There are obvious times in one’s life to immigrate to Australia. Being pregnant, with no organized prearranged job, family or friends in Queensland are not many peoples idea of good, well-planned timing.
The Migration Process
To explain our madness I can say that we didn’t plan our move to be this way. Both my husband and I had steady professional jobs in Switzerland, friends, social activities and had a secure structured life. What we fancied however was a lifestyle that offered us a possibility to enjoy more family time and own a home.
Whilst still based in Switzerland we tried to get sponsored by a company to move. The Information Technology companies (my husband’s profession), in our experience weren’t very forthcoming. Family sponsorship also wasn’t an option and so we chose to do what’s known as “Skilled Migration”. This works by submitting an application to immigrate, based on education, English language ability, work experience, health, marital status and finance. At this point in time, work skills such as IT Professionals, midwives, teachers, and pastry chefs were of interest to the immigration department.
We gathered and submitted a lot of detailed paper work such as, job references, evidence and description of University qualifications, proof of language ability. In addition, just to be on the safe side we also paid an agent to check all our forms. In total the application cost 3500$US.
An immigration application file is valid for two years, and if the file doesn’t reach the top of the pile of immigration applications by this date, it goes in the bin. We heard we were to be granted a visa just as the two-year deadline arrived. That was the risk. Gathering a lot of paper work, two years of waiting and 3500$.
Because it took so long, we assumed that we hadn’t made it. When we did get our visas and permission to immigrate, we were given roughly 8 weeks to enter Australia and have our passports stamped. Normally there is more time, anything up to a year is common, but short notice does happen.
So we sold up and moved!
Shipping Luggage & Passing By Customs
During our preparation time we discovered that the expense of shipping a container from central Europe to Australia is more expensive than the items we planned to take. So we sold most of our furniture and only sent several small boxes by airfreight.
Something we were aware of was that the Australian Government is very protective of the Australian eco-system.
The list of goods to declare at customs can be a surprise to anyone unaware of this. The list of items to declare or that cannot enter Australia range from outdoor boots or clothes which may have soil on them, to camping equipment, food, seeds and plant matter and any many types of wood. The entire luggage we took with us on the airplane was checked and passed by customs. Once arriving after a long flight we checked into a youth hostel for a week to sleep, visit Sydney and wait for our boxes to arrive.
Something we soon realized is that we didn’t have the identity number of our freight. After several failed attempts to contact the freight company in Switzerland, we decided to risk visiting the freight companies at Sydney airport in person.
This is where we discovered Australians are very helpful and friendly. After visiting all the freight companies at the airport we eventually located our missing boxes. We were so lucky! The boxes had just arrived and we were able to take them with us, once again they also had to be checked by customs, this time for a fee.
Buying A Vehicle
During our week visiting the sights of Sydney we loved the harbor, opera house and sailing possibilities but decided that it wasn’t a city that we would like to live in. It’s very busy and expensive. The traffic congestion suggested that for work we could be commuting for several hours a day and the price of real estate was rising dramatically. When we had originally thought about living in Australia, we dreamed of a house by the sea or in land but with acreage. Brisbane, 962km north, the third largest city in Australia seemed to be a better destination.
Our next major decision was whether to buy or hire a car or a van. Staying at a youth hostel gave us access to backpackers’ notice board and network. Since Australia is a popular destination for young travelers taking a year out and driving around the vast continent, there were a lot of vehicles for sale. Rather than buy privately and risk a non-road worthy vehicle we visited a car mart.
This is an organized second hand garage where all types of vehicles can be sold. They have to be registered and road worthy to be sold from here.
We decided we wanted a van, so we could drive up the coast, take our time, store our boxes and sleep overnight when and where suited us. We didn’t want to have to pay a lot or do a lot of maintenance immediately to the van so we inspected each vehicle and visited the garage more than once. Something we realized is, that it is best to take our time and discuss the price. The van we chose had a full paperwork history of all the work carried out on it during the past several years, with receipts of payment. The van would still need new tyres eventually and the bodywork had been covered up with a quick re-paint. It wasn’t perfect but it was registered in Queensland the state we wanted to live (this is important for re-registering ownership), it had a safety certificate for the camping stove and the inventory was impressive - chairs, inside table, cooking equipment, plastic storage containers and buckets, body board, shower head, TV, tools and spare parts. Something we realized we hadn’t picked up on was that the van didn’t like to start in the cold. Given that it was wintertime moving on from campsite to campsite was a bit of a problem.
We took two weeks to travel from Sydney in New South Wales to Brisbane in Queensland. Stopping along the way at Newcastle, Port Macquarie, Port Jackson, Coffs Harbour, Byron Bay… We love the coastline and small seaside towns. The colors of wild birds are amazing and it was fun to be on the road.
Having A Baby
Once in Brisbane we found a relocation caravan site where we could have a long term stay and move into a chalet or static home if we needed. By this time I was 18 weeks pregnant and needed to re-register with a doctor for a scan (I had been registered and had my pregnancy and monitored in Switzerland). There are both public and private healthcare systems in Australia. New immigrants are entitled to a Medicare card, which gives free treatment at hospitals and at some medical centers. After a long search through the local phonebooks and a ring round of medical centers, I discovered that it wouldn’t be easy getting an obstetrician this late in the day. So I went direct to the nearest hospital for my prenatal care.
I was fortunate to be going to a hospital with a new birthing center and a midwife birthing team. The hospital had a good reputation and was rated one of the best. Private health care would have been an alternative but needn’t necessarily have guaranteed a place at a birthing center. Like many countries, Australia even with a small population, suffers with overcrowding in hospitals. However, I had a good pre-natal and birth experience and wouldn’t necessarily go private in future.
I was encouraged to go home from hospital after only two days, but did have midwife visits at home. I found a childcare community nurse to go to on a weekly basis for having my baby weighed. There are a lot of “helplines” and “services” available for free, for new mothers, it just takes a bit of calling around and networking at mom and baby groups to find them.
Generally speaking Australian families are large. It’s not unusual to have three or more children and for the mother to be a stay at home mom. It is difficult to get a place in child care centers or at family day-care but not impossible.
I picked up a job teaching business English and pre-university training courses(the field of work I’ve been in for 5 years) in an institute of higher education, without too much trouble. Even though I was pregnant, I had the choice between two schools and was offered a casual contract with a possibility of returning to work in the future, if there is a job available.
Finding a full-time job in IT management with a permanent contract has proven to be more difficult. There are positions in software development with short term contracts but anything long term is taking time to find. Something we have realized is that most companies outsource their recruitment to agencies and work on contract and subcontract basis. This makes the recruitment procedure take longer. It’s normal to have several interviews both with the recruitment agency and company that is hiring. A verbal offer can be given and then withdrawn at the last minute!
We quickly discovered that a one-page European-style resume is not suitable to find a job in Australia. CVs need to be long and detailed. If responsibilities, achievements and duties are not written clearly and in intricate detail, it’s assumed you didn’t do or have them. A CV can be up to seven pages long.
Australia isn’t rated as one of the worlds leading countries for lifestyle for nothing. Our move has been challenging but it has also been made easier by the lack of complicated bureaucracy, the helpfulness of Australians and the positive relaxed attitude they have about themselves, their country and life.
Renting a three bedroom, two bathroom house with a yard in a nice suburb in Brisbane is surprisingly cheap 340$US fortnightly. Buying a similar house costs, at this moment in time, roughly 340 000$US and upwards. “Nice” suburbs have open spacious parklands where it is safe to walk, bus or train lines to the city, churches, schools and kindergartens nearby, ample space to park cars and each house on its own block of land. Shopping Malls are usually a short drive away but again with plenty of parking area and undercover.
The summer is a hot, humid and stormy often with an impressive night sky, many a power cut and sudden bursts of drenching rain. The winter has sunny pleasant days with cooler evenings and chilly nights. People live outdoors all the year round here and being part of a community and neighborhood goes without saying.
There are a lot of attractions and inexpensive things to do in Brisbane. BBQ and picnic areas litter the national parks, beaches and numerous green open spaces. There are city festivals virtually every month to celebrate anything from the river to a new show opening. Australians love an opportunity to get together have a beer and get to know new people.
Moreton Bay offers sights of wild dolphins, turtles and whales off the coast. There are one or two safe swimming bays and several Islands, just a short boat trip away. Amid the wild Koalas, Kangaroos and Possums is a tropical family friendly community that’s worth immigrating too.
Excerpted from "Immigrating To Australia: The First Twelve Months" in Escape From America Magazine, Issue 60.