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 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):
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)
Transportation: $15 (about half off normal fares thanks to my student ID)
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
Groceries: $180 (I have a cat now and his food is expensive!)
Car Registration + Insurance: $85
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.
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.
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.