People are always asking me whether moving to Australia was worth it. It cost a large chunk of equity from our home, set my husband’s career onto a slightly different track (from military aviation to commercial aviation), meant leaving behind our parents, our siblings, our niece and nephews and our friends. It meant pulling our three kids away from everything and everyone they knew, without having a job offer or any guarantee that things would work out.
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The reality is that things have been challenging. It’s going to take quite a long time to catch back up to where we were financially as the move was expensive, settling in cost more than we expected, and Matt still doesn’t have a permanent job (he’s doing contract work which is a step up from the casual, ad hoc work he secured when we landed). Plus then I do crazy things like give up my freelance copywriting and ghost-blogging work to finish writing my book (Don’t Panic! A Practical Guide to Twins, Triplets and More is available from Amazon if you know anybody who is expecting multiples!) and setting up this business. So I won’t pretend it has all been straightforward and easy. But if you really want to know if it was worth it to make the move, then I’ll tell you the truth…
Just thinking about where we would be now if we hadn’t taken the leap terrifies me. To think of us being stuck where we were, not moving forward, not learning new things about ourselves, not challenging ourselves or pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone, not exploring new places – it scares the living daylights out of me. Because I know it would have been so easy to have stayed there and we’d have been comfortable enough. We could have so easily conformed to the standard life where people got married, bought a house, had kids and settled down. So yes, it was worth it. It was worth every penny it cost us for so many reasons. Here’s just a few of them.
The best things about living in Australia
Exploring Australia fills me with joy. I loved the country from the moment we arrived to go travelling back in 2008. I love being able to take our kids to places we visited as backpackers. And I love visiting new places with them and making special memories. You can read a few of my travel stories and resort reviews over in my Discover Australia section.
The wildlife here is incredible. There are wild koalas in the trees at the boys’ school and seeing them is such a novelty. We drive by a field on the way home from school that often has kangaroos it in. We’ve hand fed wild dolphins with the kids. It’s probably the best place in the world to go whale watching. One of my boys in particular is wildlife obsessed and he wants to be Steve Irwin when he grows up – living here is just perfect for him.
The weather is awesome. I love never needing to worry about taking a jumper with me in summer. In winter, you generally only need a long-sleeved top on in the mornings and at night – the days are mostly glorious sunshine. I haven’t worn a coat since we arrived two years ago and I love that. I hate being cold!
I love the different family attractions here. Brisbane is an ideal location for families as there are so many theme parks and days out nearby. Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and Australia Zoo are our favourites and when the kids are a bit older I know they’ll be obsessed with the bigger theme parks like Movie World, Aussie World and Dreamworld. Theme parks are cheaper here than they were in the UK, and annual passes are more affordable too meaning it’s easier to go for days out together without it bankrupting us.
The sea is warm. In the UK the kids hated going in the sea even in summer as it was so cold, now they adore it.
I love the school my boys go to. As there is also a daycare centre on site it means kids can go from being babies right through to leaving school as it incorporates a primary and secondary school. There is a huge theatre on site, full-sized catering kitchens, a cafe (the freshly baked muffins are far too tempting after school drop off) and there is just the best community feel to it, even though it’s a large school. It’s little details like how they get high school kids to read with the preppies that I think brings it all together beautifully. And every year they run an epic school fete which has to be seen to be believed, and a massive Christmas fireworks spectacular.
I’m excited that Brisbane is well placed for us to take holidays to destinations like New Zealand, Fiji, the Cook Islands, New Caledonia and many more places. We have so many amazing future holidays to look forward to. Plus there are endless destinations just a drive or short internal flight away – I can’t wait to go back to the Whitsundays for a holiday.
Everyone here is passionate about staying active. It’s quite infectious. There’s lots of great cycle/walking tracks everywhere, plenty of parks have an outdoor gym area and people actually head out to exercise on the weekend at first light to enjoy the day before the sun gets too strong. We’re just signing the boys up to do the Nippers lifesaving club at the local surf club. It means arriving there for 8am on a Sunday morning. In the UK I’d have thought it was totally insane to be out at that hour on a weekend, but I’m hoping the beach and the sun pull me through the early start and make up for not lazing around in my pjs eating pancakes like we usually do on Sunday mornings!
The parks here are just incredible. They are well-maintained, shaded from the sun and many of them have toilets and barbecue facilities around them too so you can easily spend a day there. It makes a great free day out for the kids.
Driving is a lot easier here. The roads are wide, and where I live there are cycle tracks everywhere making it much safer for cyclists, and parking bays are bigger. Parking in the suburbs is also generally free. Yes, FREE – even at the beach. And finding a space isn’t usually too difficult, even at peak times. Our school has a really big car park for dropping off so you can always get parked there too.
There are a lot more small, independent shops and niche stores – we’re still discovering new ones all the time. It can make it difficult to find specific things when you first arrive, but I think we’ve got the hang of it at last. It’s still a bit weird living without big brands like Argos and Amazon (seriously, there is no Amazon other than a kindle store here!!) but I’m kind of getting used to it.
The kids spend most of their time with bare feet. Even in winter they rarely want to wear shoes – the second we arrive at a park or the beach they take them off and you often see kids walking around shops with no shoes on. I love being able to wear sandals whenever I like – although I do secretly miss wearing my fluffy Ugg boots sometimes.
I swear sunshine puts people in a better mood as people just seem happier here. And people are so friendly and helpful. A family we didn’t know before we arrived lent us a sofa, camping gear, mattresses and bedding for a month while we waited for our container. The people who ran our temporary accommodation when we landed helped us out by giving us a lift to collect our hire car and generally being lovely to us. The staff in car sales places were amazing with the kids. Some people we’d never met from the local expat group came along to help us move house. I can’t name a single person who has been anything other than welcoming in the two years since we arrived.
The houses here are more spacious. Not only are they larger but they have more space around them too so I don’t feel crammed in anymore. Almost all houses are detached (although there are plenty of apartments and units near at beach too if you’re looking for beachside living) – something that was out of our price range in the south of England. Our house here (which we bought about ten months after arriving) cost a little more than the UK home we sold but we upgraded from a small three-bed semi with no garage, to a five-bedroom house with pool and double garage. The extra space has made a massive impact on our family life and also on my working life as I’ve finally got my own office for the first time since the kids arrived! And owning a pool means our kids have gone from being afraid of water to being able to swim like fish (including the three-year-old!)
Food shopping is great here. I don’t think it costs any more overall as some things cost a little more and others less so it balances out, but it is all a really good quality. Tropical produce like mangoes and watermelon are affordable here so are no longer an expensive novelty like they were when we lived in the UK. Meat is also great quality too (and not so watery when you cook it) and I appreciate that there is an RSPCA rating on the meat as it helps you to make quick ethical choices. But the best part is shops don’t get that busy here – I often go on a weekend and it is not really any busier than a week day. Which means you can always park (I remember the stress of going to Asda on a weekend – it was hell!) PLUS the best bit of all is that the cashier packs your shopping for you. You literally just rock up to the checkout with a trolley load and pay. It’s too easy.
You don’t have to queue up in the bank to see a cashier. Instead you take a ticket, sit down and they call you when they’re ready. The staff give you their business cards with a direct phone line to their desk printed on (I remember really struggling to ring my local bank in the UK as they made it so difficult), and they give you their email address in case you have any problems meaning you can actually get in touch with a real person if you need to. They also often remember you if you pop in regularly, and they genuinely seem to want to chat to you and ask how you are and what you’ve been up to.
When you give your custom to a business here, you feel really valued for it. When we took out our mortgage through our broker, Anish (one of my Trusted Experts), he sent us a congratulations hamper when we moved into our new home, and the real estate agent who sold us the house sent us a gift set too. As our one-year anniversary in our new home has just passed, again we were touched to receive an anniversary card and box of chocolate brownies from Anish, and a card with a scratch card and two free coffee vouchers in it from our real estate agent. It’s little touches like that which make you feel truly valued. Service here all round just feels better, from coffee shops to clothes stores.
This isn’t Australia-specific, but moving abroad anywhere does something special to you. I never realised this was going to be a side effect when we made the move, but moving abroad gives you a massive dose of confidence and inspiration. It makes you realise that you’re capable of achieving anything if you put your mind to it. It ignites new interests – maybe things you’d never have thought of if you’d stayed in your home country. Before we moved, I had no real interest or knowledge of running an online business and I hadn’t ever thought about becoming an entrepreneur. When we landed, I was introduced to new people and new clients (in my work as a freelance writer) and this all rubbed off on me. This led to 18 months of learning that has now taken my business in a whole new direction from charging an hour of time for an hour of writing, to now running my own business which has the potential to directly help lots of people to follow their dreams while not being so time or location dependent.
Following on from the above, I also love that Australia is able to support small businesses. I’ve been awarded two business grants to help get this business off the ground. I know in the UK how tight government budgets are and how grant funding has been slashed, even for the most worthy of charities, so something like this would never have been possible over there in the current financial climate. I love that I live in a country that is still able to embrace new businesses and help support small, home-based enterprises. By investing in me, I’m now able to outsource work to other Australian companies like my web designer and photographer and as things grow I will hopefully increase my influence by recommending more Aussie businesses to my readers.
Finally, I think my favourite thing is that we’ve moved to a new place together as a family. Every day out is a new experience for all of us and we’re having adventures together. I love that I have a long list of places I want to go – from beaches and theme parks to island tours and wildlife encounters. I’m looking forward to doing all of them as a family and introducing the kids to their new home.
Emigrating has given us everything we’d dreamed of and more.
OK, now for the flip side. There are good and bad points with everything.
Here are the worst things about living in Australia…
The obvious one is missing friends and family. The wide range of free apps and cheap international call packages on the phone makes it easier, but I wish I could pick people up and bring them over here, or that I could reshape the globe and squish the UK and Australia closer together. Unfortunately I can’t. I also miss being able to ring my mum and dad on a whim as I have to wait until early morning or evening to call them and that’s when I’m usually sleeping or working which makes it tricky.
It gets hot and sticky here in Brisbane. Stupidly hot. So hot that you can’t have the windows or screen doors open – even at night – because the hot air pours into the house. There are days when it’s so hot you don’t want to leave the house – you just want to stay in under the air conditioning. That’s not so bad for me as I can pop the kids into school and rush back home into the cool house, but Matt has to work on the tarmac at the airport next to engines and it gets REALLY HOT. Poor him.
There are a few foods we’re missing. Different isn’t always bad, it just takes some getting used to. Chocolate tastes sweeter as they put something in it to stop it melting in the heat. You can get English chocolate, but it’s more expensive. Matt misses Cherry Coke and Lilt. Sausages, bacon and ham are all really different here – ham and bacon are always smoked here and sausages are mostly beef or chicken or some weird flavour and even the pork ones don’t taste the same. Most things you can find in the English aisle at Coles (Marmite and Bisto to name my two favourites) or when Aldi runs UK promotions. English fish and chips was the main thing I was struggling with til we found the local English chippie in the region – it just so happens to be two minutes from our house!!
I miss being able to walk into the town centre and have all of the shops in one place (I live in a northern suburb so don’t tend to go to the city very often). Although we do have shopping centres here, things tend to be spread out so you need to drive. Much as I love little independent shops, I miss having a shop where I can buy everything from one store. If I’m allowed to share a positive spin on this though – one benefit of not having a proper town centre (outside of the CBD) is that I’m not spending any way near as much as I used to in the UK. In the UK it was too easy to pop into Next or Debenhams and buy lots of clothes for the kids when I was only supposed to be calling into the bank.
It’s exhausting not knowing how everything works. When we first moved, trying to get my head around things like the tax system, pensions and family benefits were all draining. It’s easier now but things still flummox me sometimes.
Moving abroad has eaten up a massive chunk of equity from our home. The actual move (visas, flights, shipping, insurance and agent fees) was only part of the cost (find out how much it cost us here). Buying two cars (we could get away with only one in the UK), insuring them both, taking on a rental, paying the bond, living for two months with no income and replacing all of the things we gave away, threw away or gave to charity shops – it all added up to A LOT of money. I daren’t even think about how much it cost us. I know it’s an investment into our future, so it hasn’t been wasted, but it is still scary.
Making friends is tiring. Yes, it’s also exciting and fun, but sometimes it would be lovely to go out for a glass of wine with an old friend that I know inside out and have a natter, or take the kids to the park with my mum friends who’ve known the kids since they were babies. Making new friends involves effort – it’s totally worth that effort, but starting from scratch and building a network is hard and it takes time. Two years in and I feel like I now have a lovely little circle of friends but in the beginning it was tough.
I miss being able to buy things online and get free postage. Postage here when you buy things online can be so high that it actually makes me laugh. Instead of getting free postage if you spend over X amount (as often happens in the UK), here you often get charged more the more items you buy. It makes Christmas shopping a real hassle as you have to actually go around the shops instead, although at least the shops here don’t get crazy busy like they do in the UK so it isn’t too bad.
While I often don’t agree with political decisions made in the UK, there are also political discussions going on over here that I feel strongly about and where I feel the country is behind the times. In the UK, however, at least I’m able to have my say by voting – here I can’t vote until I become a citizen. We will go for citizenship as soon as we can, but it’s still a long wait to be able to have your say.
Brisbane any day
Our move here was 100% the right move for our family. I love our lives here and can’t ever imagine moving back to the UK. But there are always compromises – nowhere is totally perfect, it’s just about weighing up the pros and cons and not being afraid to take a chance.
You won’t find any regrets in the Bleakley house!
Have you made the move already – if so, do you agree with any of these or do you have any more to add?
If you haven’t made the move yet, what are you expecting to be the best and worst things? I’d love for you to share them in the comments below.