Trial and error

Gatherings of expats invariably lead to one conversation topic, things you wish you’d done and things you wish you hadn’t.

These aren’t confessions of the stag/hen night variety, but wistful glances back at the process of moving to Australia and learning some lessons of relocation the hard way.

So, for today’s post, 18 months after our move, I’ve put together a list of the best and worst three decisions we’ve made in our journey to a new life down under.

The three best decisions

1) Choosing Canberra

In pursuing our state sponsored visas (commonly known as a 190 visa) we had three states whose skills shortage list matched our profile – the ACT, South Australia and Western Australia. In simple terms, that probably meant moving to Canberra, Adelaide or Perth.

At the time, we reasoned that the jobs market in Perth was being artificially buoyed by the mining boom, and we found it hard to think of any Adelaide-based industries at all. But our decision to go for Canberra actually stemmed from a miscalculation – we knew there were lots of public sector jobs based here, but didn’t realise that these require applicants to have Australian citizenship.

Despite this, we’ve never regretted choosing Canberra and our trips to other cities have only confirmed our conviction that it’s one of the best places in Australia to live.

2) Renting before buying

The sprawl of Canberra suburbs was a mystery to us when we first arrived and renting a house first allowed us to decide which areas we liked, which suburbs we could afford, and to home in on where we would want to live permanently.

The dislocation of moving home several times in a short period has been stressful, but our 18 months in a rented house allowed us to decide that, yes, we did like this suburb, we did like the local schools and we were happy to put down roots in Canberra’s northern suburbs.

3) Supporting the Canberra Raiders

It might seem like a trivial thing, but our decision to sign up for season tickets at Canberra’s rugby league team, the Raiders, helped us to settle here very quickly.

We made new friends on the bus to the first match we attended. That friendship extended into a circle of friends, which now reaches far beyond Raiders match days.

I confess that, for the first season, we struggled with the rules of rugby league and had to work hard to name more than a few Raiders players, but over six months or so they became our team. It’s also hard not to take pride in the way the Raiders are such an integral part of the Canberra community – they are visible and accessible in a way that has astonished mini and maxi-CBRbound, and the posters on their bedroom walls have changed from Lionel Messi and One Direction to Blake Austin, Kurt Baptiste and the rest of the boys in green.

The three worst decisions

1) Signing an extended lease

In planning the move, we wanted some security, so before arriving we signed a two-year lease on a rental property. Within a year we were itching to have a place of our own. Within another few months, we’d seen a place we liked and ended up buying it. But what about that lease?

Aussie rules say that the landlord has to do all they can to re-let the property, but that if they can’t the existing tenant is liable for the rent until a new one can be found.

Thankfully for us, the house was re-let almost immediately and the new tenants wanted an early moving date – a month earlier than we’d actually bargained for. We were lucky, we had understanding landlords and a house that was easy to re-let, but we could have been saddled with rent payments alongside our mortgage payments for another eight or nine months. With hindsight, we should have signed a year’s lease and then renewed it if necessary.

2) Not buying appliances before we moved

High quality home appliances, especially European brand names, are hard to find and expensive to buy in Australia. Looking back, we could have saved a lot of money and avoided living with substandard appliances if we’d invested in things like washing machines and tumble dryers before making the move.

There are risks in doing that, if you ship brand new appliances to Australia, you could be liable for import fees. But nearly new stuff is fine, so use it first. Then you need to check that the stuff you ship over is actually available here – we bought children’s car seats which turned out to be illegal over here, and the other day I saw a car on the road (with UK number plates, so it was clearly fresh off the container ship) by a manufacturer that doesn’t have a presence in Australia, so parts and servicing are likely to be problematic for those new migrants. But if we made the move again, I’d do a bit more research and make a few more pre-move purchases to stash in our shipping container.

3) Not converting our currency at the right time

We kept waiting and waiting. We had some money in Danish kroner, some money in British pounds, and we just kept waiting for the exchange rate to improve. At the back of our minds were the long-gone days (around 2000) when a pound would buy you around $2.70. Then there were the horror days (around 2011) when it had sunk as low as $1.50. Of late, it has bounced between $1.80 and $2.20, but even at $2.20 we were thinking: “It’s not as good as $2.70.”

Then, of course, we decided to buy a house, and we needed to convert the money before we could close the deal. Looking at the exchange rates today (£1=$1.85), the $2.01 we got was pretty good, but if we’d make the currency exchange without a house completion deadline looming, having set our expectations well in advance, we have been 10% or more better off, and that’s a big difference when you are buying a house.


3 thoughts on “Trial and error

  1. A fascinating list, Mark. Your public sector jobs one is one of those how do you know what you don’t know situations. I hope it hasn’t been to your detriment income wise.

    Your worst decisions are largely hindsight ones aren’t they, rather than catastrophic. Your thinking at the time re long lease made perfect sense, but you couldn’t second guess how you’d feel when you got here. Still, I reckon it’s useful advice for others to think about.

    Who can ever get exchange decisions right!! Luck of the draw largely!


    • I still watch the exchange rate out of morbid curiosity but there’s a serious point there which is, for new migrants, converting your savings/house equity is the biggest decision of the move. Never again will you have such an opportunity to lose money or perhaps boost your funds with a single decision, so timing is crucial and avoiding a deadline-enforced transaction is probably the best way to make a good decision. As for the public sector jobs — yes, an oversight, but even had we known, we ended up arriving just after Abbott was elected and began cutting jobs there anyway, so either way I think that avenue was closed to us.

      Liked by 1 person

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