Planning a move to Australia? Here’s everything you need to know
All the info you need on visas, jobs, schools, healthcare, insurance and more
The golden beaches, clear blue skies and laidback lifestyle are hugely attractive for many who choose to move to Australia. One of the main draws for Irish people in recent years, however, has been the booming economy, which in June 2018 marked 27 years without a recession.
The country is not as popular as it used to be, however. In the 12 months to April 2017, just 5,300 people moved from Ireland to Australia, according the Central Statistics Office.That’s just over a third of the total in 2012, when numbers peaked at 17,400. They also show a dramatic jump in the numbers moving back from Australia to Ireland.
Some of this is due to the scaling down of production in the mining sector, particularly seen in Western Australia, which employed tens of thousands of Irish during the boom.
So no matter how attractive the Big Country may be, it is important to do thorough research in advance of such a big move, especially if you are taking a family with you, and preferably have a job lined up.
A study by the Clinton Institute in UCD shows how mental health has emerged as a problem for Irish communities in Australia. Financial concerns and a lack of preparation were identified as contributory factors, along with the burdens associated with moving country, such as loneliness and isolation.
This guide gives an overview of the main points to consider when planning a move to Australia, with links to official government websites and other useful online resources where you can go for more detailed information.
Visa guide: Introduction to the most popular visa types for Irish workers, from the working holiday visa to options for longer stay, including employer and state sponsorship, permanent residency and citizenship.
Finding a place to live: Overview of the property market, short-term accommodation options, average cost of renting and buying a home in each of the main cities, and how to find cheap furniture.
Which city? The most popular locations for Irish people, and what they offer in terms of jobs and lifestyle.
Finding a job: Introduction to the current economic climate in Australia, examining the jobs market, what skills/occupations are currently in demand and where, how average salaries compare to Ireland in certain industries, and advice on how to jobsearch.
Healthcare and insurance: Who is entitled to public healthcare, what costs are involved, and health insurance options.
Education: How the education system is run by state/territory, third-level options and costs and fees for visa holders, permanent residents and citizens.
Costs: How much money you should bring to get set up, the cost of living by city, an introduction to the tax system, and other financial considerations.
Irish organisations in Australia: Contact details for Irish organisations, sports and culture clubs, online social networks and other useful support groups.
Irish citizens intending to work, study or set up a business in Australia need to have the right visa to suit their circumstances. The Department of Home Affairs has an excellent website which walks applicants step by step through the requirements and application process for the dozens of visa options, but the list below summarises the most common visa types for Irish workers. (Note: the information in this guide, which is intended as an overview, was correct at date of publication. Visa regulations change on a regular basis, so candidates should check the above website for the most up-to-date information).
Costs: Visa application costs range from A$440 (€ 277) for a working holiday visa to A$8,580 for some of the skilled and investment visas. See homeaffairs.gov.au for the full list. Migration agents can assist with the application process for an additional fee, but are not essential. Make sure they are registered with the Australian government.
A working holiday visa (417): Allows 18- to 30-year-olds to study, travel and work for up to one year (you can work for just six months with one employer). The visa can be extended by a year by working for three months in a regional or rural area. You cannot bring dependent children on this visa.
Temporary Skill Shortage Visa (482): The TSS visa, which recently replaced the 457 programme, was met with a certain degree of scepticism when it was announced last year for its “Australians first” policy.
The 457 scheme was incredibly popular with Irish workers as it allowed them to live in Australia with their families for up to four years if they had sponsorship.
The TSS visa is more restrictive, and allows employers to source overseas workers to address temporary skill shortages. The visa is available as either a short-term (1-2 years) or medium-term (up to four years) solution.
The threshold for qualification is now higher than it used to be, with fewer places available. You must be sponsored by an employer before you apply and be deemed to be filling a genuine skilled labour shortage from a list of eligible skilled occupations .
Student Visa (subclass 500): Allows full-time students to work 40 hours a fortnight. It is becoming increasingly popular (allegedly among working holiday visa holders looking to stay on in Australia), with the number of Irish granted student visas tripling from 217 in 2007/08 to 703 in 2013/14.
Permanent Residency: All permanent residence visas allow you and family members who have been granted this visa on the same application to stay in Australia indefinitely. Becoming a permanent resident entitles you to Medicare (Australia’s healthcare scheme), to apply for Australian citizenship if you are eligible, to sponsor eligible relatives for permanent residence, and to travel to and from Australia for five years from the date of issue (after that time, you will need a resident return visa or another visa to return to Australia if you leave).
Most long-stay visa schemes are offered under Australia’s skilled migration programme, which is based on the country’s economic needs and skill shortages.
Most permanent residence visas are points-based. Applicants must pass an English test, have a set amount of work experience in an occupation on the consolidated sponsored occupations list (see below), and meet age requirements for the visa type.
All applicants for points-based programmes must submit an online expression of interest through SkillSelect on the Department of Home Affairs website. If the criteria are met, the applicant will be invited to lodge a formal visa application (they will suggest which visa you should apply for). The applicant will be asked if they are willing to live and work in regional Australia. Saying yes increases the chance of approval if employers are experiencing regional skill shortages in certain areas of the country.
The list of eligible skilled occupations for all of Australia currently has over 400 occupations listed. Each state or territory has its own separate list with additional occupations in demand, so check both before applying. Note that these lists, as well as the application criteria, change regularly to meet immigration needs. Many skilled workers will need a skills assessment to have their qualifications accredited (assessing authorities are listed on the skills shortage list). The assessment usually costs about A$500.
Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (187): For people who want to work in regional Australia. You must be nominated by an approved Australian employer whose occupation is on the skills shortage list for a particular state or territory in regional Australia (which excludes the Gold Coast, Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney, Wollongong or Melbourne). It is a permanent residence visa designed to encourage skilled workers to move to regional areas. Applicants must be under 45 years of age.
Employer Nomination Scheme (186): Allows employers to sponsor highly skilled workers for permanent residency. You must be under 45 years of age.
General Skilled Migration programme: Workers whose occupation is on one of the skills shortage lists but don’t have an employer to sponsor them need to submit an expression of interest and then be invited through SkillSelect to apply. If a territory or government agency decides to nominate you after receiving your expression of interest, you will be invited to apply for a Skilled Nominated Visa (190).
If your occupation is not on the state list for the place you want to move to, but is on the national list, you can apply for a Skilled Independent Visa (189) .
If you have permanent residence and are considered “of good character”, you are entitled to apply for Australian citizenship. This will give you the right to vote, to apply to work in the public service or defence forces, to seek election to parliament, to apply for a passport and to travel freely to and from Australia, to receive help from Australia while overseas if needed, and to register children born overseas as Australian citizens by descent.
Citizenship ceremonies are held regularly around the country, with Australia Day and St Patrick’s Day the most popular dates for Irish applicants. See homeaffairs.gov.au.
Rental properties don’t come cheap, and competition is fierce - so get your groundwork done in advance
Finding a new place to live so far from home can be a challenge, especially for families who have to consider access to work, childcare, schools and public transport, while trying to work out affordability in a different currency. So what should you expect when searching for a home in Australia?
Renting a home
Rental properties don’t come cheap in the main Australian cities. The market has stabilised significantly, with national median rental prices dropping 1.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2018, but remain very high following a property bubble.
Renting a house in any of the main cities is likely to cost about A$480 (€ 335) a week, if not significantly more. The median cost of renting a house in Sydney is A$600 per week, but properties close to the city or in sought-after suburbs can cost twice that. In Perth, average rents are significantly lower at A$360 and in Melbourne a similar home was $420.
The distance between Ireland and Australia means most people will not be able to visit before they make the big move, but landlords are not permitted to rent properties to tenants unseen. It is advisable to set aside some time in the first couple of weeks to find a suitable place to live and to do as much research in advance of the move as possible.
When choosing a location, schools should be one of the primary considerations for families. If you want to send your child to a state or Catholic school, you will need to be living within the school’s catchment area. It is worth checking with the school how strictly these zones are imposed, but popular schools will enforce the rules more tightly if they are close to capacity.
Parents planning to send their children to private schools will be less constrained, but check public transport routes if the school is not within walking distance of where you want to live.
Often one parent will travel out first, staying in temporary accommodation (often paid for as part of a relocation package if they are on a sponsored visa with a large company), with their spouse and children following a few weeks or months later when a more permanent home has been found for the family.
Those who arrive independently can rent temporary furnished accommodation through websites such as Stayz.com.au while they search for a more permanent home. Young, single travellers often opt to stay in a hostel at first, and hostel noticeboards can be a good place to find advertisements for rooms to rent in shared houses or apartments.
Competition is fierce for rental properties in the cities and suburbs of Perth, Sydney and Melbourne so, if you are going to view a property, be prepared to pay a deposit straight away and take all the necessary paperwork to the viewing.
Landlords and agencies in Australia require more documentation from tenants than in Ireland, and some of the groundwork for this should be done before you leave for Australia. You will need photo identification, proof of current employment and salary, a letter to show you have an Australian bank account, two character references, and a letter from a previous landlord. If you have a mortgage in Ireland, you will also need to provide a letter from the Irish bank to show your repayments are being made on time.
Tenants are usually required to pay a month’s rent in advance, plus a rental bond (deposit), which is usually equivalent to an additional month’s rent. Rental properties generally come unfurnished, without appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers and fridges. This can add a considerable amount to your start-up costs, but second-hand furniture and machines are often advertised cheaply on websites such as Gumtree.com.au. It is also worth checking if there has been a recent pest inspection, as cockroaches, spiders, ants and pantry moths are common in Australia, and landlords are responsible for their extermination.
Buying a home
Although prices have stabilised somewhat following several years of rapid growth up to 2010, the property market in Australia is still overheated, with many commentators comparing the property bubble to Ireland’s before the crash. During the 12 months leading up to May 2018, property prices in the bigger cities have experienced their first annual decline since November 2012, suggesting the exorbitant prices may finally start to abate.
Sydney’s median property price is A$875,816, according to statistics from May 2018, with the median cost in Perth at A$464,238, and A$720,433 in Melbourne. CoreLogic (formerly RP Data) provides comprehensive property information and analytics for Australia, with interactive tables showing price changes per region which are updated every month.
Those who are renting out their property in Ireland will have to declare rental income on their annual tax return in Australia. Expenses such as agency fees or maintenance and repair costs for the property in Ireland can be claimed back from the Australian government and, in certain instances, you may also be entitled to a refund on interest paid on an Irish mortgage.
See the Australian Taxation Office website for more information. A good accountant will be able to advise.
Sydney: Australia’s largest city boasts a vibrant social and cultural life, excellent restaurants and dozens of beaches, not to mention more than 780 national parks awaiting exploration in wider New South Wales. Most Irish expats find work in IT, finance or construction.
Melbourne: With a thriving arts and culture scene, stunning scenery nearby and seriously good coffee, it’s no wonder the second city in Oz came top of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Ranking for the seventh year running in August 2017. Big employers include finance, insurance, property and manufacturing.
Perth: The fourth-largest city Down Under, Perth is home to nearly two million people, including a large Irish community, many of whom are working in the mining industry and related support services. The city is famously relaxed and offers a diverse mix of leisure activities.
Brisbane: The capital of Queensland is Australia’s third most populous city. Along with the nearby Gold Coast, this is sunshine and surf central. Many Irish are drawn here for the relaxed, beachy vibe and end up working in tourism, mining or agriculture.
Cairns: With balmy winters and sweltering summers, life in the tropics isn’t always to Irish tastes, but those who move here will find it a friendly place to live. Most people tend to find work in tourism after all, the Great Barrier Reef is right on its doorstep.
With more jobs available at home, and tighter restrictions on visas, Australia may no longer be the dream destination it was for Irish people seeking work abroad, but it still has lots to offer - and not just the glorious weather. The economy continues to perform strongly, with significant increase in jobs and growth, and 2018 marks the 27th year without recession.
But the employment market has changed dramatically in recent years and anyone thinking of making the move now is advised to do a lot of research before leaving, and preferably have a job lined up in advance.
2017 was a remarkable year for employment in Australia, with 403,100 jobs created, the largest increase on record. Full-time employment grew by 17,000 in December 2017 alone - the 14th consecutive monthly gain in employment.
Australia is still the most popular destination outside the UK for emigrants from Ireland, but the numbers are falling. Between May 2008 and April 2014, 78,500 Irish people moved from Ireland to Australia. According to the Central Statistics Office, just 5,300 people moved from Ireland to Australia in the 12 months to April 2016.
While beautiful beaches, endless sunshine and the laidback lifestyle continue to be a huge draw, one of the main reasons Australia has attracted so many Irish (aside from the ready availability of working holiday visas) was its booming economy. Some of the industries that provided most of the work, however, have suffered in recent years.
Having slowed considerably over the last few years, the mining industry is set to bounce back in 2018. According to Business Insider Australia, “mining exploration, production and maintenance are all expected to lift significantly through 2018”. Mining production slowed to a 2.5 per cent growth in 2016/17 but that figure is likely to jump to 5.5 per cent in 2018, and continue to grow right up until 2022.
The good news is that there are more than 400 occupations on the Skilled Occupations List. Each state or territory will also have its own list of skills which are in particular demand in that region. Checking these lists is a good way to judge your chances of finding a job.
Employment throughout Australia is projected to increase in nearly all major industries up to May 2022. According to the Labour Market Information Portal, “Health Care and Social Assistance is projected to make the largest contribution to employment growth (increasing by 250,500), followed by Professional, Scientific and Technical Services (126,400), Construction (120,700) and Education and Training (116,200).” These four industries combined are expected to make up more than half of the total employment growth to 2022.
Vacancies in actuarial, sales and technical IT positions are the most difficult to fill out of all advertised positions across Australia. There is now an “adequate supply” of technicians and tradesmen, according to the Department of Employment, but there are national shortages for some occupations including: air-conditioning and refrigeration mechanics; electrical lines workers; landscape architects; automotive electricians, motor mechanics, small engine mechanics and panel beaters; chefs; sheetmetal trades workers; locksmiths; stonemasons, solid plasterers and roof plumbers.
In the 12 months to August 2016, the largest increases in trend employment occurred in accommodation and food services, construction, public administration and safety, and health care and social assistance.
Farming work in regional areas of Australia, which can form part of the three months’ work in regional areas required for working holiday visa holders to extend their stay from one year to two, is also becoming harder to secure.
The turnaround in the mining and resources industry in Western Australia and the Northern Territory has been particularly stark. Vacancies in these industries were the hardest to fill in 2012-13, but in 2013-14 they were the easiest. The reason for this is the contraction in the industry, and the increase in the number of foreign workers drafted in on 457 visas to plug the skills gap. This, however, is sure to change in 2018 due both to the recovering mining industry and the scrapping of the 457 visa.
Competition for these jobs, which pay very high salaries, has increased considerably. Irish immigrants are now more likely to enter trades upon emigrating to Australia.
(It should also be noted that the majority of positions in mining are on a fly-in-fly-out (known as FIFO) basis, which means workers spend a few weeks working in regional areas every month before flying back to an urban centre where their family may be living.)
The Australian healthcare system is experiencing a shortage of nurses and midwives, with a predicted shortfall of more than 110,000 positions by 2025. Applicants must have at least two years’ experience, preferably with a specialty, with those willing to work in regional areas in highest demand. Experienced doctors are also sought, with a shortage of 2,700 predicted by 2025.
Finding a job
The majority of workers applying for a visa for Australia (other than the working holiday visa) will need to have a job offer lined up in advance of moving.
International recruitment agencies such as Manpower, Hays, Adecco, Talent International, Robert Half and Australia Wide Personnel all have offices around Australia, and can help to find jobs across a range of industries for both tradespeople and professionals.
When considering the wage on offer, it is important to compare the net income rather than the gross salary. For foreign residents earning up to $87,000 the tax rate is 32.5 per cent. Those earning up to $180,000 pay between 32.5 per cent and 34.8 per cent. Hays has a useful salary comparison section, which gives the average salary per industry or role based on jobs advertised on their site.
If you are travelling to Australia on a working holiday visa or a non-sponsored skilled workers visa and want to work straight away, it is best to start searching online before you go. Jobsearch.gov.au is a government-run jobs database with tens of thousands of positions listed by location, by occupation, and by industry. Seek.com.au, Jobs.com.au, Careerone.com.au and Careerjet.com.au are some of the most popular commercial job sites. If you have decided where you want to live, local branches of international recruitment agencies such as Hays and Manpower will be helpful.
In a report by the Clinton Institute in University College Dublin, welfare organisations working with Irish people in the main cities all identified young, unprepared Irish people arriving on working-holiday visas as those most in need of support.
The conditions of the visa mean the worker cannot stay in one job or area for more than six months, and some struggle to relocate or find employers willing to give them work for such a short period. To stay for a second year they must do 88 days of “regional work” in agriculture or construction in a rural area. These jobs are often for food and board only, leaving workers financially strapped when the placements finish.
Advice for professionals
Young graduates increasingly see a stint in Australia as a stepping stone on a career path that will eventually lead them back to Ireland. More and more events and associations for Irish professionals are developing around the country, helping new arrivals to network with more established, successful businesspeople.
The east of the country, especially the cities of Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane, is the destination of choice for white-collar professionals “seeking cosmopolitan lifestyles”, according to the Clinton Institute report, as well as for backpacker groups looking for short-term work in the service industry.
For Barry Corr, director of HR consultancy Luminant Talent Consulting and chief executive of the Irish Australian Chamber of Commerce, preparation is key to making a successful move to Australia.
“You can never do enough research,” he says. “When we speak with candidates for prospective jobs with our clients, those who show an awareness of the marketplace and how they can transition from Ireland to Australia go to the top of the list.”
The chamber, which now has over 12,000 members, runs a popular mentoring programme to partner young professionals with senior business people who are established in Australia, and information and networking events.
There are significant opportunities still to be had in Australia, but the market is competitive and employers expect people to make a significant contribution to the business.
If you are moving to Australia on a temporary work or study visa, you won’t be covered by Australia’s public health system Medicare. That said, you will be entitled to receive immediate treatment in the public health system for any urgent health issue, as Ireland and Australia have a reciprocal agreement in this area.
You will also, however, need to purchase overseas visitors cover. Basic cover costs about A$80 to A$110 (€ 50 to € 69) a month.
This insurance will cover or contribute towards other medical costs, including hospital admissions, doctors’ fees and visits to dentists, opticians, physiotherapists and other practitioners. Without it, you could end up thousands of dollars out of pocket for relatively routine medical care. You can compare costs for all private health cover on privatehealth.gov.au or iselect.com.au.
If you become a permanent resident, you will be entitled to Medicare services in the public system and can buy the same private health insurance policies as any Australian citizen.
As in Ireland, waiting periods apply for cover for pre-existing conditions and not all policies cover the full cost of all treatments, so read the fine print carefully.
Australian children usually start primary school (foundation class to Year 6) at the age of five and then go on to secondary school (Year 7 to 12) at 12 years of age, finishing school at 18. See australiancurriculum.edu.au for more information. Most schools have uniforms, which often include hats, and are quite jaunty looking to Irish eyes.
As in Ireland, most children attend public or state-run schools, with a minority going to private schools. Most public schools are open, meaning they take any child in their catchment area, but some (called “selective schools”) require prospective students to sit entrance exams. These schools are seen as more prestigious but are not open to temporary resident visa holders.
Be warned: although state schools are technically free, some states charge a fixed tuition fee to temporary visa holders, which can be A$4,000 a year or more for each child. Even if the fee does not apply, parents will be expected to make “voluntary” contributions of anything from A$50 to A$1,000 a year. Private school fees cost from between A$23,000 and A$40,000 a year and are usually up to 50 per cent higher for non-residents.
The third-level system has a similar structure to Ireland’s, with qualifications ranging from certificates and diplomas to undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Unless your college-age children are Australian permanent residents, however, the fees will range from A$15,000 to A$40,000 a year for an undergraduate degree, depending on location and type of course. In 2017 the average fee for international undergraduate students was A$29,235 per year. See studyassist.gov.aufor information on fees, subsidies and student loans.
Before you move to Australia, you will need to consider whether you can afford the cost of the move and the cost of life there. A little research here can go a long way to helping you decide if the move will be worth your while financially.
First things first: you will have to pay for your visa. A temporary skill shortage visa is at least A$1,150 (€ 724), while a one-year working holiday visa is A$440. You may also need proof of funds when entering the country, depending on your visa.
Anyone going to study in Australia needs to show they have the return airfare, their course fees and, as of February 1st, 2018, at least A$20,290 a year to live on and more if they are taking dependants.
You will also have money to pay your airfare, unless an employer is covering your travel costs. One-way flights cost from about € 600 to Perth and about € 670 to Sydney.
Shipping all the belongings of a household of four people could cost as much as € 4,000, so decide carefully what you need to take with you. Many people move with only as much as they can carry and build from there.
Cost of living
The cost of living in Australia is generally somewhat higher than in Ireland, although it depends where you live and how you live. Groceries tend to be more expensive than at home and electricity costs can be high, especially if you live somewhere where you need the air conditioning on for much of the year. Sites such as expatistan.com and numbeo.com offer detailed cost-of-living tables and comparison tools.
Figure out how much you will need to cover your expenses for at least the first month or two. The biggest of those is likely to be rent, which is often quoted by the week. Expect to pay roughly A$433 a week for a decent one-bedroom apartment in central Melbourne, A$377 a week for the same in Perth and A$662 a week in Sydney. As would be expected, prices outside the city centres tend to be significantly cheaper.
Renting a three-bedroom house in any of the main cities is likely to cost anywhere between A$800 and A$1100 a week. Do like the Aussies and check realestate.com.au and domain.com.au for rental listings.
Assume you will have to pay a deposit (called a bond) of at least one month’s rent and remember that rental accommodation usually comes unfurnished. Gumtree is also popular for advertising shared accommodation.
It’s smart to open a bank account before you get there. You can do this online through any of the main banks: ANZ, Commonwealth, NAB and Westpac. Comparison shop for savings accounts, credit cards, insurance and other financial products on infochoice.com.au.
If you are going to work in Australia, you will need a tax file number (TFN). Apply for one once you arrive through the Australian Taxation Office website, which also has detailed information on income tax rates and how to make returns.
While you may be planning to embrace Australian life and culture, you might also find yourself more willing than you thought to seek out the Irish community there. Homesickness can do that to you. It might be nice to find people who miss Barry’s Tea as much as you do.
Irish Echo irishecho.com.au
The Lansdowne Club, Sydney (a business networking group)
(Note that the GAA in Australia has clubs in every state)
Language and culture
The Gaelic Club, Sydney (Irish social and cultural centre)
Cumann Gaeilge na hAstráil, the Irish language association of Australia
The Aisling Society of Sydney, focusing of the history of Ireland and the effect of Irish heritage on life in Australia
Irish National Association, Sydney. Promotes Irish culture and interests.
Friends of St Brigid’s, an Australian-Irish Cultural and Community Centre in Crossley, Victoria
John Boyle O’Reilly Association, Bunbury. Promoting the life and literary works of John B O’Reilly, as well as more general Irish culture and heritage in the region.
Support and Social Groups
The Department of Foreign Affairs has a list of associations and community support organisations for those new to Australia.
Irish Australian Support and Resource Bureau, Northcote
Irish People Living in Australia on Facebook
The old-fashioned way
The Irish in Australia have always watched out for each other and it’s usually easy to tap into informal support networks. Find out about friends of friends living where you are going, or failing all else, call into a local Irish bar when you get there.