The pros and cons of expat life in Sydney

4 May 2017

It’s big and it’s brash and it’s very Australian. This, surely, is all you need to know to brace yourself for an assignment in Australia’s largest and most cosmopolitan city? Think again.

Australia has a national gift for easy-going irreverence. This is the country after all that was berated by more conservative cultures in 2006 for their tourist board slogan “Where the bloody hell are you?”. Yet Sydney is more complex than you might think. We’ve taken a look at the pros and cons of expat life in this fascinating city.

Pros: cosmopolitan, culturally diverse

Sydney is a thriving, buzzing, melting-pot of a city. The population of around 5m people includes all nationalities and faiths. Significant Greek, Chinese, Lebanese, Fijian, Korean, Vietnamese and Italian communities exist alongside the Australian-born majority, yet all are proud to call themselves “Sydney-siders”. It is a highly tolerant society too, with all major religions accommodated and an acceptance of LGBT lifestyles.

Cons: expensive

But it’s not a cheap place to live. The 2016 Mercer Cost of Living Survey, only ranks Sydney as the 42nd most expensive city in the world to live in, but this may come as a shock since the cost of living in Sydney has risen substantially over the last two decades. The mining boom, increased wages and strong exchange rates have had a dramatic effect, and expats will find many items more expensive in Sydney. A 3-bedroom apartment in the city centre will cost $4-5,000 (AUD), a bottle of beer around $7, and a loaf of white bread $3. And with cigarettes around $25, now might be a good time to kick the habit.

Pros: excellent health and education

The national healthcare system, known as ‘Medicare’, offer high-quality, affordable care, for those who enrol in it, and Medicare cover is provided as part of a reciprocal agreement with a select group of countries. However, if you are not a national of one of these countries you may find at least a lot of red tape in your way if you want to be covered. If not, the Australian immigration authorities will want to know that you have private medical cover before granting a work visa.

Education is somewhat easier, with high-quality education available in the usual mix of state-funded and private schools. Expats will, however, be required to pay something towards education in state schools, which takes the form of either enrolment fees or ‘voluntary’ contributions (which are actually mandatory).

Cons: remoteness

It doesn’t matter how often people tell you, it still comes as a surprise for many expats: Australia is huge, and Sydney is miles from anywhere. Apparently adjacent points on the map end up being a few hours’ drive, and the continent itself is of course massive. It will take longer to drive from Sydney to Perth than it would from London to Istanbul. Fortunate then that Sydney airport is well served by both international and national flights.

Proud locals will tell you that Sydney is a city that has it all; this is just as well because getting it from anywhere else will take hours if not days.

Pros: climate

The Sydney climate is described as ‘temperate’ with warm but not oppressive summers and winter temperatures that rarely go below 10ºC. As a result, there is a strong outdoor culture combined with an all-pervasive love of sport, with joggers, cyclists, rowers and all varieties of sports actively promoted by Sydney authorities and undertaken by locals. There are more than 100 sandy beaches in the area and the beautiful natural harbor is dotted with sails against the backdrop of what is surely the world’s most recognisable opera house. Professional sporting events are also often staged here, and Sydney hosted the 2000 Olympic Games; there can be few more sport-minded cities in the world.  

Summary

Sydney is hugely popular with expats, driven largely by its cosmopolitan style and booming commercial importance. It features in many list of ‘top expat destinations’: InterNations considers Sydney the world’s 8th best city destination for expats, while Mercer puts it in 10th place. It is a healthy, thriving, sporty metropolis: pack your trainers and set of for a few years of the good life – but be prepared to pay for it.

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