WHETHER you are an expat American moving to Australia for a new business venture, or a retiree moving back to Australia after a lifetime of wandering, there are some interesting things to be aware of. Preparing for the financial differences such as the cost of living and attitudes about insurance, as well as the cultural differences that otherwise could catch you off guard.
The cost of living in Australia
Australia is much more expensive to live in than the US, and I’m told it is still more expensive than the UK. The country also has a higher wage, making it somewhat easier for Aussies to earn Aussie dollars and buy Aussie products and support the economy.
Jessica Irvine puts things into perspective on News.com.au, “When you pay a high price, you’re paying the wages of someone who will go off and buy something that pays the wages of someone else, maybe even yours.” Aussie products and services cost a lot more than those in the US or the UK, but it ends up benefiting everyone and the economy in the process. Instead of working in a factory that pays you next to nothing to make products that sell for next to nothing, why not pay employees more? I think it results in a better quality of living and sense of well-being.
It is also worth noting that the cost of commercial rents is higher, and products that are shipped in end up costing more due to the long journey here.
Life insurance thoughts and coverage
Given that I work in the insurance industry, I looked at the different attitudes and percentages across the US and Australia, and found that Australians had similar excuses for not having life insurance except for one. Only 44% of Americans have life insurance, and those that don’t usually say they haven’t gotten around to it, that it’s too expensive, or that other priorities are in the way.
A relatively low 37% of Aussies that are members of the industry super fund give life insurance a low priority compared to their other financial obligations. It is of no surprise though, that 74% of these super fund members are still underinsured by $100,000, and many make the excuse that the government will help them if their families need help, they have saved enough in their super fund, or that the insurance is too expensive.
It turns out that none of those excuses are valid. The government has very real limits to how much assistance they will give. A super fund will not be enough to cover your family’s needs, as it usually will end up being just enough to cover retirement costs. Lastly, a $500,000 life insurance policy with an Australian company like GIO.com.au will come in at an inexpensive $35.72 a month (for a healthy 30 year old non-smoking female).
Egalitarian values over capitalism
While Australian culture is similar to that of American culture because of the heavy western influences, Australia has a very different idea to chase instead of our beloved American dream. Commitment and pride in the environment are of course important here, as this doesn’t seem to be as widely accepted in the US. People are catching on, but if you care too much about the environment in America, you might be called a tree-hugger or a hippy.
Extreme capitalism is another thing I am happy to leave behind me. The Australian Values Statement that I had to read included, “[…]equality of men and women and a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair play and compassion for those in need and pursuit of the public good”. I can’t even tell you how lovely this line of thinking is to me. I’ve never been happier to be completely free of the ideals of corporate welfare and the ignoring the needs of the impoverished.
Cultural diversity is apparent and highly appreciated in Australia which is one of the most refreshing differences between US culture and Australian culture. I feel it is safe to say that prejudice and ignorance are more socially acceptable characteristics where I am from, but of course I know these things happen everywhere. The values of unity and social mateship really astound me and inspire me every day.
Colloquial use of language
I found it initially difficult to understand most Aussies. Y’all say some peculiar things! One of my new friends here was always saying things like “Ta” for thank you, and “My shout” to let me know he’d buy the drinks that time. It wasn’t long before I started copying him whenever I could with pride.
Expat Aussies that make the move back to AU eventually may find certain new varieties of slang perplexing. Teenagers these days sound like they come from entirely different country altogether. Here are some of the most confusing words and phrases regularly used by teens and twenty-somethings:
- Bananas – attractive, hot, cute or adorable
- Chat —wrong, repulsive, or mean
- Pez out — hang with friends
- Hussy — a friend
With any international move there will be a bit of culture shock and financial considerations to make. As hard as it has been to adapt to the new climate, culture and financial atmosphere, I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.
About the author
Chris Jensen is a fair dinkum insurance adviser with GIO.com.au. He enjoys travelling all over the Australian continent, picking up the colloquial slang, and puzzling over international insurance trends.