Canberra, Australia Report of what it's like to live there - 11/01/10

Personal Experiences from Canberra, Australia

Canberra, Australia 11/01/10

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

DC-5 hours to LA, then 14 hours to Sydney and then 45 minutes to Canberra

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3. How long have you lived here?

Almost a year and a half

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Most have single-family dwellings with 4 bedrooms/2baths. Canberra is not that big, so even if one lives in the outer suburbs, the commute is 30 minutes max. Tne average commute would be 15-20 minutes.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Groceries are very expensive, especially compared to DC. You get used to it after a year.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Nothing particular. One can always order anything via APO.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

McDonald's, KFC, Subway, and Hungry Jack (Burger King).There are some nice restaurants in city centre and Manuka/Kingston. Everything is more expensive than in DC.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

One can easily find organic products here.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Be careful of redback spiders which are poisonous.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

APO

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Average is $30 an hour for a cleaner.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes, and very nice ones. Unfortunately, like everything else in Australia, gym memberships are pricey.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

No problems with ATMs or credit cards.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes--heaps of different ones available.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Canberra Times--which isn't anything special. Cable TV is not as good as I was expecting for the expensive price one must pay. Popular US shows are at least 1 season behind.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

English is spoken here.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Safe yes, but not convenient--some neighboorhoods don't even have bus service. This is a hard city to be in without a car.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Diplomats can't bring in a car unless the steering wheel is on the right-hand size.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, and it is pricey and not even unlimited.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

No--there are many options to choose from.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

YES--minimum one month and it will cost you.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Good.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

YES. People who work on the economy make much more than working at the embassy. Even high-schoolers working part-time at the grocery store after school make more money per hour than most EFMS at the embassy.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Like DC.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Brushfires are a threat during the summer.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Good health care, but ambulances are not quick. Also, expect to wait hours and pay a lot of $$ to use an emergency room. Better to use an after-hours clinic if one is sick during the weekend or in the evening if it is not an emergency.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Good.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

There are 4 seasons. Spring and Fall are the lovliest. Winter can get cold, but mild compared to DC. Summer is hot and dry.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

There is no international school--but the Australian schools are quite good. Boys' Grammar and Girls' Grammar are the premier private schools and are excellent. One has to be mindful, however, about the differences in curriculum and the differences in the school calendar (February-December.)

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Private schools do not make accomodations--one must go to public school. I don't know much more about it, other than speech therapy is not offered. There is a program for autistic children.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

My kids are school-age, so I have no experience, but I've heard its like DC--pricey, and one must be on a waiting list before arrival.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Heaps. You name it--soccer, basketball, rowing, horseback riding, futsal, hockey, softball, baseball, swimming, gymnastics, and so on...

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

A decent size.

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2. Morale among expats:

Excellent. The U.S. Embassy has a friendly and popular ambassador, which helps. This is also a nice place to live.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

BBQs are popular, of course!

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

All the above--although better for families because Canberra can be sleepy compared to Sydney or Melbourne.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Noen that I'm personally aware of.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Traveling around Australia--to the Outback, Darwin and "Crocodile Dundee country", Tasmania and more.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Bush-walking/hiking is the biggest. Also it is only about 2 hours from skiing and beach. Close to vineyards.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Dijoridoos, boomerangs, opals, and aboriginal art

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Little to no traffic or pollution, low crime, loads of kids activities

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11. Can you save money?

Absolutely not. EVERYTHING is expensive, and with the currently unfavorable exchange rate, it is even worse.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

In a heartbeat. Most people leave kicking and screaming.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

notion that Australians are exactly like Americans.

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3. But don't forget your:

sunscreen--the sun is really strong here (actually you can buy that here).

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

"In a Sunburnt Country" and "The Thorn Birds"

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Muriel's wedding, Stricly Ballroom, and The Thorn Birds

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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