Canberra, Australia Report of what it's like to live there - 05/26/11

Personal Experiences from Canberra, Australia

Canberra, Australia 05/26/11

Background:

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

No, London, Yerevan, Guangzhou

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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?

Washington, DC.About 20 hours totaly travel time. Connections in Sydney, LA or San Francisco.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years

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

U.S. Embassy Employee

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Mostly single family homes. The availability of apts is very limited, especially in the desirable sections of town. This is a driving city and public transport is impractical. Commute times are generally reasponable. My guess is 15 minutes is the average, but traffic is getting worse as the city grows. Commute times go up if you have to cross the lake as the bridges are bottlenecks.

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

Almost everything you could want is available in grocery stores, although some brands are different than in the States. Groceries are significantly more expensive.

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

There isn't really anything I can't get here.

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

Lots of good neighborhood restaurants. McDonalds and Burger King (it's called Hungry Jack's here) are everywhere. There are also a number of Australian fast food chains. It is expensive though. It costs around $10 U.S. to eat at McDonald's.

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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?

All are widely available.

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

Lots of black flies, but those are little more than an annoyance. There are poisonous spiders and I see them quite often. They come into the house when it starts to get cold, but they aren't aggressive and antidote is available if you are bitten.

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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?

Expensive, but available.

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

Yes, but they are expensive.

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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?

Easy and everywhere.

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

Various options.

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

Free to air TV with lots of U.S. shows. Sattellite for $60-100 a month with a lot more.

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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?

If you don't speak English it will be difficult, but they you probably wouldn't be reading this.

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

No more than in the average U.S. city.

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Transportation:

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

Safe, but not always convenient. Local public transport leaves a lot to be desired. Taxis are prohibitively expensive. Buses and trains to Sydney and Melbourne are great.

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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?

Must be right-hand drive unless you are in the military. Any make or model will work.

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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?

Widely available. Costs around $60-100, depending on download limit.

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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?

Similar to the U.S.

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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, this can be very problematic. Australia is rabies free and the quarantine restrictions are extreme (and costly)

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

yes

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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.

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

Generally just a bit less formal than the U.S.

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Health & Safety:

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

Less than an average U.S. city.

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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?

Some poinsonous wild life. Health care is great.

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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?

As good as it gets.

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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?

Hot, dry summers. Chilly, wet winters. The buildings aren't insulated like at home, so while the winters are relatively mild they are pretty chilly.

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Schools & Children:

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

No kids, so I couldn't say.

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

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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?

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

Tons. Australians love their sports. U.S. sports like baseball and American football are around, but much less prevalent than soccer or rugby.

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Expat Life:

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

Relatively small.

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2. Morale among expats:

Generally high.

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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?

Lots of options. You have to work a bit to find the spots you like, but you can find pretty much anything you would want to do here. Canberra can be sleepy sometimes, but there is a lot of fun to be found if you go looking for it.

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

Families definitely. Couples definitely. For singles its a mixed bag. It is a good dating environment for both genders, but the cost of taxis and need to drive most places can make going out difficult. The social scene might be a bit sleepy at first glance, but there are some gems hidden around town. Generally, anyone should be able to be comfortable here.

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

Very accepting. I don't know what the social scene is like, though.

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

Australians might make the odd comment that comes across as prejudice to American ears, but I don't see any serious problems with discrimination.

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

Travel to places like the Great Barrier Reef and Tasmania.

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

Anything outdoors. The nature parks are great. There is a suprisingly good food scene and a passable wine region. It's also a 2-3 hour drive to the beach, skiing, and Sydney.

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

Local art. Australian wine.

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

Beautiful weather and tons of outdoor experiences. Great for hiking, biking, etc. It is easy to make friends in the local community.

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11. Can you save money?

Not easily.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

In a second.

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

Expectations that you are going to a big city. Canberra is a small town and if you can accept it for that it is a great place to live.

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3. But don't forget your:

Cash. No way around it. It is expensive 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?

There aren't a lot of books on Canberra. The Party Thieves is great for politics. The Fatal Shore for history.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

The Castle. It's everything you need to know about Aussie humor. The longer you live here the better it gets.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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