Canberra, Australia Report of what it's like to live there - 05/02/23
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?
Student in Germany and Denmark, expat in Nairobi, Kenya and Bangkok, Thailand.
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. 24-30 hours to family in the northeast US.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What years did you live here?
Arrived in 2021, depart 2024.
5. 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?
Housing is mostly suburban SFH with some apartments available. What "Urban" living there is, is that of a pop. 350k city built in the country.
Suburban housing has a smaller footprint than new US builds. Houses are poorly-insulated for winters here, built using the same tech as in Queensland and in my opinion, almost criminally energy-inefficient. Pack sweaters and a hot water bottle. Nice yards, gardening is a fun perk for this expat after other posts. Top drive time border to border in the ACT is 30 minutes. Average drive time to anything is 15 minutes. "Traffic" is a two minute wait at the stop light in the morning.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Inflation everywhere is a bugaboo right now. Australia produces most of its own food so is both protected from global fluctuations but also tends to have funny things like "it's cold up north so the chickens are sad and not laying, everybody do without eggs" hippie life, support the farmers, etc. Everything is in English, but you might need new vocabulary to search what you actually want to buy. Take a few months to figure out what you really need to order in
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
I can only speak for us. Canberra claims it's a foodie city. If that's slapping mayo on fried food, then maybe it is? I find it really bland and disappointing. Turkish and some other takeouts can be excellent, but it took trial and error. North side has much better Asian.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Don't freak out over the Aussie wildlife, it's fine. Yes, I've met most of the baddies. They just wanna live.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I've tested both out. Aussie works for cards to euro relatives just fine. Packages are better US mail to Canada even. Price and speed.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Plenty of people have cleaners and nannies. Pest control and landscaping. Labor costs real money here because it's fair wages.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Plenty of gym chains and YMCA-run leisure centers with pools. Also mountain bike parks, open space, rowing sailing and dragon boat clubs, horse paddocks, every sports ball league and then some, ice rinks, cycling and triathlon, ad infinitum. We moved here from Colorado, it's nearly comparable.
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?
Yes. During COVID they barely accepted cash so contactless payment is everywhere. Yes, ATMs are fine.
You don't pay at the pump here for gas. Fill up, remember the pump number, go up and pay.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Seems to be plenty.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is it.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
There are ramps and lifts. Some braille signage. Public transit has accessible seating though often no audible stop announcements. Sometimes the older suburbs and buildings haven't been updated and it could be an issue. The US embassy has stairgliders retrofitted to cramped 1940s stairwells, and some pretty steep hills. IMO not ideal.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Safe, middling priced. They don't come far enough into the suburbs, nor do they run very often in most non-downtown areas. Bus lines do not connect to the Sydney train. You can walk the two large blocks from the north side to the Murray bus (which also has a direct airport stop in Sydney). Taxis and Ubers are safe. Read up on sitting up front when alone here -cultural norm.
2. What kind of vehicle(s) including electric ones do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, infrastructure, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car or vehicles do you advise not to bring?
Buy one here, right hand drive. Used is fine, inspections and mechanical requirements are high standard. We like having a small AWD SUV for towing and trips further afield in comfort. Close in to town there are a ton of national parks with dirt roads that are fine with 2wd, more fun with awd. Down at the ski mountains snow chains can be required for the final jaunt up to the lifts. It's not usually a ton of snow (see above, Colorado) but they don't clear roads as fully as they do in the northern US.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
We live south side. High speed broadband here, and everywhere else. They did hybrid learning during pandemy. Main reason I'm submitting this, to get updated information out there. I work remote to the US and never have a problem, including high usage data processing calls.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Telstra has the best coverage. We keep Google Fi lines as well.
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?
The FAMER knows more than I.
I telecommute to the US from our housing. The time zone is a lot, but mostly it works. My salary is a little better this way than working locally.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Wildlife. I think you have to get certificates and background health stuff for other types, which isn't difficult but both costs and takes a weekend or longer of time.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Athleisure for me? I don't feel out of place, relaxed town. There is a formal dance if you want to buy tix. The embassy sells a custom Hawaiian shirt here. Probably if you're outward facing you need some office drone attire. If you want to be fashion forward, go you! I've heard Aussie public servants tend to rock the outdoorsy puffer jacket "uniform" from a local brand, Kathmandu.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Minor theft from unsecured vehicles and houses.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Specialists can take a wait. Five months for me. Some drugs are very controlled here. If you have a major issue it can be faster to go stateside. We're fine with providers for all our stuff here, just takes a bit more paperwork (dental, vision, PCP and other specialists).
Sun is stronger here. It's good to get a dermatologist checkup and stock up on the huge range of sun hats, lightweight long sleeve sports shirts, and swimming "rashes" they have available.
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?
Some funky grass pollen doesn't like me, and I'm not usually prone.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
The embassy provides purifying fans. Hope we don't, but if there's a bush fire we know from experience smokey days are inside days.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
I don't think so, but seasons are opposite, remind yourself a bit when thinking through the first six months.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Highs in the 90s, lows in the high 20s F. They only sell tiny ice scrapers which are more annoying than useful. It's pretty humid so winter frost on your windshield is a guarantee.
All seasons here are pretty great. It is nice to get some warmth with a trip in winter, especially as it's US summer.
Schools & Children:
1. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
No idea. My morale is great as I speak the language, and have lucked into some local friends. My biggest issue is the work time zones juggle.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Join a hobby club. Sports, crafts, volunteering, arts are all represented here. Websites are in English. They're on social media. There are a ton of resources and like-minded people of all stripes here.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think single, not awesome, but childfree couples and families do well.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Yes. I'm getting too complacent over the about the still-active racism towards indigenous aboriginal Australians. I keep in mind my own country's record. Overt verbal racism from late-50s-aged Aussies is commonplace. Perhaps that's only to those who are White like me, as a pathetic defensive conversational test, but from the news I think not.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes. The latest census shows Canberra has the highest percentage of lesbian couples in the country. The rest of the LGTBQIA+ spectrum are well represented. The city hosts a government which passes the most progressive legislation on same sex rights of all Australian states. The public service and universities attract and retain a diverse work force. According to a four-day-old Reddit thread, Sydney Mardi gras and Melbourne nightlife are supposed to be great, yet Canberra is still a safe place to live and work.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Australia has a macho side that lags progressive cities in the US. Canberra isn't too bad. In 2020 they had their #metoo with stories coming out about abuses and harassment in Parliament. Professional women's sports are arguably more active and attended here, including with visiting US teams.
There's religious, cultural, and ethnic diversity, but not as much as in the real cities.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Quality of life in Canberra itself is excellent, with one caveat for shops closing at 6pm. There's almost too much to do.
The beach is great. The mountains are great.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
SwimGuide has the water testing results for the lake in summer, so I can go open water swimming.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Travel is great. Seeing kangaroos out back of my house is great. Getting McDonald's or groceries delivered is great.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The houses are glorified tents. I would have shopped for a better variety of indoor layers for winter.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia
The Happiest Refugee (audiobook if possible)
6. Do you have any other comments?
This place is laid out like a sprawling Reston, Virginia. It's way better. If you are hung up on status and excitement, it's not for you. Having lived in more stressful places, I dig it.
Cleaning all the garage and camping gear for the biosecurity regs made it by far the most complicated and time-consuming move we've done.