Canberra, Australia Report of what it's like to live there - 05/17/12
Personal Experiences from Canberra, Australia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
I have lived in 7 other countries. Djbouti, Afghanistan, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey and South Africa.
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?
Fairbanks Alaska, 40 hours worth of flights.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Mostly single family houses, I drive about 25 minutes to the Embassy housing area.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are easily twice as expensive as in the United States. Quality of produce is not as good, and fresh food tends to go bad quicker. Cured meat products and sausages are not as good as the States. Meat products are good, cookies and things like that are excellent. Bakery isn't as good as the States, nor does it have the variety.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Clothing is very expensive like everything else here. We have tires shipped via tire rack to the APO.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
McDonald's, Burger King (called Hungry Jacks), KFC, and some local Australian ones. Sit down restaurants are very expensive. My wife and I typically spend $100 on a meal at a sit-down.
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 available.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Tons of spiders and black flies.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Expensive, minimum wage is $20 per hour.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, very expensive and equipment is kind of 3rd rate.
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?
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
The only problem lies with Orthodoxy. None of the Orthodox services are in English.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Cable TV is expensive and about 4 years behind the USA.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
None, this town is really well set up for that.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
All are safe, all are expensive. The train only goes to Sydney.
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?
Unless you are DOD and not a Diplomat you have to buy a vehicle here. It has to be right-hand drive. You can get some super deals on Diplomatic car sales through BMW, Volvo and so on.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, cost is about $100 for 100 gig.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Same as in the States.
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, for a month and a $5000 bill.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
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?
Tons, and the pay is much better than in the USA or anywhere else.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Same as the USA.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Safest capitol city in the world.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Health care is horrible, good quality doctors but a really bad system of delivery. Hospitals are 3rd world: don't come here with medical problems.
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?
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, wonderful spring and fall, cold, but not snowy, winters.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
None, everyone goes to public or private school. Public school education quality is very low, and the kids are very poorly behaved. My wife teaches school at a public school near our house.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
They take care of them well.
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?
Preschool is $50-150 per day.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Tons, every sport.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge, but they don't hang out.
2. Morale among expats:
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?
Not much, BBQ at the park?
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Excellent for families, fine for couples. Singles will have to work hard and network to meet others.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Australians seem to be more accepting of the community, and there are a few in the Embassy.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I wouldn't want to be a non-native English speaker in this country, and if you are not white you might not want to come here either. Racism is more of the kid type than the KKK type.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Wonderful wildlife: kangaroos, cockatoos, other birds.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Anything involving the outdoors. Lake Burley Griffon splits the city in half. Tons of parks, wildlife, golf. Very well set up competitive shooting disciplines.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
You could buy aboriginal art if you wanted to. But the prices are horrible.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Australia is a vacation spot, but not really Canberra. Australia is easily the most expensive place I have ever been.
11. Can you save money?
No chance, all things together we make $100,000 per year and are just barely surviving.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Only to visit.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Pet, left-hand drive car, and firearms. A new law prohibits the importation of firearms. You can join a gun club and eventually shoot in matches. Hunting will involve hiring a paid hunting guide. Hunting is excellent here.
3. But don't forget your:
Coat. It gets cold here in the winter.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you have any other comments?
Canberra is an OK town. The Australians will infuriate you with the antiquated medical system, lack of customer service, and arrogance. You will love the wildlife, the scenery, and often the food.