Living in Australia
Australia is notably one of the best places to live. But, like any other countries, it has its own set of customs, culture, and way of doing things, which may differ from a student’s home country and require some learning and getting used to. We have put together some details about life in Australia to help students plan ahead and adjust into Australia more easily.
Students are strongly encouraged to arrange their accommodations prior to their arrival. There are generally three options for accommodations: on-campus residence, homestay, and off-campus housing (private rentals).
Students can find residence options offered by a school, along with the residence application deadline on the school’s website, or by contacting the school directly. Many international students, and out-of-town domestic students, choose to live in residence during their first year instead of making off-campus arrangements to make their transition easier. Campus residences are furnished, and often also include cleaning and meals. On-Campus housing is an excellent way for students to make friends and immerse into the Australian college/university experience in a supportive and structured environment.
Another great way to connect with local Australians is through the homestay program. Students can also choose to live with an Australian family, who becomes their “host”. The “host” family is screened by a professional agency. One popular agency is the Australian Homestay Network. There are many other options that students can consider as well. Some schools may even have a preferred homestay agency that they work with. Students can research this on their school’s website or by searching “name of school” and “homestay” on Google.
Students also have the option of renting an apartment or a room outside of school. Some schools have services that help students find a place, known as off-campus housing assistance. Students can find housing on websites like Student Housing Australia, Flatmates and Gumtree, or by searching on Facebook. When searching, use keywords like “(name of school) student housing” or “(name of school) rentals”.
For temporary accommodations, students can also consider staying at a hotel or Airbnb, many of which offer discounts for extended stays. Please note that this is an expensive option and should only be used as a last resort.
Transportation services play a big factor in choosing where to live. If a student is considering living off-campus, they should research ahead to ensure the commute to- and from campus will be convenient.
Australia has a robust public transportation system, which makes it easy for students and other commuters to get around the city. All major towns in Australia have reliable, affordable public bus networks. Train lines also connect commuters in and around the five large suburban cities: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, and Perth. Trams, ferries, and light-rails are also available in some of the major cities for longer-distance travel.
Many tertiary institutions offer concessions to subsidize the cost of local public transportation for their students. Students can obtain the discount when they purchase their bus pass.
Cars and Driving
Australia has a large network of roads and highways, making long distance travel by car possible between most places.
Australians drive on the left side of the road, and the majority of vehicles have steering wheels on the right side. Automatic transmission is also far more common than manual (stick-shift) transmission.
In Australia, driving regulations, and licenses are managed at the state-level, and can differ from state to state. Some states require students to carry an International Licence with their current foreign licence. Other states request students carry their current foreign driver's licence together with a formal translation of their licence into English. Students can only drive vehicles which their overseas licence authorizes them to drive and they must drive according to any conditions on their overseas licence.
In addition to a driving license, all drivers must also have vehicle insurance before they get behind the wheels.
Students should always review the transportation website for the states they will be driving in, and ensure that they are meeting all the licence requirements prior to getting on the road.
Taxi and Ridesharing Services
All cities and towns have one or more companies that offer taxi service. However, taxis can get quite expensive so they are typically only used when public transit is not a feasible option.
Uber, Ola, Didi, GoCatch, and Taxify ridesharing services are popular options and available in many parts of Australia.
Due to Australia’s large size, people often travel between major cities and states by airplane. All main cities have airports with regularly scheduled flights to and from many places. Some of the most popular Australian airlines include Qantas, Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia, Jetstar Airways, Tigerair, and Fiji Airways.
Banking and Money
The currency of Australia is the Australian Dollar (AUD). There are 100 cents in one dollar ($1). Australian dollar notes come in denominations of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100. Coins are issued in denominations of 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, $1 and $2.
Prices are rounded up or down to the nearest 5 cents in shops and supermarkets. For example, one would pay $1.95 for an item priced $1.97, but $2 for an item priced $1.99.
Cash, Cards, and Online Banking
Cash is an acceptable form of payment in almost all scenarios, however debit cards and credit cards have emerged as the more common payment method for all transactions due to convenience. Cheques are used fairly frequently for large amounts, such as rent and bill payments. Internet banking is also widely accepted for paying bills and conducting other transactions. Many post-secondary institutions also offer online banking options for tuition and account payment.
Students can withdraw money from their bank account to obtain cash. Students can withdraw cash by visiting any of the branches of the bank they have an account at. At the bank, students can speak to one of the tellers (bank’s customer service representatives) or withdraw the money on their own using one of the bank’s Automated Teller Machines (ATM). ATMs are accessible during and after a bank’s business hours, including evenings and weekends.
For an additional administrative fee, students can also withdraw money from another bank’s ATM, as well as from private ATMs. Private ATMs are not affiliated with any banks, and are typically found in restaurants, bars, gas stations, and grocery stores.
Opening a Bank Account
Many Australian banks offer great account options for students, including some specially designed for international students with special services to help them save on international transaction charges and make managing their money easier.
A student can set up their bank account before arriving in Australia by completing the online application on the bank’s website upto three months before their arrival date. Upon arrival, students can book an appointment with their local branch to prove their identity and access their account. Student’s passport and a proof of permanent address, such as on a utility bill or a tenancy agreement, is usually required.
Students can also open the account in person once they land. They will need to bring their passport, acceptance letter, and proof of a permanent address.
The four biggest banks in Australia, with plenty of local branches across the country are:
- National Australia Bank (NAB)
- Australia New Zealand Bank (ANZ)
- Commonwealth Bank of Australia
- Westpac Banking Corporation
Additionally, online banking institutions, such as ING Direct, RaboDirect and UBank, are becoming a popular option for Australians who prefer to manage their finances online.
Students can access quality internet and mobile phone service in Australia. Wi-Fi internet is available across campuses, accessible to students through their college/university email account, which they will create once they enroll at the institution.
Students can order high-speed internet for their residence for a monthly fee through local service providers. Some of the major internet service providers are Telstra, Optus, TPG, iiNet, Dodo, Vodafone, Belong, Aussie Broadband, Exetel, and SpinTel—many of whom also offer mobile (cell phone) plans.
The majority of people living in Australia use a mobile/cell phone as their primary communication device, however, some people still use landline phones at their residence. Students can bring a cell phone with them from their home country or purchase a new one in Australia. Apple iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, Google Pixel, LG, Motorola and Huawei are all widely available in Australia.
If the student is bringing their own device, they can purchase a new SIM card and get a SIM-only month-to-month mobile plan from a service provider. If students want to get a new phone, they can pay for it at the start of the contract, or pay a small amount per month, on top of the SIM-only plan, to cover the cost of the phone until it is paid for.
Students also have the option of purchasing a prepaid SIM plan, and adding more money as needed. Students will have to pay upfront for the new phone if they wanted to purchase one.
Students can buy a SIM card almost as soon as they land in Australia. Major providers like Telstra, Optus and Vodafone have dedicated stores or stands in most major international airports. SIMs from smaller providers are also available in some of the bigger airports. Outside the airport, students can find even more SIM options, and purchase one directly from the mobile plan provider, or at convenience stores and at major supermarkets. Some of the other mobile plan providers are Belong, Dodo, Virgin Mobile, TPG, iiNet,, Exetel, and SpinTel.
Many of the prepaid and month-to-month phone plans include long-distance calling and texting service included for some countries. Students can add extra services if their home countries are not covered. Alternately, and more commonly, students can take advantage of internet-based communication platforms, such as Skype, WhatsApp and Telegram.
From grocery shopping to take out, there are many options available on- and off-campus. Most neighbourhoods have grocery stores and supermarkets where students can easily get groceries and personal care supplies.
There is also a variety of ethnic restaurants, specialty stores, and supermarkets that students can eat at and shop at to stock up on their favourite foods and stay in touch with their culture.
Entertainment, Media, and Sports
Like all urban centers around the world, Australian cities offer a range of entertainment options. No matter where students stay, they will find many activities to suit their interests.
Since most major Australian cities are located on the coast, relaxing at the beach, participating in beach sports, and enjoying a barbeque at the beach, are amongst the popular Australian activities. Students also enjoy going out to eat, grabbing a drink, enjoying the nightlife and catching a movie.
Australians also love playing and watching sports. Popular sports in Australia are rugby, cricket, Australian football, tennis and netball. Major professional sports teams in Australia include Cricket Australia, Australian Football League (AFL), National Rugby League, Super Rugby, Football Federation Australia, National Basketball League, Netball Australia, and Baseball Australia.
Universities and colleges also have sporting clubs and facilities on campus for students interested in playing sports. Institutions do not commonly have professional teams or competitions with each other.
Australia is one of the most peaceful and safest countries globally, but regrettably incidents can happen anywhere. International students should follow the same common-sense safety precautions as they would anywhere in the world. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind:
- Call 000 in any emergency. This is a central number for police, fire and ambulance throughout Australia.
- Reports any incidents, no matter how small, to the local police.
- Be cautious with strangers and aware of surroundings. Students should trust their instincts and leave uncomfortable situations.
- Walk on well-lit, busy streets and avoid isolated areas. Walk with a friend when possible. Most institutions also have some form of security on campus, and offer security escorts to accompany students around the campus after hours and drop to the bus stops and nearby housing.
- Swim only in areas that are marked safe for swimming, and are patrolled by surf life savers (life guards).
- Do not go swimming or hiking, or participate in any other active outdoor activities during dangerous weather conditions.
- Keep a friend informed about your whereabouts and when you will be returning home.
- Keep your belongings secure, and your home and car doors locked.
- Do not leave your drinks unattended, and do not drink and drive.
Adjusting to Life in Australia
Australians welcome international students with open arms, and hundreds of thousands of international students study in Australia happily and safely. However, it is natural to feel homesick from time to time.
Australian education institutions provide a wide range of support services to make your study experience easy and stress-free. These include: language and academic support; designated international student advisers; on-arrival reception and orientation programs; student accommodation; employment services; prayer and worship rooms; on-campus banking, shopping and food outlets; and, clubs, societies, and sport and fitness facilities. There are also many activities on-campus to help international students get to know other students, make friends and explore their new city and country.
Students should take the time to explore their neighbourhood and attend local events, while remembering to stay in touch with their own culture and their family back home and embracing the best of both worlds.