As I mentioned earlier this week, moving to Australia seems to be much easier than moving to France. However, I moved to France to work temporarily through the Teaching Assistant Program in 2006 and I am going to Australia as a PhD student, so the comparisons aren’t exact. Nevertheless, here are my experiences:
Visa: Luckily I was able to mail my application and passport to the consulate in Chicago; however, shortly afterwards they changed the procedure and now require you to go there in person to apply. Depending on how far away you live from your consulate (poor Alaskans & Hawaiians have to fly to San Francisco), it can be quite expensive. Receiving my visa by mail probably took 2-3 weeks. Within three months of arriving in France, I had to go to the préfecture to apply for my residency card (carte de séjour), which I had to renew every year with the same stack of paperwork, for 70€, then 110€, then 85€ (the price keeps changing!) Nowadays, most long-stay visas for France don’t expire for a year, but after that you still need to go to the préfecture to ask for a carte de séjour and renew it every year. Depending on what type of visa you have, you could end up paying anything from nothing to 340€ for your first carte de séjour, and the yearly renewal for most types currently costs 85€.
Housing: I had a string of bad luck trying to contact my school, so I had no idea if they had housing available or would help me find a place to live or not. I ended up arriving in France homeless and spent the first 5 nights sleeping on a couch. It was a very stressful time. I assumed that the program would try to help the assistants find housing, especially since many of us had never lived abroad before and did not speak French all that well, but I was wrong. Even our three day orientation in the mountains was completely useless to me (they did not help us with regards to housing, bank accounts, cell phones, etc.) and I was still homeless at the end of it. Plus I did not know how I could pay rent or the security deposit without a bank account, except for carrying around large amounts of cash, which I was not ok with. But opening an account took more time than I thought because…
Bank account: France does not allow you to open a bank account without proof of a French address. I had to make an appointment (for three days later) to open an account because it was not possible to do it immediately, and provide several justificatifs of my identity and address in France. Luckily by the day of the appointment, I had started renting a room in a woman’s apartment and she provided the documents for the proof of address.
I did finally get in touch with the people at my school and they helped me buy a cell phone (which in itself was another long, slow process even though I just wanted a cheap pay as you go phone), and after the first few stressful weeks, everything else was fine. The housing and bank issues were the worst, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Australia would not be the same.
Visa: I applied online and received it in three days. No need to visit a consulate or mail my passport anywhere. Everything was electronic. It is good until late 2015 provided that I continue to do my PhD. The fee was $550 AUD but I do not need to renew it every year or change it into a residency card.
Housing: I contacted student living and asked if they had apartments on/near campus available in July. Within a few days, I had a furnished 2 bedroom apartment reserved. (FYI: you don’t always have to be a student to live in an apartment managed by student living.) I had to transfer the first two weeks’ rent as a deposit to reserve (I used XE Trade), and I just need to sign the lease and give them a bank check for the security deposit when I arrive (sorry, cheque for the bond), which I will be able to get easily because…
Bank account: Many Australian banks allow you to open an account online with your current address and transfer money into it up to an entire year before you are scheduled to move to Australia. Then you just need to show them your passport and give them your new Australian address (even a temporary one will work) when you arrive and you can set up telephone/online banking and withdraw money immediately.
So yes, I am very happy with Australia already. Everything just seems so easy, which is often what I didn’t like about France since most things here seem unnecessarily difficult. I’ve noticed that some Americans in Australia complain about the same things that I complained about in France: stores not open long enough, everything is too expensive, the pace of life is a bit too slow, etc. Yet Australia does seem less frustrating than France (see housing and bank account above!) and hey, at least the stores are open on Sundays.
Next week I’ll update with part 3 on arriving in Australia and finishing up the banking stuff as well as buying a cell/mobile phone. Later in July I’ll post about the cost of living and how much I’ll be paying for everything (my lease doesn’t start until July 15 so I’ll be staying with a friend until then), to compare it with my situation in France that I posted about last November.