Preparing for and Living in Australia

Having worked for most of my life as a professor in both Australian and German universities, the service which I can best provide for you is of an academic nature. For example I can sketch out the Australian academic system for you, suggest courses which might be of special interest, help you with obtaining advanced standing, etc. These are things which I have already described in earlier chapters, and which I hope will be especially helpful for you.

However, I am not an expert travel guide, and it would be foolish of me to try to describe all the issues which could be of interest to you while you are preparing for and later living in Australia. There is an abundance of such information available in Germany and on websites throughout the world, including both German and Australian websites.

What I can do is provide you in the rest of this chapter with some introductory information about preparing for and living in Australia, including some tips based on my own experiences and those of German students whom I have helped in the past.

But you should not rely on this information. Some of it may no longer be up to date by the time you need it. Systems change, governments make new laws, and universities change their courses. So I repeat: do not rely solely on this information. It is intended to help you, but I cannot give a guarantee that it will!

While You are Studying in Australia

Once you have arrived in Australia there are many matters which will be important to you, including for example banking, cost of living, the Australian climate, seeing tourist attractions, owning and driving a car, and much more. Many of these issues (and many others) are discussed in the government predeparture guide students coming to Australia, which can be viewed at:

You will also find similar useful information in the individual predeparture guides of the universities.

Accommodation - Australian Houses

Before looking into details about accommodation, you should be aware that because of the warm climate Australian houses are by no means as warmly built as German houses. Most modern Australian houses are built using a technique called "brick veneer", which means that the house internally has a wooden framework, around which a single layer of bricks is laid. Doors and windows often do not fit as well as in Germany and double glazing of windows is rare. Cheap housing (the sort you might want to find as a student) rarely has adequate heating. This is not a problem for Australians, who are not usually sensitive to colder nights for the few "winter" weeks, when the night temperature might go down to about 8° C in Melbourne (In Melbourne I once even experienced a few snowflakes, but that was really exceptional!) But for German students this can come as a shock at first! (Maybe you would prefer the Gold Coast, which has a rather warmer winter climate.)

You can normally obtain considerable help from your chosen university in finding appropriate accommodation. You will find details on the relevant web pages of the universities which I recommend to you. These are noted in the relevant appendices. If you plan to study in Melbourne, regardless of the university which you plan to attend, I recommend that you look at the following website (from Monash University):

Temporary Accommodation

The universities will usually help you to find temporary accommodation if necessary, while you are looking for permanent accommodation (see the appropriate appendices).

Students have sometimes told me that they have lived for the first week or two in a local motel, in a youth hostel or in a backpackers hostel until they have found more permanent accommodation. With backpackers and youth hostels you will probably have to book ahead. I have just used the Australian Google
with the keywords Backpackers Hostel Melbourne and found an abundance of references - but I have no way of knowing what to recommend!

Tip: I do not recommend short term accommodation in a university student hostel while you are looking for private accommodation. The price of such accommodation is extremely high (because the universities have to absorb the possible loss of not being able to rent out the room after you leave it). If you need temporary accommodation think seriously about a backpackers hostel, a cheap motel or something similar. Only use university campus accommodation if you intend to stay there permanently!

Permanent On-Campus Accommodation

This is usually the most expensive form of accommodation. Typically you will get a furnished single bedroom with a bed, a desk and other basic furniture. There are usually shared leisure rooms for social activities, including games rooms, TV, shared cooking facilities, etc.

Despite the apparent high cost, on campus living often has many advantages, e.g.

  • it is normally situated either on or close to the campus, thus saving both time and the cost of daily travel;
  • it is usually furnished, which means that you do not have the hassle (and cost) of buying, and later trying to sell, furniture;
  • there will usually be a telephone and a data link in each room, giving you direct access to the university's computer network;
  • there will usually be other international students and maybe university staff around to help, when you encounter problems; Australian students rarely live in on campus accommodation.
  • as an international student you will probably be able to make new friendships quickly;
  • the cost of the accommodation in some (but not all!) cases includes some prepared meals;
  • many halls of residence arrange social events for their students.

If you decide that you would like to live on-campus, then don't forget to book early to avoid disappointment!

Permanent Off-Campus Accommodation

Sharing a house (possibly with a garden) is often the cheapest option and the one which gives you most freedom. But it is much more difficult than in Germany to find furnished accommodation. Most flats for renting are unfurnished, so that you will have to buy some (second hand) furniture). You will have to pay a security bond, usually equivalent to one month's rent. You will probably also have to arrange (and pay deposits for) electricity, water, gas, telephone and internet connection.

One difference from a typical German Wohngemeinschaft is that it is usually the landlord (the owner of the property) − and not the other students − who choose whether a new student is acceptable.

Tip: Encourage some friends in Germany to study with you in Australia and rent an entire house with them together. I have had quite a number of such groups who have done this and they have always been happy about this arrangement. Unfortunately that is not always the experience of students who have shared a house where the landlord decides who will live with you.

Tip: If you have to buy your own furniture, you could consider insuring this via a special "renter's insurance" to protect against theft and fire. For example the AAMI insurance company offers such a policy for up to $20,000 at a cost of about $180 per year.

Another accommodation possibility is "homestay", i.e. staying with a family. Sometimes bedrooms are shared, sometimes they are single. Meals are mostly included in the cost. Your university will probably have a list of accommodation of this sort.

The government's predeparture guide, mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, suggests some websites which might help in your search for shared or rental accommodation. And it provides the excellent advice that you should read your lease very carefully before signing it, if necessary obtaining advice from your university's housing office before signing it.

Cost of Living in Australia

As in Germany it is usually more expensive to live in a large city than in a small town. Generally speaking my experience over the years has been that the living costs are about the same in Australia as in Germany, but whether this will be true when you are actually in Australia can depend very much on matters such as the exchange rate, the weather, etc. More details of the cost of living are provided in chapter 2. What may especially surprise you is that although Australia grows its own fruit and vegetables, these are at the time of writing considerably more expensive than buying imported items in Germany.

Transport within Australia

The first thing to remember about public transport in Australia is that the distances which you travel are likely to be much greater than in Germany. Australia is comparable in size to Europe, and the State of Victoria (which looks quite small on most maps) is about the same size as Germany. A flight from one of the Eastern capitals (e.g. Melbourne, Brisbane or Sydney) to Perth takes about four hours, and there is a 2 hour difference in the time zones.

But not only is Australia large. Melbourne and Sydney are much larger cities than you find in Germany. For example from the main Monash Campus at Clayton to Melbourne Airport is a distance of about 50 kms.

This not only means that travel times are probably longer than you are used to, but the fares are likely to be more expensive.

One further point. Local students and usually exchange students get student concessions on the cost of local public transport. But as a fee paying international student you will not be entitled to such a concession!

Interstate Flights

There are regular flights between the capital cities and mostly also to and from major regional cities such as Geelong, Newcastle and the Gold Coast. As in Germany there are usually cheap flights.

Interstate Railways

If you ever travel by interstate railway (e.g. from Melbourne to Sydney, which I cannot recommend), you will never again complain about the Deutsche Bundesbahn!

Interstate Coaches

Interstate coaches are also available. These are also quite cheap, and they have the advantage over flying that you can see more of Australia on your journey. You can also stop at smaller towns.

Suburban Railways

Most capital cities have a good local railway network. The main disadvantage is that the services are usually organised as a star of railway lines from the suburbs to the city centre. Consequently they are ideal, provided that you live near a station and want to travel into and out of the city. But if you want to cross from one suburb to another, you will probably prefer to take a bus.

Smaller cities, such as the Gold Coast, do not have a well-developed suburban railway system, although they will have a (possibly quite slow) railway connection to the nearest capital city.

Suburban Buses

Most capital cities and also the smaller cities, including the Gold Coast, have a good local bus network which enables you to get from suburb to suburb relatively easily.

Suburban Trams

Most capital cities do not have a tram system. The main exception is Melbourne, where the trams are quite old and are considered a tourist attraction.

Travel by Car

Don't forget that in Australia you drive on the left side of the road!

Most Australians travel most of the time by car. Students often buy an old car cheaply and then re-sell it before they leave. This is another reason why it is worth considering going to Australia with fellow students: you can share the costs of the car and also share the driving if, for example, you use the car to drive interstate.

Petrol Prices

Petrol is much cheaper than in Germany, although most Australians do not realise this and constantly complain − like Germans − about the high cost. As a rule of thumb I would say that the cost of a litre of petrol in Australia in Australian dollars is roughly the same as the cost of a litre of petrol in Germany in Euros.

Tip: You can save on the cost of petrol by buying your groceries from one of the two large supermarket chains (Woolworth's or Cole's). If you buy groceries or other goods from these stores to a value of $30 or more, you will get a coupon which gives you a discount of 4 cents per litre at a petrol station displaying the appropriate sign. There are many petrol stations (I would guess most) which cooperate with either Woolworth's or Cole's.

Tip: As an alternative to buying a car which runs on petrol you might like to consider one which runs on LPG, as this form of fuel is considerably cheaper than petrol, and the number of petrol stations which offer this form of fuel is much larger than in Germany. But remember that you will have to fill up your tank more often if you use gas as your fuel

Hiring a Car

If you are considering travelling interstate (i.e. between Australian states) but have not bought a car, you might like to consider hiring either a car or a camper van. The standard car rental companies (such as Hertz, Avis and Budget) are well represented in Australia, but there are also much cheaper rental companies. If you hire from one of the major companies it is possible to collect the car in one city and drop it off at a different city. However most of the smaller cheaper companies are based in a single city and usually do not have the facility allowing you to pick up the car in one location and drop it off in a different one.

Driving in Melbourne

Tip: If you are driving in the city centre of Melbourne be very careful about the driving rules where there is an intersection which involves trams. When you intend to turn right and the intersection has a "hook turn" sign, you must approach the intersection in the left lane and then make the hook turn. I strongly advise you to get a copy of the Victorian traffic rules if you intend to drive in Melbourne, see

Some Tips about the Road Rules in Australia

Tip: Australian traffic lights are organised differently from German traffic lights in the following respect. In Germany you should always obey the traffic light which is directly in front of you. If there is a further traffic light on the opposite side of the road (which is unusual in Germany) then according to the German traffic rules you must also obey this traffic light. The effect of the German rules is that if you are at the front of a line of traffic, watching for it to turn from red to green, you may have a lot of difficulty to see when the lights change, because it is either high above you or to the side of you.

In Australia (which has the same rule in this respect as in England) traffic lights are placed not only directly before the entry to the intersection, but to make it easy for drivers to see them, directly opposite the driver on the other side of the intersection. Both traffic lights work together and both are valid for the driver approaching them from in front.

One effect of this difference, apart from the improved visibility of traffic lights for waiting drivers, is that if you are turning right or left at a traffic light, the traffic light opposite you at your point of entry into the intersection, but not that at your point of exit from the intersection, is valid for you. In Germany you would have to wait if the traffic light at your point of exit is red, but in Australia this light normally has no significance for you. However, there are some exceptions, especially on a divided road. See page 44 of the Victorian Traffic Rules. Tip: The Australians drive on the left side of the road. As a German you might therefore naturally assume that the basic rule regarding right of way in Australia is "left before right". However that would be wrong. As in Germany the rule is "right before left"!

Tip: At T intersections, i.e. where one road comes to an end as it joins another road which continues in both directions, the rule is not "right before left", as it is in Germany. Instead drivers on the road which continues in both directions have right of way.

Tip: At roundabouts the rule is, when you are approaching the roundabout, to blink in the direction in which you wish to proceed after the roundabout. For example if you approach a normal roundabout which is at the intersection of two roads which cross each other, you will blink left if you wish to take the first exit, you will not blink if you wish to continue along the same road as you enter the roundabout (i.e. the second exit), and you will blink right if you wish to take the third exit.

When you are already on the roundabout and are about to exit you should always blink left as you approach the exit which you wish to take.

And remember, I am just giving you a few tips here. What counts are the traffic rules, not my tips! You should also be aware that each Australian state has its own traffic rules!

Driving on a Foreign (e.g. German) Licence in Australia

Until recently it was necessary to obtain an International Driving Permit in order to drive as a foreigner in Australia. But the rules have changed recently. The rule valid for foreign residents of Victoria is defined on the website of Vic Roads (the licensing authority):

Obtaining an International Driving Permit (or not!)

Tip: If you have a German driving licence you will probably not be able to obtain an official translation from the German authorities, as they will tell you to get an International Driving Permit! This will not only incur extra costs for you but it can also be a disadvantage. For example if you currently have an "old" German driving licence, you will have to convert this to a new European driving licence before obtaining an International Driving Permit. But when this happens you will probably lose some of the rights associated with your old licence, e.g. to drive heavier vehicles.

Obtaining an International Driving Permit can be quite expensive. Here for example is an extract from the City of Frankfurt's official website:

"Nachdem sich die gesetzlichen Grundlagen zum Erhalt eines Internationalen Führerscheins geändert haben, kann dieser nur noch an InhaberInnen von Scheckkarten-Führerscheinen ausgegeben werden. Sofern Sie noch einen Papierführerschein besitzen, muss vor Ausgabe des Internationalen Führerscheins der nationale Papierführerschein in einen Scheckkarten- Führerschein umgetauscht werden. Die Verwaltungsgebühr beträgt bis zu € 40,30 (€ 16,30 für den Internationalen Führerschein sowie € 24,00 für den Umtausch des Nationalen Papierführerscheins)."

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