(42!) Things to Know Before Moving from the U.S. to Australia
Thinking of moving to Australia? It’s not easy. While this post is focused on moving from the U.S., much of it can be used when moving from anywhere.
The main lesson we learned is everything takes time. More time than you realise.
The application process for a partner visa takes a long time just to get the documentation together and organized. It took us about 4 months. Allow for this time.
Make sure you make copies of all of the important documents and get them notarized. Check with your local bank and see if they offer notary services for free (Bank of America does with our type of account) but only with certain documents.
Before starting the process, check with the Australian Embassy, or office you are sending the application to, to see what checklist THEY use. With Rich’s visa, we found 4 different, although similar, checklists. The Australian Embassy in Washington DC used yet another checklist we had not seen before and just as we were about to submit, found 3 more items on the list we didn’t have.
Be sure that you check the lists closely and don’t miss ANYTHING. Take note of all the instructions, including the minute details like staples, binders, etc… Get it all organised and in order before sending anything in. We did this and Rich’s visa was approved much faster than we anticipated, with comments of “extremely organised and easy to process” from the immigration office.
Check your medical insurance to make sure that you aren’t locked in to a contract. (This is specific to the self-employed.) If this is the case, you may have to send letters to their grievance department. If you are moving overseas, state that. It’s a ‘life change’ and they will accept this pretty readily. Unfortunately though, you have to go old fashioned and write letters to some entities.
Give yourself plenty of time to get your records from your doctors, dentists, optometrists. This saved us a lot of time and money once we moved to Australia. But make sure you do this in plenty of time. Just when you think it’s an easy process, someone is sure to screw something up. It took me five follow ups to get our vision records, and I refused to pay a fee of $25 per patient just to get our medical records (they are OUR records for Pete’s sake, but that was their administration fee). I figured that if my future doctor needs it, they can request it directly for free.
SHIPPING ‘THE STUFF‘
Shop around for shipping companies. In the U.S., we’ve learned that Mayflower and Van United are combined under one entity called Unigroup. We had one surveyor come to our house representing both. While we went with United ultimately, Mayflower were the ones who came to the house to pack. Go figure.
Have at least three companies come and do surveys of your stuff to get a solid idea of cost. This will also give you an idea of response times and commitment. We found one company called Crown which boasted to be “One Point of Coordination”, meaning they don’t use agents. Crown also boasts a port exemption, where they can have their shipments sent to their warehouses portside and customs come to them because they are that large. I believe they said they did over 100,000 international moves in 2012. Unfortunately while they were quick to provide info on a quote, they weren’t quick at all to follow up on the surveyor’s quote or schedule a moving date. That’s what I mean by giving you a good idea of response time and commitment.
Make sure you have plenty of time to get the surveys before you move. This is another thing that takes time.
Shipping companies have wiggle room on their prices, so shop and compare then negotiate prices! (This came directly from one of our surveyors who used to own a shipping company himself.)
Be aware that to get through customs smoothly, it’s better to have the movers pack The Stuff for you. That way, there is no ‘red flag’ on anything you packed (where you sign a waiver saying you packed it and release the shipping company of any liabilities) and if anything is broken, the shipping company is liable.
Know that your quote most likely won’t include everything. ie Door to Door doesn’t mean it will also includes insurance or ‘protection’ since they can’t legally use the word insurance. That service is extra.
If you are moving from summer to winter, it’s a good idea to get mold and mildew coverage if sending your stuff by ship. Just saying…
Remove dirt from everything and I mean everything and with a fine toothcomb. Otherwise, it’s a flag for the quarantine inspection. Think about bikes (you may need to buy new tires for your bike in order to pass quarantine inspection), tents and camping equipment, gardening equipment, sporting equipment, shoes… Otherwise, quarantine will completely unload your container, sanitize everything, reload it and charge you for the privilege. That’s also extra. So, prepare in advance.
Be ready emotionally on packing day. If you are a control freak and have packed your own things in the past, this is a huge adjustment. It’s hard to watch someone else pack your stuff. Oh, and have some things to do while in the house, otherwise you are sitting around watching them pack.
SELLING YOUR CAR IN THE U.S.
Don’t ship your car to Australia (unless it’s a classic car you plan on sell in Australia and rake in the funds.)
Instead, sell it before you move. Get an idea of what your car is worth. Check nadaguides.com, Edmunds and kbb.com and if you don’t want the hassle of selling it privately, go to CarMax first for an appraisal. They base evaluations on local sales as well as with these guides. If you are happy with the offer, take it. They give you a bank draft that very day.
Don’t be afraid to go back to the original dealer where you purchased the car. Most of the times they are eager to have the car, as long as it’s in very good to excellent condition.
AUSTRALIAN SIZING AND VOLTAGE/WATTAGE
Check sheet sizes. Australian and US beds are different sizes. If you are shipping your mattresses you’ll need US size sheets, but if you are buying mattresses in Australia, buy them when you arrive.
Keep in mind that Australia uses the metric system, so when you arrive, everything from beds to measuring cups will be in metric measurements. ie. metres, kilograms, millimetres etc.
Along those lines, if you are shipping anything electrical, check the wattage as well as the voltage. We had a simple Mr. Coffee Latte Maker that we wanted to ship but turns out to run it on 240 volts, we would also need a $1500 transformer. The one thing we did ship was my Kitchenaid Professional model Mixmaster because Kitchenaid’s are $800 for a basic model in Australia. Even with the $500 transformer we had to buy to run it, it was still cheaper (and I use it a ALOT so it was money well spent).
Don’t expect real estate agencies to respond to you if you are still out of the country. They have been burned on international proxies previously, and therefore will not work with you until you are in country.
Be sure to have a copy of your financial statements as well as references from both personal, professional and from previous landlords for the application process. A cover letter also helps, telling the potential landlord who are you and your family are and why you want to rent their property. Having this, along with all the other information ready to go, gave us a MAJOR leg up on the application process.
Apply for your Medicare, Bank and Drivers Licence BEFORE applying for a rental property. (See the 100 point system on the application process). Also make sure you have a phone so that rental managers can contact you.
Rentals in Sydney are in high demand. Be prepared with everything you need for the rental applicationprocess, in case you find the house you like on the first day. There are number of good links out there with a simple Google search, but these ones I found particularly helpful:
Mum’s Gone 2 OZ – An entertaining, yet useful blog about expats moving to AU. Useful when you don’t have Australian residency history.
Rental properties do not come with fridges or washing machines, like they do in the U.S. Be prepared to buy a fridge and washing machine.
Schools are broken up in Primary (K-6) and High School (7-12).
You must establish residency in the desired catchment area before you can interview and enroll. My suggestion is to research the schools online, find your top 3-5, then look for real estate in those catchment areas.
Schools will not respond to your inquiry unless you are in their catchment area. Some will, but it will be a ‘call us when you’ve found a house’ type of response.
Make sure you have your children’s latest report cards, transcripts etc from their old schools. This will help place them into the right classes.
You will meet with a year advisor when you enrol. Be sure to know what classes your student will be enrolling in before arriving. You can find out this information before arriving by asking for the information over the phone from the Year Advisor (each year is known as Year 7, 8, 8 etc rather than Freshman etc..)
The school system in Australia is by calendar year. School begins late January, early February and ends just before Christmas in December, with two week holidays throughout the year and summer holidays between Christmas and the end of January.
School uniforms are mandatory and if you decide to go private, they are even more strict. One tip: When enrolling, ask if they have a Uniform Shop. It’s where the school sells used uniforms at remarkably discounted pricing. For example, I bought two school uniform tunics for Natalie for $20 at the Uniform Shop at her school. They uniforms were in great shape and clean. Retail would have run me at least $80 each. For school shoes, look at Big W, Target and discount shoe stores at DFO (Olympic Park). I make the mistake of shopping for Clarks at a speciality shoe store. The shoes were $120 and had holes in the them within 6 months. The next pair I bought at at discount shoe store at the local shopping centre for $25 and they are still going strong after a year.
Simplify your accounts before you leave.
Transfers both between banks domestically and transferring via wire transfers internationally take time. Sometimes up to 10 business days.
Check your receiving bank to make sure they have no limits on incoming funds. We found out ours has a limit, so we have to transfer in smaller increments. Smaller increments however, also means more fees overall.
USForex is a great company to use when you are transferring money overseas. If they have a location in your receiving country, you are only paying the domestic transfer fee (in our case, $3 – $10 per transaction, depending on how fast we want the funds to go).
Understand job offers clearly before accepting: If you are offered a ‘package’ know that superannuation, taxes etc are included along with your annual salary. If it is not stated as a package, all of those things are in addition to your paycheck and those are items your employer is required to pay.
SHIPPING ANIMALS TO AUSTRALIA
Pet relocation costs are expensive. There are limited agencies available to provide a door-to-door-service in taking animals from your U.S. residence to the quarantine station in Australia. It’s recommended to use an agency, but the difference in response time is significant. Plan for this to take weeks just to get quotes and a response.
While some companies are cheaper, they take longer to respond. Others may respond quickly but when you receive the quote, you’ll see why. You pay an exorbitant amount for this response time, yet you may not be getting the level of service you require, only information you can already find on the internet.