Why Australia?: Financial Implications Of Our Move Overseas

Australia, Here We Come!


Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a flurry of questions through e-mail and twitter involving our upcoming move to Australia.  In reality, I’m honored that people feel connected enough with the site and my family to want to know more details.  It’s an awesome feeling.

By far the most common statement is something along the following lines:  Wait…  So you are actually moving?  As in having no immediate plans to return?  Why in the world are you doing that?  What’s in Australia?

In short, my wife and I are moving to Australia because we can.  I know that’s a little cheeky, but there really isn’t a huge underlying reason.  We are just going to see what life has to offer.  No more, no less. There are no jobs, family, friends, or even a single person we know that will be waiting for us.

We’ve been talking about backpacking for the last 3-4 years on and off.  It was something that we both felt was appealing on several levels.  We kept putting it off for one reason or another.  First we wanted to get married.  Then Courtney needed to finish up her degree.  Then we started a small business.  Then we wanted to be out of debt.  Then we got pregnant.

Society had set it’s trap and we we could smell the cheese from a mile away. We were living on someone elses predetermined plan.  Marry, Get Degree, Own Small Business, Make Babies, Get Promoted, Make More Babies, Buy A House… you get the picture.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with this series, unless of course it’s really the opposite of what you currently want.  It was the opposite of what we wanted.

Upon the birth of Milligan we decided to make what some people would call a radical decision.  We decided to sell our small business, ditch a rather stable career (teaching), declare war on our debts, sell all of our possessions, and head off to Australia within 1 year.

Why Australia?

There’s not as good as reason as you might want.  My wife spent a couple months over one summer in Australia and absolutely fell in love with the culture and the beauty of the place.  I, personally, have never been.  But I’ve talked to a lot of people who’ve all confirmed the same experience that my wife had.  I’ve had multiple people independently tell me that they spent months traveling the country and can’t remember a single rude experience from the locals.

What about jobs?

What about them?  We plan on finding some when we get there!  My wife is going to try and find some employment in the educational system.  I am going to concentrate on building my limited consulting income, along with several online projects I’m working on.  I’m also very interested in potentially working in the diving and/or sailing industries (very competitive I hear).  If a cool part-time opportunity came available I would certainly jump on it.

How long are you staying?

That depends on two factors.  How we feel once we get there and, of course, the job market itself.  We’ve made a commitment to only stay up to two months without securing some sort of employment.  We aren’t willing to drain all of our savings and strand ourselves.  It should also be noted that we will have around $5,000 in savings we will be leaving back for student loans and emergencies.  We’ve already bought round-trip tickets and can move the return date by paying $200.  We are completely prepared to return home in as soon as two months or stay for several years.  We aren’t locking ourselves into anything at this point!

What are you doing with all of your stuff?

Selling it.  We are only leaving behind one box of possessions with family.  This box contains some dishes/bowls we got for our wedding, our wedding pictures, some of Courtney’s travel journals, and a few of Milligan’s baby scrapbook crap.  Other than that it’ll fit into our two backpacks or it’ll be sold or donated.  I’m creating a list of our possessions (100 Thing Challenge style) and you’ll see more on this later.

Financial Hurdles Left To Jump

  • Sell Car (Nissan 240SX)
  • Cancel Car Insurance (effective Jun 6)
  • Buy 2nd Backpack (Adam)
  • Obtain Local Skype Number + Voicemail
  • Pay for Visas
  • Finish Updating Resumes
  • Create list of everything we own (more later)
  • Solidify dwelling for initial 1-3 days
  • Organize Milli’s medical records
  • Buy life insurance
  • Freeze Courtney’s credit reports

Financial Implications and Budgeting Issues


The graph above is the exchange rate over the last 120 days.  As you can see earlier in the year 1 USD could fetch between $1.40-$1.50 AUS.  Even though, every dollar is now only getting $1.30 AUS, it’s still a far better rate than last summer when the ratio was basically 1:1.

The exchange rate is not something we want to rely on long-term, but it helps when calculating a rough budget.


As I’ve discussed before, we plan on staying in very cheap accommodations while exploring Cairns.  I’m talking to several potential hosts through sites like CouchSurfing, GlobalFreeloaders, and Hospitatilty Club.  If one of these hosts works out it’ll give us 2-4 days upon arriving to seek out and find a cheap monthly apartment.

Our local research of the area has shown that there are 2 bedroom semi-furnished apartments starting from $170 per week. Although the sky is the limit, we’ve found our realistic options run through around $250 per week.  That translates into roughly $700-1050 per month.  Taking into account the exchange rate (at least initially) and these are $550-800 USD per month.  This is certainly comparable to the market here in the Indiana.

Our biggest problem will be making sure we can rent on a month-to-month basis.  I’ve had several people reassure me that Cairns is a very transient city and is comfortable with month-to-month or even week-to-week arrangements.  Luckily, I have a couple years of Real Estate negotiating skills from being both a landlord and a tenant on my side. We’ll see!


Researching the average amount of utilities on a smaller apartment has proven to be quite difficult.  The best information I’ve received has been from actual people who live in Australia themselves.  Once again I found them confirming around the same percentages as we have here in the Midwest.  For example, most seemed to think their utilities were around 10-20% of their rent, which has been about standard for us.

I guess you can make a huge difference if you can learn to live without air conditioning as much as possible.  Heat, of course, will not be a problem.  It’s freakin’ hot!


As I’ve mentioned a couple times recently, we are planning on using a combination of public transportation and bicycles, at least initially. This will help keep costs extremely low and allow us to maintain flexibility.  If we get into a position where we absolutely need a car (for a specific job), then we’ve heard that there are many cheap options available in Cairns.  Apparently, it’s common for people to buy cars in Sydney, drive them for a month or two up the eastern coast and eventually need to sell them up in Cairns!


This is where we anticipate the biggest increase from our current budget.  Currently, we have fairly decent insurance through the school system where my wife is employed.  We will be forced to get private insurance once we arrive in Australia.  Luckily, if we are able to find employee sponsorship we can get different types of visas, which enable us to take advantage of the public health care system at that point.


Although Australia is an island, they are large and diversified enough not to have to import everything.  I’ve read a couple pieces of literature that point to food costs being around 15-20% higher overall. We aren’t horribly picky eaters (although I’m vegetarian), so we hope to be able to adjust our diets based on affordable/locally produced options.


We will be keeping in contact with every traveler’s best friend;  Skype.  We’ve enjoyed $9.95/month unlimited calls to Australia for the last couple of months while gathering data.  We already have both an AUS number and a U.S. number with voicemails attached.  We are considering using walky-talkies initially for those times when we need to split up to run errands, etc.  Hopefully, this will allow us to avoid cell phones at least until we have secured long-term employment.  It also should be noted that Internet will be a splurge. Not only is it needed for Skype, but is necessary for several of the online projects I’m working on.  Including this blog!


Overall, we are anticipating around a 30% increase in our typical budget.  We will be doing our best to minimize any extra expenses, especially until we can test the job market out a little.  We’ve done enough research to be comfortable, but certainly not enough to be an authority on the issue.  In the end, there is no way to be able to know the true cost of a relocation like this until you actually do it. All the websites, pamphlets, and phone calls go out the door once you step off the plane and have to go put the pieces together.

We are looking forward to the challenge.  We are embracing the adventure with opens arms. Most importantly, we are completely alright with the possibility of returning after just a couple months if things don’t go smoothly.  Whatever happens, I’ll be sure to keep those of you that are interested informed!

Have you ever done anything similar in your life?  Do you have any specific tips for traveling in Australia or with a small child?  Do you think we are crazy?  Join in on the discussion by commenting below!

49 thoughts on “Why Australia?: Financial Implications Of Our Move Overseas”

  1. I haven’t admitted to this while I’ve been reading your blog Adam – I’m Australian. You’ll be fine. Cairns will be pretty awesome, the Port Douglas will be fantastic. Congratulations on taking action 🙂

    Honestly, job prospects aren’t wonderful due to global credit crunch reasons which I’m sure you’re more versed on than me. It’s not like there’s zero jobs going though. Especially if you’re willing to sell your body.

    If you have any more specific questions, I might be able to put you in touch with a lass I know who lives up there at the moment (I’m down in NSW).

    Tristan | The New Man Of Action’s last blog post..Six ways to escape analysis paralysis

    1. Awesome! I have a couple Aussie’s that are regular readers and they’ve helped a lot.

      Yeah, the job market isn’t great anywhere, but we are going to give it a shot. My wife is well-qualified and willing to work as an assistant or substitute to get in the door. Keep your fingers crossed!

      I might hit you up for that contact depending on how things go. I really appreciate all the help!

    1. Sometimes these are included in “furnished” accommodations, sometimes not. If we need to we will purchase a couple minimalist items like you’ve outlined. We won’t be getting a full set or anything like that though.

      We will only have a traveling visa at first. Initially we planned on getting “working holiday” visas, however we discovered late in the process that you can’t take a dependent on that visa. There are several sponsored visa options, especially if we remain in Cairns (less populated areas). If we really like that area, we technically qualify for an independent perm-visa. However that qualification process usually take 12-18 months!

    1. Yeah, that was important to us. We wanted to be able to hit the “Oh Crap” button if we needed to. Luckily, our emergency fund also helps make the change more digestible.

    1. We only have Milligan who is currently 13 months old. Courtney has one of those really neat backpacks that doubles as a holder for the child. We are also taking her car seat, which is free on the airlines.

      Thanks for the heads up about AJC. I will definitely be trying to touch abse with him in the near future. I appreciate all the help!

  2. Wow, this sounds like an amazing adventure! Yes, a little crazy but I commend you for breaking the mold and stepping out and doing something you and your family want to do!

    I often think about the “What’s Next Stage” (JD Wrote about a while ago on Get Rich Slowly)…and while I have a few years before I reach that stage (no debt, house paid off, solid retirements, investments, and college funds)…I like to think about what I’d do when I reach that point.

    Congrats and Best Wishes!

    1. I know the exact article you are referring to. We often think about that, as well. Right now we still have those pesky student loans, but have worked really hard eliminate all our other debt and build up our savings.

      I can’t wait until we are completely debt-free and hopefully with a little bit of “mobile” income to boot. The possibilities are really fun to dream about!

  3. Wow – that’s going to be a crazy experience! It’s interesting that this whole trip has been a main factor in motivating you to get financially strong. Most people have a hard time paying off their credit cards every month, and here you and your family are, selling almost everything and moving to a completely different country, just because you want to. I’m looking forward to reading how everything plays out – you’ve got a lot to figure out all at once!

    Jeff@StretchyDollar’s last blog post..Five Ideas to Help You Eat Out at Home

    1. You know, you are right. We really have been leveraging this trip for motivation to plow through our non-student loan debt! We do have a lot to figure out, but as long as we can stay positive it should be a blast!

  4. You guys are CRAZY but in a fantastic way. I applaud what you’re doing with the full knowledge and appreciation that it is not something I’d be able to do. I look forward to hearing more about your adventure as it unfolds!

    Thanks for modeling life in a beautiful way!


    Do You Dave Ramsey?’s last blog post..MisIdentified, Again!

  5. I’ve said it before, congratulations on the adventure.

    My wife and I moved with two kids to San Diego (California) from Denmark last year.

    We were open to never going back, but the tough times and too much debt in Denmark, has forced us to plan our retreat. But we will be back :0)

    Its the best thing we ever did as a couple.

    Peter Juhl’s last blog post..Getting the debt snowball rolling

  6. I have a sneaky feeling that this could happen to us, as well. I can’t wait til we rid ourselves of the rest of our student loans. It will open up even more possibilities!

    I’m going to follow your adventure, too. I’m going to hold you to “getting back” here,

  7. What a great post. I’ll admit that these days, I don’t often read a personal finance blog post in full – I’m a big skimmer because I just take in so much information all the time. Especially today, when I’m trying to clear out a 400+ item feed reader. But I read this article in full, and completely – every word. It’s fascinating, the journey you’re taking and the level of detail with which you’ve planned it. I think we’re pretty similar Baker – whenever I do anything, I break it down and run the numbers on multiple scenarios. I’ll think you’ll be fine, as long as you keep running the numbers, because you’ll always know right where you stand. Have a safe journey!

    Stephanie PTY’s last blog post..Leveraging Social Network Tools in Your Job Search

  8. This is insane.

    You and me might be brothers from another mother, cause this sounds exactly like something I would do.

    4 years ago, during the winter, I decided that in the summer I would fly to England and bike across Europe all the way to Hungary. I quit my PT job cause I had enough money saved up. I started training… biking up to 120 miles per day. Got gear lists. Went on mock runs. And come the end of May I flew into England. As they say, the rest is history. If you have any questions about bikes or backpacking, I might have some insight! 🙂

    MLR’s last blog post..How Much Did That Shower Cost? Use a Low-Flow Shower Head!

  9. Good luck, mate! Hope you guys enjoy the experience. In my mind, life is a collection of (unique) experiences. This move fits the bill. Well done and good luck again!

  10. Great to do list…I’m trying to think of anything else you might want to consider. One thing about ‘resumes’ is that they use CVs (curriculum vitae) in Australia, which you may already know. They are much lengthier than our resumes and include a lot more details. Also, if you can secure letters of reference from people here to take with you, they are often asked for (make copies to include with your CV when you apply for a job).

    Also, can you get private health insurance in Australia when you are considered a traveler? Or do you mean you are getting it from the US? I think I got a travel type of insurance that I could keep up to two years that was mostly for catastrophic type of coverage…I can’t remember.

    And as for living without air conditioning….I don’t know about Cairns, but our flat in Brisbane did not come with air conditioning or heat. This is fairly common not to have ducted heat/air. Many (more often newer ones) come with wall units in the bedroom or main room, but that’s it. But many have nothing. And it was HOT, let me tell you! But, I got used to it and now heat/humidity don’t bother me. But, it might be hard to sleep, especially for the little one. Might want to think about this when you are looking for flats.

    As for prices of things… Internet and diapers are really expensive in Oz compared to here. But there are tons of internet cafes in Cairns.

    Are you crazy? No way! Everybody else is for not trying it too! You only live once man, go for it!

    MB’s last blog post..Organic Gardening Tips: Keeping Critters At Bay

    1. Hi Adam

      Very impressive post. Moving to a new country is so exciting, Athough it can be quite overwehlming.

      We lived in 2 foreign countries – Venezuela and Canada. But our situation was different as my husband is a diplomat, so the job part was secured.

      I must say that I met a few expats who moved to another country without securing a job. They were struggling to find a suitable job, and 2 families decided to repatriate.

      I am not sayig that it is not possible. It is 🙂 But you have to be strong and determineded. I also believe that 2 months is not enough. You must give it at least 6-8 months to realy see how things are going.

      Lots of luck

      Sharon’s last blog post..Health Insurance Canada

  11. Adam, if you plan to stay in weekly/monthly rentals that are full/partially furnished your utilities may be included in the rent. We’ve done quite a bit of this in the US between moves, and the utilities are always either covered or set as a flat rate in addition to the rent. When you don’t know how long a tenant is staying, those are really the landlord’s only options.

    I love that you have an emergency fund to get back. We plan for the same thing – even though I’m jazzed about a year-long trip around the world, there is the real chance that one or both of us might not like it in the long-term. You are smart to prepare for this very slim possibility because you’ll never feel trapped either way. Freedom is why you hit the road in the first place, right?

    I’m so excited for your family. We don’t leave for our big trip until next year, so it will be fun to keep up with your adventure this summer.

    Betsy – MarriedwithLuggage’s last blog post..Your Financial Future – No Obsessing Necessary

  12. What a cool idea. I’ve always thought it would be neat to try living in different states in the US (I’ve only lived in one so far in my life) but I can’t imagine what a challenge a different country would be. I look forward to checking back on your adventure.

    Just out of curiosity – what level of emergency fund do you have to sustain you while job hunting and for the “Oh Crap” fund? Either in terms of $ or # of months living expenses. Sorry if this has been asked before, I just found your site through ERE.

    1. Kevin, glad to have you here! We will have around $5,000 that we will keep back in the U.S. In addition, we are going to be taking between $8000-$10000 USD, which currently gets us 1.3 AUS dollars/per.

  13. How were you able to arrange visas that allow you to do this? I’ve pursued the AU option a few times and found that it’s quite difficult to immigrate as a Yank, so I guess you have some kind of long-term non-resident visas? Pls share! I can do this too.

    1. Visas have been one area where we slipped up. We actually do qualify for a long-term permanent residency visa. But this can take between 12-18 months and we didn’t get started early enough. We thought that we would just go on a working-holiday visa, which would allow us to work for 1 year.

      Problem is this type of visa doesn’t allow dependents, which was overlooked. Now our best option relies on a sponsored-visa from a school. Courtney is a teacher and has recently been accepted by the board of Queensland teachers. We also have a couple other factors in our favor, since we are planning on living in a lower population region.

      We will see how things end up unfolding. If we fall in love, but can’t get sponsored we might have to apply for permanent, leave for a year (to who knows where!) and come back. We will know more in the next couple of months.

      Stick around and I’ll be sure to keep you informed!

      1. Thanks. As a single guy I could probably do the working-holiday thing, once I finish my TESOL program. I love Australia and want to go back for longer than the two weeks I did in 2002.

        Hope you love sunblock!

    1. Jen, thanks for swinging by. I’ve recently been turned onto your blog, too. Appreciate all the kind words. That’s exactly what we will be trying to do… Have a Blast!

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  15. Such an awesome post! I made the big move from CA to AUS in late 2007! Might I make 1 suggestion (IF you are going to be doing some work remotely for companies in the US). Get a bank of america account and keep it open. If you make any money in the US, it can be deposited in your BofA account and withdrawn free of charge (and at the accurate exchage rate). I work remotely from my home in Syndey for a company back in CA and this has been a lifesaver in terms of getting my money in the easiest (and cheapest) way possible.

    Also- I’m not sure if I already posted this or if you’ve checked it out already, but there’s a great site for american expats in Aus. http://www.yanksdownunder.net – TONS of great tips 🙂

    1. I’ve checked out that site, but have forgot about it. I think you told me about it before. I really need to head back over so thanks so much reminding me!

  16. Very brave decision. I hope you enjoy everything about Australia and have a great life there.
    It’s risky, but you are brave enough to enjoy risks, new people and everything else.

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  19. Hey Adam, great site with some great tips! Coincidentally, I’m planning the same sort of move-and-figure-it-out-when-we-get-there scenario with my partner but we’re going to Osaka, Japan. I visited there over 10 years ago and loved it, and she loves submerging herself in new cultures. Funny enough, I’m at the “selling the car” part of your list, and that will hopefully clear out my debt. Tough times to be selling though…

    Good luck with your trip and I’ll definitely keep following your posts. Cheers!

    KeyOfGrey (Sean)’s last blog post..oobject’s list of worst keytar videos

    1. Sean, sound awesome man! My wife is the very same way. I’m not sure we are ready for the language-barrier quite yet. I think we would like that process of learning and adapting, but we are using Australia as a test before we get too risky!

  20. Kai Mikkelsen

    Congratulations on making such a big decision. Australia is an incredible place, and I’ve had the fortune of visiting 3 or so times. Cairns in particular was a favorite of mine, but I’ll admit to some bias; I’m a scuba diver, too.

    I think you’ll love it.

  21. I live in Melbourne, and having visited the US a few times, I can tell you
    a) petrol here is more expensive
    b) food is cheaper, cleaner and way, way fresher

    You’re going to lose your head over the seafood in Cairns, the fishing available and the fresh, fresh mangoes, avocados, bananas, macadamias…

    My +1 and I are heading to FNQ soon, I’ll hit you up.

    tim @ heresy

  22. I might add:

    The USD is going to get weaker against the AUD in the near term, if you can buy some AUD now, I think you ought to consider it.

    Secondly, sunblock? Not in FNQ. I seem to be able to surf or bump around all day in QLD without sunscreen (except for zinc on my face) and I do not get burnt – atmosphere thicker?

    In Melbourne, you get absolutely FRIED without sunscreen.


  23. Awesome story guys. I found your site through a link on Chris Guillebeau’s page. I am looking forward to seeing how everything works out! I have thought fairly seriously about moving to Australia myself and trying to find a job at a resort in the Great Barrier Reef. We’ll see if I can actually make it happen, hopefully you’ll be able to teach me a thing or two about the process!


  24. Good luck with the move.

    Re: walkie talkies – have you considered just taking your existing cell phones (you will have to get used to them being called mobile phones by the way) to Australia and buying new SIM cards? You can buy a $30 sim card which includes $30 worth of calls from Vodafone. Other carriers probably have similar deals but whenever I have people come vist (I live in Sydney) from US & Canada (which is quite often as my hubby in Canadian) we just buy them an Australian SIM and they use their existing phone and Vodafone has always worked for me – though coverage in FNQ (far north Queensland) might not be as good as in Sydney.

    Also, although to some extent things can be more expensive here (clothes, some groceries, etc) I actually find that a lot of other things are cheaper. For example, our sales tax (GST) (which is the same Australia-wide and is 10%) is included in every price so what you see on the ticket is what you pay. You also don’t have to tip for anything (you can in a restaurant or for a taxi if you really want to but it is in no way expected) which reduces some prices by 15%. The idea of tipping a hairdresser for example makes most Aussie’s laugh. As wages here are much higher (our minmum wage is $15.37/hour) one, you don’t need to tip and two, people can afford the higher prices.

    In the end these things really add up and although I defintley find some things in North American much cheaper it is usually things that rely on purchasing power. i.e. white goods and electronics are going to be much cheaper because US/Canada can ship a product from China in quantities of 100s of millions due to the populations however Australia only has 20 million people so prices are bound to be higher as you are shipping a smaller quantity. But, fresh foods can often be cheaper as, because we have year round good weather we don’t have to import a lot of stuff. You’ll be enjoying lots of bananas, fresh seafood (if you eat it) and tropical fruits up in Cairns!

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  26. I admire you and your spouse for doing exactly what you wanted to do at this point in your lives. You will have more than enough time to get back into the rat race if that is what you choose to do. I am inspired and enocuraged by this article. I have always thought about living outside of the US but allowed so many friends to discourage the thought. Please continue to keep us posted. I can live vicariously through you and your family during this joyous adventure.

  27. oops I had a typo on my previous comment (please disregard that one)

    What I meant to say is that you’ve made me realize that world travel on a budget is definitely attainable on a budget!

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