Cost of Living in Australia: My Personal Experience
January 2015: Updated to include living costs for all three places I have lived in the suburbs of Adelaide.
I was warned about the high cost of living in Australia before moving here, though luckily it is not as bad as I thought it would be. Perhaps it is because I came directly from France rather than the US, but I feel as though the only expense that is very high in Australia is rent. Yet keeping in mind that there are only 20 million people in this entire country (roughly the size of the US minus Alaska) and that most of them live in the big cities near the coasts, it’s understandable that the rents would be higher in a city of millions of people compared to 50 thousand, which was the average size of cities where I’ve previously lived.
Rents have also increased in recent years due to the mining boom and the strength of the Australian dollar, which was just a few cents off the US dollar in the 2010’s. For comparison, it was $1 USD = $1.50 AUD ten years ago. (By 2015, the AUD had decreased in value to about $1.20 for $1 USD). Once you leave the large cities and head to the countryside, prices are much cheaper and similar to what I’ve found in the Midwest. Yet living in the countryside in Australia is a bit harder than in the US because of the lack of people, which means a lack of certain infrastructure facilities and services. Many of the small towns only have populations in the hundreds.
However, cost of living is only half the story. Incomes also need to be taken into account. It doesn’t really matter what the cost of living is or how much you make; what matters most is how much money you have left over each month. In France, my bills were high but my salary was incredibly low. In Australia, my bills are still high but my salary is 50% more than what I made in France – and keep in mind that my income in Australia is a living stipend that is just above poverty level, whereas my income in France was for a full-time job that required a Master’s degree. So I am much better off financially in Australia.
For anyone who is interested in living in Australia, here is what I have paid and currently pay living close to Adelaide (only about 5 miles/8 kms from the city center) for three different locations. Keep in mind that I am single with no kids AND prices are much higher in Sydney/Melbourne/Brisbane so if you are planning on moving somewhere else in Australia and you have a family, these costs may not help you much. If you are a student in Adelaide, you can expect to pay between $130 and $180 a week (about $560-$780 per month) if you rent a room in an apartment or house, and that usually includes utilities such as electricity/gas, water, and internet. Check your university’s accommodation website for listings, as well as realestate.com.au for current rents.
1. Monthly Bills for apartment near campus
Rent (includes water): $1300
– two-bedroom, furnished 60 M2 apartment run by a student housing company that is 2 minutes from campus so I could walk. Obviously I could have cut this in half if I had a roommate but I quite enjoyed having the whole place to myself. (Other big cities have higher rents; luckily Adelaide is not as expensive as everywhere else.)
Electricity: $50 for most of the year; $100 during “winter”
– there was no actual heating system in the apartment so I had electric heaters, which meant that this bill was higher in the winter months. No gas in this apartment (only electric stove/oven).
– for 10 GB of data per month, but you can definitely find cheaper/more data. Since I was in student housing, it was just easier to use their pre-paid internet. Some companies do offer unlimited DSL internet (no data caps) for about $60 a month, but their customer service is not the greatest.
Cell phone: $30 (pre-paid through Telstra, which I rarely use)
Transportation: $15 (about half off normal bus fares thanks to my student ID)
- Total monthly bills: about $1600
2. Monthly bills for house near campus + car (2012-2014)
Rent (includes water): $1540
– three-bedroom house, within walking distance to campus. I had one or two housemates for some of the time to reduce costs.
– gas stove and hot water heater plus ducted heating/cooling; having both gas and electricity means paying two supply charges of over $70 each quarter in addition to usage charges
– for 150 GB of data per month (DSL connection through Internode)
Cell phone: $15 (pre-paid, which I rarely use)
Groceries: $180-$200 (I adopted a cat in 2012 and his food is expensive because he is spoiled)
Gas/Petrol: $40-$50 (I didn’t have to drive much since I lived near campus)
- Total monthly bills: about $2000 (maximum without housemates)
3. Monthly bills for house near campus + car (2014-2015)
Rent (includes water): $1250
– three-bedroom house, within walking distance to campus. I have one housemate (but she was gone for 6 months so I paid full rent during that time).
– gas oven/stove and hot water heater plus one heater in lounge; having both gas and electricity means paying two supply charges of over $70 each quarter in addition to usage charges. This house is a bit older and very drafty so it’s insanely cold in winter and the heater uses both gas and electricity.
– for 50 GB of data per month (I couldn’t get DSL in this location so I had to get a cable connection)
Cell phone: $15 (pre-paid, which I rarely use)
Gas/Petrol: $40-50 (I don’t have to drive much since I live near campus)
- Total monthly bills: about $1800 (maximum without housemates)
Private health insurance (optical/dental): $264
Renter’s insurance: $170
Car registration: $600
Vet plan for cat (consultations/vaccinations): $280
No residency card because my visa is valid for the duration of my PhD. (Though I did pay $550 to get the visa in the first place.)
No income taxes because my living stipend is tax-free, and currently income up to $18,200 is not taxed either.
No occupancy tax on my apartment or houses.
There are other costs to factor in, especially if you move to a new place, such as disconnection and reconnection fees for electricity/gas, cancellation fees for breaking contracts, and new phone line installation for internet connections (even if you never plan on using the phone line!). When I moved between houses in 2014, I had to pay around $150 for electricity/gas to be moved and $358 for a new phone line in order to get cable internet connected. I also bought a lot of furniture and appliances since the houses I lived in were not furnished (except for an oven) but you can find really inexpensive stuff on Gumtree.
Prices for other things such as clothes, books, electronics, etc. are more expensive than in the US but it is quite easy to find sales and discounts, especially after Christmas and during the end of the fiscal year (June-July). Some stores such as Kmart and The Reject Shop have lower prices as well. Telecommunications are more expensive than France but comparable to the US. Bundles for home phone/TV/internet are around $100-150 a month. Food items can be hit or miss, especially fruits and vegetables, depending on the weather. Bananas were $15 a kilo when I first arrived in 2011 because the crops had been wiped out by cyclone Yasi in Queensland, but now the prices are back down to less than $2 a kilo. Look for food that’s labeled “quick sale” – the expiration date will be that day or the following day so you’ll need to eat it quickly but it will be much cheaper.
Staples such as bread, milk, and pasta are quite cheap but cereal, yogurt and cheese are more expensive than I would have expected. Gas is just over $5 USD a gallon ($1.33 AUD a liter) while eating at restaurants and going to the movies are pretty much New York prices. Since Australia is an island that is rather far from everywhere and has strict import and quarantine rules (to protect from diseases or pests further destroying the native populations), higher prices are reasonable for some things. But with the strength of the Aussie dollar and the ease of shopping online nowadays especially at US stores, there is more competition for local stores to lower prices.
If anyone would like specific prices for certain things, let me know.