Three expat Brits explain their move to Australia

Down under forecast: expensive but fine

The eXpat Files In our New Year's edition of The eXpat Files we're going to do something a little different: namely, chat to three folks who've all made the same move from Blighty to Australia, to give you an idea of just how good your correspondent has it down here at Vulture South... and how good you could have it if you brave Australia's tough immigration laws.

Our three expats are:

  • Michael Minns, a developer from Stoke-on-Trent
  • Craig Waters, a VMware user group luminary who currently works for a storage vendor
  • Eric Worrall, an Australian who moved to the UK but has now come home

Let's make this fast, gents, I've got a beach to get to, half a cow to grill and a cricket match to watch …

The Register: Why did you move to Australia?

Eric Worrall: I wasn't seeing enough of my family, I was working long hours in the London Docklands, and I wanted my little girl to enjoy some of the outdoor opportunities I enjoyed, growing up in Australia. It was very rewarding work financially, a lot of fun, and I still keep in contact with friends - but it wasn't working for me as a career choice.

Michael Minns: My wife and I had moved back to our childhood town from London when we had kids. It made sense then but my youngest child was four years old and we were getting itchy feet to move on again. Having three young children meant we didn't feel we could just travel speculatively so I was looking for opportunities. Australia wasn't originally top of the list, but then I saw an article in The Register one grey and rainy day in Salford in the spring of 2012. My current employers were running a recruitment drive in Europe to bring developers to Sydney.

The Register: How did you arrange your gig?

Eric Worrall: Pure luck. I arrived in Australia with my family, rented a house, and started calling every employment agent in the phonebook. Then I came across an advertisement from someone who needed help developing apps for clients, working from home. At first I thought, too good to be true, but it worked out, and totally changed my life. I still work with the company which first started me on this path, but I also source a lot of business myself, through networking - meeting people at business conferences, starting conversations, passing out a lot of business cards. Some of the business comes from client recommendations.

The Register: Pay: up or down?

Craig Waters: I moved here in 1996 on a tourist visa, but overall [pay is] up. I'm not sure the scope of opportunity would have been the same if I had remained in the UK.

Eric Worrall: Down for now, but I don't think that will be forever. I've met other expats who took a similar course to me, and are now doing very well compared to their old careers. The great thing about my new business, as opposed to contracting, is that it is growable - ultimately I hope to have my own network of people developing apps for me.

Michael Minns: Pay was up, especially since I was working in the northwest of the UK rather than London. In hindsight probably not up in enough :). We did OK but Sydney is scarily expensive when you first arrive.

The Register: What's more expensive in Australia?

Craig Waters: Australia has become considerably more expensive in the last five to 10 years. It's weird as I actually think the UK is cheaper now. Ironically coffee is both better and cheaper in Australia, but staple goods like bread/milk etc are considerably cheaper in the UK (I won't mention my grocery bill here as for a family of four it's outrageous).

Eric Worrall: Cars and boats are more expensive - if you like your BMW, it's probably well worth putting it in a shipping container, though check the customs/import duty rules. Housing and accommodation is a little more expensive, depending on your area. Electricity is expensive, but if you live in a warm part of Australia you will not use nearly as much power for heating, so the bills are significantly lower. Supermarkets in Australia are similar to supermarkets in the UK, and carry a lot of the same goods, though you need to shop around to get a good price.

The Register: How do workplaces differ between Australia and the UK?

Michael Minns: I was self-employed and contracting for the four years before coming out, so the big change for me was coming back into a team environment. Teams are a "big" thing here, it is after all what we are selling to our customers. Being a bright young company the office is full of free food and drink, social events, 20 per cent time and Nerf guns... all the things you ready about in the tech world but are surprisingly thin on the ground when contracting at a UK university!

Eric Worrall: The workplace culture in Australia is very similar to the UK - though to be fair I haven't worked in a normal office in Australia for a long time. There are some differences, for example, having a pint or two over lunch with colleagues is a lot more common in the UK than Australia - a lot of offices in Australia are totally dry. There's also an initial reluctance to value your UK experience on the same terms as it would be valued if you were applying for a job in the UK - though this hesitation quickly disappears once you build up a track record in Australia. If you don't have a lot of experience with interviews, say through working as a contractor for at least a few years, then it is well worth setting up a job before you arrive.

The Register: Will moving to Australia be good for your career?

Craig Waters: Definitely, it's given me the chance to experience working in Customer / Integrator and now Vendor spaces.

Eric Worrall: I'm certainly a lot happier with my life now than I was before, I feel much more in control of my time - and there are new opportunities to build my business, which I don't think I would have had if I had stayed in the UK as a contractor.

Michael Minns: Without doubt it will be good. From a purely financial position I'm working for a fast growing, consistently profitable company with benefits like share options, bonuses etc. From a technology and experience point of view I'm back learning new stuff and building big stuff for a company with an almost household name in developer circles. No downside that I can see.

The Register: What do you miss about the UK?

Michael Minns: Weather. It never ceases to amaze me that you can give the weather forecast for a whole continent with usually two or three sections. This end will be hot, this end will be a bit rainy and this other end will be hot too. A decent house: Sydney-siders don't seem to understand that during winter it is supposed to be warmer inside the house than outside. No insulation and doors that stop an inch above the floor its weird. Anything older than about 1930. The NHS! Its not intrinsically better out here, just different.

Craig Waters: Family and friends, nothing else really, there comes a time when you are a tourist in your own country which while seems strange actually has an appeal all of its own...

Eric Worrall: My friends. The awesome UK pubs. Easy access to Europe.

The Register: Top tip for others contemplating the move?

Craig Waters: Don't jump in and move straight here with a job opportunity, come as a tourist and see the country first, then hang out with the locals (they like that) and get a taste for what it's like being here... Kind of like try before you buy!

Michael Minns: Be realistic and prepared for the cost, certainly in Sydney. It's manageable but a little eye watering. If you are coming out with your family, be aware of stuff like it's actually cheaper to send your kids to fee-paying Catholic school than state school if you are on a temporary visa.

Do it. While it has not been without its bumps in the road - my wife discovering that there are 30,000+ teachers looking for work in NSW was a nasty one - it has been a great experience. Our kids have had experiences we could never have had in the UK. Tripping over wombats in the dark when camping, chasing lizards away from your lunch, swimming with a platypus, watching kangaroos box - it's all good.

Eric Worrall: Have a plan - know what you are going to do, if your new job doesn't work out, if your house in the UK takes longer than expected to sell, or if it takes you longer than you expect to find work. You will burn through money faster than you can believe. And don't argue with your wife when she insists on bringing loads of extra boxes on the airplane - you will be surprised how quickly you need the contents.

The Register: And lastly, what can you do down under on your weekends?

Michael Minns: So this Sunday in between doing the shopping at one of Sydney's many enormo-malls and having a BBQ of fresh scallops, squid and prawns back at the house, we stopped at the beach for an hour's swim with fish and rays at the local beach. Other than that we get away camping as often as we can, there are plenty of places where you can camp amongst the wildlife and then fish, swim and relax around a campfire with the family.

Eric Worrall: Swimming - the beach. In fact, why wait for the weekend? If you live in a warm part of Australia like the beautiful Fraser Coast, where I am based, you can swim eight months of the year or more. In summer the water is as warm as a bath, yet still crystal clear and unpolluted.

Craig Waters: In my suburb I like how people say hi to you in the street (even if you don't know them), when walking, cars stop at crossroads and wave you by, you can visit the beach for a swim, you can grab breakfast at a local cafe (which administers good coffee) and you can jump on a train and be in the city centre in 20 mins.

Have you moved to a new land? Tell us your story by writing to me. ®

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