Cost of Living in Australia: My Personal Experience

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.

Australia vs. USA

Rents have also increased in recent years due to the mining boom and the strength of the Australian dollar, which is now a few cents stronger than the US dollar. For comparison, it was 1 USD = 1.50 AUD ten years ago. 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 currently pay living close to Adelaide (only about 5 miles/ 8 kms from the city center):

Monthly Bills

Rent (includes water): $1300

– two-bedroom, furnished 60 M2 apartment run by a student housing company that is 2 minutes from campus so I can walk to my office. Obviously I could cut this in half if I had a roommate but I quite enjoy 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 is no actual heating system in the apartment so I have electric heaters, which means that this bill is higher in the winter months but I do not have air conditioning because 35° C / 95° F is the perfect temperature to me. No gas in this apartment (only electric stove/oven), but I have heard it is cheaper.

Internet: $30 (but will be reimbursed)

– for 10 GB of data per month, but you can definitely find cheaper/more data. Since I’m in student housing, it was just easier to use their pre-paid internet. Some companies do offer unlimited ADSL internet (no data caps) for about $60 a month. Home internet costs will be reimbursed by the research degree fund at my university so technically internet is free for me!

Cell phone: $25 (pre-paid, which I rarely use)

Groceries: $150

Transportation: $15 (about half off normal fares thanks to my student ID)

Laundry: $8

Renter’s insurance: $14

I have no telephone line, cable TV, car or car insurance/maintenance costs and my university scholarship pays for my health insurance (and I could get extra coverage for optical, dental, etc. for $25 a month). I may eventually get a car when I move further away from campus, but for now I can get by without one.

  • Total monthly bills: about $1600

UPDATE: I now live in a house and own a car (which I don’t use very often), so here are some revised monthly calculations:
Rent (incl. water): $1580
Electricity/Gas: $100
Internet: $60
Groceries: $180 (I have a cat now and his food is expensive!)
Car Registration + Insurance: $85
Gas/Petrol: $40
Cell/Mobile Phone: $25
Supplementary Health Insurance: $22
Renter’s/Contents Insurance: $14
My monthly bills are around $2100, but I also started teaching French at the university so I make a little more than the poverty level now.

Yearly Bills

No residency card because my visa is valid for the duration of my PhD.

No income taxes because my living stipend is tax-free.

No occupancy tax on my apartment.

  • Total yearly bills: $0

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. Some stores such as Kmart and The Reject Shop have more “normal” 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 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.

Price in July 2011

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 a gallon ($1.33 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.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Amy-Anthony/649139086 Amy Anthony

    Thanks for this informative post! I am currently studying for/applying to grad schools, and I am considering a few schools in Australia. Just the other day I was wondering about the cost of living in Australia, so this was very helpful. Thanks again. (The part about rent being high but your salary being high as well was especially encouraging!) :)

  • Emily

    Amazing, it sounds like Australia is more like Alaska than I would have thought: remote, small population (Alaska hasn’t hit 1 million yet!), great distances between towns, small towns with indigenous populations and HIGH PRICES! Rent for 500 square feet in a rough neighborhood is about $900 here and our internet is $60+/month and capped. Gas is almost $4/gallon and groceries are about 25% more expensive here than elsewhere in the U.S. Seems like the deciding factor is distance from largely populated areas/countries.

  • Jo

    Is a stipend that allows you to pay $1300 a month in rent really just above poverty level? 

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    Yes, and actually for 2011, the Australian Postgraduate Award was below the poverty line.

    Pages 4-5: http://www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au/people/palmer/Research_Capacity_Palmer_2011.pdf

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    You’re welcome Amy! FYI, most scholarships/living stipends pay tuition, health insurance and provide either around 23k or 28k per year. Students tend to get additional funding for projects too, and there’s usually a research fund to help pay for supplies (books, for example) and traveling to conferences.

    I’ve been told that the unis in the ATN (Australian Technology Network) are more generous with scholarships for international students, in case you haven’t really decided on a school yet.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    Yes, once you leave the big capital cities, it is quite remote and isolated. Our weather is better though. :)

  • http://www.boeingbleudemer.com Cynthia

    I’d love to move to Australia but the only thing that’s keeping me is that I would have to put my poor dog through a 20+ hours flight and quarantine :(

    Maybe later on in life!

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    I know what you mean! I’m glad I was able to leave Canaille in France where I know he is being taken care of, but I do miss him. I couldn’t bear to put him through quarantine let alone the flights.

  • Doddapaneni 74

    Hi Jennie

    Your Info is very help full, Can you provide me few more details please? I am in negosiating salary with IT company in Austrailia and Base location might be in Syndney. Can you please tell with your exp is 130k a resonable salary? I will bring my wife and kid after 6months.. Keeping in this how do you sujjest? I worked most part of asian countires but never worked in aus… When I was going to other bblogs it made me little friten :) cost of leaving in AUS. Please provide me deail matrxs to my ID  . doddapaneni.74@gmail.com.

  • Samantha

    Great article! It’s great to see an article about the cost of living in a country where the writer points out there are always two sides to figuring out how expensive a country is to live in. A) How much everything costs B) How much you earn. I’ve lived in many different countries – Malaysia, Finland and Norway. Most people will tell you everything in Malaysia is ‘cheap’ just from looking at the prices of things – 5 dollars for a 20 minute taxi ride, breakfast for a dollar. Then look at a country like Norway where the costs of things seem ridiculously expensive – like $13 for a beer. And yet in Malaysia I saw a lot more poverty and in Scandinavia there was a much higher standard of living. The reason being the cost of things were all relative to how much everyone was earning (and how much the Government gave for free). In Malaysia – it was normal to be paid 7 Ringgits/hour – the equivalent of roughly $2 an hour. Once you are only earning the local Malaysian currency, the cost of living is no longer as cheap as it was when you were comparing it to dollars.  

  • Brodie Wales

    The price of Banana’s is inflated at the moment though due to various natural disasters so that is a somewhat misleading picture! :)

    Otherwise, yes, it is a relatively expensive country to live in. Be thankful you live in Adelaide and not Sydney though!

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    Yes, that picture was from July when I first arrived. I am very grateful to live in Adelaide. The cost of rent alone in Sydney and Melbourne blows my mind!!

  • Nobledrummer72

    right now i live in illinois i am looking into a job as a coal miner in australia but im not sure what the pay is and i do have a large family to take with me wife and 4 kids so thats alot to support so if you can find out any information i would be forever grateful right now i make 23 dollars an hour but i have been infatuated with australia my whole life we would like to live in a small town illinois is one of the highest tax states in us right now and if its not too much different in price and the mines pay better it could be a dream come true for me and my family

  • dj

    Hello Jennie..I really appreciate to have read your post. It’s so informative. I’m planning to take a post graduate studies in Australia. Can you suggest which state is good to study which has a cheaper education fee or cost of living.

    Thank you so much. Have a good day;)

  • Minal Pathak

    HI
    You have shared really good part for australia. Me n my husband are looking to shift there within 1 yr. Can you please brief me some details regarding jobs for software developers and weather of australia?? And can you please tell me which is best city to live in australia with good job opportunities and better living???

  • Mark Andrew Rodriguez

    Hi Jennie.

    Good day to you.

    Thank you very much for this very very informative article. I am planning to migrate to South Australia maybe late this year or early next year and before this article I have no idea what’s the cost of living in SA. Now I have a much clearer picture of what is ahead of me. Couple of question though, how wide is the gap between the difference in cost of living of a student living in SA versus a professional living in SA? And I’d like to get your opinion on how hard to land a job there in SA for jobs like a store clerk for example? I figure this would be my first job there initially just to keep up with the bills you mentioned, or is this job not enough?
    Very informative article indeed! Thanks a lot!
    -Andrew

  • Len

    Hi Ms Wagner! My husband and I will be leaving this week for australia and we would be living at murray bridge. We were given a 457 visa (Long stay) we will be working there. How much would we pay per week if we will just rent a room which is fully furnished?
    Thanks!

  • Deep

    Hi Jennie,

    As I was looking for information on cost of living in Adelaide I came across your blog.

    I am planning to move to Adelaide to do my PhD in University of Adelaide. They have offered me a scholarship of AUD 24000 per year. Do you feel it will be ok for me and my wife who will also be accompanying me to survive in Adelaide.
    I would appreciate a prompt reply from your side.

  • Samantha

    Hi Deep – I just saw your comment and thought I should reply to you even though I’m not Jennie :) I don’t live in Adelaide (I live in Melbourne which is more expensive) but I think that is no where near enough if that is your sole income for two people. It only works out to about $460 per week, and in Australia minimum wage is around $600/week – your wife would need to working as well if you couldn’t get an additional job, or you’d want at least a decent amount of savings before coming here – hope that helps! :)

  • Deep

    Hi Samantha,
    Thank you for the information.

    As the visa policy me as well as my wife will be allowed to work only after I start my PhD program.
    I would surely like to do a part time job as far as my wife is concerned she is currently working as a recruitment consultant. So Samantha, do you feel she can get a job of her choice in Adelaide and is there any ample part time job available there in Adelaide.

  • Samantha

    Honestly – I have no idea, sorry! I’ve never lived in Adelaide, the unemployment rate is very low in Australia in general (around 5%) Part-time work is easier to find than full-time work in general, but I can’t help you that much since I live in a different state :)

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    My scholarship is the same rate, and I can survive on it but I am single. I live in a house (alone) and own a car so as long as you don’t have a lot of other expenses it is possible to survive on the scholarship alone. Finding a part-time job should be rather easy, for both you and your wife. One semester of tutoring at uni pays around $6000, and the minimum wage here is rather high so any part-time job will really help with the expenses. I know a lot of PhD students who moved here with their spouse and started out solely with the scholarship, so you definitely would not be alone.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    I actually don’t know much about Murray Bridge but I assume the cost of living is lower than in Adelaide. You can check rental listings on realestate.com.au or domain.com.au for average prices.

  • Deep

    Hi Jennie,
    Thanks a lot. Yes both of us are planning to do at least some part time job. The issue is that once you get married its almost impossible to be away from each other specially when you are planning for 3 years. Hopefully we will get something and survive decently.

  • Tristan Mumford

    I saw this blog. All I can say to people is be careful. Jennie’s costs of living aren’t really representative, but the purchase prices of items are.

    For example we are really careful with our electricity but it comes to maybe $700-$900 / qtr. Groceries, again being really brutal for a family of 4 come to realistically ~200/week and that factors in an interstate drive to a supermarket because it still works out over $100 cheaper than shopping at the one a few streets away.
    Car registration costs for the basics (no comprehensive) will run you from ~$600 – ~$1100 / year depending on where you live. Fuel is up around $1.60/L too.
    If you need car parts it pays to import because local prices are 5 to 10x more on the same part as sold internationally.
    We get about $30000/year, and even owning our own house and myself being able to build / repair pretty much anything we still barely make ends meet. It is an expensive country for the average person.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    Well I am single with no kids, so of course your costs will be much higher. Plus it seems like you live in a much more expensive part of Australia. $1.60 for gas? yikes. Here it’s usually around $1.35.

    My electricity/gas is now about $250 a quarter for a 3 bedroom house with air conditioning. My car rego is $700 a year including basic insurance. I’m going to update this post once I calculate my costs now that I’ve moved out of the apartment and bought a car.

  • Samantha

    The big thing that struck me about this comment was that
    you say you make 30,000 a year but are still paying full price for car
    registration? A low income like that you should be entitled to a concession
    card… Or is that past the cut off point now? With a concession card car rego
    comes to around $300, plus you’re entitled to discounted or bulk billed health
    care. In Melbourne I’ve rarely seen petrol prices go up to $1.60 (it’s usually
    between $1.30-$1.40) – but since you’re saying that you have to drive interstate
    to go to the supermarket, I assume you live in a regional/rural area? Since I’m
    young and single and I don’t have a family to look after, but for someone in my
    situation living in a big city I felt her cost of living ideas were
    representative of a lot of people in her situation.

  • rachaelaus

    I am traveling to Adelaide for a semester at Flinder’s University. Is that the school you worked for? If so, could I ask about more info, and if not, have you heard of it? Thanks!

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    I’m at UniSA, but Flinders is the third uni in the Adelaide area (in addition to U of Adelaide.) It isn’t actually in the city though; it’s further south. I don’t know much about that university but I can try to answer questions. If not, you can always check out studyadelaide.com and talk to other students on their Facebook page.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    South Australia has the lowest cost of living. :)

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    Hi Andrew,

    it really just depends on if you’re going to rent a place alone or have flatmates and if you’re going to buy a car. I live alone in a house and I own a car so my expenses are higher than normal students but I can still get by on $30,000 a year.

    I don’t know much about wages or how easy it is to find jobs here though. The minimum wage is around $600 per week though (so more than $30k per year), which is more than my university scholarship. The income tax threshold was recently raised as well, so you won’t have to pay taxes on any income up to $18,200. You can probably live in shared accommodation for less than $200 a week including utilities, so you’d just need to factor in food, transportation, etc.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    Coal miners here earn more but the cost of living is also much higher than the Midwest. I think the hourly wage is $35. At least in South Australia, the miners at Roxby Downs usually earn between $60-100k, but they also have to fly in fly out every week since it’s so far from Adelaide or any other large cities. The Australian government was offering more visas to Americans to bring in skilled labor to the mines, though most are out west which is even more expensive and isolated. I’m not sure how many positions/visas are available but it’s worth looking into.

  • Zoey

    Hellow,

    I would like to come to Australia for my masters and i don’t have any scholarship befits so i am just wondering if my tuition fees and living expenses could be covered from my part time working.I am genuinely interested but just worried that if it is not enough when i reach there.So please,advice me on how to go about. My tuition fee would cost meh AUD 36000 for whole course.

  • tracey

    Hello i would love to live in the usa but i am not qualified in alot have 4 kids one with a disability in a brief glance it looks cheaper in the usa I would like to comment on the above blog i spend 350.00 per quater electricity gas is 130 for 2 months winter is 250-300 per 2 months internet is 140 per month 300 gig 150 gig on peak and 150 off peak phone rental calls and 750 mobile call allowance foxtel(cable) 112.00 per month petrol is 50 -60 per week grocericies 300 per week my rent is cheapest as i have government housing at 550 per month and water is about 120 per quarter i currently dont work maybe one day real soon i will get to live in the states

  • Faith

    Hi Jennie,

    I am considering moving to Australia and I am currently living in South Africa. I have 1 child and the information you provided was pretty helpful. I was just wondering i am negotiating with my employer for a salary between 65k and 80k. will that be sufficient to support me and my child who is school going age.

  • Lee

    Hi, I am now staying at Malaysia and perhaps I plan to work in Australia one day. Do you lived in any part of Australian before ? How much do you think I need to earn if I want to live a comfortable life in Australia, for instance Melbourne, based on your opinion ? Thanks

  • visula

    to apply for a scholarship what are the requirements we need?

  • jena

    Yes, ty found your comments most helpful. Considering the move. I presently live off of my pension..which is net 4600.00 us dollars. Will that be enough?? to live with monthly. Oh how does one receive permanent residency there. Is there any information that you can offer, I’d be most appreciative. Doing this alone, so its a bit scarry for me.I”m retired from the nyc police department. Looking for either a studio or one bedroom preferably trendy hip kind of setting..looking also for some good restaurants that are in walking distance to apt. Any suggested areas? Havent any clue as to city…just want it to be pretty and most importantly safe. Ty,i I so look forwatd to hearing from you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shanen.galloway Worthless McLoserton

    I am curious as to what mechanics make per hour in Australia as i am working on my Associates Degree in Diesel Technologies and have been wanting to live in Australia

  • Jenn

    I don’t know what you live off of, but the average grocery bills for GOOD food, i.e. eating veggies and not only toast bread add up to $100 per week. I’ve asked around and this is the common amount people spend here (Northern Rivers region).

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    I live off of fruits, veggies, yogurt, pasta, rice, and chicken. I make my own bread, muffins, pancakes, etc., I buy ingredients in bulk and lots of produce on quick sale. I average $35-40 per week on food. (I also only weigh about 45 kilos so my stomach is quite small.)

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    That’s more than twice what I earn here and I can afford a 3 bedroom house and a car in the suburbs of Adelaide. East coast cities are much more expensive, so it really just depends on where you want to go. You can check out official visa info here: http://www.immi.gov.au/immigration/

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    Sounds reasonable to me, though I’m not experienced with costs of school age children. The average income here is around 50k for a single person.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    It depends on the university you are applying to. They have all the information on their websites.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kartik.nair.378 Kartik Nair

    Jennie, this is by far the best information on Australia I have read. Thanks for sharing these updates.

    I would request you to assist me as I am planning for a PR to Australia and Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney are some of the listed options for me.

    As I would be moving with my family (wife and 1 child), would you be able to give me a ball park figure on a monthly expense on rental, utility bills, transportation and children school fees so that I can plan better for my stay there.
    Thanks once again for this blog and will await for a reply from you.

  • James

    Good website, but i’m puzzled by your extremely low cost of living, maybe its because you live in adelaide in some suburb which maybe cheaper compared to melbourne?

    We are a couple in melbourne and barely get by $80,000 (before tax) its literally a struggle in Melbourne. Rent is $2100 per month for a 2bed in a safe low crime area, power and water is about $150 per month (we dont use much), groceries cost no less than $180-200 per WEEK (be its really really expensive here, fuel is $400 per month, parking charges $50 per week, gas $50 per month, health insurance $200 per month (not including car reg, insurance and maintenace) we pretty much can’t go out on outings maybe once a month. A movie for 2 will put us down $50, dinner in a midrange place $100. Holidays cost a fortune can barely afford them. The prices are going up on weekly basis, most ppl just can’t keep up.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    Adelaide is definitely cheaper than the east coast. Water is included in the rents here; not sure if it’s just an Adelaide or SA thing but none of the rentals I looked at made you pay water separately. Electricity/gas is probably lower here too since our weather isn’t as cold in the winter.

    My health insurance is included in my university stipend, except for the supplementary coverage but even that is really cheap. I live a few blocks from the university so I don’t even need a car. I rarely use it which is why I spend only $40 a month on petrol.

    I buy fruits/veggies from vendors and at markets, plus I go shopping often so I can get cheaper quick sale items. But I can stop by the shops on my walk home from the university so it’s very convenient for me. I know it’s more difficult to go to the store every other day when you commute to work and would have to waste petrol to do so.

    I rarely buy things at full price in grocery stores. I look out for things that are on sale (especially bread and chicken), and buy a lot at once. You can freeze a lot of food to use later. http://www.simpleorganizedliving.com/2011/02/10/freezable-foods/ I get toiletries (shampoo, body wash, etc.) from The Reject Shop and Kmart since they are so much cheaper there (plus Kmart often has sales – I just stocked up on 7 bottles of lotion!)

    I still buy clothes and books sometimes from the US since they are so expensive here. Even with shipping costs, the price overall can be cheaper – though Australian Kmart and Target seem to offer reasonable prices on clothes. I rarely go to the movies or out to dinner – and when I do, I go to cheap bistro places where I can get dinner for $15.

    I don’t know how people get by in Melbourne or Sydney. I am able to live on $30,000 a year here with no problems (even with paying the full rent by myself since I live alone) but I know that would be impossible on the east coast.

    So, the moral of the story is: move to Adelaide! :) Seriously, cheaper rent, cheaper food, cheaper electricity/gas since winters are milder, and you can walk/bike to work from many places in the suburbs so no need to waste money on petrol. We even have free wifi throughout the city so you don’t even have to pay for data on your phone!

  • Tina

    My boyfriend and I are considering relocating permanently…I am a registered nurse-psychiatric background and he is a Emergency Medical Services helicopter pilot… is there a need for these fields in Au and if so what is the avg salary for each? I have a Bachelors and he has an airline transport pilot license and 20 yrs flying experience. Thanks.

  • BURHAN

    dear , can u please guide me that whats the monthly rent of a studio apartment in an average area? furthermore you also tell me which type of jobs are available in australia particularly in perth for student visa holders and how many dollars a student can earn weekly? in last give me a idea that whats an average expenses and earnings of a student there??? regards burhan

  • Aaron Matthews

    Hello.
    I’m currently in school for marine biology and I would love to move to Australia. However, I can’t seem to find out any information as to how much a Marine biology salary is. If you could give some kind of insight that would be very helpful

Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

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