Moving to Melbourne: Part One

This post comes in response to a friend of a friend who’s preparing to move from the United States to Melbourne in a few months.  There are things you should absolutely know before moving from the United States to Australia to start your Working Holiday. This is only part one, the things to do before you leave and upon your first week in Australia.

What you should do before leaving the United States.

The most time consuming thing is to get your credit cards in order. If you plan to use them in Australia for any reason you’ll want to do this. If you don’t have a chip in your credit card, you will want to contact your bank and try to get one issued to you with a chip. Also, if your credit card does not have a Personal Identification Number (PIN), you will want to contact your bank and have one set up. If you can try to ensure that the PIN is the primary verification required. This will mean any transactions you have will be smooth on arrival.  Australia has been using chip-and-pin for a long time, so if you do have to swipe your card you might have to explain how to the person with the credit card terminal.

If you think you might want to rent a car in Australia, you’ll want to be sure you have an embossed credit card as some rental companies will want to imprint your card and will not take a printed smooth credit card. While this was true of my own personal experience, I suspect that this may be true for other big ticket items as well, but wouldn’t be sure what those might be.

You will also want to let your bank know you are traveling and to expect charges from Australia so it’s not identified as fraud.

I do recommend arranging to take some Australian currency with you as well. It took a few business days to transfer my funds from the USA into my new Australian bank account and an unfortunate call at four in the morning Eastern Australian Time.  I learned later that PayPal was my best friend to get the funds transferred in a timely fashion and it’s a great intermediary. Additionally, Australians are a lot more cash based than we are and many businesses don’t accept credit card transactions less than 10 or even 20 Dollars.

Another option for cash is to use an ATM. It’s not ideal for ongoing charges but to get an initial amount drawn out you can check out the interbank network which charges a small fee but is worth the convince,

You’ll want to evaluate your health coverage from the United States even if you can’t set it up before entering the country. I decided if an incident were to occur I didn’t want to go through the paperwork for international incidents. What I found was more comprehensive and cheaper coverage available in Australia then from the US. My policy covered both private and public hospitals for emergency care, and basic care on the Medicare scheme as required by the government, and had ambulance cover with no excess (co-pay). I found Canstar to be a useful tool online when deciding to pick foreign resident health cover over travel insurance. It was also just about $90 AUD/ month which is a lot less then I paid in the United States for far less coverage. To compare health insurance products, you can click here. For the website of the company I used click here.

Phone Apps I recommend for your phone.

If possible, you’ll want the following apps on your iPhone or Android phone before you leave so you don’t have to worry about finding an internet connection to add them. They are a lifesaver for any new person arriving in Melbourne.

  • Beanhunter This is an awesome app allowing you to find reviewed coffee shops near your current location. Helpful in ensuring you’ll always get the perfect cup.
  • TramTracker by Yarra Trams check tram arrival times, in real time. Also notifies you of disruptions and changes to service.
  • MetroNotify by Metro trains Melbourne allows you to view updates regarding current train service including delays, cancellations, etc. You can select the lines you use regularly and set up push notifications for them.
  • Public Transport Victoria App by Public Transport Victoria (PTV) allows you to plan your journey from one destination to another notifying you which trains and transfers to make.

You’ll notice that the last three apps are for public transportation which is fabulous in Victoria, despite what the locals will tell you. It’s worth mentioning that while Yarra Trams, Metro, and PTV are “technically” separate entities, they have all been streamlined together from the consumer side so your MYKI card (RFID card) will work with all three systems.

Initial Income and Set-Up of Money.

When you enter the country you’ll want to make sure your passport gets stamped. Regulations on banks require them to ensure you have entered the country within the last three months. A passport stamp will prove that.  I’m unsure if there are other ways to prove your entry into the country without the stamp. Please note you’ll need an address to get the account set up.

National brands on Banks in Australia included, ANZ, Commonwealth, and Westpac. I went with a smaller bank owned by Westpac and it allowed me to pull out funds from banks all across the country, but not to make deposits. I found this to be a consideration I wished I had known about before choosing a bank.

When your set-up your bank account you’ll also want to start thinking about setting up the Australian Equivalent of your 401(k) which is known as the Superannuation Fund, but is commonly just called a Super. Basically, Australian law requires your employer to place an additional 10% of your pre-tax salary into your Super. You will most likely want to just go with one your bank offers because you’ll have a lot of other items to worry about but if you want to put in a little extra effort you can set one up with AustralianSuper which seems to be the common favorite among most of the Australians I know. Furthermore, it appears AustralianSuper doesn’t seem to have as many fees associated with it.  A note on Super’s: you have the right to decide which fund your Super is placed into. You’ll want to supply your employer with that information promptly or they’ll place your Super into a fund of their choosing. The more funds you have the more fees you have and paperwork to pull out your Super once you leave the country.

Mailing Address

I had family friends who I stayed with and they allowed me to use their mailing address. A lot of people use the hostel address where they stay and I’ve read on the internet that works, but honestly you’ll need some pretty sensitive documents mailed to you so had I not had that luxury of amazing wonderful people to help me I would have probably rented a postal box from Australia Post. You can learn more about the various options here: http://auspost.com.au/parcels-mail/poboxes-locked-bags.html. I’m unaware if there are any circumstances where PO Boxes are not accepted in Australia, much like they sometimes are not in the USA.

Establish a Tax File Number

Once in Australia you will need to establish your Australian equivalent to your Social Security Number, the Tax File Number (TFN).  You must have one of these to work in the country, you cannot lodge your application until after you’ve entered the country, and it takes about 30 days for the number to be mailed to you. You must file it in the paperwork within two months of starting with an employer. There is good news though, and that is you can file the application online here.

Getting an Australian Phone Number.

Get an Australian Phone number right away. Telstra or Optus are the two best providers. Telstra has the best coverage, but you’ll pay for it dearly! Optus is half the price and about 80 % as good.  I traveled all around Australia with Optus and was really happy. My bill was $25 AUD per month and that got me 250 Minutes I could use in Australia or abroad (including the USA) a gig of data, and I could buy more data at $5/Gig if I used it all. Vodafone has great deals and awesome representation at the airport, but their coverage is incredibly limited and won’t be much use outside a city center.

Australian phone numbers are 10 digits with the first two being your area code. This is important to know because many places geared at tourist only publish the last eight digits of their phone number (this was particularly true when I visited Queensland). They are as follows.

02 – New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory
03 – Victoria and Tasmania
04 – Mobile phones (Australia wide)
07 – Queensland
08 – Northern Territory, South Australia, and Western Australia

It’s not particularly important, but there isn’t really an established way of writing a phone number.  The most common way I found was the area code with a space followed by two groups of four numbers: xx xxxx xxxx.

The next section is working in Australia which I’m happy to write about a little more in detail later this week.

Looking for places to rent:

I recommend staying in a hostel upon first arriving in Melbourne so you can get a feel for the various neighborhoods before committing to them. Personally, I like staying in YHA properties as they tend to be very clean and quiet with the notable exception being their hostels branded as ‘beach houses’ which are neither. Most backpackers start out in St. Kilda which is accessible by tram from the Central Business District (CBD). The CBD is the Australian term for downtown. Personally, I’d say St. Kilda is a pretty rough neighborhood, seeing someone shooting up drugs in an alley isn’t particularly shocking and it’s a very established prostitution district according to family friends and other locals I met while living in Melbourne.

Neighborhoods I’d look to rent in if I were moving back include North Melbourne (there’s also a YHA out there), Fitzroy, or Brunswick. Each is centrally located and have tram access to the city. Flatmates.com is widely used to look for house shares. If you’re more interested in living in the country, some areas like Packenham, though very far out, take about 40 minutes by regional express trains to get to the CBD. If you have to take the city trains it will be much longer. I honestly have no idea how the rent compares in regional areas vs the city.

*no compensation of any sort was accepted from these organizations, I simply found their tools helpful or would use them based on word of mouth.

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