To understand why we chose Canberra as our future home, you will need to understand a little bit about how much we wanted to go to Australia, and a little about how the Australian migrant visa programme works.
The idea of living in Australia has been a distant dream for more than a decade, but it was only really when we began to think seriously about moving from Denmark – about three or four years ago – that the dream began to take shape.
We knew that Australia was notoriously difficult to get into. Danes would ask why we didn’t get special privileges for being British: “After all, you have the same queen; your flag is in the corner of their flag.”
In fact, at the time, Australia was so difficult to get into, that a visa specialist told me I probably wouldn’t qualify. But there was a potential side door – if we could get into New Zealand, then naturalise, in time, our New Zealand passports would also entitle us to live in Australia. This was playing the long game, and we were prepared to do it, until New Zealand changed their visa rules and we found that I no longer qualified for New Zealand either.
A door opens
Then fate took a hand in matters. Frustrated and disappointed, I began trawling through all the information I could find about Australia’s visa programme, and I found that there was a state sponsorship scheme whereby Australian states sponsor people with certain backgrounds to fill local skills shortages. I looked at the skills shortage lists, and there, on the list for the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), was my wife’s job – project administrator.
We checked what I’d found with our visa specialists and they confirmed what I’d found. Yes, if we switched our application from New Zealand to Australia, and from me as the lead applicant to my wife, then we had a chance of getting in. They added that the project administrator skill was also on the shortage list for South Australia and Western Australia. So, before proceeding with our application, we’d have to decide on our destination of choice.
Choosing a destination
I’d never been to Western Australia, but my perception was that it was largely a state that was flourishing off the back of Australia’s minerals boom. It looked a wonderful place to live, but the word ‘boom’ made me nervous – all good things must come to an end, and you don’t necessarily want to be there when they do. Luckily, I had been to Adelaide, capital of South Australia, and Canberra in the ACT – both for work, both for a day each. But at least I had something to go on.
My memories of both were positive, but we needed to be practical – we weren’t researching a holiday, we needed to pick the best place for jobs, education, housing and all those other practical things.
Canberra wins on all counts
Our research showed that Canberra enjoys more hours of daily sunshine than Adelaide, Sydney or Melbourne but that it experiences all of the seasons too. We saw that Canberra housing had an emphasis on the single-storey, open plan living that we have come to enjoy in Scandinavia.
We learned that ACT has the best performing school system in Australia, with the highest percentage of kids completing secondary school and the highest percentage going on to further education. And we saw that commuting times in Canberra are the lowest of all Australian capitals.
In leisure terms, since living in Denmark, safe cycling has become something that we take for granted. Learning that Canberra has more than 500km of cycle paths – the most per capita of any Australian city – was a big plus.
Right now, in Denmark, we live on the edge of town with immediate access to open countryside. Canberra, especially in its outer suburbs, offers the same benefits. With a family dog, and aspirations from at least one of our kids for a family pony, this was a big attraction that couldn’t be matched by other, more sprawling cities.
And then there was the question of jobs. As a communication consultant and corporate writer, I took the view that, with so many government departments based in Canberra, it was a better option than Adelaide, and its relative proximity to Sydney and Melbourne gave me further options for gaining new clients. For my wife, project and team administrator roles seemed to be plentiful in the local job ad pages, although things have changed a bit lately – something I’ll address in a future post.
With our decision in the balance, but leaning towards Canberra, we made contact with the ACT government team responsible for skilled migration, and they sent us a bumper pack of information about the city. This not only saved us hours, if not days, of further internet research, but also occupied the whole family in a way that the web can’t manage.
It made such an impression that we wrote to express our thanks. They replied, saying: “There are quite a few in our small team, including myself, who have made an international move, so we understand the challenges. There is something really powerful about receiving tangible information and we are delighted that you and your family enjoyed going through the contents of the pack. Wishing you all the very best with your future plans to move to our beautiful city.”
And that sealed it for us. The practical aspects of Canberra ticked every box for us, but we also felt that a warm welcome awaited us, with plenty to do and see.
Counting down to the move
Since then, we’ve been on a lengthy research trip. We’ve seen some things that reinforce our positive views, and we’ve seen some things that make us wonder if we are doing the right thing. But that’s inevitable for any move of this magnitude. Even so, we are determined to give it a go.
In return for sponsoring our visa, the ACT requires us to spend our first two years in Australia as residents of Canberra. That’s a fair exchange, I think. It’s long enough for us to give the place a fair go, and long enough for it to work its magic on us. If things don’t work out after two years, we can move anywhere we like in Australia.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, we are Canberra bound. And we’re very excited about what lies ahead.