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Moving to Australia from the US
Want to know how to make your move to Australia from the United States run as smoothly as possible? We’ve got some pointers that might get you there...
According to the US State Department, some 6.32 million Americans (excluding the military) live overseas. And while those Americans have settled in all corners of the globe, many of them have made their way to the land down under to start a new life.
With friendly locals, a thriving economy and some of the best beaches in the world, Australia makes one very attractive destination for US expats. It’s a developed country where the locals speak English, the weather is warm and the job prospects are good for the right people. So yeah, why not move to Australia?
If you’re nodding your head and considering moving to Australia from the US, here’s what you need to do to make sure your relocation is as smooth and easy as possible.
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Visas available to American nationals
American nationals coming to Australia will obviously need to do so on a visa. While there are a number of visas you may be eligible for, some of the more popular Aussie visas for Americans include the:
- Partner (Provisional) visa (subclass 309) and the Partner (Migrant) visa (subclass 100). If you’re the spouse or de facto partner of an Australian citizen, permanent resident or eligible New Zealand citizen, these visas allow you to travel to and live in Australia. You must be outside of Australia when you apply for this visa.
- Work and Holiday visa (subclass 462). This youth visa is designed to allow Americans between the ages of 18 and 31 with the opportunity to work and study in Australia for up to one year with restriction. US citizens can choose to apply for this visa online.
- Higher Education sector visa (subclass 573). Americans who wish to study higher education in Australia may do so with the 573 visa upon being accepted into an approved Australian educational institution.
- Temporary Work (skilled) visa (subclass 457). Skilled workers can consider applying for one of Australia’s most popular visas, the Temporary Work visa. To be eligible you’ll need to be sponsored by an approved Australian business.
- Investor Retirement visa (subclass 405). This visa is designed for self-funded retirees who want to see out their retirement years in Australia. To be eligible for the 405 visa you must have no dependents, be 55 years or older, meet certain income requirements and be able to make a long-term financial investment in Australia.
There are plenty of other visas for which you may be eligible to apply for. See our Visas and Citizenship page for more.
Getting to Australia
A large number of the world’s major airlines offer flights from the US to Australia. These flights can take you to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth or Adelaide, though the vast majority of arrivals will land in Sydney or Melbourne. Direct flights leave from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Honolulu International Airport, Burbank, San Francisco International Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. The most popular route out of all the available options is LA to Sydney.
Flights are offered by several airlines including Qantas, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Virgin Australia, Hawaiian Airlines, Jetstar, Air New Zealand and United Airlines. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding a flight on your chosen travel date, though cheap tickets on the most popular routes during peak periods (around July to August) tend to sell out quickly. To save money, it might be worth considering flying during the low season, which is October to November and March to May.
It’s no secret that Australia is a fair way away from many parts of the world, so you can expect to strap yourself in for a long flight. Flying direct from the US west coast to the Australian east coast (the quickest possible journey from the US mainland) will take you around 13 or 14 hours.Back to top
Moving: Tying up loose ends before you leave
One of the decisions you’ll face when moving overseas is what to do with all your stuff. Relocating to a foreign country gives you a good excuse to sort through all your possessions and get rid of “junk” you no longer want or use. Even then, you might still be left with some stuff you’ll have to decide whether or not to bring with you to Australia.
For the possessions you leave behind, you might like to consider putting them in storage. It’s easy and affordable to hire a storage unit to hold the items you can’t bear saying goodbye to – but make sure you look for a company that offers secure and cost-effective storage options. Companies such as Storage King USA or Self Storage Association are some possibilities you might like to look into.
When it comes to moving your possessions to Australia, your best bet is to enlist the services of a shipping company that specialises in international relocations. These companies can take a lot of the stress out of moving your life overseas and can ship your belongings to the Australian capital city of your choosing. Companies you might want to consider include Cargo Master, Trans International and OSS World Wide Movers.
Remember that you may be charged certain fees for importing goods to Australia. If you import goods that you have owned or used for more than 12 months, they won’t be subject to duty and taxes. However, if any of your possessions are new or less than 12 months old, you might be hit with extra fees.
5 tasks to consider doing before you leave
Here’s a quick list of things you might need to do before you leave:
- Cancel your subscriptions and ongoing transactions: Cell phone, Netflix, energy supplier, opticians, car and life insurance, water supplier, ongoing charity support, TV license, Spotify, broadband and landline.
- Advise banks and offices that you’re leaving: Specifically your bank, the IRS, customs, council/government bodies that deal with voting, jury services and other mandatories that may be required of citizens.
- Take care of your loans: Mortgages and student loans.
- Obtain medical documents and history: Contact your doctor and dentist for your medical history in case you need hospital or health care in Australia.
- Redirect your post: Either to your family and friends or to your new home in Australia.
It’s worthwhile setting up your finances in Australia before you leave home. This enables you to hit the ground running when you arrive down under and gives you access to the finances you need to establish your roots.
Many major Australian banks offer migrant programs to help new arrivals organise their finances before they set sail for Australia. While the exact services offered differ between banks, you can typically apply for an account online while you’re still in the United States and then start transferring money into your account as soon as you wish. Once you’ve arrived in Australia, you can then visit a branch of your bank with the requested proof of identification to access your funds and start spending.
These migrant programs also make it easier for you to apply for other banking products, such as savings accounts and credit cards, and provide other resources to help make your move to Australia as easy as possible. Banks that offer these service include: Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank, ANZ and Westpac. International banks like HSBC and Citibank also have a range of services to help you transfer banking products and services from the US to Australia.
Another option you might like to consider is taking out a credit card in the United States that is specially designed to suit overseas spending. These cards typically waive any foreign transaction fees and can help you save money on your purchases in Australia.
Finally, some new Australian arrivals choose to open a foreign currency account. This allows you to hold funds in more than one currency and might be useful for those who are still receiving an income from the United States. You’re then able to take advantage of fluctuating exchange rates and convert your US Dollars to Australian Dollars when it suits you.Back to top
Employment and tax
Moving to Australia can bring much joy and many wonderful things into your life, but one thing it can’t do is get you out of paying taxes. The equivalent of the IRS in Australia is the ATO (Australian Taxation Office) and depending on your circumstances, you may even have obligations to both of these government bodies.
Income and tax in Australia
Australian residents who earn an income have to pay tax to the ATO. You’ll have to pay tax on the income you earn from working, investments and any business or government benefits. How much tax you pay depends on how much you earn and the government uses taxes to pay for hospitals, schools, police, roads, railways and airports.
To be considered as an Australian resident for tax purposes, you’ll typically have to have moved to Australia and be living there permanently, be an overseas student enrolled in a course more than six months long, or have been in Australia for six or more continuous months and worked and lived in the same place.
To report your earnings and file a tax return in Australia, you’ll need to apply for a Tax File Number (TFN) from the ATO.
Income and tax in the US
Don’t automatically assume that moving overseas will free you from having to report your income to the IRS. Every US citizen and green card holder is still required to file a US tax return when residing overseas, even if you’ll also be filing a tax return in Australia.
Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be double-taxed. If the foreign income you earn is less than a certain amount, and if you meet time requirements for overseas residency, you might not have to pay US taxes, however, you will still need to file a return. If you don’t satisfy these requirements, you might receive Foreign Tax Credits to offset your liabilities to the US Government. US citizens residing overseas may also receive an automatic two-month extension to help them get their return in on time.
Renouncing your status as a US citizen (under certain allowable circumstances for expats) will mean you may no longer have to file a US tax return.
Other taxation information you should be aware of as a non-resident of the US
There are other tax implications to consider for US residents living overseas. For example, you’ll have to disclose foreign accounts aggregating over $10,000 at any time across the course of a year, with hefty penalties if you fail to do so. If the total value of specified foreign assets you own exceeds a certain limit, you will also have to fill out a Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) form.
In addition, if you’re renting or selling your home while overseas you may be liable for state taxes.Back to top
Superannuation and social security
If you work for an employer in Australia, that employer is required to contribute a portion of your salary into your superannuation fund. This is similar to a 401(k) in the US and is money you will use to fund your retirement. Currently in Australia, your employer must contribute 9.5% of your salary to your superannuation fund, though this figure may rise to 12% in the coming years. If you visit Australia on a temporary visa and then leave the country, you may be eligible to access your superannuation balance once you’ve returned home.
If you have a 401(k) and are moving to Australia, it may be possible to rollover your 401(k) into an Australian super fund or withdraw the proceeds as cash. However, doing so may cause you to incur hefty tax penalties, so it’s best to seek professional advice tailored to your situation.
As of October of 2002, the Social Security Agreement between Australia and the United States has been in place. If you’re a US resident who has worked in Australia during your working life, you may be eligible to claim an Australian pension and may be able to count periods of coverage in the USA as periods of residence in Australia to help you meet minimum qualifying requirements. The same deal is in place for Australian residents who have worked in the USA.
For Australia, this Agreement covers the Age Pension, the Disability Support Pension for the severely disabled, pensions payable to widowed persons and Carer Payments to partners of people who receive an Age Pension or a Disability Support Pension. For the USA, it includes Retirement Benefits, Disability Benefits and Survivor Benefits.
If you’re a US citizen residing outside of the USA, you might still be eligible to receive social security benefits. The Office of International Operations is in charge of administering the Social Security program outside of the US. The American Citizens Services unit (ACS) assists recipients of US federal benefits who are residing in Australia.
In the majority of cases, if you’re a non-US citizen and you’re residing outside of the US for more than six months in a row, your Social Security payments will be stopped.Back to top
Driving in Australia
Laws and regulations regarding driving on an overseas licence in Australia differ between the states and territories, but generally most states and territories will allow you to drive on an overseas licence as a temporary resident or visitor for as long as it’s current/valid, so long as you are not disqualified from driving in Australia or elsewhere.
While this is true for most states and territories, in the Northern Territory anyone holding an overseas licence must also hold an International Driving Permit (IDP), which must be obtained from the country where the licence was issued.
If you’re a permanent resident, most states and territories will require you to convert your overseas licence to an Australian licence after having been in the country for a set period of time (typically three to six months, depending on the state/territory).
Of course, it’s always good to remember that Australians drive on the left-hand side of the road.
For more information regarding driving in Australia on an international driver’s licence, see our Living in Australia guide.Back to top
Health care in Australia
Australia’s healthcare system is a mixture of public and private systems. The public system is called Medicare. Every Australian citizen is eligible for a Medicare card and free or subsidised treatment by health professionals such as doctors, specialists and optometrists. Free treatment and accommodation as a public patient in a private hospital is also possible.
If you’re an American citizen living in Australia, any medical treatment you receive will not be covered by the US Medicare scheme or Australia’s Medicare. With this in mind, you might want to consider taking out a private health insurance policy specifically designed for American expats. This will help give you the cover you need to pay for any expensive medical costs that may arise.Back to top
Studying in Australia
In 2011/2012, more than 280,000 US students studied abroad, with some 5% of them choosing to further their education in Australia. The land down under is home to some world-class universities, many of which offer spaces for bright and talented international students.
There are also a number of scholarship and exchange programs in place to encourage US students to head to Australia. For example, the Fulbright US Student Program is the largest international exchange program in the US and offers ample opportunities to undertake studies and research overseas. The Institute for International Education also offers fellowships to US graduate students looking to study or research abroad.
To legally study in Australia as an international student, you will have to obtain a Student visa, which you may become eligible for once you’ve been offered and have accepted a placement in an approved Australian educational institution.
MUST READ: If you’re still paying back a student loan…
Even though you might not be living or working in the US anymore, it doesn’t mean that you can avoid paying back your student loan. While specific circumstances, including a period of unemployment, inability to find full-time employment or a period of economic hardship, may be reasons qualifying you for a deferment of your loan, your circumstances in Australia might not.
Skipping loan repayments may mean that your loan will go into default, which can result in a poor credit rating and legal action may take place to obtain your due funds. If you’re having problems paying back your loan, you may wish to consider changing your loan repayment plan. In any case, if you have a student loan, don’t ignore it. If in doubt, you may wish to consult the Federal Student Aid for more advice.
Feeling at home in Australia
Making the transition from one country and one culture to another can be quite difficult, but there are a number of things in Australia that might make you feel less like a fish out of water and more like an American expat living in Australia:
- Apart from a few very minor differences, Australians and Americans speak the same language. This will be a great help when you’re settling in.
- There’s plenty of US culture to be found in Australia. From TV to movies and everything in between, you’ll come across plenty of familiar faces and voices.
- The rise of online shopping means it’s easier than ever to track down your much-loved US products in Australia. There’s no need to go without your favourite candy bar!
- Halloween. Although it’s traditionally an American holiday, Halloween is on the rise in Australia.
- An increasing number of US expat groups have formed to help you keep in touch with your roots and celebrate important days like the 4th of July or the Superbowl. Look around your city (and listen out for the accents) on these important American dates if you don’t believe us.
And naturally, a few key translations to make the transition that much easier:
An American expat in Australia
- City and country that you’re originally from: Sheboygan WI, USA.
- City and country that you’re living in: Sydney, Australia.
- Employment status: Full time.
Visa status: Over the years, I’ve been on a few different visas. They are:
1) A special visa like a working holiday visa (I don’t think it exists anymore) that was good for four months. 2) A student visa to get my masters degree. 3) A one-year working holiday visa. 4) A de facto visa. 5) A bridging visa. 6) Finally, permanent residency!
NB: Kristen has been in Australia since 2008, but she returns back to The States to visit family quite often.
Why did you decide to move to Australia?
I’ve always loved the ocean and the Great Barrier Reef, plus it’s a good climate! I hadn’t been planning on moving for good when I came initially. I just graduated and was going abroad before getting a proper job and career.
What were some of the things you had to consider before migrating?
The very very far distance from home.
What steps were involved with obtaining a visa? Did you find it difficult or easy?
The two working holiday visas were pretty easy, the student visa was mediocre, I think I had to do a medical check but can’t remember for sure. De facto and permanent residency were very VERY hard, expensive and a LOT of work!
How did you set up a bank account? Did you face any difficulties in Australia?
I just went to the Commonwealth Bank and did it, no trouble.
How did you find accommodation? Was it easy/hard?
I think I found accommodation on GumTree and I lived and worked with a family. It took some work but it wasn’t too terrible. Then I lived in university housing when I studied.
[In Australia] things are MUCH more expensive! Rent is way more too, at least more than the Midwest, although minimum wage here is much more. I did have one job where the boss hired internationals and didn’t always pay minimum wage, so it’s worth checking!
How have you found adjusting to Australian life?
Overall, not bad. The time difference makes it hard to talk to people at home and things are MUCH more expensive! Rent is way more too, at least more than the Midwest, although minimum wage here is much more. I did have one job where the boss hired internationals and didn’t always pay minimum wage, so it’s worth checking!
Do you have any tips or advice for other expats in your situation moving to Australia?
- To girls: Buy cosmetics in America and bring them over, then ask family to mail you what you need when you run out. Things like nail polish are painfully expensive here! For some of my clothing basics and staples, US stores ship here now and it’s cheaper to order from The States and pay for shipping than to buy things like shorts and tanks here (as long as you know your size, that is!).
- WhatsApp and magicJack are both apps that are great for staying in touch with people at home cheaply.
- You don’t have to tip here, at least not much, but I still find it hard not to! Drinks cost WAY more than in Wisconsin, but make sure you take your turn and buy a round – your “shout”!
- Resumes seem to be formatted a little differently here, you don’t have to have just one page.
- Buy an NFL game pass or head to the pub if you miss football. Go to the Great Barrier Reef! Go to the beach! It’s all beautiful! But look out for blue bottles (and box jelly fish up north) and swim between the flags!
If you could do it again, would you change anything about the way you went about migrating?
Not that I can think of.
Handy addresses and phone numbers
- Embassy of The United States
Yarralumla, ACT 2600
Telephone: (02) 6214 5600
- US Consulate General
Level 10, MLC Centre
19-29 Martin Place
Sydney, NSW 2000
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