Alex, 24: Canberra, Australia

In this series I sit down and have a chinwag with some of my fellow expats from all around the globe. We cover what makes them tick, and ask them to share any advice they may have on moving, living their best expat lives and their pro-tips on making it in their new home. Hopefully their collective experiences help give you an insight into how to kill at the expat game.

  1. Where do you consider yourself to originally be from?

Wellington, New Zealand. I was actually born in Sydney, Australia to kiwi parents, but I’m not entitled to any Australian citizenship. We moved to Wellington when I was 1 and a half so I definitely consider myself a Wellingtonian.

  1. Why did you decide to move, and how long have you been living in Canberra?

I was offered the opportunity to work in Canberra for a year on a secondment exchange with my government agency’s partner organisation in late 2017. I’ve wanted to try living overseas for a while, and was at a logical point in my career to change roles and try something new so I went for it! I have been in Canberra for just over six months.

  1. What do you do for a living?

I am a public sector policy advisor/analyst.

  1. What is your favourite thing about Canberra?

How close to nature it is. There are trees everywhere, beautiful and colourful native birds, the sunsets and sunrises are unreal. The Namadgi National Park makes up the majority of the Australian Capital Territory land and it’s incredibly gorgeous (and only half an hour’s drive from the city centre).

  1. What are the biggest challenges or culture shocks you have experienced since moving to Canberra?

The extreme (to me) temperatures. We arrived in February and it was around 30 degrees Celsius most days, and a really dry heat. Now in July it’s negative temperatures most mornings, including negative 7 degrees Celsius the other day. Otherwise Australia is similar enough to NZ that other challenges and culture shocks are more minor.

  1. What are the biggest advantages to living in Canberra?

Access to things I don’t have access to in NZ. For example, better facilities for my hobbies, brands that aren’t in NZ yet, lectures and event from different universities and think tanks with different perspectives, other parts of Australia etc.

  1. What are the biggest disadvantage to living in Canberra?

Bearing in mind my previous answer, Canberra is still growing and is a little more isolated than Sydney or Melbourne. So it’s harder to get to from other places (Singapore Airlines cancelled its direct Wellington-Canberra flight earlier this year), and doesn’t have quite the same access to some things as other cities in Australia.

  1. Is living in Canberra expensive? What do the following cost:

Yes and no. NZ is pretty expensive anyway so it doesn’t feel particularly overpriced, although it is considered more expensive than Wellington.

Rent: Rent is definitely more expensive ($430 AUD per week for an apartment on average)
Petrol: 91 Unleaded is around $1.55 AUD per litre
A Beer: Depends if you’re pretentious and like craft beer, same as Wellington. Anywhere from $7-12 AUD I think.

  1. What do you like to do in your spare time?

Rock climbing (indoor and outdoor), white water kayaking, and hiking. Reading, mostly non-fiction. And trying new cafés.

  1. What is the local food like? Is there anything you would recommend trying (or avoiding)?

The food is pretty good! There are some really lovely cafés and restaurants doing great food. There’s a good vegetarian/vegan selection etc. The coffee here is generally less intense than Wellington coffee, but not as terrible as people make it out to be. We haven’t found amazing pizza yet, but probably haven’t look as hard as we could.

  1. What 3 things would you recommend doing for a first time visitor to Canberra?

1 – Check out the Canberra Glassworks. You can blow your own glass paperweight or bird, and it’s a beautiful building. There’s a great burger place there as well – Brodburger.

2 – Head out to Namadgi or Tidbinbilla and do some tramping. Australia is a gorgeous country with beautiful bush, and cool birds and animals. Watch out for snakes, especially in hot weather.

3 – Check out whatever events are on. There are less during winter, but at other times of the year there’s heaps of events on, like Enlighten (light festival), Night Noodle markets on the waterfront, a hot air balloon festival, Floriade (flower festival) and heaps more.

  1. What is the easiest way to get around?

Definitely car. There are buses and a light rail network is being built, but Canberra is really spread out and it’s easier to have a car.

  1. What is the shopping like?

Shopping is fine. There’s a mall in the city centre, and an outlet mall in one of the suburbs, but it’s not really a place to visit to go shopping. I do really like the Handmade Markets, which are held quarterly and allow local small businesses to sell their handmade goods – there’s some beautiful things!

  1. What is the nightlife like?

I haven’t really experienced the nightlife here. There are some nice bars on the waterfront, and a few good ones along Lonsdale Street in the city centre.

  1. What is the best time of year to visit?

Spring or autumn. In-between temperature extremes.

  1. What do you miss about ‘home’?

Friends and family, my favourite pizza place, and the sea.

  1. Do you get homesick? If so, what do you do to make yourself feel better?

Yes. I distract myself – exercise, go out to a café or go to an event. Or if all else fails, call my parents.

  1. For people looking to move to Canberra, what industries are good to get into?

The Australian public service. Maybe a think tank? Canberra is a public service city really. There are jobs in other industries, but from what I’ve seen most private sector organisations are based in Sydney or Melbourne.

  1. What is one thing you wished you knew before moving to Canberra?

More about Australian history and geography – I have felt very ignorant a couple of times!

  1. What is the visa process like?

If you’re a Kiwi, easy. We have a visa arrangement with the Australian government so you get a visa automatically on entry I believe. Check the NZ MFAT website for more details.

  1. What is the expat scene like?

I haven’t really sought it out, other than a couple of people from other government agencies. Everyone at the High Commission is super lovely though, and given how many Canterbury and Hurricanes supporters I’ve seen at the rugby, there are definitely a few Kiwis here.

  1. What’s the biggest misconception about Canberra?

That it’s boring and terrible to live in. Canberra is vibrant and wonderful!

  1. If you could give one piece of advice to other expats, or people looking to move overseas, what would it be?

Moving overseas is expensive and stressful, but 100% worth it.

*Image kindly provided by Alex