This Wednesday marks three weeks in Oz! I’ve explored much of Sydney, viewing the city through the eyes of a tourist, and am now transitioning into life as a temporary citizen. There’s a lot to sort out including a bank account, tax number, employment, and apartment. I’ve been chipping away at the list each day.
Tax File Number
Every employed Australian is issued a Tax File Number (TFN) which is used to report employment and income to the Australian government. For a temporary citizen like myself, the way to obtain a TFN is through a free online application. Once completed, the actual number is mailed within a month. It is possible to gain employment without a TFN, but reporting employment through the TFN is the only way to receive a tax refund at the end of the fiscal year. The TFN is essentially Australia’s social security number, only less complicated.
I’ve found that many employers, particularly in hospitality, will offer to pay cash rather than have the income “on the books”. According to the Australian government, this is illegal, but cash payment is common.
Australian Bank Account
Commonwealth, Westpac, and ANZ banks are the most common here in Sydney. All three banks offer similar checking account options and, after a few specific recommendations, I chose Commonwealth. This bank is popular with their extensive network of ATMs and branches around Australia. The bank also has excellent online banking options with an app that allows customers to withdraw money from their ATMs without the bank card.
The only downside (dark side?) is the account fee of $4/month. The fee is waived if you deposit $2,000 or more a month but I’m not sure I’ll be able to hit that mark regularly. I guess free checking isn’t a thing here. I didn’t realize how spoiled I was in the U.S. Without a permanent address, I had my bank card sent to the bank branch and picked it up 4 days later. The account still has a balance of $0 but that is a different story.
Cell Phones & an Australian Phone Number
Ah, the magical world of SIM cards, another topic I knew nothing about prior to arriving in Oz. Back in the States, people typically receive a new phone when beginning a service or a new contract. However, getting locked into a year+ contract with a cell phone company here in Australia was not an option for me.
Enter the SIM card, a backpacker’s best friend and the practical way for temporary citizens to get connected. All you need is an unlocked phone and a phone company of choice. I had AT&T unlock my iPhone before leaving the U.S. and simply purchased a SIM card in Australia. The SIM card itself cost $2 and I was able to purchase it at the grocery chain here, Woolworths. There are SIM cards available for purchase from all the major phone companies.
I selected a lesser known company called Amaysim based on a recommendation from a Sydney local. The company operates on the Optus network, a major carrier in Australia, and the data plan options are hard to beat. I have 5 gigs of data with unlimited talk and text in-country plus 100 international minutes a month for $45 AUD. Although I barely used a gig of data a month in the U.S., with the lack of wifi here, I knew my usage would dramatically increase. A few of my new friends purchased lesser plans with 2 or 3 gigs and blew through them in just over a week. The best thing about the SIM-only plans is they’re month to month with no lock-in contracts! Hard to beat!
Using American Electronics in Australia
Like any seasoned traveler, I knew to bring a power adapter, but what I didn’t know was how some of my electronics would react while connected to said adapter. Electronics in the U.S. operate on 120 volts while in Australia the voltage is 230V. Because of this, our electronics require both a power adapter and a voltage converter. Not realizing I needed both, I only brought a power adapter. It works with my basic electronic such as a phone charger but wasn’t as successful with my blow dryer.
One afternoon, after washing my hair, I plugged my blow dryer into the adapter and into the Australian outlet, and turned it on. I immediately heard a difference in the amount of power shooting through the dryer, a significantly louder than normal sound, much more furious. Moments later, an orange glow from inside the dryer caught my eye. The inside of my blow dryer was creating a fire! Thankfully I caught this quickly, switched it off, and unplugged it. It would have been an epically bad day if I had attempted to use the blow dryer with flames shooting out onto my head. Still not realizing the missing voltage converter piece, I carried the dryer around for a few more days, contemplated mailing it back home, and ultimately decided to throw it away. I picked up a cheap dryer from a local store instead – problem solved!
This wattage difference however has also been effecting my flat iron, just not as dramatically. I remember reading a travel article recommending leaving hair appliances at home and of course I didn’t listen. Mildly straight hair for a year? I think not! My flat iron turns on without catching fire but does not heat up as hot as it should. However, now that I know about the voltage converter, I am going to purchase one in hopes that my flat iron doesn’t suffer the slow electrical death I read about. To be continued…
Sadly Americans do not have reciprocal health care in Australia the way most European countries do. Before arriving I scoured the internet looking for information about refilling prescriptions. I came up empty handed. I then jumped on the phone with World Nomads, my travel insurance provider, which was equally unhelpful. I realized that I was going to be the person to find out how to go about this and write about it on my blog.
Travelers can walk into any health clinic, schedule an appointment for approximately $75 and speak with a doctor about refilling prescriptions. The doctor I met with asked me a few questions about what I had been taking and for how long. One was a common medication in Australia while the other was matched with the Australian equivalent. I then walked immediately over to the local pharmacist to fill the prescriptions. I purchased a three month supply of each for $20. The doctor also gave me a refill and a copy of the prescription so I can refill it wherever and whenever I need.
This was significantly easier than I had imagined and would likely be near impossible and/or extremely expensive without insurance in the U.S. I am grateful for the simplicity of this process.
Living Out of a Suitcase
In three short weeks I have lived in four different neighborhoods and moved five times. Through this, I have accomplished my goal of learning more about various Sydney neighborhoods, and have also grown increasingly tired of living out of a suitcase. I’ve stayed in an equal share of AirBnB apartments and backpacker hostels, and am now in search of a short-term apartment to move into. I would ideally like to live near work but the search hasn’t been easy. Many people do not respond to my emails about their listing. I know something will work out, I’m just not sure when. For now, the hostel life it is!
Ciao for now! Did I tell you I’m trying to learn Spanish? Current life goals: learn Spanish and salsa dancing. I might be in the wrong country… 🙂