Move from US to Australia (What to Expect – School, Cost, Life)

Move from US to Australia - real life experience - Schools, Costco, Kmart shopping, apartment rental, driving license, cost of living, car buying.

Written by Anil Gupta
  Anil Gupta    Updated 12 Jun, 20

Australia is a developed country and its major cities feature in the top 10 cities to live every year. But, it is definitely not equal to America.

As an immigrant who has lived in America for a long time and now trying to settle down in Sydney with Australia PR, I list specific things that will pinch if you are planning to move from the US to Australia.

USA is the most attractive country for a reason that I learned after leaving the US. It is one of the biggest consumer-driven markets with an extremely deep understanding of what consumers want.

The consumer is the god in America and everything is so much streamlined that you will never feel the need of raising your voice. Things are a lot different in Australia and you would need to be careful while dealing with local businesses.

#1 Rental Apartment

Maintenance is Headache in Australia

In the US, you only deal with lease office for Apartment renting and maintenance requests. Basic standards are followed like a full kitchen set up in about 99% of apartment communities:

  • Refrigerator,
  • Food crusher in kitchen sink,
  • Microwave,
  • Gas stove and
  • Dishwasher

In Australia, there is virtually no standard. Each apartment is different within the same building. You have to ask for each thing separately to make sure of what they have installed.

The most you can expect to be preinstalled is a dishwasher and gas stove.

We could not find any community which was owned and operated by any individual company as a whole. Most apartments have individual owners who have engaged some rental management companies like PIA etc.

This means that landlord will control each maintenance request based on how much it may cost him.

This is frustrating most of the time as you have to negotiate for each small drainage blockage or a door lock repair. The average turn around time for ’emergency’ maintenance like flush not working is 2 weeks!

  • The first response by the maintenance agency is always ‘ignore’.
  • The second is to try to put the blame on the tenant.
  • The third is to send requests to the building manager or strata or someone else.
  • The fourth is to delay the maintenance as long as they can.

This means that you have to prove that the problem happened naturally and not because of your actions.

This was never felt in the USA as maintenance was done with “no questions asked” and “no blame” game.

Dryer Installed but No Washing Machine

You have to buy your own washing machine.

In many newly built apartments, the dryer is installed as a standard but no washing machine.

Sun drying clothes in Australia is common.

The Australian culture is to use open drying under the sun and hence the apartments have not been designed to have the exhaust for dryer.

We found it strange that dryer exhaust was simply throwing all heat inside the apartment itself.

In the USA, 90% of households use washer and dryer as a standard and have well-designed exhaust to throw the heat out.

Air Conditioner – Only in Living Room

Another unrealistic feature of apartments is AC installed only in the living room and that too if you are lucky. Most communities have no fans and no AC installed at all.

Australia is a hot country and no centralized AC felt more like India. They may have their own reasons for not installing AC but it was a shock for us to not have a central heating and cooling system.

People usually buy portable AC for bed room.

It is probably due to the coastal weather of Sydney, which incidentally stays cool most of the time, and hence, AC may not be needed regularly if your home or apartment is not directly exposed to the Sun (most part of the day).

#2 Car

You cannot beat the ease of the car buying process in the USA – Walk into the car showroom, get the loan over the phone, and drive out the brand new car within an hour.

Car Loan Process

Do not expect the same in Australia even though it is a developed country. 

You need to:

  • Get a bank loan cleared,
  • Pay the car dealer,
  • and wait for 3-4 days to get clearance to drive your car.

If you are coming from America, you will certainly not like the multiple trips that are required to buy the car.

Luxury Tax

Australia still has the British style luxury tax (around 33% tax for cars above 65k – changes every year) for high-end cars which makes it difficult to buy brands like BMW, Audi, Lexus, and others.

Luxury car tax in Australia
Luxury car tax in Australia

If you have lived in the USA, you know that anyone can get a hand on these cars due to no luxury taxes there. That’s a big difference.

Driving License

If you have an American driving license, it can be converted to an Australian license within 5 minutes. That’s the best thing I liked.

For licenses from India or China, you will have to start fresh with a learning license. The process is long and very strict.

As an example,

  • Service NSW has offices all over NSW (Sydney) and offers highly professional services.
  • I have not seen this kind of customer service anywhere in the world for getting a driving license. It’s too good.
  • Each center has self-service free printers and computers to print missing documents.
  • Service NSW has customer service agents to help answer questions – very polite and helpful.
  • Token-based system to wait for your turn.

Driving Lessons

You will find Indian and Chinese people contacting you in malls or other public places. They offer their services of giving driving lesson services by approaching you directly. Just be careful and negotiate.

#4 Schools

The public school system in Australia is good but most do not have proper buildings. There are mandatory dress codes and school dresses are expensive.

Expect to pay these fees even though it is public government school:

Parents and Citizen Voluntary Fund – Even though it says voluntary, it is mandatory and is used for building repairs and upgrades.$135
Summer Dress, Winter Dress and sports day dress – Single set Summer Dress for a 8 year boy – tie, shirt, shorts, socks and sports dress.$150
Activities such as excursions, sport, camp, music program etc.$100
Technology Equipment, Education Program Fees$300

Classrooms are like portable demount-able structures. Kids have to eat their lunch outside in an open common area (ground) which was unheard of in America. Be prepared to handle more germs.

In US, you do not pay any of these fees except the excursions.

  • The school culture is more on the lines of Indian government schools than the US.
  • Almost all top-rated schools have an extremely high ratio (about 90%) of Asian kids.
  • Due to the high presence of Chinese and Korean immigrants, learning Mandarin or Korean is mandatory until grade 4 for all students.

Australia has both boys, girls, and co-education private schools which can easily cost around A$2500 per month.

#5 Health Card

Every Australian is eligible to get a free medical health care card. Everybody pays health insurance tax as part of income tax in Australia.

  • In the USA, Government offices are not customer friendly as private companies.
  • In Australia, government offices and services are like private professional services in the USA. In contrast, Australian private business services are not as good.

As an example, the Centrelink office staff (for medical card registration) is polite and you can register yourself for Medicare within an hour. I was impressed.

#6 Shopping


Costco is one store that gives you the look and feel of the USA.

Most of the product range will also look the same as they probably import all their products from their global warehouse. Your US Costco membership will work in Australia as it works globally.

The only fact that pinched me was their own brand Kirkland costs more than regular brands in Australia! Wow.

Costco Australia - USA brands
Costco Australia – USA brands

We used to buy Kirkland products extensively due to their good quality but almost half the price of what well know brands could cost in the USA. But, here in Australia, Kirkland will cost you more!

There is no Sams Club, BJs or other wholesale warehouse in Australia.

CostCo Australia does not have any online shopping. You can buy only by physically visiting the store. Product prices are not shown on their website either.

Target Australia

Target Australia has no affiliation with Target corporation USA and is clearly written on their website even though they share a similar logo, color branding, and similar-looking stores.

We used to love shopping at Target USA as it had so much to offer with price match policies, extended member returns, and gracious 5% off on all products with their red card.

There is absolutely nothing like Target USA in Australia. The inventory in Oz is only 50% of the USA product range.

No Walmart, Kmart is Useless

You know Walmart has the lowest prices and largest selection of products in the USA.

KMart is known for the same low price in Australia but the majority of its inventory only has its own brand called ‘Anko’.

Anko makes clothes, bikes, mixer grinder, furniture, and whatnot. You name it and they have it but only from Anko.

You cannot return a product if it has been opened from original packaging in Kmart. This effectively means that you should make a decision just by looking at the product! Does that make sense? We are getting used to it slowly.

Amazon Australia

If you have Amazon prime USA membership, you will find that you won’t be allowed to watch many movies just because of regional licensing issues.

The range of products on Amazon Australia is also nowhere close to the USA. In-fact, you can easily find US products listed on the Australia website.

Amazon Australia product line is not aggressive as it is in other countries.

Netflix USA account works but many shows like ‘breaking bad’ were blocked due to licensing issues again.

‘The Good Guy’ – ‘Best Buy’ of Australia

Australia’s popular electronic good store is theGoodGuys. The store looks and feels like the ‘best buy’ of USA.

The other popular electronic stores are:

All prices are negotiable including the new products. Do not just pay the ticket price.

They all sell open box products and claim to offer them at discounted prices in their ‘seconds’ stores.

Please beware that prices are almost the same as new models. So, be very careful and negotiate hard after checking prices online for the same or similar products.

#7 Credit Cards

Australia really has no credit cards that come with zero annual fees. This is strange when you know that banks take a cut on each sale from the seller.

Australia has a culture of paying for everything. Most retailers pass on the debit/credit card transaction charge ranging from 1.2-1.9% directly to consumers including car rental services like Budget, Avis, and others.

Savings/Checking Account

I found the best bank is a commonwealth bank due to their services and availability of ATMs. You can open their bank account 3 months before landing in Australia.

We opened one account each in Commonwealth and Westpac before landing. Commonwealth had kept the Debit card ready before landing whereas Westpac ordered the card on physically verifying identity in the Bank branch.

#8 Restaurant

Unlike in the US, there is no tipping culture in Australia. This can probably save you about 15-20% of the bill each time you eat out.

But, these savings are offset by the food cost if you compare it with the US. The regular/house coffee (called Flat White in Oz terms) will easily cost you A$4.5 even at McDonald’s.

The cost of food is high due to the high minimum wage in Australia. You do feel the pinch if you earn in Australian dollars and then spend on it too.


Written by Anil Gupta
  Anil Gupta  
Mentor | Immigration and Finance Journalism | Humor | Opinions are my own