Moving to Oz: 4 firsts in my new adopted home

I just made the move from the UK to Australia – you can read all about the first stage of my family’s emigration journey in my previous post. We’re now into week four of living in Australia and, gradually, we’re getting all the basics of life sorted out. That means searching for a new house, a new mobile phone contract, new doctors, a new school and getting used to an unfamiliar culture, economy and way of life.

If you’ve never visited Australia (and you really should!), here are four of my formative first experiences to give yourself a flavour for the place.

1. My first trip to an Aussie supermarket

I knew from previous trips to Australia that Coles and Woolworths were the big supermarket chains to expect, and that’s exactly the two brands that we found in town. For a Brit, finding a store called Woolworths is a bittersweet experience, as our own British Woolworths brand went kaput many years ago. But the Aussie Woolworths is still going strong and is now one of the country’s largest companies. 

You get the same familiar feeling walking into a Coles or Woolworths as any other big supermarket. Aisle upon aisle of products, a lot of choice and a trolley with a wonky wheel that doesn’t want to go in a straight line (it’s a universal law that supermarket trolleys must always be impossible to control). The only difference is the brands on the shelves – a lot of unfamiliar names, varieties and products, with a few familiar ones dotted about too. The Pringles definitely look familiar but the tube looks smaller…or maybe I’m imagining that. 

The fruit and veg is also a rather different prospect to what you’d find in a UK supermarket. Golden egg zucchini, dragon fruit and ripe passion fruit abound in the fresh aisles. And if you’re a Brit, Aussie bacon will look ever so slightly odd too. The curing process used is different to the UK method, so bacon is light pink and looks like it’s already cooked (even though it’s still raw). That takes a bit of getting used to. And the standard packs of ham in Aussie supermarkets are definitely best avoided. Cheap ham has an odd wet, slimy texture, so get the premium ham from the deli if you want something similar to the kind of cured pork you’re used to. 

For those with a sweet tooth, try a Cherry Ripe (dessicated coconut and cherries covered in dark chocolate – yum!) or treat yourself to a Golden Gaytime ice cream.

2. My first run in Australia

Having spent more hours than I cared to remember cooped up on plane flights, I definitely felt the need to get out and stretch my legs once we were partially unpacked. I was used to running 5km three or four times per week back in the UK, so I was keen to get back into the habit and hold back the middle-aged spread that constantly threatens to overtake me. 

The town where we’re currently living has a nice footpath/cycleway that bisects the town, following the path of the local creek. So, this seemed like the obvious route to try when I first donned my trainers and headed out in the warm autumn sunshine. To begin with, my legs weren’t too keen on actually moving this quickly, but I gradually got into my stride and managed to set a decent pace along the creek path. I even spotted my first kookaburra, which was a good sign, even if it did fly off as soon as I got close.

The footpath meanders for around 2km in one direction and the same in the opposite direction. On the way back, I somehow missed the point where I originally started the run and ended up running all the way to the far end of the track. Not ideal, as it was getting HOT by this point and my poor British brow was going exceptionally pink in the Aussie sunshine.

By the time I got back to the in-laws house, I’d accidentally run 7km and probably sweated a few litres of water out. But it felt good to be exercising again…even if I paid for it the next day.

3. My first Australian mobile number

In our non-stop digital world, you can’t really function without a mobile phone. My partner and I both had our UK phones with us, but the reception was sketchy and the prices for data roaming were beginning to get exorbitant – so new Aussie mobile numbers were needed.

I’d already done some googling and reading up on the best networks in Oz and, to be honest, you really only have a choice of three:

  1. Telstra (the provider with the widest coverage)
  2. Optus (not far behind)
  3. Vodafone (coming in a poor third)

We’d already heard good things about Aldi Mobile, as they offer cheap monthly plans and use the Telstra network to provide their phone service. So, after a quick trip to the local Aldi supermarket we had new SIMs and could sign up online for a new Australian number and a pay-monthly contract. All very simple and efficient and we’ve had no complaints so far.

4. My first Australian bank account

If you’re going to live somewhere, you need a bank account in the local currency. So, setting up an Australian bank account was a real priority for me and my partner. As the most admin-focused of the two of us, she’d already done the research and set up accounts with the Migrant Banking team at our chosen big high-street bank.

That was the easy part. The tricky part was then actually getting security checked and getting access to the money that we’d already sent over via international transfers. The local branch of the bank was clearly massively understaffed. In fact, when we arrived at the branch for our security check meeting there were no employees in the bank at all! No tellers, no customer service people and no sign of anyone, apart from the other two bank customers in the queue. 

Had they all gone to lunch? Was the sole member of staff dealing with the cash delivery from the truck outside? Was the bank being held up by robbers, with the tellers trussed up with rope and staying quiet as mice out the back?? We didn’t know and a few long, curious minutes passed before anyone appeared. Then one teller popped up to serve the queue, and we were back in business.

As it turned out, the teller was also the woman we were booked to have our appointment with. So we had to wait for a second teller to arrive before teller #1 could leave her post and come around to the customer side for our meeting. All rather weird, and slightly disconcerting!

Eventually, after much umming, erring and scanning of passports, we passed all the security checks and were handed the cards for our accounts. The only problem with that was the cards themselves. Australia has its own nationwide payment network, called EFTPOS. It’s a way to pay for goods in shops and acts like a debit card. But it’s not a VISA or Mastercard, and it doesn’t allow you to buy online, or buy anywhere outside of Australia…so, not exactly the cards we wanted.

Four weeks on, and we’ve only just received the VISA Debit cards we need for our accounts. Unknown to us before we left the UK, to apply for a VISA card in Oz, you need a Tax File Number (TFN) with the Australian Tax Office (ATO). Without it, you can’t apply for the card. My partner, being Australian, had a TFN. But I had to go through the rigmarole of applying online for a TFN, waiting for a confirmation letter in the post and then applying through my internet banking for the VISA card I actually needed.

So, if you’re planning on emigrating to Australia, make sure you apply for a TFN well before you leave your resident country. Having that number will make life MUCH easier once you arrive and start sorting out your finances.

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Starting work in a new country

I run my own content writing business and was self-employed in the UK. So I’ve also been going through the motions of setting myself up as a new sole trader in Australia. I’ll be blogging about this in my next post, so why not follow the blog and get updated when this is posted.

If you’re thinking of setting up as self-employed, my Going Freelance book is the ideal place to start. It’s your 101 guide to starting a business, finding your first customers, running your finances and making sure you achieve a better work/life balance.

‘Going Freelance: Building Work Around Your Life’ is available now in Kindle and print editions on Amazon now.

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