Culture. History. Food from all over the world. This is Melbourne, the second most populous city in Australia.
The metropolitan area of Melbourne stretches from Port Phillip Bay through the hinterlands into the Yarra Valley, and has 31 municipalities. Also known as Australia’s “cultural capital,” Melbourne is driven by a steady influx of people from around the world, along with a bustling financial and cultural scene.
Melbourne is a haven for all sorts, from immigrants to artists to financiers and professional athletes. The city is the birthplace of Australian impressionism, contemporary dance, Australian football, and the Australian film and TV industries. But Melbourne is more than an urban paradise, it also harbors several beachside suburbs along the shores of the Port Phillip Bay. Families who would rather spend days with their feet in the sand migrate to lush suburbs like Port Melbourne, St Kilda, Brighton, and Albert Park.
The city is home to a diverse population, with a high portion of British and Irish residents. But there are large and thriving Italian, Vietnamese, Indian, Greek and South African communities, too.
Read on to learn about the basics (housing, transportation, internet, and more!) in Melbourne and to find the perfect suburb for you.
Melbourne is a very safe large city, but does have areas of higher crime.
Melbourne has excellent public transit. However, the farther from the CBD you are, the more likely it is you'll need a car.
Locals joke that Melbourne has four seasons in a day, and indeed the weather can change quickly here. A sunny day can quickly turn into a hail storm, and vice versa. It's no use trying to be prepared for every possible scenario, but am umbrella goes a long way here.
While not as expensive as Sydney (at least yet, anyways), Melbourne's cost of living ranking has shot up the global charts in recent years and it's now considered one of the world's most expensive places to live. Around the city's core this means that housing is pricey: modest rowhouses can easily go for over AUD $1 million. Affordable living is definitely available here, but you'll typically need to sign up for a longer commute if you work in the CBD. You can use our Neighborhood Explorer to find something within your budget.
"Melbourne is a city that has everything – from nightlife, multicultural dining, international and local art, marquee sporting events, and arguably some of the best coffee in the world. It's surrounded by picturesque beaches, has a very vibrant CBD, and is consistently rated as one of the safest cities globally. I'm blessed to call this city home."
Melbourne's population has been skyrocketing, adding about 100,000 people a year. The metro area had a population of 3.7 million in 2006. By 2013 it had jumped to 4.35 million. Some projections predict the population increasing to 8 million by the year 2050.
Melbourne was once considered a much more affordable city than Sydney, but the population growth has changed that as housing demand outstrips supply and they are neck and neck when it comes to cost of living. Melbourne is now suffering an acute shortage of housing and families looking for affordable options are increasingly being pushed to the outskirts of the city. This is currently one of the most expensive cities in the world.
RENTING IN MELBOURNE
As you begin your home search, it's important to know that rent prices here are listed per week, which is different than most parts of the world where the price is the monthly cost. As you plan out your budget, you have to be careful since monthly rent does not equal 4x the weekly rent. You'll need to multiply the weekly rent by 52 (weeks per year) and then divide by 12 (months per year) to get the monthly rent. For example:
On our neighborhood guide pages, the median rent listed is a monthly median since that's what most people are familiar with and it'll save you some math.
As mentioned, the the supply of housing in Melbourne is limited and this has led to competition for units in many of the city's more desirable areas. Most available properties are shown in an open house format on the weekends for a short block of time. Properties are typically managed by real estage agencies and they'll stagger their open houses in a suburb since it's likely the same agent running each one. For instance, one open house may be from 9:15-9:30am and the next will be 9:45-10:00am to allow the agent to get between the two.
Depending on the location and cost of the property, this means you could be rubbing shoulders with lots of other people looking at the property during this inspection time. In fact, you'll likely see the same crowd at each property if you're visiting several in the same area.
WHAT YOU'LL NEED TO RENT
Given the competitive market, if you like a property it's important you move quickly and have everything ready to go. You'll need the following documentation to apply:
There may be a modest, nonrefundable fee to submit the application. Also, you may be able to submit an application online.
Submitting an application does not obligate you to take the apartment, so you can submit applications for several properties.
If you get the property you'll need to sign a lease. At this time you'll need to pay the first month's rent and a bond (aka security desposit) typically equal to 4-6 weeks worth of rent.
BUYING IN MELBOURNE
Buying a home in Melboune is just as competitive as renting. Most homes here are sold through an auction format: a floor price is set for the property and then people who want to buy the property bid up from there. Some unscrupulous agents will purposely set a low floor price to attract buyers to an auction. In some cases, there can literally be a line out the door. People have spoken about going to open houses every week for a year, bidding on many of the properties, and continually getting outbid.
To compound that frustrating process, homes here are incredibly expensive. Something that seemed affordable can quickly skyrocket out of your budget during an auction. You may need to lower your expectations about what you can afford unless you're a multimillionaire.
Two additional costs add to the overall expense of buying a house: stamp duty and, though optional, a buyer's agent commission.
Stampy duty is a required tax on any property sale and is based on the price of a home. A $500,000 home would lead to about $18,000 in stamp duty. A $1 million home would incur a $40,000 stamp duty.
Not all home buyers use a real estate agent, referred to as a buyer's agent for their role as an advocate for the buyer, not the seller. Still, many buyers do obtain the services of a buyer's agent to help navigate the murky world of real estate. A commission for a buyer's agent will be 1.5-2% of the purchase price, though some may charge a fixed fee.
Melbourne has seen a lot of property purchased by foreigners in the past decade. This has partially contributed to the housing shortage and home prices in the metro area and the government is cracking down. Foreign buyers will have to provide citizenship and visa information. You'll also need to be approved to buy a home by the Foreign Investment Review Board.
Foreign buyers will also have to pay a fee to the Australian Tax Office. The fee is $5,000 for homes under $1 million and $10,000 for those over.
HELPFUL REAL ESTATE WEBSITES
1form.com.au - This handy website and mobile app lets you set up a profile with all the information you'd need to apply for a rental property. Instead of pulling together documentation every time you want to apply for a property, you can easily submit everything with this app.
Stamp duty calculator - Calculate how much stamp duty you'll owe if you purchase a property in Sydney.
Melbourne has an excellent network of public transportation. It boasts the world's largest tram system, the second largest train network in Australia, and over 300 bus routes.
Travel is managed by the myki reusable smart card. The card itself costs $6.00 and can be purchased online or in many news agents and convenience stores; you can then add funds to the card to use public transit. When you get on and off trams, trains, or buses you'll tap the card against the card reader. Monthly and annual myki plans are available, which offer discounts. Students and seniors also receive discounts.
HAVING A CAR IN AUSTRALIA
We all get attached to our cars, but you should think twice before you bring it with you to Melbourne. Importing a used car into Australia will nail you with a $12,000 duty imposed by customs. (Note that this duty will go away starting in 2018.)
The flip side of this argument, if you will really need a car, is that cars in Australia are incredibly expensive. Luxury cars can be two or three times the cost of vehicles elsewhere. A 2011 report found that a Lexus LS460 that cost USD $66,000 in the United States would cost AUD $191,000 in Australia – and that was a time when the two currencies were at parity. Even with the fall in the Australian dollar, that's still a significant premium.
And even used cars – very used, undesirable cars – can be expensive. A clunker that would be a few thousand in the U.S. can be $7,000-9,000 in Australia. You'll also need to get handy driving on the the left-hand side of the road if you come from the majority of countries that drive on the right.
Still, having a car in Melbourne does offer the freedom to visit the Yarra Valley wine country, drive the Great Ocean Road, relax at the mellow Mornington Peninsula, or any of the other amazing places close to the city.
HELPFUL TRANSPORTATION WEBSITES
Australia has modern banking institutions and is in many ways ahead of other developed countries, so you can count on conveniences like managing basic transactions through a mobile app.
Melbourne has dozens of banks and credit unions, but as you walk around the city it's clear there are the "big four": Westpac, National Australia Bank (NAB), Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), and Australia & New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ). There more or less that same, but there are some slight differences.
Westpac offers online and mobile banking and charges a $5 monthly maintenance fee unless you deposit at least $2,000 a month, are under the age of 21, are a full time tertiary student, a pensioner, or during your first 12 months as an expat. You can apply for an account online before you arrive in Australia.
Commonwealth offers online and mobile banking. A $4 monthly account fee is charged, but will be waived if you deposit at least $2,000 per month (or $1,000 if you’re aged 21 to 24). They are the only major bank that does not support opening an account from overseas.
WHAT YOU'LL NEED TO OPEN A BANK ACCOUNT
To open a bank account you'll need to pass a 100 point check to prove your identity. Different types of documents are worth varying amounts of points (it's like a video game, but not fun). The points break down as follows:
For example, you could provide a passport (70 points), a credit card (25 points), and a foreign driver license (25 points) to get a total of 120 points and qualify to open a bank account. If you apply online to open a bank account, you'll still need to provide this documentation.
School enrollment and attendance is required for all children living in the Australia aged 5 to 16 and all students are entitled to a free education at a state-run school.
Basic education in Australia is divided into four phases:
Primary and secondary schools have four terms per school year. The first runs from late January or early February to the Easter holiday; the second runs from post-Easter holidays to late June or early July; the third runs from late July to the latter half of September; the fourth term runs from mid-October to mid-December. (The breaks in between these terms are referred to as 'schoolies'; around Australia travel costs will be significanly higher and destinations will be significantly busier as families take advantage of the break to take a holiday.)
These schools will also have certain admission criteria. The criteria could be based on having siblings at the school, living nearby to the school, religious affiliation, or meeting academic standards.
Australia has one of the best healthcare systems in the world: a universal public health insurance plan known as Medicare. For in-patient care, Medicare will cover 100% of the cost. For primary care or services like physical therapy (physiotherapy to Aussies), it will cover roughly 75% of cost. For medications there is a copay of up to $38.30 for each prescription (it's less for seniors) if the medication is covered under Australia's Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. If it's not covered you may be responsible for the entire cost. Medicare does not cover dental care, optometry, or ambulance transport.
While Medicare is very good, most citizens "top up" their insurance by also purchasing a private insurance plan.
As an expat on a 457 Visa you don't qualify for Medicare, so you'll need to get private health insurance that covers you and any family members. In fact, you'll need to prove you've got private health insurance to the Department of Immigration before your 457 visa will be approved.
There are a number of big insurers, including Medibank, Bupa, NIB, HCF, and GMBHA, offering this type of coverage. You'll typically see it referenced as Overseas Visitors Health Cover, or OVHC for short. You can have the coverage start once you'll arrive in the country. Once you've procured this coverage, the health insurer will send you a letter confirming your plan which you then provide to the Department of Immigration. It's worth calling out that pre-existing conditions will not be covered by insurance for the first 12 months of coverage.
Most care is still driven through a first visit to a General Practitioner (GP) when something is wrong. They may be able to treat you or they can write a prescription to see a specialist, but you can't go directly to a specialist.
The following countries have healthcare reciprocity agreements with Australia, so workers on a 457 Visa in Australia do qualify for Medicare. These countries fall into three categories:
For all of these categories you will still need to secure private health insurance in order to meet your 457 Visa requirements. Once you arrive in Australia you can enroll in Medicare and apply for an exemption for private insurance with Immigration. If the exemption is granted you can choose to discontinue your OVHC coverage, though it's recommended you still maintain some level of private insurance since it's more comprehensive than Medicare.
HELPFUL HEALTHCARE WEBSITES
HealthEngine - This handy website lets you search for doctors near you and book an appointment online. It also has patient reviews of doctors and it's even got an app for iPhones and Androids.
There are over two dozen mobile phone service providers in Australia, but most people are on one of the three big carriers: Telstra, Optus, or Vodafone.
Telstra was formerly a government entity before going private in three phases from 1997-2006. Thanks to its past it's enjoyed a monopoly on the old telecommunications network and is still considered the best provider today. That also means it's typically the most expensive, though that depends on the device you choose. For example, an iPhone 6s Plus with 128 GB of storage and 1 GB data on Telstra's 4G network will cost at least $84/month and has a 24 month minimum, for a total of $2,040. If you're a data hog, the monthly costs go up to $195. That's not much different than the other major providers. However, an HTC 10 smartphone starts at $81/month, which is significantly more than the others.
Optus is the second biggest provider and considered the second best network. The iPhone 6s Plus phone and plan reference above will cost $83/month. An HTC 10 is much cheaper than Telstra, starting at $62/month.
Vodafone the third largest provider and years ago earned the nickname "Vodafail" for its shoddy coverage. Since that dark time they've invested billions in their network and it is much improved. An iPhone 6s Plus with the same specs is $86/month. An HTC 10 starts at $64/month.
If you want to try a network before you get locked in, all providers offer prepaid plans, though you'll need to provide your own device.
For a phone contract, you'll need to meet the same 100 point identification criteria as when you open a bank account.
With the beginning of the rollout of the government's National Broadband Network (NBN) in 2011, dozens of internet service providers (ISPs) have sprung up, reselling bandwidth on the network. Some of them have just a few thousand customers. For the most part, however, internet service is still dominated by the big guys. The main mobile phone service providers, Telstra and Optus, are prominent players, but there are others, like TPG, that have been around for decades.
PCMag did a study in 2015 and identified the fastest internet service providers in Sydney:
We'll look at the costs for each of these providers for standard internet service:
HELPFUL INTERNET WEBSITES
iSelect - This website has a great comparison tool that asks you a number of questions (such as whether you want to bundle internet with television) and then generates the internet options available at your address, as well as monthly costs.
Melbourne is a pet-friendly city and has tons of parklands and trails to explore with your pooch, but it does have breed-specific legislation in place. The following breeds are not permitted to be owned in the state of New South Wales: American pitbull or pitbull terriers, Japanese tosas, Dogo Argentino, Fila Brasiliero, and Presa Canario. If you already own one of these dogs you must have it spayed or neutured, registered with the city, microchipped, the dog must wear a special collar, and your residence must display a sign that a restricted dog breed is on the premises. As an expat you will not be able to import these breeds.