It’s been over a year since we moved to Australia. Now that we’re settled in, we’ve realized that some of the items we brought to Australia were unnecessary while, at the same time, we wished we’d brought other things. Here is our short list of what we would suggest people from the United States bring when they move to Australia (or, we assume, New Zealand).
1. Should you bring your American electronics?
This is an obvious question as electronics are expensive and Australia uses a different voltage than the United States (220/230 vs. 110). We decided to bring most of our electronics. I did some research and bought voltage converters for a very reasonable price from Amazon.com. It’s worth doing some research because different types of electronics need different size converters. For example, the combination of our TV, mac mini, external speakers, and Xbox all fit on a relatively small converter while the espresso machine and juicer need a giant one.
All of our electronics work in Australia except one. Sadly, we no longer experience the joy of our electronic bidet toilet with its heated seat and refreshing spray and dryer. We’re still surviving (but seriously, everyone should have one. It is a life changing purchase). Oh, and our lamps. Our lamps did not work here, so don’t bother bringing them.
Electronics (like just about everything) are more expensive in Australia. The cost of purchasing the voltage converters and shipping everything to Australia was far less than what it would have cost us to buy new electronics. This includes the voltage converters themselves. Buying them in the US and shipping them here is much cheaper than buying them here.
Suggestion: if you have made a significant investment in nice electronics, you can make them work in Australia. It will be cheaper than buying new.
2. Communicating with family back home
All of the expats we know use Skype fairly extensively, and we’ve come to rely on it for video chatting with our cat and showing off Laura’s baby bump. The problem with Skype is that both parties have to be online and have the equipment to make it work. If your family are computer novices or if you or your family members struggle to figure out the time difference, Skype is not an ideal option.
Based on a suggestion from a friend in Lebanon, we bought a magicjack before leaving the States. A magicjack costs about USD $30 per year and provides you with a US-based phone number in the state of your choice and a dongle that hooks into the internet via your computer. When you have the magicjack plugged into your computer, you can use it to make free phone calls to any phone number in the US or Canada. You can also plug a standard phone into the dongle so that it acts almost like a ‘landline’ in your house. This works particularly well if you have a computer that you use for other purposes – we use a mac mini as a way to access internet video, as our stereo, and now as a means of communication with family.
Suggestion: Buy a magicjack! Don’t be put off by the creepy looking advertising that screams rip-off. Our family gave up Skype once they saw how easy and convenient the magicjack is. Why? It’s a regular phone number that they include in the contacts list in their phones. Magicjack doesn’t help solve the time difference issue, but we simply turn off our computer when we’re asleep; if they call and we’re not available, the call goes straight to voicemail. In other words, they never have to worry about waking us up. Lastly, we don’t have to make an appointment to call anyone. I often talk with my mom while she’s on her afternoon walk. We’ve spoken with Laura’s family while they are driving home from a festive Christmas celebration. The magicjack turns you into a cell phone call away. It’s easy, cheap, and the call quality is good 90% of the time (and the other 10% is probably due to the low quality of Australia’s internet).
3. Bring Netflix, Hulu, and American websites with you
We watch our fair share of television but haven’t had cable since 2008. There are so many other good options for finding and watching high quality television that we’ve felt for a long time that cable is not worth the cost. Australia has fewer programs available online at broadcaster websites, and most US-based broadcasters don’t allow streaming from outside the US.
During the US presidential election we were feeling somewhat disconnected from what was happening. Mostly this resulted from the fact that we could not watch The Daily Show & The Colbert Report.
One night after a hard and frustrating day at work, Laura made an ultimatum: get me John Stewart or else.
After 10 minutes of research, we were in business. We now pay USD $5 per month for a DNS service that makes all of our computers appear as if they are in…Texas. This allows us access to streaming on Netflix, Hulu, ABC.com, CBS.com, Amazon Prime streaming, etc.
Occasionally it doesn’t work as well, but on most days it is fast and seamless. We love it. The only downside is that our consumption of Australian TV has declined to almost none, making us less plugged in to what’s popular in Australia.
Suggestions: Considering signing up for a DNS service so that you can keep the online subscriptions that you use in the United States.
4. What stuff to send?
This, of course, is really up to both your length of stay and your budget. Our mantra when packing was a combination of ‘if we don’t use it often, it gets sold or donated’ and ‘we can always buy it in Australia’. In the end we mostly shipped the furniture that we could not part with (Laura’s collection of modern furniture and our handmade steel bedframe), and most of our kitchen stuff (pots and pans, utensils, but no plates/bowls/glasses). We purged a good portion of the clothing that wouldn’t fit into our extra large suitcases that accompanied us on our flights.
This, I would say, is one thing we regret. Clothing is shockingly and unnecessarily expensive in Australia. We’ve talked many times about how a two week trip to spend $2,000 on clothing in the United States would easily pay for itself.
At the time, we were also unsure whether shipping our furniture was really a smart idea. First, we’d most likely be without furniture for a few months. Second, we weren’t sure whether we would really be saving anything besides our nostalgia for particular pieces of furniture. Like clothing, furniture is more expensive in Australia. (Are you noticing a theme?) If we did it over again, I think we might ship more of our furniture simply because buying the furniture we sold was stupidly expensive. Even IKEA is more expensive here.
Suggestion: If you’re planning to spend at least two years in Australia, send as much of your furniture and clothing as you can afford or rationalize.
5. How to send your stuff?
As mentioned in a previous post, we used Upackweship.com. Our stuff arrived generally on-time and without damage and was delivered to our doorstep – all at a pretty reasonable price.