Canberra, Australia Report of what it's like to live there - 04/27/09

Personal Experiences from Canberra, Australia

Canberra, Australia 04/27/09

Background:

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

No, Shanghai.

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2. How long have you lived here?

Nearly 3 years.

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

Government.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

About 24 hours from the East coast via SFO or LAX.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

The housing market is very tight here. Embassy is mostly putting new families on the North end of town where there is new development. The commute to the Embassy is 15-20 minutes by car and there is no public bus where we live.

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

With the current exchange rate the prices are fine. But if the dollars are equal Canberra is very very expensive. You can find most products here expcept for a few things like Mexican food supplies, grape jelly and bisquick.

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

If you are on a very limited budget then sending extra skin care products, shaving products, and paper goods would help a great deal.

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

Typical McDonald's etc. Restraunts are good around Canberra but have restrictive hours. You will not find any 24-hour restaurants and many places don't start serving food until 6pm. Costs are high.

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

Ahhh Australia has tons of insects. The most bothersome but not deadly is the common house fly which are in mass quantaties anytime the temperature is over 70 degrees. Canberra has lots of spiders including red backs which are poisonous. Lots of ants too and wasps and and and...

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Daily Life:

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

We use the APO at the Embassy which takes 2 or more weeks for stuff to get through. The APO is subject to the strict quaranteen standards so nothing with egg or corn products.

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

Hard to find and very expensive. Regular cleaners are about US$30 an hour.

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

Yes.

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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?

ATM's are fine and plentiful. Your U.S. credit card will charge you a fee for exchange rates. Some people have been able to get Australian Credit cards but some have not.

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

Yes in most denominations.

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

Yes. You can get 4 basic channels on free to air. Most people have cable or satalite. Currently a full package on satalite is about US$90.

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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?

Everyone speaks English but it takes a while to figure out what they are saying. But people are very friendly and helpful.

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

Depends...our neighborhood has no sidewalks and in many stores the doors are not wheelcair friendly. I think the downtown part of the city would be fine.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis are expensive and often not reliable. No trains and bus system is fine if it goes to your neighborhood.

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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?

You are not allowed to bring a left hand drive vehicle so will have to buy one here. We are not the offroadign type so just have a people mover.(station wagon). Gas is expensive about US$1.20 per liter at the moment.

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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 but NOT very high speed. You will notice a significant difference in speed if you are coming from the U.S. Also very expensive and there are no unlimited use plans.

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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?

You will want to buy one once you are here. They have a different philosophy on who pays. There are no plans with unlimited minutes and the person making the phone call is charged minutes not the one receiving.

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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 for 6 months and they are very strict on this.

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

Fine.

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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?

Buisness dress at work and casual around town.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Good.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

Same as U.S.

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

Depends on the suburb you live in. But overall a safe city. Embassy houses have an alarm system. We live in the south end of town and have had no problems.

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

Great health care. The only thing you have to get used to is waiting for your turn. Unlike care in the U.S. you can wait several weeks and or months to get into speicalist docotors and or testing. Some people end up in Sydney if they need to see a specialist.

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

Currently Canberra is in a pretty bad drought. This means lots of water restrictions and not a lot of green grass in a city that was built to look much like a park. But there are 4 distinct seasons with no snow in the winter.

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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 are no international schools and no schools with U.S. curriculum. One of our children attends private school and the other who has special needs attends public school.

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

Public schools seem to work with special needs more than private school. There is far less integration into the mainstream classes than in the U.S. Early intervention services through the age of 5 are similar to the U.S. But waiting times to get into the system can be long.

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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?

Yes but expensive. Public preschool is avaialable for 12 hours per week. Either in 3 short days or two long days.

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

Yes soccer, netball, rugby, cricket, rowing, etc.

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Expat Life:

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

Pretty large.

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2. Morale among expats:

Fine.

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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?

Social life is ok. Being a small city you get small city entertainment. But Sydney is onlya 3 hour dirve if you need a big city fix.

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

Really great for families not so great for singles. Great for couples if you like outdoor things. If you are into the big city stuff you will be dissapointed here.

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

Yes Australia is pretty open.

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

Canberra is not a very diverse town but people are friendly.

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

Lots of outdoor things and not a far drive to the snow in winter and great beaches in summer.

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

Aboriginal artwork.

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9. Can you save money?

No.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes we love it here.

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

Extended family and friends as getting them here for a visit is a long long journey and expensive.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunglasses, hat, suncreen and waterbottle. The sun is really really strong.

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

None to Canberra but Tim Winton an Australian writer has some good fiction about Australia.

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

None to Canberra but Tim Winton an Australian writer has some good fiction about Australia.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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