After months of traveling Karen and Steve decided they wanted to settle in Australia for a bit. After traveling throughout Southeast Asia the cost of living in Australia was shocking. Determined to make it work, they started doing a little research. Through the help of a few websites they figured out how to live in Melbourne, one of the most expensive cities in the world, for six months (and going) completely rent free.
Here is a bit of their story.
Steve: I wanted to play sports and Australia is one of the sports capitols of the world.
Karen: It also has one of the best economies in the world. It came down to Australia or New Zealand for us.
Why did you choose Australia over New Zealand?
Karen: Australia is a little bit warmer and there is more opportunity here. It is a much bigger country than New Zealand and the economy is stronger. A lot of people from New Zealand come to Australia to work.
Steve: Pretty much everyone we met from New Zealand has told us not to go there because there aren’t any jobs. Australia also has a game called Australian Rules Football that I wanted to play.
Have you looked for jobs in Australia?
Karen: If you walk down the street there are hiring signs all over the place. I went on Gumtree the other day, which is their version of Craigslist, and in the last 14 hours 23 pages of new jobs had been posted. The jobs available are everything from gardening to computer programming.
The news when we got here was that the Australians wanted 40,000 immigrants allowed into Australia to work hospitality jobs. The Australians don’t want to do these jobs even for $15 – $25 an hour.
If you are under 31 you can automatically get a working visa in Australia. They also have a list of jobs they are looking for, nursing is a big one, and if you fit with the list then you can get a visa fairly easily. You can also pay the government to assess your skills and create a visa for you based on those skills or you can find a job which can sponsor a work visa for you. They are looking for workers. I have never met such a welcoming immigration office in my life. Their advice to us was wear sunscreen and watch out for the sun. They need people. It is refreshing.
How did you get free housing?
Karen: Through the website Helpx. It’s a work to live exchange. Our deal was we worked two hours a day preparing a Victorian Mansion for sale in exchange for the east wing [of the house]. There were other listings that if you worked four hours a day they would also feed you. Now we are living totally rent free with a free car [which we found] through the website TrustedHouseSitters. Our bills, housing and Internet are paid for. We have to water plants every two weeks and the homeowner can’t thank us enough for helping her out. Joining both these websites cost us less than $100 and we got a year of free housing out of it.
Any other ways to get free or cheap housing in Australia?
Karen: Look up work exchange and house sitting in any country you want to go to. You can also use the local Craigslist to post ads about yourself and look at other ads. There are a lot of nanny opportunities here as well.
You can take care of people’s pets. People travel a lot here. Last month someone offered to pay us to take care of their dogs while they went on their honeymoon for 6 weeks. They were going to pay us to live in their house and use their car. We found that one Gumtree.
You could advertise yourself on Gumtree. If you were a carpenter or did home care or had a trade you could advertise yourself and have work, I would guess almost immediately. Everything is so nice and booming; there is opportunity everywhere. It is strange almost. It is almost too perfect. It is like you are walking around a movie set or something. Even car rental places will let you take their cars for free.
You can get rental cars for free?
Transfer Cars is one of them. They have camper vans, jeeps or cars and every day they will email you a list of routes that they need their vehicles transported to. So instead of the car companies paying someone to move the car, they advertise for people who want a free car to move it. Some will pay for some or all of your gas.
Give me an idea of cost of living over there.
Karen: An apartment in Melbourne would cost between $1000 and $2000 a month. A little bottle of water will sometimes be about $4. Melbourne is about the price of New York City or San Francisco. Food is very expensive, but again there are ways around it. Anything you can think of is more expensive here.
What are some of the creative ways you have found to get cheaper food?
Karen: If you go to a multi day farmer’s market at the end of the last day the farmers do not want to pack up their stuff and they sell it for dirt cheap. It is ¼ of the price it would be in the grocery store. We have bought insane amounts of food for $35.
What do you think surprised you the most about living in Australia?
Steve: The prices. The plant life is also very strange looking. They have plants I have never seen. It is also super friendly.
Karen: All the opportunities in so many directions for so many things. There is so much of it and I feel like this is just the beginning of it. Melbourne is kind of reminiscent to Chicago to me. It does not feel as remote as it looks on the map. We have lived in several parts of Melbourne and they all have their local commerce area. The local movement seems to be in full swing here and it does work. Most all the shops are of a ma & pop type feel.
What is the most difficult part about living in Australia?
Steve: I haven’t found much that is difficult at all. It is low stress living and they really in believe that. Everything closes early – at 6 o’clock. It is a nice place to be, but there are so many rules.
So many rules?
Steve: There are a lot of individual rules. Getting a driver’s license must be a hell of a thing as there are so many rules on the road. In the US when you are crossing the street and there is an opening you just run across the street. People here press the button and wait at the crosswalk because that is the rule – that is what you do. Even if there are no cars coming in any direction – the people will wait for the green stick man to give them the go. It’s hilarious.
Karen: That is great example. I think that is a great metaphor for the Australian society. There are rules and they are followed and it results in a very organized and functioning society. It seems like the government is working for the people here and not embezzling the money like what is happening in the US and other countries. They have syringe containers in parks and bathrooms. They have signs on the road to show dangerous areas where people have died. It is just kind of the little details that show they have their act together and are working for the people not vice versa. One of the biggest to-do’s for Australian government is to improve their universities. Australia’s government does not have any national debt. They are saying the real estate crash that hit the world is just starting to be felt around here. They have been more responsible with lending over the last decade than a vast majority of the world.
How long could you stay there before you had to get a visa?
Karen: We were granted a three month tourist visa online for 20 dollars in about one minute. After these first three months we just went to the immigration office. We didn’t even need an appointment. We just walked in, took a number and I think we paid $230 each and they extended our tourist visa for nine months. I think you can hop to New Zealand or Fiji and come back to get your visa renewed as well. I think you could do that quite a few times in Australia and many other countries around the world as well.
Do you have any idea what would happen if you did get a job with your existing visa?
Steve: They are pretty specific that they do not want you working on a tourist visa. You have to apply for a work visa outside of the country. You have to leave on your tourist visa and come back to get a work visa.
Karen: It is regulated. It is not a free for all, but they are actively seeking people to work here.
Is it safe there?
Steve: When we talk to Australians the first thing they say to us is, ‘Why is the US so fucking violent?’ They are very laid back. They don’t like stress. We lived in the ‘bad’ part of the city and it was the nicest city I have lived in by far and this was their dangerous part.
Karen: In 1996 somebody went crazy in Tasmania and shot a lot of people. Right then and there gun rights were taken away from the Australian people. There are a few exceptions for people who can legally own guns in Australia like farmers, but it is very hard to get guns and people seem to like it that way.
What are Australians perspective on racism and immigration as compared to attitudes in the US?
Steve: I would say they are slightly more racist here than the US. They used to have an immigration policy that they only let white people immigrate. I think they had that until the 60s. It is really white here. Their culture is not as mixed as ours. They seem to like Americans though.
Karen: I would say they are a little more racist too. It is very white here. It started when the British came and said the land was not occupied. [They declared it] terra nullius and they took it for their own. But, of course, that was a lie because the Aboriginal people were here. That lie lead to years of genocide, Aboriginal children taken from their parents and overall horrible treatment. The story of the Aboriginals in Australia is very similar to the stories of Tibetans and American Indians and other cultures that have been completely overrun by outside cultures. There is a lot of Aboriginal inequality.
Can you get cheap flights to other areas of the world from there?
Karen: You can fly to New Zealand and Fiji for a couple hundred dollars. They have cheap flights to Thailand for maybe $300 – $400 dollars. It is $1200 to fly to LA, but if you came to work in Australia you could make up your flight costs in about a week. It could be a great summer break idea for college students around the world because your working visa is almost immediate and guaranteed if you are under 31.
Do you have recommendations for others who want to move to Australia?
Steve: Just get here.
Karen: The wages are double in almost all fields in Australia. So are the costs of living, but there are so many ways around them. If you came here with the mindset of making money and being creative in terms of living costs you could stand to make a lot of money. If you are selling a product odds are you could sell it for double here. If money or the American Dream is what you are looking for, but you find yourself in a cycle of mostly broke maybe look into Australia. It won’t last forever, but it is happening right now.
I would tell people interested in traveling here or anywhere in the world to research house sitting. There are house sitting opportunities all over Australia and the world. I do think some people with house sitting opportunities want you to actually be in the country before they agree to use you to ensure you come through for them. The northeast part of Australia is more of the tropical area. A lot of Australia actually gets cold –well, cold to me which is low 40’s. When they say it gets cold and wet here it does. Perth is doing great. There are more millionaires per capita there than anywhere else in the world which is due in great part to the mining boom happening there. I think Sydney is the most expensive city in Australia.
Anything else you would like to add?
Karen: Anybody looking for opportunities to make money – they are available in almost every sector in Australia. Minimum wage alone is over $15 an hour. I could see people moving here with their children for their children’s future like people used to do with the US.
We knew that we wanted to come here so Steve could play sports and I could write and we knew we wanted it to be cheap. In knowing that we wanted those three things we were able to make them happen. Knowing what you want is the first and perhaps most important step in my opinion. Your website really changed our lives when we learned about TrustedHouseSitters.
It is 75% less expensive here for us [to live here than the US] even though on the surface it is 3X more expensive. It is all about being creative. We are going to see if we can live off of $400 this next month. It might be overly ambitious, but I think we can figure it out. We landed here and were shell shocked. Breakfast is $25 a person. A bunk bed in a hostel is $45 a bed. We just didn’t accept what we first found. Looking deeper there is this whole undercurrent of magic. This is the best economy I have ever seen. It is amazing to be in an economy that is doing well. It is amazing to be around growth. To feel an economy on the upswing – it just feels better. Of the things I have seen traveling the opportunities in Australia is the news I feel most compelled to spread. A different life for the hard working truly is available for the taking down under.