Canberra, Australia Report of what it's like to live there - 04/30/10

Personal Experiences from Canberra, Australia

Canberra, Australia 04/30/10

Background:

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

Not my first- Moscow, Yekaterinburg- Russia, Bishkek- Kyrgyzstan, Kiev- Ukraine, Frankfurt- Germany, Tripoli- Libya, Riga- Latvia, Tirana- Albania, Olso- Norway, Bern- Switzerland, Minsk- Belarus, Perth- Australia.

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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 D.C, with 2 plane changes, one in LA or San Fransisco, another plane change in Sydney.

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3. How long have you lived here?

April 2008- April 2009

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

Diplomat at US embassy

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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 people are in single-family houses spread out all across ACT, some even live just inside New South Wales (NSW). My commute was usually 20 minutes. Singles were usually in small bungalow houses or apartments.

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

Again, more sticker shock. Australia is a VERY expensive place to live. Think $3.50 for a bottle of Coke when it's on sale. We were spending about $500 every 2 weeks on groceries for just the two of us. Use the butcher shops, though -- the meat is much better in quality at a lower price!

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

Charcoal-lighter fluid, US BBQ sauce, but that's about it.

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

McD's is here, as well as Hungry Jack's (It's Burger King). There are also all of the usual pizza places (as in the US) and KFC. I felt they were better than in the USA -- but much more expensive.

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

Many different kinds of poisonous spiders and scorpions! I had them all in my house at one time or another. We also had a HUGE fire ant problem outside. The pest control company we called brought a small army of people to get rid of them.

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Daily Life:

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

We used the embassy APO, but we also used the local Aussie Post for mailing letters and packages to Europe. Local post was a bit more expensive but very reliable.

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

We didn't use regular domestic help, but we did occasionally hire a company to help keep the yard tidy...quite expensive, but very high quality.

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

Yes, but be ready for the sticker shock! Very 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?

Credit cards are safe here, and ATMs are more common than fast-food places!

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

Yes! All denominations, and in english. They even have a Buddhist service in english.

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

Yes! You name the paper, and it's here. There is Fox cable TV in my area, but its far too expensive for what it is. It's better not to be a TV addict here.

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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?

It's an english country! It helps to know some of the local slang. Otherwise you could easily take something the wrong way.

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

None whatsoever. This is probably the most handicap-friendly country in the world.

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Transportation:

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

Trains are the best way to get between major cities. They are very cheap, comfortable and reliable.

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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?

Don't even think about bringing a car here -- even if you're from the UK. They have very strict rules for cars here, and they must have been made to Australian specifications. We bought a Toyota RAV4 when we got here, but we wish we'd bought one with a bit more power. Australians are very aggressive drivers, even outside the city. Think of driving in DC or London to get an idea. Car repairs are very expensive here, so I'd suggest buying a model that is also available in the US. Then you can order parts from the US and save a lot of money. I have heard that car-jackings have been a problem in Melbourne and in some of the more remote outback locations (bike gangs).

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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?

High Speed internet in Canberra is something of a joke. All companies avertise "Up to 20mb per second" and charge $100 a month for it. On a good day I may have had 3mb per second, and forget about doing anything serious on the internet during prime time (6-9 pm) because the speed will slow down to dial-up speeds. I had frequent outages and very poor service from Big Pond.

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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?

They are cheap, and you have a choice of companies. We were most happy with Vodaphone. Look at the plans carefully, though, because overage charges will break the bank.

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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, and they also need a massive number of tests and shots before you even get here. Quarantine times can be 3 months long! I don't know what goes on at the facility, but people have told me that their pets were never quite the same after they got out.

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

Pets get very good care here. I think the only thing the Aussies love more than leisure time is their pets.

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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?

It's a very good place to work on the local economy. Pay scales were better than 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?

Same as working at HST! Public dress is the same as the US.

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Health & Safety:

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

No real concerns. There is a growing anti-immigrant sentiment in the country, and there have been some attacks on Asian and Indians/Pakistani students. There are problems with motorcycle gangs in the deeper parts of the outback.

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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?

Allergies. I was never allergic to anything until I got here. Now I test positive for allergies to just about every native plant. There is excellent private medical care, but the hospitals are almost third-world quality. Don't come here with major medical issues!

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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?

Very good, except people like me, who have never had allergy issues, may find that they're allergic to every growing thing in Australia.

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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?

Very similar to southwestern Texas. Hot, dry summers with cool wet winters. I saw only one snowfall ( in July!) the whole time I was there.

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Schools & Children:

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

I didn't have any direct experience with them...but I knew of some children that attended Australian public schools.

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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?

YES! I didn't have my daughter in one, but I knew Australians that had their childern in them. They are very heavily regulated and quite expensive. Fees for being just 15 minutes late could range up and over $100.

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

Yes...but limited to swimming, soccer and tennis.

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Expat Life:

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

There is a huge expat community but very little interaction among expats.

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2. Morale among expats:

Outside of work, morale was very high because it's such a great place to live. You just had to survive the very low morale at the embassy.

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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?

Australians are a very social people, and its easy to make Australian friends. Be sure you bring a bbq grill with you -- that seems to be their number-one past time!

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

It's very good for families and singles! For families there are a ton of parks and activities geared towards childern. Australians love children, and it shows in the summer-time events in the city. For singles, the Australians are just very nice people. I knew a lot of single men who left Australia either engaged or married to Australians! Clubbing is essentially dead in Canberra, since the whole city seems to roll up by 7 pm. Best to head to Sydney for that.

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

I knew some gays and lesbians, and they were quite happy there. There really aren't any problems with anti-gay hostility. Again, though, best to head to Sydney for the gay clubs.

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

Just a few. Like Europe, there is a real backlash against immigration, and there have been some attacks on Asians, Indian/Pakistanis, and Africans.

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

Trips to the Beach! Its a 2.5-hour ride to the Pacific ocean from Canberra, but the road can be quite frightening through the mountains.

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

PARKS! Without a doubt, they do have the best wildlife parks in the world. It was easy for my wife and me to find pristine beaches that weren't overrun with tourists.

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

Aboriginal art and the usual touristy junk you find in Florida.

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

Best advantange is the Australian people- nowhere in the world will you find a nicer people.

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11. Can you save money?

No way. Even with the huge COLA, the cost of groceries and the necessity of getting out for a weekend will ruin your wallet.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes, but only for vacations!

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

...pets. It is best not to put them through all of that. I really missed my dog. Leave your car behind, too. And don't pack any plant-based material, like spices or furniture.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunglasses and sunscreen! Bring some Claratin-D or Zyrtec-D, just in case.

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

It is tough to find books on Canberra. The best way is to look up Aussie news on the web.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

I can't remember the titles, but keep an eye on PB -- they show some Aussie TV programs.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

We loved Australia and wish we didn't have to leave early!

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