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Moving to Australia from the US
Looking to leave the politics of it all and escape to the land Down Under? We got you covered.
Some 8.7 million Americans — excluding the military — live overseas, according to the US State Department. 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 Down Under, here’s what you need to do to make sure your relocation is as smooth and easy as possible.
5 popular Australian 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 give Americans between the ages of 18 and 31 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 you may be eligible to apply for — check out our Australian visas and citizenship guide for more details.
What do I need to apply for a visa?
This will vary depending on the type of visa you’re applying for, though you’ll need to present the following documents at a minimum:
- Completed application form — this can be found on the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) website
- Valid passport
- Certified copies of the biographical pages of your valid passport or travel documentation
- Certified copies of your birth certificate
- Two recent, passport photos
- Visa payment fee
- Police clearance — applicable when applying for a permanent residence visa
How much will my visa cost?
The costs involved depend on the visa you apply for. For example, a partner subclass 309/100 visa starts at $5,100 to apply for, while the work and holiday visa subclass 462 starts at $325.
How long will it take for my visa to be processed?
Once again, this will depend on the visa you apply for. For example, the Department typically processes a partner visa within 17 to 23 months, while a work and holiday visa processed online can take as little as 38 days.
What to consider when booking a flight to Australia
A large number of the world’s major airlines offer flights from the US to Australia, though these may be limited right now due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Typically, 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. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, you might have trouble finding a flight on your chosen travel date. You can visit our Flight Finder for help booking a seat on the next flight Down Under.
How long is the flight from America to Australia?
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.
How to tie up loose ends before you move
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, 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 — just make sure you find a company that offers secure and cost-effective storage options. You might want to start your search by looking into Storage King USA or Self Storage Association.
When it comes to moving your possessions to Australia, your best bet is to enlist the services of a shipping company that specializes 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 less than 12 months old, you might be hit with extra fees.
5 things to do before you move to Australia
Here’s a quick list of things you might need to do before you leave:
- Cancel your subscriptions and ongoing transactions. This includes services like your Internet, utilities and car insurance.
- Advise banks and offices that you’re leaving. You should get in touch with your bank, the IRS, your supervisor of elections, your jury service and other government offices to inform them that you’re leaving the country.
- Take care of your loans. This includes your mortgage, car loans, student loans and any other outstanding balances. If possible, see if you can continue making payments from an international account.
- Obtain your medical documents. Contact your doctor and dentist for your medical history so that you can share these documents with your new healthcare providers in Australia.
- Forward your mail. Contact your local USPS branch to see what the process is to get your mail forwarded to your new address in Australia.
How to set up a bank account in Australia before you move
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 organize 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.
How to send money to Australia before you move
If you need to fund your new bank account or simply have cash waiting for you when you arrive, the services and products listed below can be used to send money to Australia, sometimes with competitive exchange rates and low fees.
You can read more about a particular service by clicking More in the table below. Or click Go to site to be taken to the product website to start an application or registration.
Do I still have to pay taxes if I move to Australia?
Yes — while moving to Australia can bring much joy and many wonderful things into your life, one thing it can’t do is get you out of paying taxes.
The equivalent of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in Australia is the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). And depending on your circumstances, you may even have obligations to both of these government bodies.
Income taxes in Australia
Australian residents who earn an income have to pay taxes 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. The government then uses these taxes to pay for hospitals, schools, police services, roads, railways and airports.
To be considered an Australian resident for tax purposes, you typically need to be living in Australia permanently, be an overseas student enrolled in a course that’s 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 taxes 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 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 what you owe 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.
What else should I know about paying taxes overseas?
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’ll 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.
Superannuation and Social Security benefits
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 roll over 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.
Social Security Agreement between Australia and the US
As of October 2002, the Social Security Agreement between Australia and the US 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 count periods of coverage in the US 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 US.
For Australia, this agreement covers the age pension, disability support pension, pensions payable to widowed persons and carer payments to partners of people who receive an age pension or a disability support pension. For the US, it includes retirement benefits, disability benefits and survivor benefits.
If you’re a US citizen residing outside of the US, 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 (ACS) unit 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.
Can I drive on an overseas license in Australia?
Laws and regulations regarding driving on an overseas license in Australia differ between states and territories, but generally most allow you to drive on an overseas license as a temporary resident or visitor for as long as it’s valid, so long as you’re 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 license must also hold an International Driving Permit (IDP), which must be obtained from the country where the license was issued.
If you’re a permanent resident, most states and territories will require you to convert your overseas license to an Australian license after having been in the country for a set period of time — typically three to six months, depending on the state or territory.
Of course, it’s always good to remember that Australians drive on the lefthand side of the road.
For more information about driving in Australia on an international driver’s license, check out our guide to living in Australia.
How does the healthcare system work in Australia?
Australia’s healthcare system is a mixture of public and private programs. The public program is called Medicare. Every Australian citizen is eligible for a Medicare card and free or subsidized treatment by health professionals. Free treatment and accommodations as a public patient in a private hospital is also possible.
But if you’re an American citizen living in Australia, any medical treatment you receive will not be covered by the US Medicare System 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 give you the coverage you need to pay for any medical costs that may arise.
How to study abroad in Australia
In the 2011-2012 school year, 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.
Still paying back student loans? Read this before moving abroad.
Even though you might not be living or working in the US anymore, it doesn’t mean you can avoid paying back your student loans. While unemployment, inability to find full-time employment or a period of economic hardship may help you qualify for deferment of your loan, your circumstances in Australia might not.
Skipping loan repayments will cause your loan to go into default, which can ruin your credit score and even lead to legal action taken against you. If you’re having problems paying back your federal loans, consider changing your repayment plan. Or if you have private loans, reach out to your lender to explore your options.
How to feel at home in Australia
Making the transition from one country and culture to another can be difficult, but there are facets of life in Australia that might make you feel less like a fish out of water and more like an American expat living Down Under.
- We speak the same language. 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.
- Online shopping makes it easy to track down your much-loved US products. There’s no need to go without your favorite candy bar or skincare products!
- Halloween is on the rise Down Under. Even though it’s traditionally an American holiday.
- An increasing number of US expat groups have formed. This helps you keep in touch with your roots and celebrate holidays and events like the 4th of July or the Super Bowl.
5 Australian slang terms you need to know
Before you head Down Under, make sure you’re up on these slang terms:
|Australian term||American term|
Case study: An American expat in Australia
- City and country that you’re originally from: Sheboygan, Wisconsin
- 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, including a special visa like a working holiday visa that was good for four months, a student visa to get my master’s degree, a one-year working holiday visa, a de facto visa, a bridging visa and — finally! — a permanent residency.
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. The 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 without any trouble.
How did you find somewhere to live? Was it easy or hard?
I think I found somewhere to live 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.
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?
- 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.
- Use apps to keep in touch with people. 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 moving to Australia?
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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