Don't forget to tap off
When travelling on public transport, you’re also required to tap off at the end of your journey. If you forget to do this, you’ll be charged the maximum daily price - so it can get expensive.
26. Share bikes
Share bikes have become increasingly popular in Australian capital cities over the last few years so you have a few choices if you do wish to cycle as a means of transport. Both Melbourne and Brisbane offer council-funded programs at highly cost-effective rates, though other capital cities have good private options as well. Compare providers here: https://www.finder.com.au/best-bike-sharing-services
Know where to turn to if you need help
27. Download the Sonder app
Sonder Australia offers 24/7, multilingual safety and wellbeing support via their mobile app. Sonder’s live support team can help you if you’re:
Confused about processes or anything to do with settling in to your new life in Australia
Concerned about finances, employment, housing, or other life issues
Ill or injured, and you’re not sure who to get help from
Lost while out and about
Feeling unsafe about any situation
Many international students who hold AGA Overseas Student Health Cover receive access to Sonder as an added bonus of their policy; if you’re not sure if you are eligible member, check with your OSHC provider.