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Part 4

Living in Australia

Now that you have arrived

Accommodation

Finding the right accommodation is one of the biggest challenges most scholars face when they arrive. Rental housing is in short supply in many parts of Australia.

If you are on your own, the simplest, safest and most convenient option can be on-campus accommodation, if it is available at your university. Staying in a residential college saves you time and money on transport, and also protects you from the uncertainties of the rental property market, as well as offering easy access to the community of other students. On-campus accommodation can fill up fast, so be sure to register with your institution as soon as possible before you leave for Australia. Note that a place in on-campus accommodation is not guaranteed.

You may also consider home-stay accommodation—boarding with a local family in their home. In a home-stay arrangement, the house is usually furnished and some meals may be supplied.

If your family is joining you in Australia, renting a private house or flat will be your best accommodation option. However, available rental properties can be limited across all Australian capital cities, and the cost of rent can be high.

Another option is sharing private rental accommodation with other students. Noticeboards on campus and online registries help match those seeking accommodation or housemates.

Check with your institution to see if it provides accommodation support services. Your institution and Student Contact Officer will be able to help you with information on finding a property in each state and territory.

Types of properties available for rent include:

  • separate houses, usually with three or four bedrooms 
  • semi-detached or duplex houses, which are usually smaller 
  • units (flats or apartments), which are common in inner-city suburbs and have one or two bedrooms 
  • studio apartments, which are open plan, typically with a small kitchen and combined living and sleeping space. 

Most rental properties in Australia are unfurnished.

Signing a lease and paying your rent

After visiting private rental properties and finding one you like, you will need to complete an application and, if successful, sign a rental lease agreement.

A lease is a contract that legally binds you and your landlord. It is usually for at least six months to a year. Make sure you understand what the lease contract means, especially when signing on to any extensions—if your study finishes earlier than your lease, there will be significant costs to break the lease early. Month-to-month rentals are often possible once you have rented for an initial fixed period, but make sure that this is the case.

When signing a lease, you will also have to pay a bond upfront, which is normally equal to four to six weeks rent. A bond is used to cover any repairs or damage you cause to the property, or to cover the owner if you do not pay your rent. Your bond will be returned to you when you leave the property, as long as the property is left in good order.

Average weekly rents in Australian capital cities May 2019 (Australian dollars)
  • Sydney, NSW
    Three bedroom house (city average)Two bedroom unit inner-city/suburbsOn-campus accommodation*Bedroom in share house near campus
    $720 $545/$400 $260–$550 $220–$330
  • Melbourne, VIC
    Three bedroom house (city average)Two bedroom unit inner-city/suburbsOn-campus accommodation*Bedroom in share house near campus
    $550 $430/$350 $220–$550 $190–$275
  • Canberra, ACT
    Three bedroom house (city average)Two bedroom unit inner-city/suburbsOn-campus accommodation*Bedroom in share house near campus
    $685 $475/$410 $175–$410 $230
  • Brisbane, QLD
    Three bedroom house (city average)Two bedroom unit inner-city/suburbsOn-campus accommodation*Bedroom in share house near campus
    $510 $385/$300 $170–$550 $220
  • Adelaide, SA
    Three bedroom house (city average)Two bedroom unit inner-city/suburbsOn-campus accommodation*Bedroom in share house near campus
    $420 $320/$275 $175–$450 $190–$210
  • Perth, WA
    Three bedroom house (city average)Two bedroom unit inner-city/suburbsOn-campus accommodation*Bedroom in share house near campus
    $420 $325/$280 $170–$450 $190–$210
  • Hobart, TAS
    Three bedroom house (city average)Two bedroom unit inner-city/suburbsOn-campus accommodation*Bedroom in share house near campus
    $420 $380/$280 $160–$310 $215
  • Darwin, NT
    Three bedroom house (city average)Two bedroom unit inner-city/suburbsOn-campus accommodation*Bedroom in share house near campus
    $490 $400/$350 $195–$330 $265

Sources: SQM Research; realestate.com.au; university websites
*The cheaper rate is for a furnished single room with a shared bathroom. The higher rate is for rooms in residential colleges and may include meals and other services.

IMPORTANT

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  • Do not sign a lease until you have visited the property. It is usually a requirement that you have visited the property before you fill in an application. 
  • Rents are usually paid every two weeks but may be every month, and normally in advance. So when you sign a lease, be prepared to pay up to eight weeks rent in advance, which is made up of the first four weeks of rent and another four weeks rent as a bond. 
  • When you secure accommodation, it is your responsibility to arrange electricity, gas and telephone connections. Ask your institution for details of local utility companies. 
  • You should also consider getting contents insurance for your belongings. While burglary is unlikely, insurance will replace your belongings if stolen. 
  • State laws govern residential tenancy, so visit the website of the fair trading or consumer affairs departments in the state where you are studying for details on the responsibilities of tenants, landlords and real estate agents.

Work

You and any dependent family members travelling with you are allowed to work— a separate work permit is not required. We recommend thinking very carefully about working during term as it could disrupt your studies.

Some Australia Awards scholars get work on campus as tutors. Others work off campus, for example in the service industry. The different types of work available varies greatly between regions. However, few scholars meet Australian requirements for certain professions, such as medicine and teaching.

You can work up to 40 hours per fortnight while your course is in session. Work that is part of your course is not counted. There is no limit to the hours you can work during session breaks.

If your course lasts for more than six months, you are considered to be an Australian resident for tax purposes. If you work, you should get a tax file number from the Australian Tax Office at ato.gov.au and you will be required to lodge a tax return at the end of the financial year (30 June). Any income tax deductions made by your employer will be returned to you if you have earned less than $18,200 in one year.

Jobs are advertised in newspapers and on the internet, and most institutions have employment and career services that can help you find part-time work, write resumes and prepare for interviews.

International students have the same rights as other working Australians, so if you have concerns about how you are being treated at work, or need more details about your rights or rates of pay, check online at fairwork.gov.au.

Your employer may also pay you superannuation. Commonly referred to as ‘super’, this is a form of retirement funding. As a foreigner you are eligible to have these funds returned to you when departing permanently from Australia. Remember to claim this back when you return to your home country via the Australian Tax Office online.

Handy hints

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  • Consider your study load before taking on paid work. 
  • Be prepared to take on work that may be at a lower level to your skills and qualifications. 
  • Visit homeaffairs.gov.au and ato.gov.au for the rules on paid work and student visas. 
  • Consult your institution’s careers adviser.

Transport

Public transport varies widely between Australian cities, so visit your institution’s website for information on services.

Your Student Contact Officer will be able to advise you about student concessions on public transport and whether you can receive these. Student concession cards provide you with discounted travel on buses, trains, ferries and trams in some, but not in all states and territories. You must carry your student identity card at all times when using a concession card. If a transport official asks for your identity card and you do not have it, you can receive an on-the-spot fine.

Buses, trains and trams operate according to timetables. Public transport authorities generally have maps available of their routes and the times they operate. You must catch buses and trams from designated stops. At some stops you are required to hail the driver, alerting them to stop for you.

A good tip is to research public transport routes because this may help you decide where to look for long-term accommodation.

Cycling is popular among students, and most cities have good cycle networks. By law you must wear a helmet when riding a bicycle or motorcycle. Keep your bicycle locked up when you are not riding it. Your institution may have a secure place to store bikes.

You can expect to buy a used car for a reasonable price in Australia if you need to. Bring an international driver’s license with you if you are considering driving in Australia.

Communication

Australia has good mobile phone coverage and fast internet services. A range of commercial internet providers is available and many of these offer discounts for long-term contracts.

It is important to read through all the internet options available and ask as many questions as necessary to ensure you are comfortable with the cost and benefits of the internet package offered. Most universities and colleges also provide limited internet usage from the university’s computer laboratories, as well as free wireless internet connection on-campus.

Previous scholars recommend that you bring your mobile phone with you and buy a new SIM card on arrival. International phone calls can be very expensive, so look carefully at your options for deals on phone cards for international calls.

Pre-paid and post-paid deals for mobile phones are available. Pre-paid means you pay in advance for the service. Post-paid plans are contracts, which may be long term, lasting 24 months, or short term, lasting 30 days. Be cautious about signing a long-term contract, you may be surprised at the size of your monthly bills.

If you do not already have a computer, consider buying or renting a laptop or desktop computer in Australia so it will be covered by warranty.

Electrical outlets in Australia supply electricity at 220–240 volts. If you plan to travel with electrical appliances and a charger for your phone or laptop, you will need to bring or purchase an adapter for Australia.

Handy hints

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  • Bring your mobile phone with you if you have one.
  • Buy a prepaid SIM card on arrival.
  • Research the best option for you before signing a phone or internet contract.
  • Research the best deals for international calls, and consider using phone cards.
  • Compare prices before buying a computer in Australia.

IMPORTANT

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Whether renting accommodation or signing a mobile phone contract, it is important to take these agreements seriously as they are legally binding.

You need to read the fine print carefully. When signing up for internet services or a mobile phone plan, make sure you know exactly what services you will receive and for what period of time as well as any penalties for breaking the contract early. One good question to ask is “Can I make unlimited international calls?”

Before you sign anything, ask as many questions as you need to. You might ask a friend to come along for support and a second opinion. Always take your time to consider which option is best for you.

Your study experience

Study in Australia

It is normal for students at university in Australia to enjoy informal interaction with their lecturers and teachers as well as robust debate. Everyone is encouraged to comment and ask questions in class and in lectures, and students address most lecturers by their first names.

Australian students are generally very independent and it is your responsibility to make your studies a success. But do ask for help if you feel you need it—your lecturers and tutors are there to educate you and provide help with your studies and you should feel comfortable about approaching them.

Whether you are studying plant genomics, public health policy or international relations, you will probably do much of your work as a part of a group. Group projects are designed to prepare you for teamwork in academia or in the workplace.

Plagiarism (copying other people’s work, including published works) is forbidden, easily detected and grounds for exclusion. Learn how to cite your sources—for example, according to the Harvard system or by using footnotes. Universities, and within them, faculties, often use different rules for citation and formatting. Be sure to find out the specific rules for your university and your faculty.

The compulsory Introductory Academic Program is designed to prepare you for studying in Australia. Your Student Contact Officer is also available for ongoing study advice and can help you to find any additional help you may need.

In addition to the high-quality educational system, one aspect I liked most about studying here is how I felt very safe and comfortable to learn as students’ opinions are encouraged and valued.

Nan San New

Australia Awards scholar, Myanmar

Portrait of Nan San New

Connect with Australia

Successful completion of your academic studies is your primary goal in Australia, but there are many ways in which you can contribute to this success. One vital way is through the connections and links you make—and those you carry with you into the future.

These connections begin before you arrive in Australia and continue once you graduate. Reach out to Australian alumni for support and ideas ahead of your time in Australia, and become an active member of the Australia Awards alumni and Australia Global Alumni networks on your return.

Scholarship enrichment opportunities include:

  • on-campus clubs and societies—these can be a first step towards broadening your social interactions and embracing the spirit of connection 
  • self-led enrichment—includes work-integrated learning opportunities, extra-curricular activities, non-academic and social activities, and community engagement activities 
  • Australia Awards enrichment opportunities—these are events, conferences and networking activities to boost your knowledge, professional connections and leadership skills 
  • developing your networks—broaden your reach and connections through professional networking (LinkedIn, Meet Up) and special interest groups such as professional membership organisations (e.g. Environmental Health Australia), think tanks, policy or research institutes, bilateral business councils (e.g. Australia Bangladesh Business Council) 
  • volunteering—can provide personal satisfaction, ‘work experience’ and valuable connections. Your academic institution is likely to have good contacts via the careers advice unit or consider the database of volunteering opportunities online at govolunteer.com.au 
  • work experience—some academic programs may offer work-integrated learning opportunities, but if your academic program does not include this, you may still be able to access work experience in Australia. Talk with your Student Contact Officer for some ideas 
  • conferences—can be an excellent way to network with leaders and peers in your professional field, or even an opportunity to present. Plan ahead to factor in registration fees and travel costs.

Staying healthy and happy

Health standards in Australia

Most Australians enjoy a healthy outdoor lifestyle. We have access to good quality fresh food, clean air, safe drinking water, safe outdoor spaces and quality health and medical services.

Water is safe to drink straight from the tap and fresh fruit and vegetables are also safe to eat after a quick wash with tap water.

Personal hygiene is an important part of Australian culture. It helps to keep people healthy, for example, simple hand washing with soap and water stops the spread of colds and flu and other illnesses.

Day-to-day health care

Australian universities have health centres on campus where students can access primary health care and advice from dentists, registered nurses and doctors for a fee. You will need the details of your Overseas Student Health Cover provider before a consultation can be arranged.

As well as basic health care, these centres usually offer assistance with counselling support and advice. Your Student Contact Officer can point you in the right direction.

Cigarette smoking

Smoking cigarettes is permitted in Australia but is prohibited in a number of public places. Prohibited public places include universities, schools, shops, restaurants, public transport, offices, workplaces, sports grounds and other public recreation areas such as parks and beaches. Non-smoking areas are usually indicated with a ‘no smoking’ sign, but signs are not always in place. Special smoking areas are provided in some locations.

Culture shock and your mental wellbeing

After being very happy at first, many students experience emotional turmoil as they adjust to life in Australia. This is ‘culture shock’, and some may experience it again when they return home. Educational institutions are aware of this reaction and can help you manage it, for example through on-campus counselling services.

It was challenging to adjust to this fast-paced society, but the experience has taught me adaptability skills. To future students: have a balance of study and social life; one’s well‑being is as significant as your studies. Having a good support system, or counselling, can help you overcome, or effectively address obstacles in life that can affect your studies. 

Agnes Mella Timiti

Australia Awards scholar, Kiribati

Portrait of Agnes Mella Timiti

If you feel sad, anxious or lonely, you are not alone. Seek help by talking with a friend, your Student Contact Officer, or make an appointment with the on-campus heath centre for a referral to counselling support if required. There is no shame is asking for help—and it is best to do it early before things seem worse. Appointments with medical professionals are confidential and accessing support services will not affect your scholarship.

Many university websites have advice and tips about culture shock as well as mental health support.

Get connected

There will be plenty of people eager to make friends with you once you start university life.

Have courage and do not be afraid to approach people and strike up a conversation. Meeting different people on campus and in the community can lead to rewarding friendships and support.

Some scholars find it difficult to meet new friends, especially PhD candidates who work in isolation, or scholars with disability. You can make the process easier by joining a campus club, doing volunteer work, playing sport or moving into shared accommodation. You can also meet people through religious or your children’s activities.

Don’t be on your own, and don’t isolate yourself. Get to mix with international students, get to mix with Australian students and then you should be OK, there shouldn’t be any problem with that.

Karl Bongran

Australia Awards scholar, Vanuatu

Be sun safe

If you are out enjoying the Australian sunshine then sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses and water are essential. The Australian sun is harsh and too much exposure without sun protection can result in sunburn and heatstroke.

A range of sunscreens are sold in Australia, and the Cancer Council of Australia recommends a SPF30+ sunscreen.

Practice safe sex and don’t share needles

Unfortunately, STIs (sexually transmissible infections) are more common than you might think in Australia. Three quarters of these occur in people aged between 15 and 29 years. In Australia, contraception, including condoms, is inexpensive, easily available and widely accepted. Always practice safe sex and don’t share needles. Sharing drug equipment including needles, swabs or straws increases your risk of infections including HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

Safety in the community and on campus

Australia is a relatively safe place and free from high rates of crime but you should always take basic, practical measures to ensure you stay safe. This includes keeping your doors locked when you are at home, securing valuables out of sight and taking care when out after dark.

Check out any special on-campus initiatives such as buddies for walking around campus after dark, or specific emergency numbers or hotlines. Ask your Student Contact Officer or student guild/service on campus.

You will notice Australian police out in the community—on bike, on foot, on horse and they are there to assist. Ask for help if you need it, even directions.

Water safety and the great outdoors

There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors while in Australia, with most cities close to national parks, nature reserves, rivers or the beach.

Whether going for a hike or a swim, make sure you do your research—especially if doing a self-guided trip. If you are hiking or walking somewhere remote, make sure someone knows where you are going and when you intend to be back. If enjoying the water, whether at a river, a lake or the ocean, look out for warning signs like strong currents and submerged objects. You can swim at beaches patrolled by Lifeguards where you can see two red and yellow flags planted in the sand—then always swim between those flags. And, if you want to get more confident in the water, you might like to take up some adult swim classes at your local swimming pool.

Handy hints

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  • Find your campus health centre. 
  • Let your Student Contact Officer know if you are feeling upset or anxious—they are ready to help. 
  • Research campus clubs and other organisations. 
  • Wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen if you are spending time outdoors. 
  • If you are taking a trip, especially out of the city, make sure to let someone know when you expect to be back. 
  • Be water cautious—check the environment, follow signs and ask questions.

I have been impressed by how multicultural and beautiful Australia is. From visiting museums, going to the beach, or just simply strolling through parks.

Beny Halfina

Australia Awards scholar, Indonesia

Portrait of Beny Halfina

Australian experience

Australia’s culture

Australian culture is generally accepting and informal, but you will still need to do some adjusting to understand and be part of it.

Originating with Australia’s First Nation peoples, who have one of the world’s oldest living cultures, Australian contemporary society has been influenced and shaped by British colonisation and many waves of immigration. The result is an ethnically diverse multicultural society, made up of over 25 million residents coming from more than 100 different countries.

The best way to understand Australia and find out about these many layers of history and culture is to join in. Meet the locals, make friends, join clubs or associations and ask questions. And be ready to share your own culture too.

As easygoing as Australians are, there are some customs that are observed, such as arriving on time and not spitting.

Even though the adjustment stage to the Australian education system, the cultures and the living standards was quite overwhelming at first, it turned out to be one of the most rewarding, life-changing experiences. I have become stronger emotionally, better academically and more ready to reach my long-term career goal.

Chanleap Pin

Australia Awards scholar, Cambodia

Portrait of Chanleap Pin

Addressing people

Australian culture is generally informal. People usually call acquaintances by their first names. However, formal titles such as Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms, Doctor and Professor are often used when addressing someone unfamiliar or older than you for the first time.

Slang

Australian language includes unique terms, or slang, which many overseas visitors find hard to understand, even those who speak English as a first language. In Australia you will hear words that are new or unusual as well as lots of abbreviations and shortened forms of words and phrases.

It is a good idea to purchase an Australian slang dictionary or access one online, so you can interpret conversations such as: ‘We’re having a barbie on the weekend. If you want to come, it’s BYO and bring a plate.’

Which means: you are being invited to a barbecue. You have been asked to ‘bring your own’ drinks, especially if you intend to drink alcohol. You have also been asked to ‘bring a plate’ which means you should contribute a plate of food—perhaps a salad or dessert—to share with the other guests. It does not mean ‘bring an empty plate’!

As well as using slang terms, Australians have a habit of shortening words, or making them less formal, especially people’s names. This is an indication of acceptance and friendship. So, ‘David’ could become ‘Davo’ and ‘Maggie’, ‘Mags’. Nicknames are also very popular.

Dressing up or down

Dress codes vary widely. Many workplaces and venues have high standards, while at other times, many Australians wear clothes that you may think immodest, especially in summer or at the beach.

You are not expected to conform. As a multicultural community, you will find many people of different backgrounds dressing according to their cultural requirements.

Casual clothing is the standard campus ‘uniform’. However, some international students wear traditional dress. Australia Awards scholars often wear their national dress to formal events, so bring at least one set of your formal, traditional, religious or customary dress with you.

Shopping

Shopping hours in Australia are generally 9 am to 5 pm, with some late-night shopping and some shops are open 24 hours a day.

Many cities have markets where fresh produce, including fruit and vegetables, is often cheaper. Some also sell clothing and household goods. Australia is a multicultural society, and scholars have told us they can buy most of the food they are used to here.

While there are many high-end shops and department stores in the big cities and regional areas, there are also many discount stores that provide good value shopping for food, clothes and household items.

Australian retailers rarely bargain, but some will match or beat their competitors’ prices. Check if shops, particularly those selling computer equipment, software, books and travel products, offer student discounts and shop around for the best price.

In general, refund and/or exchanges are accepted on faulty products, as long as you provide your receipt of purchase. For information about your rights and responsibilities regarding shopping online, visit accc.gov.au/consumers/consumer-rights-guarantees.

Sport in Australia

Australian culture is characterised by a love of sport. Sport is a significant part of the national identity and Australians like to play or watch a wide variety of sporting codes. You and your family will have the opportunity to participate in familiar or new sports either as players or spectators.

There are many sports clubs in every city and town so you can easily find your sport along with a new community of friends to make you feel right at home in Australia. Universities and local councils offer lots of sporting opportunities. Many local councils have public swimming pools and universities will often have gyms on campus. Women-only gyms are also widely available.

As a spectator, you can usually go along to the venue and buy tickets on the day for most sports. However, major sporting events sell out early so you should buy tickets in advance through a ticket agent.

Religion

Australia is a diverse society and everyone is free to follow and celebrate their cultural and religious traditions. Most educational institutions have places of worship, including chapels, mosques and prayer rooms. You can also check online for places of worship in the area you are living.