So, here you are in your new home. Welcome.
It’s time to think about things like having a working phone, an Australian bank account, and an Australian ID. I’ve taken the liberty of make a little timeline for your first week in-country that will hopefully help you organise yourself and all the tasks you have to get done.
Day 1: Arrive & settle in
You’ve just gotten off a mega-long flight. Relax, you’ve earnt it. Your only important task for today is to get yourself from the airport to your new home and worry about stuff tomorrow. Depending on what airport you come into, you should be able to take public transport.
From Melbourne, for example, you’ll be able to catch a 45-ish-minute SkyBus from the airport to Southern Cross Station for about $20. At Southern Cross, pop into any convenience store or one of the new ticket terminals that dispense Myki cards (the transit card you’ll need to travel). Put at least $5 on your card to get to your stop, but preferably load it up for future trips on the train/tram. Southern cross is one of the main city stations, so you should be able to catch a train to wherever you’re off to quite easily. Download the PTV app or use Google Maps to plan your trip on the trains and trams.
From Sydney, for another example, you can walk downstairs in the airport (follow signs for the train) and buy an Opal card for NSW transit. It will cost you $15-20 to get from the airport to Central Station, even though it’s a matter of minutes. Once again, check Google Maps for train schedule, as you may have to transfer from a different station than central. About $5 will get you to any station, it’s only the airport section that is privately owned and charges a fat heap of cash.
Day 2: Get a SIM card for your phone
The most important thing to do today is go to a shopping centre and get a SIM for your phone, so you can stop getting lost and start using Google Maps on the go. I was with Virgin Mobile originally, then switched to Kogan, then Boost, and now I have been with Telstra for the last 3 years– it’s by far the best option out there. I have a “prepaid SIM”, which means I do not have a contract, don’t have any obligation to Telstra, and pay for whatever package I want at the start of each month.
For $30, I get 3GB data, unlimited text, $700 call credit, and $200 international call credit. What this means is that I have $700 to use towards domestic phone calls that are charged at a few cents a minute. It’s like “minutes” in America, basically. I have never run out of call credit, and even if you get to $700, it will cut you off and you won’t be able to run up accidental charges because you aren’t on a plan. My $200 international credit buys me about 3 hours of calls home a month. I use data or wifi for the rest. A $40 recharge gets you 6GB data and unlimited everything, including international calls. I can’t advise prepaid enough! To get a phone plan, you need a bank account, it will automatically debit you, you need crazy amounts of ID, and proof of address. It is unnecessary stress, so opt instead for this prepaid option. I have to strongly recommend Telstra, it is far and away the best phone service on offer.
Day 3: Set up a bank account
Your big task for today is setting up a bank account. It is super necessary, you can’t expect to carry cash everywhere, and you’ll be required to provide an employer with bank details for your pay. In terms of choosing a bank, there are 4 big ones in Australia: ANZ, Westpac, NAB, Commonwealth (CommBank). I had a NAB account for my first two years, but then changed to CommBank because it was more conveniently located for me. And then I worked for ANZ as a bank teller, so of course I have ANZ accounts as well.
They are all pretty similar, but my personal preference is for CommBank and ANZ, as they have the most ATMs and branches, as well as the best apps. I don’t think this has made it to America yet, but we can bank transfer people money from our phone apps here, and it’s how you’ll pay friends back for dinner or deal with bills. You’ll want to memorise or write your BSB & Account Number in notes on your phone so you can give it to friends to pay you. It’s secure, don’t worry. Another awesome thing is PayWave, which you are apparently just now getting. It’s like the chip you currently have, but allows for contactless payment of purchases under $100. I don’t know how I ever lived without it.
With any of these banks, you can actually apply online via the international students page, which is what I did. You’ll have to send some ID scans, but it’s fairly easy and then your card will be waiting at a branch of your choosing when you arrive. When you’re ready, go pick it up and bring your passport. They’ll ID you, activate the card, set a pin, and explain your accounts to you. You’ll have an everyday/access account, which is like a checking account, and a savings account, both should be free for students, anyone under 26, and anyone depositing their pay into their account every month. Weirdly, you’ll select “savings” to withdraw money or make purchases from your checking account, something that took me ages to learn.
Day 4: Set up your technology
Change the country setting on your laptop to Australia and change the Word language to Australian English (or British English). Read a bit more about Australian spelling and grammar in part vii’s Speaking the language.
If you have your Australian card, you’ll want to change the iTunes store location on your iPhone/iPad. This seems insignificant, but the US Store actually doesn’t have all the Aussie apps you may want. A prime example is that the ANZ Mobile Banking App (Go Money) can only be downloaded from the Australian store. To change locations, you’ll have to make sure you have no balance in your iTunes account and no active subscriptions. So if you have Apple Music, you’ll have to cancel it, wait for the month to run up, change your store to Australia, and restart the subscription. It is so annoying that I put it off for ages, but I’m so glad it’s finally done, I can now get all of the Aussie music that was never in the US store. You need an Australian card and billing address to put into iTunes, or you can’t change it over.
Day 5: Go to the shops & stock up
Presumably, you’ve been super busy the last few days, and probably eating take out (or, if you’re me, crushed Doritos out of the bag with a spoon) Well, stop it. Take today to go to the shops and get some food to eat at home. Here are some fun Aussie treats to try:
- Party pies: baby meat pies that go in the freezer and cook in the oven. Yes, please.
- Zooper Doopers: like Otter Pops.
- Vegemite: the common mistake here is putting a peanut butter-sized serving on your toast. That is far too much. Just put a thin layer over butter on toast and you may actually like it.
- Musk sticks: don’t try them. It’s like eating perfume.
- Wheat-Bix: the Aussie breakfast of champions. They look like granola bars, but they are cereal.
- Chicken schnitzel: really thin, breaded chicken. Actually Austrian, but they are everywhere here and thankfully not veal.
- Golden Gay Time: the absolute best ice cream bars ever.
Day 6: Apply for local ID
Now, your licence is totally valid here to drive on, but some places will refuse your foreign licence as ID, as it’s not legally valid identification here. That means being turned away from a night out or sent out of the bottleshop, plus they will make all your friends leave as well, which is muy embarrassing. It sucks, so just get a local ID. I can only speak from experience in NSW and VIC, so here’s the go with both.
Ok, DRAT, first let me quickly explain how the licensing system works (in the only two states I know about, so it may be slightly different elsewhere). In NSW, you can get your “L’s” (learner licence) at 16, spend 12 months logging hours, and then get your “red P’s” (provisional licence). On red P’s, you’re limited to 90km/h, and then on green P’s, the next step, you graduate to 100km/h limit. Finally, 3 years later, you get your “blacks” (full licence) and can drive as fast as you want (jk, 110km/h). In VIC, the laws are alarmingly strict (except there aren’t speed limits on P’s), and you can’t actually get your provisional licence until 18 and then have to spend 4 years working towards your full licence.
VIC Roads will give you a full licence fairly automatically if you are over 22. Well, you still have to pay $77 (for a 3 expiry) and fill out this form to convert your overseas licence (works even if it’s expired!). Just make sure to bring very piece of ID you have. Passport, school ID, bank card, overseas licence (even if it’s expired), proof of address (e.g. a bill sent to your home with your name). NSW, on the other hand, requires proof that you’ve held your licence for more than 3 years in order to issue a full licence (who wants the restrictions?!). Seems easy? Well, my licence displays the issue date of that physical licence, not the issue date of my first licence, so they won’t give me a full NSW licence. I scoured the DMV/ WSDOT/ whatever it is website and couldn’t find any proof of the original issue date. So when I lived in NSW, I got a Proof of Age card instead. It’s good only for ID, so you’ll still need your overseas licence to drive. Fill out this form and pay $52 (for a 5 year expiry).
After moving back up from VIC (with a VIC licence, I might add!), I foolishly assumed they’d happily transfer me over to a full NSW licence. No. So I have my VIC licence and use my old NSW Proof of Age card only when I’m going out and fear losing something as important as my driver’s licence (do you ever have those nights where you’re like “ok, I’m definitely not making it home with any of my personal effects”).
Day 7: Rest
And on the 7th day, you rest and think “holy shit, I live in Australia”.