Living in Sydney, Australia as a British Expat

Living in Sydney, Australia as a British Expat

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I’m Annie, a British expat from London who has been living in Sydney since 2011. I actually didn’t move to Sydney intentionally, I went backpacking for six months and met Steve, my now fiancé in the Himalayas in India (of all places!). We travelled together for a few months and we ended up moving to his home in Sydney not long afterwards. We really love living in Sydney because it’s the most beautiful city in the world, and it’s much more laid back than London.

It wasn’t my first time in Australia, I had been backpacking around the country five years earlier and just loved living in Sydney. I somehow knew I would end up living here because it is such a liveable city. The slower pace of life, fewer people, healthy culture and physically beautiful city with world class beaches, makes it a city hard not to love. Here’s a glimpse into living abroad in Australia.

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Getting a Visa to Live in Australia

So when we arrived in 2011, I came into Australia on my second Working Holiday Visa which lasts for a year. When the year was up, we decided to head off and travel the world again, before coming back to Australia in 2013. When we returned, I came in on a Tourist Visa. We spent quite a while on the phone with Immigration, trying to work out which would be the best Australia visa to apply for, but it in the end we worked out what to do. 

I then had three months to get my application ready to apply for the partner visa to Australia so I could stay permanently. It was a really stressful time as there wasn’t a lot of information about how to apply for the partner visa for Australia back then, so it felt like a full time job trying to get everything ready to get it approved. Luckily it was approved as I now have permanent residency.

Adjusting to Living in Sydney as an Expat

Moving to Sydney in 2011 felt totally different to backpacking. I stopped being a backpacker and started to explore a lot of the lesser known places around the city as well as day trips from Sydney to national parks and hidden gems. Interestingly, the more hidden gems I wrote about on my blog, the bigger Australian audience I got. It’s funny as an expat to be introducing new places to local Australians who have never heard of them before!

Sydney is one of Australia’s largest cities and the capital of New South Wales. I quickly realised there’s a lot more to Sydney than I originally thought and much more to see than the typical touristy places like Bondi Beach or Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour.

Making Friends in Sydney as an Expat

I became friends with other British expats as well as Australians from work, but generally I am always more inclined to make friends with Brits in Australia. We already have a common ground which is much easier to relate to. Australians can be quite closed off, especially in the cities because they have tight friendship circles which stem from their school years. A lot of expats do struggle to make friends in Sydney but it’s something you just have to give it time. 

>>> Read our 8 Simple Tips for Making Friends While Living Abroad

Culture Shock and Reverse Culture Shock

I do miss my friends back home, but I do visit every few years. Two years ago we actually moved back to England permanently but we only lasted six months. I realised after seven years away, I had changed much more than I thought. 

After a month of being back, the novelty wore off and I found it quite depressing being back there. With the combination of the weather, the dark Winter nights and people generally looking pretty miserable, I craved my Australian life back. 

I missed going on hikes in the rainforests with not one other person in sight. I missed the blue skies, the beaches and the healthy culture. In England people generally go to the pub a lot, and I found it really hard to feel like exercising and eat well when it was raining and cold outside. 

Plus, I had a terrible commute in England. I was living an hour’s train ride from London but the train line was always delayed and my commute was often three hours just to get to work on a packed train. It wasn’t fun at all. 

Interestingly when we moved back to Sydney, we instantly realised this is where we were meant to be all along. I’m glad we moved back to England because something changed within me and I now no longer feel homesick to go back. I think that might have been due to the fact that I was only supposed to be away for six months originally in 2011, so I always felt like living in Sydney wasn’t permanent. 

living in sydney harbour panoramic

Finally Feeling Right About Living in Sydney

I will always miss England, but when I went back again... I spent more time with my friends and family in the three weeks' visit than I did when I lived there for six months

Annie on reconnecting with loved ones

After we moved back to Sydney in 2019, I realised that I had moved on from my life in England and that Australia is now my permanent home. I will always miss many things about England but when I went back again in mid 2019, I spent more time with my friends and family in the three weeks’ visit, than I did when I lived there for six months! I then realised how much better it is to spend quality time with loved ones when I visit, rather than seeing them once or twice in six months on a quick weekend getaway. Being away from friends is hard but I find it’s just easier to connect with them via Whatsapp! 

When I last visited England, I sat in a coffee shop in Central London during lunchtime. It was a really interesting experience watching the 20-something year old’s walk into the café in their work attire. In a way, they reminded me of my early twenties loving London life. And in another context, it reminded me of how much I had moved on from working in London. I did wonder what my life would have been like if I hadn’t met Steve. I wonder where I would be now and whether I would have had an amazing job in London. Who knows, but the main thing is I’m much happier than I’ve ever been. 

Homesickness and Missing London

I think the only times I do get homesick in Australia is during Christmas and during UK Summertime. Christmas in Australia is always hot and whilst I’m used to a White Christmas, it just never feels the same. I tend to just think about how amazing New Year is in Sydney to try and get over it that way. It’s always good to start new traditions as well during Christmas. We always drive around different areas on Christmas Eve looking at other people’s Christmas lights and compare them, which is something Steve’s family and I really enjoy doing together.

Homesickness and culture shock are natural aspects of living abroad, but sometimes they turn into deeper issues…

>>> Read Next: How to Recognize and Cope With Expat Depression

Daily Life While Living in Sydney as a British Expat

Finding a Job in Sydney

At first when we moved to Sydney in 2011, we stayed with Steve’s family whilst we tried to find jobs. It didn’t take me long because I decided to start temping doing admin work. Although it was a step back for me, it was the easiest way to get work. I was then able to get my bearings and work in different suburbs around Sydney on various contracts. 

It did take me about two years before I got back into marketing, purely because of my visa issues. Plus the admin work had taken me down the route of becoming an Executive Assistant. By the time I finally got back into Marketing, I started back at the same level as I was at in England a few years earlier. Changing industries in Sydney is really difficult as most industries tend to not look at your skills as being transferrable.

Work Life in Sydney vs. London

It was really interesting working in Sydney in radio and then when we moved back to England in 2018, I worked for a radio network in London too. The differences I found is that people were way more cut throat in London at work and although they were way ahead of the industry than they were in Australia, I actually worked longer hours in Sydney. I didn’t have the exact same job but it’s an interesting thing I noticed. 

Whilst I was looking for work in London, I noticed there were way more opportunities to work for global brands than there was in Sydney, so if I was thinking about whether to live in Sydney or London, I would live in London for the career. Sydney is a fantastic place to settle down as people have a more of a work to live attitude. People go to the beach after work in Sydney and go surfing whilst people in London will most likely go to the pub. I did however find people in London generally became good mates with their work colleagues whilst in Sydney it would be hard to hang out with people outside of work. Luckily, I now run my blog Londoner In Sydney full time so I can choose my work hours. 

As I previously said, there’s much more to life living in Sydney than I originally thought. I swapped my commute on the London tube for being able to catch a ferry across Sydney Harbour to work – something I never took for granted. While public transport is good, for getting around Sydney you really do need a car, especially when going to find some of the hidden gems!

Finding Housing in Sydney

We lived in a two bedroom apartment on Sydney Harbour which we just loved as it was really quiet but felt very central. We looked around loads of suburbs and wanted to live near Bondi Beach but it was too expensive and the housing wasn’t actually great at the price we could afford.

Luckily we found the apartments on the north side of Sydney Harbour bridge weren’t too expensive at all so we got a really good deal to live right on the harbour. We also always have a ritual to go out to some of our favourite restaurants in the hip suburb of Newtown every Friday night. 

living in sydney harbour photo

Spending Free Time While Living in Sydney

A lot of people move to Australia thinking they'll feel like they are on a permanent holiday. Truth be told, you'll probably have the same schedule as you did back home...

Annie on the reality of expat life in Sydney

On the weekends, we tend to go hiking to mind blowing waterfalls, rainforests and national parks in Sydney. Sydney is also home to the world’s second oldest national park called The Royal National Park, something for your Australia Bucket List. There are so many incredible walks to go on there like the Figure 8 Pools which is a natural rockpool in the shape of a figure 8, an Instagram famous location. 

A lot of people move to Australia thinking they’ll feel like they are on a permanent holiday. Truth be told, you’ll probably have the same schedule as you did back home with getting up and going to work, but it will just change slightly. Instead of going to the pub after work, you might want to go to the beach. And on weekends, life might well be totally different as you might want to do more outdoorsy things.

When it comes to having holidays, I’ve always noticed that you can take longer periods of time off in Australia, because a lot of people spend their holidays in Europe. If you don’t go to Europe, a lot of Australian’s holiday in Bali, or other South East Asian countries like Thailand. 

The Biggest Surprises About Living in Australia

Since moving to Australia, there are a few things which have surprised me such as; there being loads of TV screens and gambling machines in the pubs in Australia, how people walk around without shoes on which has always baffled me in a funny way, and just certain sayings. For example, people always greet each other with the saying ‘Hi, how you going?’. It was only today, after nine years of living in Australia, that I turned to Steve and asked him if people actually expect you to answer the question or whether that’s a form of just saying hi!

The animal thing is always a culture shock for me in Australia too. I have seen everything from wild camels, emus, koalas, kangaroos, snakes, spiders and so much more whilst out hiking! It always amazes me how many dangerous animals exist in Australia, but somehow I manage to cope much better than I did when I first arrived.

The Cost of Living in Sydney, Australia

Sydney is one of the most expensive cities in the world but what is the cost comparison between Sydney and London? We actually realised that we could save more money in Sydney than in London, purely because we don’t spend much on weekends when we’re out hiking. We actually also asked our readers on our blog about what their living costs in Australia look like which was really interesting to learn about. 

Renting is expensive in Sydney, where you’ll be looking at paying around $500 a week to live in a one bedroom apartment in the city. Commuting is actually pretty cheap in Sydney, you can catch a train to the nearest city called Newcastle which is nearly three hours away for under $8. A coffee costs around $4 unlike £4 in England! A beer costs around $6-$8 and a Thai takeaway costs around $40 for two. If you’re heading out for dinner in Sydney, you could easily pay $120 for two people at a nice restaurant. 

Our grocery bill tends to be around $200 a week for two people which is double to what we used to pay in England. Fuel is actually really cheap in Australia and costs around $50 to fill up which is nearly double in England, so there are some things which are more expensive and others which are cheaper. More noticeably, we’ve always found the pay to be much more in Australia than in England. I have been on double the pay, if not more in Australia than I was in England.

living in sydney waterfall

Now That You Know All There is to Know About Living in Sydney...

Even though Australia is now my home, I think there will be always an element of not being able to fit in completely. I’ll always have a pull back to England, even if I don’t see myself living there anymore, but I think I always do no matter where I move to in the world. It took me a while but I’ve learnt to stop comparing everything about England and Australia because the two countries are nothing alike. Once I stopped thinking about living costs or how much everything else is, it’s helped me settle much more easily. 

Personally, I live in Australia because it makes me want to be the best version of myself. It makes me want to be healthy, to live life to the full and to enjoy everything about being able to go for a swim every morning and appreciate nature much, much, more. I’ll forever hold the guilt of missing out on so many moments back home but that’s the trade off to live a life where I can be truly happy. 

annie living in sydney

Annie Symonds

Annie Symonds is the founder of Londoner In Sydney, one of the top 15 expat blogs in the world, according to Feedspot. Whilst providing honest expat tips, she is forever exploring hidden gems around Australia to share with her expat and Australian audience. 

If you’re moving to Australia, currently living in Sydney or just curious about living abroad, leave you questions for Annie below in the comments and don’t forget to visit her blog for more information.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Annie Symonds

    Loved being part of your expat series! All the best guys! Annie

    1. Derek Hartman

      Thank you Annie, and thank you SO much for sharing your experiences

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