The Inside Scoop on what it’s like as an American Expat Living in Australia

Three months ago, my husband and I got rid of most of our belongings, packed  our suitcases and moved across the world to Australia. I must have scoured hundreds of websites to figure out what to expect. What should I bring? What should I leave behind?

To preface this, my husband and I are both pretty tech savvy (he’s worked in the tech industry for the past 10 years, and I make a living via an online business). We live a healthy and balanced lifestyle. We both stay active regularly, enjoy eating nutritious food, and love binge-watching Netflix in the evening over a glass of wine. So umm…pretty normal.

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If you’re anything like us, this is perhaps what you can expect as an American with plans to move to Australia, or vice versa as an Australian moving to America. This blog post also applies if you are already an American expat living in Australia because frankly, this is a moment where we can bond over our frustrations and excitement living in this beautiful country. Last but not least, you may also love this blog post if you’re just darn curious what the heck it’s like for some person to pack up all of their belongings and move to another country!

Things I Miss as an American living in Australia

1. The other biscuit
Much to an American’s surprise, a biscuit here is actually a cookie. Think sugar and flour and yumminess. Yep! Much to my dismay, you won’t find (American) biscuits anywhere. What you may find are scones, which are similar to (American) biscuits. However, you will not find biscuits and gravy.
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2. Driving (and walking) on the left side 
I was nervous about moving here and having to drive on the left side of the road. But I figured I wouldn’t be driving, so it wouldn’t be too bad. What I didn’t realize is that people also walk on the left side of the sidewalk. Back home, you might not even realize it but, we totally favor the right side of the sidewalk. Therefore, it only makes sense that Australians favor the left side of the sidewalk. And let me tell you, walking in the Sydney CBD (that’s “downtown”) at 5PM on a Friday will make you get it right quick.​ I mean, left quick. 😉
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3. Amazon 
Oh, Amazon. How I miss you. It’s not that you can’t get items shipped to you here. But, there is no Prime 1-day or 2-day shipping here. Sometimes you do get lucky and get your package delivered in 1 or 2 days, and it’s always really exciting when that happens.
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4. Starbucks
Guess what? Australians are addicted to coffee. And it’s not Starbucks. When I first moved, I was looking for familiarity (and free wi-fi) and I was shocked that there wasn’t a Starbucks on every corner. Apparently, Starbucks tried to make it happen but, haven’t had much success yet. And on the note of free wi-fi, Starbucks here also have free wi-fi, but you have to type in a PW they give you at the counter and, you are limited on the Gigs you can use before they cut you off, circa 2008.
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5. High-Speed Wifi
Speaking of wi-fi… The Airbnb we stayed in when we first moved to Sydney told us we had 1GB of data we could use per day. Hello, I use that much before my morning tea! And it was so incredibly slow; I couldn’t download a photo while I was streaming a show. It was connected to a phone line; They call it ADSL. When we moved to our new home in Manly Beach, I thought, “No matter what, we are getting high-speed unlimited wi-fi; I don’t care how much it costs.” Well, it turns out it is expensive and actually really hard to obtain. Everyone, and I mean (mostly) everyone, just accepts that ADSL is standard. Circa 2008. But we put our foot down and found the one company that offered cable internet (Telstra), paid an arm and a leg to get it installed, and now I’m thinking about running a side hustle where I offer high-speed wi-fi to anyone who is interested (or desperate) to have legit wi-fi.
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6. Expensive Beer and Liquor
Beer and liquor is so expensive. I am talking about imported and local. If you go out to drink, you will more than likely pay $18-$30 AUD for a cocktail (that’s about $13-$22 USD). There are good deals during the week, so don’t you worry! As for beer, you can’t easily find a decent 6-pack of beer for under $18 AUD (that’s about $13 USD). Luckily, you can usually find deals for beers when you go out to bars and restaurants. And the best news? There is so much good local wine, and totally reasonable.
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7. Opposite Seasons
Although there is something pretty neat about experiencing a warm North-facing view and seeing the water spin counter-clockwise, I have to say watching friends from back home in the States bathing in sunlight on a boat while we deal with our second winter in a row, is sort of well, miserable. Granted, Sydney winter is a ton more mellow than a Seattle winter, but there’s something to be said about enjoying four seasons in a row…Having two winters in a row was just tough. That said, the build-up for summer is AMAZING. I am so friggin’ excited for a Sydney summer at the beach!
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8. Mexican Food
This is a cuisine that is almost unheard of here. Luckily, Mexican restaurants have been popping up slowly (we have a Mexican restaurant within walking distance called Chica Bonita). However, I would say that it just hasn’t tasted the same. Also, you can’t purchase fresh pico de gallo at the grocery store. Argh.
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9. Hot Sauce
Did you know that Sriracha only showed up in Australia a couple years ago? My expat Canadian friend told me this, and I was so thankful we showed up after it arrived! In general, the flavor “spicy” is not a thing here (unless you’re talking Thai food).. You ask for hot sauce at pretty much any restaurant, and they give you a blank stare or a really old questionable bottle of some no-name sauce you’re not sure of. Australians just don’t know spicy like Americans do.
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10. Alaska Air, Southwest, and Virgin America
What I’m getting at is, if you fly domestic in Australia, you have very limited choices. You either have Qantas or Virgin Australia, which are exceptionally expensive. Or, you have a plethora of extremely cheap airlines, such as Jet Star and Tiger Air. Your flight price will look reasonable, but then they charge you for everything. To assign yourself a seat, you have to pay $15. To bring two carry-ons over 7kg (about 15lbs), you also have to pay. To drink their water on board, you have to pay. It’s ridiculous! Alaska Air, where are you? I miss you!
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Things I Love as an American living in Australia

1. Tim Tams and Tea
Australians may not have good Mexican food but, they have Tim Tams and Tea (The Tim Tam Slam) and it’s about the best thing I’ve ever eaten. It sounds like Target in the States now has Tim Tams! I’m sure you can also find them at World Market. Make sure you follow the tutorial. The first time I tried it, I had been instructed by an Australian but, she wasn’t with me when I actually did it. I totally bombed the experience. The second time I did it? Nailed it, and Oh. My. God.
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2. Australian Accent
Because I am totally in love with the way Australians talk! You know what’s funny? The American accent stands out to me now. I smile really big when I hear the American accent somewhere around me, because it feels a bit more like home. We also hang out with some British expats and it’s safe to say I love the way they talk just as much as I love the way Australians talk. One funny note is that many Australians have said that when they were younger, they wished they could talk like “the people in the movies and TV shows” talked. But it seems that as they’ve gotten older, they’ve lost interest in having the American accent. Don’t know what that’s about, sheesh.
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3. Free Range Eggs
You know when you pay $12 at a farmer’s market in America so you can get truly free-range eggs that have really fluorescent yellow yolks so you know they’re good and delicious? Yeah, that’s all eggs here. You go to your local grocery store, and you’d be hard-pressed to find an egg short of brilliant yellow.
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4. Biscuits
Because yes, biscuits are cookies here, and I love cookies.
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5. Koalas, Kangaroos and Penguins
There’s something so special about finally for the first time in a lifetime meeting these “exotic” animals I never thought I’d meet outside of the zoo.
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6. BYO (Bring Your Own)
OK, this one is sort of funny because it does technically exist in the States. As in, you go to a restaurant and bring a bottle of wine and pay a corkage fee. However, the first time we went to a restaurant here that served BYO, there was something so novelty about it. Most places charge less than $3 PP to bring your own bottle. Our new favorite thing to do is pick up our favorite bottle of $8 McGuigan‘s Red and go out for Thai food.
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7. Public Toilets
You know how in the States, you rarely use a public bathroom? Here it is totally normal and there are actually a ton of them. The ones in the CBD are a bit sketch (after you use them, you close the door, and then it sprays the entire inside with some antibacterial mist) but, if you’re in a pinch, there’s actually options here.
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8. Wine Bottle Screw Tops
Pretty much every (good) bottle of wine in the States has a cork, not a screw. And in fact, I would argue that the belief is that screw top wines aren’t as good. Here in Australia, it’s the exact opposite. We have seen exactly one wine bottle with a cork, and perhaps hundreds (ahem) of wine bottles with a screw top. And I haven’t missed the act of trying to track down a wine opener one bit.
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9. Free Coin Exchange
In the States, you have to use Coinstar to get rid of coins, unless you want to spend hours stacking coins into those round wrappers. Am I right?! Here in Australia, banks have coin counting machines and they are free. This is probably because Australians have a $2 coin, which really adds to how many coins you get when you spend cash. Oh and speaking cash, there are still a ton of places that are Cash Only. WTF.
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10. The Weather
​We live in Sydney, so we can really only speak to here. But let me just tell you, Sydney is amazing. We literally live on a whitewashed beach (I believe San Diego would be the closest example in the States, or perhaps Key West), and my husband Jason takes a ferry to the CBD everyday. We have only experienced the Sydney winter and it’s been between 17-25 degrees Celsius everyday (that’s 64-80 degrees Fahrenheit). There have been rainstorms and they only last for minutes at a time. The summer is supposed to be amazing with 25 degrees or higher everyday.
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And added bonus, Jason’s 10th choice!

10. Coffee
I had to include this one as an ode to my husband Jason and pretty much every Australian. I don’t drink caffeine (health reasons), so I’m the odd woman out. Australians love their coffee and are actually very picky about it. You don’t find much automatic coffee machines over here; they love drip. Jason is an avid coffee drinker and his drink of choice is a Long Black.
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Here’s some other interesting facts that didn’t make the top 10, but still you might now know about Australia. I only found these out when I moved here!

  • At a restaurant, an appetizer is actually called an “entrée”. You call your entrée a “main” here.
  • Screens on windows and doors are very uncommon here. So are double-paned windows. Ironic for a place full of insects and critters, isn’t it?
  • To convert to Fahrenheit, you multiply the Celsius by two, and then add 30 (ex: 20 degrees Celcius x 2 = 40 + 30 = 70 degrees Fahrenheit). It’s not exact but, it’s close enough.
  • There are wild cockatoos here. They look exactly like your neighbor’s exotic cockatoo. But they’re wild and hang out on your balcony.
  • Cilantro is called Coriander here, and Bell Pepper is called Capsicum here.
  • At a restaurant, you say “Take away” instead of “To go”. They actually look at your funny if you say the latter.
  • Clothes dryers are really uncommon! Clotheslines are like, normal here.

What are some things you have discovered as an expat? Or were surprised by in this post? Comment below and help me expand the Balance + Vine community!

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