Moving to Australia from the UK: A starter guide

Zorica Lončar
12.05.21
8 minute read

Dreaming of a new life Down Under? You’re not alone, as Australia is the most popular global destination for UK expats, with a whopping 1.3 million¹ of them living there.

Australia has lots to offer British newcomers, including a shared language and culture, and a close relationship with the UK (despite being so far apart geographically). It boasts scorchingly sunny weather, great quality of life and beautiful beaches, along with friendly people and lots of space for outdoor living.

But just how easy is it to move there? In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about moving to Australia from the UK. This includes visas, cost of living, finding a place to live and much more.

We’ll even throw in a handy tip that could save you a bundle on your relocation costs. Open a Wise multi-currency account and you can send and receive money internationally for low fees and the real, mid-market exchange rate. Whether you need to whizz a rental deposit payment over to Australia before your move or send cash back to the UK later on, Wise has you covered.

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But more on this later. Let’s get started on your preparations for moving to Australia.

Living in Australia - what you need to know

For starters, here are a few of the basic facts you need to know about Australia if you’re considering moving there:

  • Currency - Australian Dollar (AUD)
  • Main language - English
  • Population - approx. 25.7 million²
  • Number of British expats - approx. 1.3 million¹
  • Most popular cities for expats - Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide.

As you can see, there is a large British expat community in Australia, so you’ll have plenty of support when you arrive.

Cost of living - how much money do you need to move to Australia?³

Before moving to a new country, you need to make sure you can afford to live there.

In general, the cost of living in Australia is about the same as in the UK, except in a few key areas. For example, groceries are up to 40% more expensive, and you could also pay more for public transport and rent. However, utilities tend to be cheaper.

Let’s take a look at a few average prices for common spending categories in Australia, compared with the UK:

  • A three-course meal for two people costs around £50 in Australia, the same as the UK
  • A draught beer is around £4.45, compared to £3.70 back in the UK
  • A loaf of bread is around £1.55, compared to £0.98 in the UK
  • A monthly public transport pass is approx. £83, compared to £65 in the UK
  • Rent for a one-bedroom city centre apartment is around £900, compared to £745 in the UK.
  • Utilities for a typical apartment are around £122 a month, compared to £155 in the UK.

As for purchasing a property, this can also be more expensive in Australia. For example, the price per square metre to buy a city centre apartment is around 7% higher than in the UK.

Although of course, when it comes to the cost of living in any country, it depends where you live and what you typically buy.

Healthcare system⁴

The Australian healthcare system is known to be efficient and excellent, but do newcomers and non-citizens have access to it?

The public universal healthcare system, Medicare, provides free or reduced doctor’s appointments, medicines and essential hospital treatment. You can access it as a UK citizen on a visit to Australia, due to the UK and Australia having a reciprocal healthcare agreement in place.

But if you move there, you’ll need to start paying income tax (which is how Medicare is funded, through a special tax levy) to access the system as a permanent resident.

However, many Australians also have private health insurance too, using it in combination with the public healthcare service.

Taking out a policy could be a good idea as a newcomer, as many services (such as dentistry) and medicines aren’t free. It’s good to know you and your family are fully covered from the moment you arrive, so there aren’t any unexpected medical bills to worry about.

Opening an Australian bank account⁵

An Australian bank account will make life easier as a new arrival, especially when it comes to paying rent and covering everyday expenses. And if you get a job or expect to receive income from elsewhere, a bank account will be essential for paying in your earnings.

The good news for British expats is that it’s reasonably straightforward to open an Australian bank account as a non-citizen. Some major banks, such as NAB, CommBank, ANZ Bank and Westpac, may even let you open your account online or over the phone while you’re still based in the UK.

To open an everyday transactions (current) account from outside Australia, you’ll need to show enough qualifying ID documents to meet the 100 point check system that most Australian banks use. Each type of ID is worth a certain number of points. If you wait until you arrive, you should only need to show your passport.

It’s a good idea to contact the bank in advance to ask which documents you’ll need, but generally speaking you should have the following ready:

  • Your passport
  • Visa and immigration documentation
  • Australian address
  • Date you’ll be arriving in the country (if you’re not already living there)
  • Employment and salary details.

Finding a job in Australia

If you have the right to work in Australia, you’ll need to start job hunting. You can potentially do this before you leave the UK, or wait until you arrive if you have enough money to support yourself.

Here are some good places to start your search:

Of course, if you’re entering Australia on a work-stream permanent residence visa, you may already have a job with a sponsoring employer lined up.

Finding somewhere to live in Australia

Australia’s major cities such as Sydney, Melbourne and Perth tend to be the most attractive destinations for new expats.

But there are plenty of other options, especially if you’re looking for cheaper prices. For example, many Brits love affordable Adelaide and there’s a tight-knit expat community there. Alternatively, you may prefer scenic Hobart in Tasmania, known for its relaxed country atmosphere.

It could be a good idea to make a few trips out to Australia to get a feel for your chosen city or region, and to scout out places to rent or buy.

But to start your search in the UK, here are some handy links to try:

You can buy property in Australia as a non-citizen, but there are certain rules and restrictions you’ll need to follow. Take a look at our handy guide to find out more.

Can I move to Australia from the UK?

Australia’s immigration policy is notoriously strict and operates on a points-based system, which makes a permanent move there as a non-citizen quite difficult. But it’s far from impossible, especially if you have family connections to Australia, are a skilled worker or have an Australian employer sponsoring you to come over and work.

How to get an Australian visa

There are a few potential routes into Australia for British citizens. These include⁶:

  • Family-stream permanent residence visa. This is for applicants with partners, children or dependent relatives of Australian citizens or permanent residents.

  • Work-stream permanent residence visa. This is for people with an Australian employer sponsoring them to work in Australia. You may also be able to get this visa if you have a particular set of skills valued by Australia.

  • Business or investment-stream permanent residence visa. These visa types are for entrepreneurs wanting to start new businesses or invest in Australia, and sponsorship by a government agency is usually needed in order to apply.

You can explore the full list of Australian visa types here. Getting a visa for Australia isn’t easy or quick, and there’s likely to be a lot of paperwork required. But you’ll need to jump through the required hoops and put in a strong application if you want to start a new life in Australia.

Options for retiring in Australia

Australia is a popular destination for UK retirees, but just how easy is it to get a visa and retire there?

Well, you can potentially apply under one of the permanent residence visa categories covered above. This could be the easiest route, especially if you have family connections in Australia.

The other option is to go through the retirement visa pathway to permanent residency⁷. The eligibility criteria for this is quite narrow though, as you need to have previously held an Australian retirement visa or investment retirement visa. However, you can also access the pathway by applying for a parent or contributory parent visa.

More details on the retirement visa pathway are available on the Australian Government Department of Home Affairs website.

The other major thing for UK retirees to consider before moving to Australia is pensions. You can receive your UK state pension in Australia, by applying to the International Pension Centre.

You may also be able to transfer other personal pensions over to Australia, so you’ll have all your retirement savings in one place. Make sure you choose a Qualified Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme (QROPS) from the HMRC approved list, otherwise you could face a huge tax bill.

Save on your relocation costs to Australia with Wise

Before moving to a new country, you’re likely to have lots of costs to cover. Some of these, such as real estate costs, visa application fees and rental deposits, will need to cross borders.

Open a Wise multi-currency account and you can send money between the UK and Australia (and all over the world) for low fees and the real, mid-market exchange rate.

You can also use Wise once you arrive in your new home. For starters, you can spend in AUD from the moment you step off the plane using your contactless Wise debit card. This works in 200+ countries and automatically converts to the local currency when you spend, so you don’t need to change money or carry cash around. This could be super handy while you’re waiting for your Australian bank account to be set up.

Need to send money back to the UK, or receive UK income while in Australia? Swerve bank fees and terrible exchange rates using - yes, you guessed it - your Wise account. It’s powerful, convenient and secure.

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So, there you have it - everything you need to know about moving to Australia in one handy guide. We’ve covered all the essentials, from the tricky task of getting a visa to scouting out a great place to live Down Under.

Whether you’re retiring, working, studying or moving to Oz with your family, you should now be all set to plan your big move. The best of luck on your Australian adventure!


Sources used for this article:

  1. International Investment - top destinations for UK expats
  2. Worldometer - Australia population (2021)
  3. Numbeo - cost of living in Australia compared to the UK
  4. MoveHub - healthcare for expats in Australia
  5. InterNations.org - opening a bank account in Australia
  6. Home Affairs.gov.au - permanent residence visas
  7. Home Affairs.gov.au - retirement visa pathway

Sources checked on 6th May-2021.


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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