Choosing to “move” to another country (thanks Work and Holiday Visa) means that there is definitely some work involved — it’s not all fun and games like my previous 3-week trips abroad!
In typical Heather fashion, I researched options months in advance to learn what I’d have to do to set up a bank account, work in Australia, keep connected with family and friends (both new and old), and find a place to live. On my first full day I took care of my bank account and Aussie mobile. And I may even have a job prospect. Not a bad start!
Choosing a Bank
My best financial move was to open an account with an Australian bank — and of course I’m keeping my account back home open too. If I’m going to eventually work (and let’s hope that happens or this adventure will be short lived!), I need a place to put those hard-earned Aussie dollars. In the past I’ve exchanged a bit of money before I arrived in the country, used my credit card, or used my card to take money out at ATMs. But the 3% fee that most credit cards charge for currency conversion would be silly for me to pay for the next year. (Note: Capital One does *not* charge this fee…they’re one of my two cards, so I’m going to use them when necessary.) In addition, I got slammed with $10 fees for each stop at an ATM in 2008 when traveling in Barcelona and Istanbul. Can’t afford that again! Thus began my search for a bank in Australia.
I started by looking at the four big banks: Commonwealth, Westpac, ANZ, and NAB. I never found a chart online comparing each of them neatly, so I opened up a Google doc and copied and pasted information found on the “Fee” pages of each. I also noticed that each of the banks had a “Migrant Banking Team”, dedicated to helping working holiday makers like me and others moving to the country start an account. Very impressive. After researching my options, I emailed the Migrant Banking Team at each of the banks for more information. Only two responded. I figured if I wasn’t getting customer service to begin with, how could I expect it later on? With my options down to two, I realized that NAB was the only one without a monthly fee to maintain the account. And when I started emailing them with questions on all of the fine print, they were super responsive and helpful. They made my choice easy. WIN.
In a matter of a week of back-and-forth correspondence, I had a bank account and took that information to my home bank. I had already informed them of the move, and we were able to set up a wire transfer to send some of my savings on to my new bank. Both banks were able to confirm within a couple of days that the transfer had been successful.
Ahead of time I had scheduled an appointment with the bank to sign various documents and get my ATM card. The teller at NAB couldn’t have been more helpful. Now, in a few days when I’m low on the start-up money I brought in with me, I can pop by an ATM and draw out Aussie dollars with no types of penalties. Love it! I can order checks later if I need to and can even open up a savings account. All of this took place on Monday, and by Thursday my debit/credit card arrived. I used it to make a purchase today!
Keeping in Touch
A few friends talked me into getting a netbook before I left, and I think it was an excellent move. I’ll be able to transfer all of my photos onto it, keep up the blog, email frequently, and Skype (if and when I get around to it). There’s free wifi at the hostel and heaps of people can be found in the lounge at all hours using it. My computer didn’t want to connect for the first several days, but an IT lady on night shift last night spent 5 minutes on it and got it back up and running. Bless.
Computers are nice and all, but from previous experience I knew I’d need a phone. A couple of years ago I bought one from Telestial with a international SIM card. I could have used that one again and purchased an Australian card but opted to just go with a new phone and provider here.
Aussies I met on Twitter all recommended Telstra or Optus. It sounded like Telstra had the best service and coverage, and when the teller at the bank recommended them, I headed straight to the Telstra store. An employee in training helped me navigate the various options before handing me over to the store’s apparent expert. While a 1-year contract may sound nice ($49 for the cheapest plan), I opted to go with the pre-paid option since I don’t know how long I’ll be here or how often I’ll actually use the phone. For $30, I have 100 free minutes to talk and 200 free text messages — to anyone on any Aussie network. Those minutes and texts expire within 30 days of starting the voucher, so I need to use them in a month or I lose them. On the other hand, if I use them all up in 2 weeks, I’d have to go buy another $30 voucher, thus paying $60 in one month — more than the $49 plan. In the next month or two I’ll have to monitor closely how I’m actually using the phone to see if an upgrade is necessary to avoid having to buy more than one voucher per month!
So far I’ve added the mobile (not “cell”) numbers of the contacts I already have in Oz, and after a second trip to the store to troubleshoot problems with my phone, I’ve now used it to text new friends and I’ve received one call O:-)
I have enough money saved up to not work for a few months, but eventually I’ll need some sort of job to put a roof over my head and buy food and basic needs. Yesterday I wrote a hostel in a small town in Queensland to ask about a job after finding them on Help Exchange. They’re holding a spot for me in August if I end up wanting to go that route! I’d have to clean, garden, maybe drive their shuttle bus, and perhaps work at the reception desk in exchange for free accommodation and breakfast. Nice to know it’s an option if I don’t end up meeting fellow travelers and embarking on adventures with them up the coast.
I also found a potential job lead for when I return to Sydney in September-ish! As I walked around the city yesterday, I popped into a few stores, and in one, I met a Canadian woman who’s here on the same visa and has only been here for a few weeks. We talked for a few minutes and she recommended applying there when I’m ready. Love it!
As soon as I publish this post, I’m going to apply for my Tax File Number. I’ll need it to get taxed at 30% as opposed to 50%!
My first jog in the city proved that I need some higher end dry wick gear to keep from smelling up the hostel room between washings — I’ll only be able to wash in a sink but so much. Just a few hours ago I splurged and got some nice work out clothes O:-) I hadn’t anticipated the expense, but it was a nice reward for my great jog the other morning and incentive to keep it jogging at least twice a week.
And don’t worry — it hasn’t been all work and no play! A hostel mate and I took a bus out to Palm Beach so she could see where Home and Away is filmed. I know nothing about the show, but we did see a group of 30 dolphins swimming just at the shore. Several of them jumped in the air — absolutely beautiful!
Then last night I attended my first Origin match…but that deserves its own post
Featured image by Koalazmonkey on Flickr