8 Things That You Might Struggle To Adapt To As An Expat In Australia

Things That You Might Struggle To Adapt To As An Expat In Australia

When you’re a new migrant in Australia, there are a lot of new things to experience and become accustomed to. From new cities and where to drive, to supermarket shopping and where to buy the most mundane things that you never batted an eyelid about before, it’s a lot to take in.

Some things can be harder to adapt to than others, so here are some of the things that you might struggle to adapt to as an expat in Australia.

1. Your New Time Zone


Let’s face it – Australia is at the arse-end of the world. Well after New Zealand anyway. If you’re anywhere on the east coast you’re looking at a time difference of 8-9 hours to South Africa. Got family in the United States or Canada? Good luck trying to have conversations with them!

It’s not easy to wrap your head around talking to people before you go to bed, or just when they’re waking up.

Last year Mr C got me these awesome clocks so it’s easy to see what the time in SA is before I call anyone.


SA and Australia Time Zone Clocks


2. The Australian Health Care System


This is one aspect of life that took me a LONG time to figure out (and to be honest I’m still not entirely confident about it!).

In SA, everyone has private health insurance (we call it medical aid). In the UK hardly anyone has private health insurance! Most people rely on the NHS alone which is paid for from your national insurance contributions (a kind of tax on your salary).

Australia seems to be a bit of an amalgamation of the two. There are many great doctors and hospitals here which are public (government-run, covered by Medicare) but some things are not covered at all – like dental appointments and procedures.

Having private health cover also allows you to get seen quicker by specialists which can make all the difference when needed.

At the end of the day, it’s a personal choice and a topic that can be the subject of a whole other blog post. Be prepared to do a lot of reading up on this topic!


3. Workplace Culture


Now some people disagree with me here, but most of the expats and immigrants I’ve spoken to in Australia agree that the workplace culture is something else here. Never will you work harder and longer hours than in Australia.

All those shows like Wanted Down Under promote Australia as having this amazing ‘work/life balance’ and try to sell you the dream of working fewer hours for more money and having oodles of quality family time each day.

It’s BS. Or at least that has been my experience and that of many others I’ve met since living here.

Employers will squeeze every last ounce of performance out of you, and many enforce long hours with minimum holidays (usually 20 days a year of which you can be forced to take 2-3 weeks at Christmas).

If you’re coming with dreams of clocking off at 3pm and going for beers with your mates on Fridays, think again. Sure this may be the case where you work, but it’s certainly far from the norm.


4. Tall Poppy Syndrome


Ever heard of the phrase ‘tall poppy syndrome’? It’s where if you grow too big for your boots, or are seen as someone who thinks they’re superior to others, you’ll be cut down to size, because poppies are supposed to grow together and not have one shoot off taller than the rest.

It’s commonplace here in Australia, because Australians particularly do not like foreigners coming in and telling them better ways or different ways of doing things.

Tall poppy syndrome is unfortunately alive and well here in Australia, so as a new migrant it can pay to start your working career by quietly watching and learning, instead of jumping in and shouting above everyone else.


5. The Australian Education System


The education system here is made particularly difficult to adjust to as each state has different rules about school starting ages and compulsory schooling years.

In WA, children can enrol in kindy in the year they turn 4 before 30 June (that’s the cut off date). Kindy is not compulsory though, but pre-primary is, so all children need to be enrolled in schooling by the year they turn 5 before 30 June.

In NSW, the cut-off date Is 31 July for enrolments, but South Australia has a 5 May cut-off date. In Tasmania, they must turn 5 by 1 January! WTAF?

In most states high school starts in Year 7 (too early in my opinion) but in South Australia it’s still Year 8. South Australia will be transitioning to Year 7 as high school in 2022 though.

And don’t even get me started on government schools vs independent schools vs private schools! It’s a complete minefield!


6. Lack Of Holidays & State Holidays


As mentioned before, the standard for days of annual leave here is 20 days. Sounds good right? Seeing as in SA the common amount of annual leave is just 15 days.

Many companies shut down for 2-3 weeks over Christmas and some will make you use your own annual leave to cover this period. If you’ve got 20 days holiday and you have to use7-12 of them in one hit, that really doesn’t leave you much room for a break during the rest of the year.

South Africa does have 12 public holidays though, and Australia has just 7 national holidays. There are some extra ones that vary by state, so WA has 10 in total. NSW has 9 and VIC has 11 (they get holidays for the AFL Grand Final Friday and for the Melbourne Cup!).

Trying to work with people in other states can be a pain when we all have different public holidays to each other!


7. How Much Culture Revolves Around Drinking


Maybe I’m noticing this more as I get older but a lot of events and culture here do revolve around drinking.

Perth has so many wine and beer festivals I’ve lost count. In December there’s going to be an espresso martini festival. Seriously. A festival dedicated to one type of cocktail, I kid you not.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my glass of wine and won’t say no to a cheeky rum cocktail, but I don’t need my social life to revolve around drinking.

If you aren’t used to this kind of culture around alcohol, it can be a bit of a shock to the system.


8. The Lingo


Obviously language is something that can be hard to adjust to, but at least once you’ve learned a term you’re unlikely to forget it, especially if it’s the result of an embarrassing situation.

A friend told me a story about a lady who was invited to someone’s house and was told to ‘bring a plate’ (you can see where this is going right?). So she turned up on time, with her plate. An empty one. She ended up mortified because if you’re asked to bring a plate, that means a plate of food – to share with everyone.

I once heard the news presenter on TV talking about a bushfire that had been started by a firebug. I thought WTF kind of insect is this that can start a catastrophic bushfire?! Off to Google I went only to discover that a firebug is Aussie slang for an arsonist. And this was on the ABC news – they even use slang on there!

(You can read more about slang in Australia on my guide to Aussie slang for new migrants post.)


Of course, everyone is different though. There may be some things on this list that you didn’t even blink about, or there could be things that completely flummoxed you that I haven’t even considered. Add your thoughts or additions to this list in the comments and let’s help future migrants prepare for their move down under.


About Author

Helping you move to, settle in, and explore your new home in Australia. Avid reader, beach lover, and horse addict. As someone who has emigrated, not once, not twice, but three times, I know exactly what you’re going through. The ups and downs of emigration are faster than a rollercoaster and I’ve been there – three times!

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