Destinations Magazine

Living in the Lucky Country Doesn't Come Cheap

By Russellvjward @russellvjward
I recently wrote for the UK Telegraph on the rising cost of expat life in the land down under. This is a contentious issue and one which is stirring up opinion on both sides of the fence - those who agree and those who emphatically do not.
I've posted the article below and encourage you to join in the discussion at the end and share your own views on this polarising subject.

Living in the Lucky Country Doesn't Come Cheap

The cost of expat living is on the rise here.  Image: martinhoward

Only a few days ago, I went to the local supermarket searching out some chilli peppers for the week ahead. At nearly 43 Australian dollars per kilo (£28), I chose to walk out empty-handed as, once again, prices in the food shops were spiralling out of control. A week before, banana prices had been rocketing.
This capped off a week in which it cost me more than $90 to fill my car (up from $60 several months ago), over $25 to buy a reasonable bottle of red wine (up from $15 not long ago), about $350 to pay an extraordinarily high electricity bill for the last quarter, and a little under $6,000 to pay an excessive monthly mortgage payment on a fairly regular size house.
All of the basic commodities – bread, fruit, milk – are more expensive than I can previously remember, the cost of petrol has risen, house prices continue to climb, and the only saving grace is that interest rates seem to be dropping whilst salaries remain high, even if I feel constantly penniless and barely scraping by.
Perhaps I’m just whinging, as all British expats here allegedly do, but expat life in Sydney has grown far less affordable over the past five years, which make it far more appealing to be some place else.
We’re often told that Europe is sinking in a quagmire of recession and economic turmoil, whilst Australians enjoy the benefits of a booming recession-free economy combined with a superior quality of life lived under a perpetual sun and in the great outdoors. Thousands of Brits continue to make their way to Australia and Sydney each year safe in this knowledge, and there is no shortage in the number of surveys and reports touting Sydney’s obvious desirability.

Living in the Lucky Country Doesn't Come Cheap

Iconic but expensive Sydney.  Image: Robert van Dijk

The Mercer 2011 Quality of Living Survey, for example, which compares 221 cities based on 39 criteria, ranked Sydney as the 11th most liveable city in the world, whilst the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Report rated Sydney as the sixth most liveable city in the world. This contrasts starkly with another recent survey in The Guardian which named the UK as having the worst quality of life in Europe.
It’s therefore no great surprise that Brits continue to flock to Sydney in large numbers, but what I’m curious to know is whether the true financial cost of living a new life in the land down under is understood by these new immigrants and whether economics, rather than emotional reasons, might eventually drive them back home.
A spate of media commentary in recent weeks has focused on those Brits leaving Australia and returning to the homeland. Even the Mayor of London, addressing a lunch gathering of Australian business executives, mentioned the ping-pong Poms who are turning their backs on Australia because, despite the endless sunshine and chance to live by the coast, life is generally dull, they miss friends and family, lack any real sense of belonging, would prefer a less macho culture, and want more of the history commonly found in Europe.
What the commentary doesn’t focus on is the exorbitant cost of living in Australia, particularly in Sydney, compared to prices in Britain, which immigration analysts suggest is the likely factor fueling the trend for expats to return home.
So what are the options for expats like myself, struggling with the high cost of life in the sun but reluctant to give up this improved way of living for purely financial reasons? Do I move to another Australian city where the prices might be cheaper but the quality of life might also be less? Perhaps return to the Old Dart where the cost of living might be reduced but where I might give up so much more in the process? Or remain in Sydney where I can live close to the beach but pay dearly for it in the long run?

Living in the Lucky Country Doesn't Come Cheap

Where would you rather be?  Image: Robert van Dijk

After almost nine years away, I still experience a profound pull back to the UK, to be near my family and friends, to witness the distinct change in seasons, enjoy polite conversation, green fields, and of course the quality TV. I suppose I could always head back for a short while, keeping my Australian citizenship as a back-up, leaving me free to return one day if, and when, the sky-high living costs subside.

Yet, in a recent interview with the BBC News Magazine, the radio DJ and ping-pong Pom himself, Jono Coleman, summed it up best for me. He posed the question that when you’re broke, hard up and cash strapped, where would you rather be? Sitting in a park in the rain in London or in a park in a sunny Sydney looking out at the ocean?
Although financially tougher, the latter option still seems infinitely better to me.
This article originally appeared in the Telegraph's Finance section on 8 December 2011 -
Are you a Sydneysider experiencing the rising cost of living? Do you live elsewhere in the wider world and are encountering similar issues? Or are you in the UK and very glad to be there right now?

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