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The Expat Relocation Guide to Sydney
January 18, 2024
By: Maya Stanton
Sun, surf, and an exciting, cosmopolitan experience in one of Australia’s most populous cities: That’s what awaits expats living abroad in Sydney. The capital city of New South Wales, this dynamic metropolis is home to 5.3 million people, roughly 43% of which hail from outside the country. Thanks in no small part to leading industries, like manufacturing, finance, and trading, attracting talent from across the globe, Sydney is one of the top places in Australia for expats to call home.
Not only does Sydney have world-renowned cultural offerings, like the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but Australia’s beautiful outdoor spaces—from white, sandy beaches like Bondi Beach to mountainous national parks—are either within the city or a short drive away. Young professionals and couples thrive in the city’s trendy dining, shopping, and nightlife scenes, while families love the mix of exciting things to do close to laid back, kid-friendly neighborhoods.
But before you make the big move, you’ll doubtless have questions about life Down Under. This expat guide to Sydney is a handy primer for everything there is to know, from the best neighborhoods to the average costs of living.
- Sydney fast facts
- Australia work visas
- The cost of living in Sydney
- The best Sydney neighborhoods for expats
- Education in Sydney
- How to build community in Sydney
- Navigating health care in Sydney
- Banking and money in Australia
- Getting around in Sydney
- Things to know about living in Sydney
- Preparing for expat life in Sydney
Sydney fast facts
- Population: 5.3 million
- Currency: Australian dollar (AUD; $ or A$)
- Time zone: Standard Time = GMT+10, Daylight Saving = GMT+11
- Climate: Humid subtropical
- Emergency number: 000
Australia work visas
From a working holiday visa to permanent work visas or visas for highly skilled workers, Australia offers a range of different work and business visa types. But to be an expat in Sydney, you’ll need a longer-term visa that allows you to work and live there legally.
The exact visa you need depends on your situation, such as what type of work you’ll be doing in Sydney and how long you plan to stay there. Some also require that you be sponsored by an Australian company or employer.
Newland Chase can help you figure out the type of visa you’ll need to relocate to Sydney and guide you through the application process from start to finish. Contact us to learn more today.
The cost of living in Sydney
Australia is already an expensive country to live in, and Sydney is no different. In fact, Sydney was ranked the 10th-most expensive city in the world by the World Economic Forum in 2022. But even though Sydney has a high cost of living, high wages (the average annual salary in Sydney is A$80,000) help offset those higher costs.
All the same, expats should expect to pay a pretty penny, especially for things like rent, as rates have been skyrocketing in recent years. Rental rates do vary depending on what part of the city you live in, with areas close to the city center being more expensive than the further-out Sydney suburbs.
Another important thing to note before picking a rental unit is that, unlike in the United States, rental prices are listed by the week instead of by the month. So don’t get overly excited when you come across a listing for a $500 one-bedroom; that weekly rate adds up to a pricey monthly rate.
To give you a rough idea of what you can expect to pay living in Sydney, here’s a brief run-down of average cost-of-living prices:
- Rent for a one-bedroom apartment: A$711 per week
- Median home asking price: A$1.3 million
- Cost of living for family of four: A$6,654 per month (without rent)
- Cost of living for one person: A$2,012 per month (without rent)
- Internet: $75 per month
- Gas and electric: $164 per month
- Water: $67 per month
- Transit: $198 per month for gas for car, $177 per month for mass transit
- Grocery bill: $433 per person per month
The best Sydney neighborhoods for expats
It can be hard to pick the right neighborhood—or “suburb,” as they’re locally known—sight unseen from far away. Which areas are the most affordable? Which have the best schools? Which are up-and-coming with cool shops, restaurants, and things to do?
Luckily, with 33 different suburbs to choose from, Sydney has a bit of everything. Finding the one that best suits your needs and personality will go a long way to helping you feel settled, which in turn will help you make new friends, become part of a new community, and find new activities and interests.
Here are some of the top neighborhoods favored by expats.
Best for young professionals
For young professionals who don’t mind paying more in rent to be at the center of the action, these districts always top the list of Sydney’s trendiest neighborhoods.
Surry Hills: A hub for young professionals and creatives, this inner-city gem is famous for its cafe culture, art galleries, and thriving food scene. It’s also within walking distance to the Central Business District for easy work access.
Newtown: A diverse and eclectic neighborhood, Newtown is ideal for those seeking a bohemian atmosphere, with a range of restaurants, live music venues, and cultural diversity. In addition to being a haven for artists, musicians, and those who appreciate an inclusive community, it’s also one of the more affordable inner-city areas for housing costs.
Darlinghurst: Along with Surry Hills, this trendy central district is one of Sydney’s top LGBTQ+ neighborhoods, as well as a popular hot spot for thrifting, dining, and the arts, with theaters, live music venues, and galleries.
Best for families
With good schools, green spaces and parks, and peaceful communities, these family-friendly areas are great places to relocate with kids in tow.
Paddington: Located in the Eastern Suburbs, Paddington is known for its charming Victorian terraces, tree-lined streets, and relaxed yet trendy atmosphere. Blending urban and suburban living, expat families love it for the city-center access, vibrant cafe culture, and famed Paddington Markets.
Manly: Located on Sydney’s northern beaches, Manly is a coastal paradise with stunning beaches, excellent schools, and a slower pace compared to the city center. But the ferry to Circular Quay offers an easy ride to the Central Business District, making it a great choice for those who want a beachside lifestyle without sacrificing city access.
Mosman: A picturesque suburb on Sydney’s north shore, the suburban Mosman area offers beautiful harbor views, prestigious schools, and an upscale lifestyle. It’s home to some of Sydney’s top private schools and provides a high standard of living.
Best for budgets
Normanhurst: This North Shore district gives you good school options, nice parks, and a reasonable commute into the city center for less.
Education in Sydney
If you’re moving to Sydney with school-age children, you’ll want to do research about good schools in your potential neighborhoods beforehand. While sending your children to public school requires less planning, you’ll want to reach out and apply in advance to private and international schools, as these typically have smaller class sizes and are more selective.
The Australian school year is divided into four terms, generally starting in late January or early February and ending in mid-December. There are breaks between terms, with a more extended summer holiday from December to January. Most schools, both public and private, require students to wear uniforms.
Education system and types of schools
Sydney has several different types of schools to choose from: public, private, and international.
Public schools in Australia are government-funded and generally provide a high-quality education. They are open to all students, including expats. Tuition in public schools is free for Australian citizens and permanent residents. However, expat students on temporary visas may need to pay fees. Enrolling your child in a public school may require proof of residency or a visa status that allows access to government-funded education.
Private schools, also known as independent or faith-based schools, are funded by private entities. They often have smaller class sizes, more extensive extracurricular activities, and more specialized programs. These schools can be quite expensive, with annual tuition varying widely depending on the school’s reputation and location.
Most schools follow the Australian Curriculum, which covers subjects like English, mathematics, science, history, and geography, but some international and private schools use the International Baccalaureate curriculum instead.
Sydney is also home to several international schools that cater to expat families. These schools often follow curricula from other countries, such as the British or American systems. They can provide a smoother transition for expat children and offer education in English. Many, like the Lycee Condorcet, the German International School, and the Sydney Chinese School, also offer curriculums in their respective languages.
How to build community in Sydney
Even in a culture as outgoing and friendly as Australia’s, it can still be hard for expats to make friends and create a social circle. Fortunately, Australians’ extroverted, fun-loving nature makes it easy to start conversations and get to know new people. Here are some ways new arrivals can connect, to both the expat population and Sydney locals alike, and begin to build a sense of community.
Engage in sports culture: If you want to connect with your new Aussie neighbors, you’ll want to jump on the sports bandwagon. Australians are passionate about sports, particularly cricket, rugby, and Australian rules football, and attending sporting events or joining local sports clubs can be an excellent way to connect. Urban Rec can help you find clubs and teams in different sports in your area, and you can also search the Sydney subreddit for leads.
Join online expat groups: Local expat groups, like the Expats in Sydney Meta group, the InterNations Sydney Expat community, and Meetup.com, will help connect you to other people in your situation. Joining these groups, you’ll learn about fun events and meet-ups where you can go, meet people, and make new friends.
Socialize with your regular contacts: Coworkers, your children’s classmates, and parents at your kids’ schools are some of the first people you’ll regularly have contact with when you move to a new city. These people are your first stepping stone to creating a new community, so take opportunities to introduce yourself, chat, and hang out. If you’re spending time in bars, pay for drinks using the round system, meaning each person takes a turn paying for the group’s drinks.
Join clubs and social groups: To make friends with similar interests, find a local group or club to join. The Sydney Expat Connection is one popular option, with thousands of members from around the world, or you can find options more tailored to your interests or hobbies, like book clubs.
Navigating health care in Sydney
Getting set up with a health-care plan is a crucial part of moving to a new place. Australia has a well-developed health-care system that provides quality medical services to residents and eligible expats. Along with private health-care options, Australia’s main health-care system is a universal publicly funded system called Medicare.
Types of health care
Medicare: Medicare is Australia’s single-payer, publicly funded health-care system, and it provides access to a range of medical services. Expats with certain visa types, such as permanent residents, citizens, and some temporary visa holders, may be eligible for Medicare. To apply for Medicare, you typically need to visit a local Medicare office, provide proof of identity and visa status, and complete the necessary forms. One downside of the system: It can sometimes take a while to receive nonemergency procedures and care.
Private health insurance: Many expats in Sydney choose to complement their Medicare coverage with private health insurance. Private health insurance can provide faster access to medical services, a broader range of choices when it comes to providers, and dental and optical care for adults, which isn’t usually covered by Medicare.
Private health insurance can also cover services such as hospital stays, surgeries, and some prescription medications. The cost of private health insurance varies widely depending on your age, health, and the level of coverage you choose.
With modern, state-of-the-art facilities and an efficient, well-organized system, Sydney has a vast network of health-care providers, including public and private hospitals, clinics, general practitioners (GPs), and specialists. Top-notch medical facilities and hospitals can be found throughout the city, including these top-ranked hospitals:
St. Vincent’s Hospital: Located in Darlinghurst, St. Vincent’s Hospital is one of Sydney’s leading public hospitals. Renowned for its comprehensive medical services, including cardiology, cancer care, and HIV/AIDS treatment, it is also a major teaching hospital affiliated with the University of New South Wales.
Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPA): RPA, situated in Camperdown, is another prestigious public teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Sydney. Known for its cardiac and oncology services, it offers a wide range of medical specialties and has even been ranked the top hospital in the whole of Australia.
The Children’s Hospital at Westmead: Located adjacent to Westmead Hospital, this specialized children’s hospital is renowned for pediatric care, research, and education. It also boasts one of the largest and most comprehensive pediatric centers in Australia.
Banking and money in Australia
Setting up a bank account as an expat is crucial for managing your finances and daily transactions. Here are the key things expats need to know about setting up a bank account in Sydney.
Different types of banks
Australia offers residents a range of banks, both domestic and international. Along with major banks, like the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Westpac, ANZ, and National Australia Bank (NAB), you can also work with smaller online banks and credit unions.
Different types of accounts are available based on your needs, such as savings accounts, term deposits, and transaction accounts. Online banking is also common in Australia, and most banks offer internet and mobile banking services.
Most Australian banks allow expats to open bank accounts, but your eligibility may depend on your visa type and length of stay in the country. Each bank will have different requirements that you should research beforehand. Some banks allow customers to open accounts before arriving in Australia, which is handy for migrants who need to transfer funds over for their relocation.
Documents and identification
While some accounts can be opened online initially, you’ll most likely need to visit a bank in person to open and retain an account. You will typically need to present the following documents and identification:
- Passport: Proof of identity and a foreign passport with a valid visa
- Proof of address: A utility bill, rental agreement, or other document showing your Australian address (if applicable).
- Tax File Number (TFN): While not mandatory, providing a TFN can help you avoid higher withholding taxes on interest earned.
Getting around in Sydney
From cars to mass transit to walking, there are many different ways to get around and get to know your new home.
Driving in Sydney
Using a car is one of the fastest and easiest ways to get around town. Expats with valid overseas driving licenses can drive in Sydney for a limited period, but some may need to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) along with their home country’s license. However, if you plan to stay long-term, you’ll likely need to get an Australian driver’s license.
It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with local driving laws before getting behind the wheel, including rules like giving way to the right at intersections and roundabouts and sticking to the speed limit (Australia has very strict speeding laws). Be prepared to drive on the left-hand side of the road.
Sydney drivers should also be aware of the toll roads. The system here is known as e-Toll, which collects tolls electronically through transponders or by billing the registered vehicle owner.
While driving is an option, many residents and expats find that public transportation is a convenient and cost-effective way to get around Sydney, helping to avoid traffic congestion and alleviate the stress of finding parking in busy areas.
Sydney’s mass-transit network is made up of buses, trains, ferries, light rail, and trams. Sydney Harbour in particular is famous for its ferry services, providing a picturesque commute from the city center to the harborside suburbs. All services use a singular rechargeable Opal card for fare payments. You can purchase and top up Opal cards at various locations, including convenience stores, newsagents, and online.
Things to know about living in Sydney
Learning about local customs and traditions can help you acclimate quickly and smoothly. Here are some key things to know about living in Sydney:
Laid-back living: Australians are known for their laid-back and easygoing approach to life. The pace of life in Sydney may be more relaxed compared to some other major cities, which can be a pleasant change for many expats.
Friendly Aussies: Australians are generally friendly and approachable. It’s common to strike up conversations with strangers, use first names, and engage in light banter. Don’t be surprised if people greet you with a casual “g’day!”
Casual dress code: Sydney’s climate allows for a relaxed dress code. In many workplaces and social settings, casual attire is acceptable.
Tipping culture: Tipping is not as common in Australia as it is in some other countries. While tipping is appreciated for exceptional service, it’s not obligatory, and service staff are paid fair wages.
Time management: Australians value punctuality in both social and professional settings. Arriving on time for appointments and social gatherings is considered respectful.
Preparing for expat life in Sydney
Moving to Sydney is a huge undertaking, requiring lots of planning and preparation. In addition to offering visa assistance, an experienced immigration specialist can help you navigate the complexities of settling in and adjusting to expat life, making your move as seamless and easy as possible. Contact Newland Chase for a quote today.