Originally published in January 2016
Welcome to A Place in the Sun's in-depth guide to emigrating to Australia, it has been written to help you decide whether the land downunder is the place for you.
Below are listed the main areas that we cover within the guide in order that they are likely to be considered - if you wish to skip to a particular section, simply click on subject of interest.
What kind of visa
Stage one – skills
Stage two – expression of interest
Stage three – invitation to apply
1. A better life
Australia tops the 36 countries in the OECD Better Life Index. Measuring not just economic success but a broader range of what makes us happy, the UK was in 11th place and New Zealand 8th. Australia scored well in quality of housing, employment, education, civil engagement and health.
2. The best cities
Australia has four of the top ten best cities to live in, according to The Economist based on stability, infrastructure, education, healthcare and environment. Melbourne came top, as usual, followed by Adelaide, Sydney and then Perth.
3. Quietly powerful
“Soft power” measures how admired and prestigious a country is as viewed by others, through its culture, values and foreign policy. Australia consistently comes top ten out of some 200 countries.
4. Something to cheer
They don’t win the Ashes so much these days, but Australia punches well above its weight in international sport. In 2015 they came 8th in the world across all competitions as measured by greatestsportingnation.com, and as a per capita measure were 7th.
5. Booming economy
Australia had the world’s 12th biggest economy in 2015 according to the IMF. With a population of only 23 million, per capita Australians were 4th, behind Qatar, Norway and Macao.
6. Your dollar goes further
Your purchasing power in Australia is nearly 20% better than in the UK, according to Numbeo.com, because the average monthly take-home pay in Australia is A$4,246 (£2,026) compared to £1,660 in the UK. Overall, general consumer prices are a little lower in Australia but rents are higher, eating out and basic utilities are much cheaper in Australia.
7. Enlightened employers
Australia’s generous benefits include 52 weeks maternity and 14 days paternity pay, a minimum of 20 days holiday (plus 12 public holidays) and a minimum wage of A$17.29 per hour (£8.25).
Applying for your visa
Start looking into visas for Australia you’ll soon find websites with simple questionnaires to determine whether you’ll get a visa based on your age, skills, qualifications and experience. That can either be very encouraging or very disappointing.
In reality it’s more complicated than that. Australia has as many as a hundred different visas, which suggests that someone, somewhere in Australia, wants you. Here we only have space to talk about the common visas and processes used by A Place in the Sun readers.
Professional visa advisors
Given the complexity, many would-be emigrants enlist the help of an agency. They will advise on the process, help you fill in the forms and do everything they can to get you to Australia in return for a sometimes large fee.
Under Australian law, any company doing this needs to be registered with MARA, the Migration Agents Registration Authority. The MARA website (mara.gov.au) lists at least 50 of these in the UK alone, so you can shop around. The website also lists average MARA fees, which for skilled independent visas were A$2,000 to A$4,500 and for the employer nomination scheme A$2,500 to A$5,500. These include taxes but not the price of the actual visa application. Emigration to Australia is not cheap.
What kind of Visa?
To work in Australia there are two main ways of getting a visa, both of which involve demonstrating that your skills are those that Australia requires.
The most common is the Australian Skilled - Independent Visa (subclass 189), where the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) assess your application and invite you to apply for a skilled worker visa where you can find your own job.
The second method is where you are nominated or sponsored by an Australian government (state or national) or an Australian company. This is the Skilled – Nominated Visa (subclass 190) which is for skilled workers who are nominated by a state or territory.
There are also skilled regional visas (subclass 489). You don’t have to wait to be nominated, you can go and find a company or government department and persuade them to sponsor you too.
There are five basic requirements to apply for a work visa:
1. You must be under 50 when you apply. For some visas under 45.
2. You must be “competent” in speaking English. A UK or Irish passport counts as sufficient evidence for this, or various English qualifications.
3. Your occupation must be on one of the skilled or nominated occupations lists and your skills must have passed a skills assessment.
4. You must pass a health test. The doctors are looking out for TB, Hepatitis and Aids/HIV, and since the process involves a chest X-ray pregnant women may have to wait until after the birth before applying. HIV testing is only for permanent resident applications and if found to have it the decision to admit will be based mainly on how much your continuing treatment will cost the government. Hepatitis testing is for people moving to medical occupations but those with tattoos or body piercings may be tested too.
5. You must not have a serious criminal record where you were imprisoned for more than one year. It doesn’t matter how long ago the sentence was passed.
Stage One: Check your skills
The Australian border agency has created a programme called SkillSelect to manage its work visa programme. The idea is that each part of Australia says what skills it is short of – maybe, skilled nurses in New South Wales, or mining engineers in Western Australia.
SkillSelect then finds the top candidates in the most wanted occupations and invites them to make a visa application. This should speed up the process and help both Australia and the would-be immigrant.
There is no point in applying unless you have the required skills. So firstly, check that your career is on one of the two lists of occupations, the Skilled Occupation List (SOL) or the Consolidated Sponsored Occupations List (CSOL). You can also check the nominated occupations lists for each state, which are easy to find via each state’s official website.
Around 190 occupations are listed in the Skilled Occupations List, covering most professions including every kind of medical, engineering, legal, accountancy, agricultural, IT, teaching, social care and construction skill.
There are many more occupations listed on the Consolidated Sponsored Occupations List, which is for applicants who are nominated by a State or Territory government, everything from actor to zookeeper and including estate agents and writers.
The SOL is the superior list, but don’t be too disheartened if you are just on the CSOL. If you are on one of the lists, the body that will assess your skills is listed alongside the SOL on the government website, with details of how to contact them.
Stage Two: Expression of Interest (EOI)
If you find your skills are in demand you can now make an Expression of Interest (EOI), to determine how many points you have and tell Australia that you want to come. You make your EOI online via SkillSelect. Everyone applying for a points-based visa, a business investment or innovation visa has to make an EOI, which is free of charge. It is not the same as an actual visa application; that comes later. On the EOI you give basic personal information about yourself, the type of occupation you are interested in, your skills, qualifications and work experience in that field, and how good your English is.
From the EOI, SkillSelect will calculate your points and assess your eligibility. For the Skilled – Independent visa you normally need at least 65 points.
The EOI is stored for up to two years so you can add to it and improve your score from additional qualifications or work experience or English, for example.
From all the EOIs the DIBP will automatically choose some 700 each fortnight with the highest scores in the occupations that Australia most wants and sends them an Invitation to Apply (ITA).
Your EOI is also made available to the Australian national government, local government and employers, any of whom can invite you to make a visa application. It isn’t clear how efficient the state, territory or company HR departments are at looking through the EOIs and picking people out, so you should still try to find your own sponsors.
Making your Expression of Interest is a bit like uploading a CV to a jobs website – but you must not lie or embellish your achievements. If you do and the inaccuracy is found when you apply for the visa your application will be thrown out and you will not be able to re-apply for three years.
Secondly you will lose your visa application fee, which is £1,955 for a skilled worker visa. Those kind of embellishments could include claiming a year or two extra work experience, upgrading a qualification by a grade or two or claiming that you have had your skills assessed when you are simply in the process of doing so.
Stage Three: Invitations to Apply (ITA)
The lucky 700 who receive an ITA have 60 days to formally apply for their visa. If you refuse or ignore two invitations your EOI is removed from the system.
For the visa application you must produce the evidence you gave on the EOI and if you put false information there’s a good chance your application will be refused even if you meet the points criteria. Since you will need supporting documents it makes sense to start gathering your evidence before you even fill out the EOI – all the required documents are listed on the border.gov.au website.
The cost of applying for a skilled independent visa currently starts at £1,955.
Your visa entitlement
Your Skilled Independent Visa entitles you to live and work in Australia for the next five years. You can come and go as you please, but in order to renew for another five years you need to have spent at least two years of the five in Australia. If you spend four years consecutively in Australia you can apply for citizenship.
The Employer Nomination Scheme (ENS) allows Australian companies who cannot find sufficiently skilled staff locally, to employ from abroad. The skills must be listed on the ENS list of occupations and contracts must be for three years, pay the minimum salary for that occupation and be full time.
Amongst other rules, applicants should be under 45 years old, have three years experience in that occupation and speak good English, although all three rules can be broken in exceptional circumstances.
You can also apply for sponsorship to each state or territory via their own websites.
You will need to be nominated by a family member who lives in a designated area of Australia, the visa lasts for four years and you will need to live in the nominated state or territory for at least two years.
To apply, you complete a skills assessment and fill out the EOI in the usual way as well as the paperwork for family sponsorship. If you get an ITA you then make your visa application.
Different states have different skill shortages to fill. It could Vietnamese-speaking pre-school teachers in an area of high Asian immigration, tree surgeons in the interior or marine engineers in Tasmania.
These visa holders will need to stay in the sponsoring state for at least two years, inform the authorities of where they are living and agree to take part in surveys.
You can see the kind of occupations that each state wants by following the links on the state’s official website (see below).
Regional Skilled Migration Scheme (RSMS)
There are also special visas for people willing to work in specially designated postcodes identified as “regional” or low population growth areas of Australia, who are being sponsored by an employer who cannot find skilled staff locally. To apply, first you make an EOI and will require at least 60 points.
Next, an official certifying body will consult with the sponsoring employer to ensure the position is genuine, full-time and qualified at diploma level at least. Then you can apply for the visa.
The only retirement visa option is for investment now, in the Investor Retirement Visa (subclass 405). The basic requirements are that you are aged over 55, have no dependents other than a partner, have enough money to live on and adequate health insurance, and can make a significant investment in the Australian economy. What that boils down to in figures is:
Assets: You or your partner must have assets of at least A$750,000 (around £360,000) which are available for transfer to Australia (can be A$500,000 in some regions*). You only need show this the first time you apply.
Income: You and your partner must have a minimum combined income of A$65,000 (£31,000). This needs to be proved again if you reapply.
Investment: You must make an investment of at least A$750,000 in addition to your assets requirement. It has to remain invested during your stay but drops to A$500,000 in subsequent re-applications.
* “Regional Australia” and “low population growth metropolitan areas” are specially designated postcodes where some entry qualifications will be lower. See border.gov.au to find them. Many are still close to city centres, however, not necessarily in the outback.
Business Innovation and Investment Visa
The first stage is to submit an EOI in the usual way. From there, there are several “streams” that you can apply for with this visa. The Business Innovation stream is for people opening a new business in Australia or expanding an existing business into Australia. You have to be nominated by a state or territory for that.
For the Investor stream, you have to be nominated and invest A$1.5million. For the Significant Investor stream you must invest A$5million and for the Premium Investor stream A$15million.
For each stream there are various other conditions. For example for the Business innovation and Investor streams you should be under 55 years of age and score over 65 on the points test. There are also various rules on what is a suitable investment – you can’t just invest it all in residential property, for example.
Business Talent Visa
This is a visa for people who have shown a successful track record of establishing businesses and are invited by the state or territory to do the same in Australia. There are two streams.
The Significant Business History stream is for successful business owners who, amongst other criteria, must be under 55 and have assets of at least A$1.5million.
For the Venture Capital Entrepreneur stream the applicant must have received ay least A$1million in venture capital in Australia.
Distinguished Talent Visa
A visa for people that will bring kudos and talent to Australia. It is for people, perhaps in the fields of sports, the arts, the professions are academia and research, who have an internationally recognised record of outstanding achievement. You need to still be prominent in your field, have no trouble getting work, and be nominated.
State: Western Australia
Population: 2.6 million
Main cities: Perth (2 million), Mandurah, Rockingham, Bunbury (all 55,000–70,000)
What’s it like?: It’s an enormous state but most people live in Perth or nearby. WA has become rich from mining and exporting iron ore, but while the fall in global commodity prices has barely dented the state’s overall economic growth, unemployment has risen.
The Perth countryside has rolling hills and huge forests, wildlife that includes red kangaroos and alligators. It is one of the most exciting places on the planet for marine life. It is the most British influenced of Australia’s states, with 28 per cent born in England compared to 25 per cent born in Australia and 12 per cent from Scotland and Ireland.
State website: wa.gov.au
WA nominated occupations: As per the national SOL, but also pilots and instructors, all kinds of mining engineer, ambulance and firefighters, farmers, chefs and restaurant managers (excluding fast food!).
Property market: As of late 2015 the property market has fallen along with commodity prices, with average prices losing A$2,000 per month. The average property price in Perth is A$522,000 (Q3, 2015) and A$370,000 as a region, according to the Real Estate Institute of WA.
Territory: Northern Territory
Main cities: Darwin (136,000)
What’s it like?: Having been largely rebuilt following a cyclone in 1974 it’s a modern city with around half the population of British and Irish ancestry. Although it’s a fast-growing city you wouldn’t move to Darwin for any kind of big city vibe.
It’s an outdoorsy sort of place, with wonderful beaches in a tropical climate with only two seasons – wet or dry. With NT set to become a fully-fledged state in 2018, it’s an ambitious place that wants new blood.
State website: nt.gov.au
NT nominated occupations: The whole of the Northern Territory is considered “regional”, allowing for a wider range of occupations and lower barriers to entry for, for example, investor visas. Nominated occupations here are far more wide-ranging, reflecting its tourist trade and including, for example, hotel managers, entertainers, cooks, locksmiths, upholsterers and youth workers.
Property market: Prices in Northern Territory fell by around 3 per cent in 2015 as the dent in the mining boom cut demand from visiting workers. Prices for apartments – known as units in Australia – fell in particular, despite there being a shortage of availability.
The Darwin suburb of Nightcliff is often recommended for its laidback lifestyle, combined with great beaches and above-average shopping. The average house price here is A$790,000 and units at A$356,000.
Population: 4.75 million
Main cities: Brisbane (2.3 million), also Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Townsville, Cairns, Toowoomba.
What’s it like?: It’s famous for the Great Barrier Reef and the Gold and Sunshine coasts, but Queensland is beautiful on dry land too. There are rainforests in the north and rolling hills full of vineyards in the south. Queensland’s economy shrunk in 2014/15 when measured on a per capita basis but it feels like a temporary blip for a part of Australia that is perfectly placed to profit from the success of the Asia-Pacific region.
State website: qld.gov.au
Nominated occupations: Skilled occupations required in Queensland include some slightly way-out farming occupations (deer and goat farmer, apiarist) plus boat builders, sail makers and diving instructors.
Property market: The average price across the state is $450,000 for a house and $370,000 for a unit. In Brisbane prices for property have been rising in the second half of 2015, one of only three state capitals where that happened, with an annual rise of around 4.6 per cent across the board, especially in detached houses.
The median property price in Brisbane is around A$500,000. The Gold Coast has been touted as a boom area for 2016 – units are just below the state average at $368,000 but houses are way above at $530,000. The tallest building in Australia, the 78 storey, residential block Q1, is in Gold Coast.
State: New South Wales
Population: 7.5 million
Main cities: Sydney (4.8 million), Newcastle, Gosford, Wollongong
What’s it like?: This state has both Bondi Beach and ski resorts, The Blue Mountains and Fitzroy Falls. It has a tropical north, where I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here is filmed and a gentler south where Babe was filmed. The eastern part includes vineyards and vast flat tablelands of sheep and cattle. Two of the state’s biggest money earners are tourism, coal and agriculture, although IT and financial services increasingly contribute to Sydney’s success.
State website: www.nsw.gov.au
Nominated occupations: Priority occupations for NSW include all types of motor mechanics and engineers, plus more medical specialisms and hospitality careers than on the SOL, and pre-school teachers.
Property market: Sydney has most of the priciest suburbs in Australia. In Darling Point the average house is $5.6million and there are several others with $3million-plus averages. There are plenty more affordable suburbs within an easy commute, however, including Canterbury and Parramatta with average homes between $700,000 and $950,000, or Eastlakes, where an average apartment price is $485,000. The market in Sydney looks likely to cool somewhat in 2016, but still see prices rising by at least four per cent.
Wollongong to the south and Gosford to the north of Sydney are much cheaper, averaging around $570,000 for houses and $375,000 for units in Gosford and $100,000 more than that in the seaside city of Wollongong.
Population: 5.8 million
Main cities: Melbourne (4.4 million), Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo
What’s it like?: There is a reason why Melbourne has been named world’s most liveable city five years in a row, scoring 97.5 out of 100; it’s just a lovely place to live. People moving to the Central Business District has been the trend lately, but it is the culture that makes even inner city suburbs have a “neighbourhood feel” that makes Melbourne so popular. Rural Victoria prides itself on its friendly and attractive villages, for example in the Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges.
State website: vic.gov.au
Nominated occupations: Victoria has fewer medical requirements but many more in education, especially for foreign language teachers (both European and Asian) and vocational subjects in agriculture and building. Hospitality and IT are the other big skills requirements.
Property market: Although by some measures prices have been falling, local experts are predicting double-digit price rises in Melbourne in 2016, continuing the doubling in house values we’ve seen over the past ten years. Median prices are now $729,500 per house and $532,000 per unit in across Melbourne. Houses in inner Melbourne average $1.25 million but less than half that in the outer suburbs, although the disparity is smaller for units. Prices in regional Victoria are much lower: $347,000 for houses and $260,000 for units.
State: South Australia
Population: 1.7 million
Main cities: Adelaide (1.3 million).
What’s it like?: The climate is Mediterranean, Adelaide is the artistic capital of Australia (or likes to think it is), there is a long and varied coastline leading into a wine-growing region then a rugged outback – what’s not to love! There are more cafes and restaurants per person in Adelaide than anywhere else on Oz, fed by the fertile agricultural area around the Barossa Valley.
State website: sa.gov.au
Nominated occupations: What is notable about SA’s list of required skills is the request for managers in sales and marketing, HR, catering, banks and other industries. There are skills shortages in such diverse trades as carpentry and jewellery, IT and wine making.
Property market: Adelaide had the largest property price rises of any Australian city in 2015, bringing the median price to $420,000 by November. It’s a walkable and compact city, with suburbs like Medindie and Walkerville easy for commuters but expensive; houses in Walkerville average $995,000 and units are $375,000. Prices are similar in beachside Glenelg, but around 25 per cent cheaper in a family-friendly suburb like Burnside. In regional South Australia you would expect to pay around $250,000 for a home.
Main cities: Hobart (217,000), Launceston (70,000)
What’s it like?: If you move to Tasmania you’ll be a Taswegian, which seems like reason enough. If you want more convincing, Tasmania has 18 national parks which cover a third of it. Launceston in the north is surrounded by countryside much like England’s; indeed the island has the most British type of weather of all Australia, though warmer in winter – while the south has deep forests and mountains reaching 1,617m, which you can ski on. Sailing and water sports are huge in Tasmania.
State website: tas.gov.au
Nominated occupations: Tasmania is looking out for would-be emigrants with skills in all the SOL occupations, plus trades such as butchers, cooks, hairdressers, floor tilers and bricklayers too.
Property market: In 2015 the property market in Tasmania recovered the losses it made after 2010. Local reports in late 2015 suggest a shortage of available houses pushing prices up, with mainland investors looking hungrily at Tasmania’s high rental yields, given relatively low prices. If you’re buying, the average price in Hobart is $527,000, with peaks of $670,000 in Sandy Bay. Moonah is the least expensive part of the city by some margin (average $305,000). The average price in Launceston is $325,000 for a house.
As a foreigner you don’t have an automatic right to own property. Unless you are married to an Australian or hold a permanent resident visa, you must apply to the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB), who will take around six weeks to approve your application.
You have to apply for each specific property before you buy it and pay at least $5,000 for the application, so any contract you sign must be contingent on you getting FIRB approval.
Estate agents in Australia are licensed by the state, who clamp down on sharp practices (in theory, rarely in practice). The fee comes out of the selling price, but you can pay extra for a buyer’s agent to represent just you and your interests. You will normally additionally employ either a lawyer or a conveyancer.
Property Buying Process
Processes vary slightly between states but most have official websites which explain the local processes.
A typical house purchase in NSW, for example, starts with an offer on a property along with a deposit of 0.25 per cent, as an “expression of interest”. This doesn’t guarantee anything, however, and until exchange of contracts you can still be gazumped and have your money returned. The selling contract will have been prepared before the house went on sale and after exchange of contracts there is a five-day cooling off period after which you pay a 10 per cent deposit.
During the search process you can apply for FIRB approval if applicable (having already made the sale dependent on approval). Completion, knows as settlement, follows in around six weeks with all final payments including fees and taxes and the receipt of the keys. Average buying costs total around 5 to 7 per cent of the property value.
Many Australian properties are sold at auction, with the exchange of contracts and 10 per cent deposit paid at the auction itself.