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Interview with Lara – an English expat in Perth, Australia

Updated 21 Feb 2011

Lara Green is a British expat who has recently moved to Perth with her husband and two young children. She is enjoying the sunshine, space and quality of life while building her career as a freelance writer.

About Lara

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Barnet, Hertfordshire, England.

Q: Where are you living now?
A: Perth, WA.

Q: How long you have you lived in Perth?
A:  3 months.

Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
A:  Yes, my husband and our two children

Q: Why did you move to Perth; what do you do?
A: My husband is Australian and grew up in Perth so it was really a decision to be closer to his family and get a taste of life in Australia. We have two young children so the sunshine, open spaces and good schools naturally appealed to us. As anyone who has lived or currently lives in the UK knows, the winters are long and can be pretty dreary and restrictive when you have kids. Our plan is to give it a year – if we feel things haven’t worked we shall return to the UK, but since we’ve invested so much time and money, I’d be most upset if that happened! I work as a freelance journalist and copywriter and am in the process of establishing myself here.

About Perth

Q: What do you enjoy most about living in Perth, how’s the quality of life?
A: The sunshine is a definite bonus! The weather is good 98 percent of the time which means visits to the beach/park/shops can be a spur of the moment decision – always good when you have energetic children to entertain. Perth has some beautiful open green spaces and we’ve really embraced the outdoors lifestyle. It’s nice to be able to spend so much of our time in parks, playing sports or swimming and I’m amazed at how confident the children have become in the short time we’ve been here.

Perth people are laid-back, there are some picture-perfect places that seriously take your breath away, the food is good, crime is a rarity (in most areas), the pace is slow and you’re always asked how you are, no matter where you go! I’m also fairly taken with the modern architecture, the quirky boutiques and all of the fantastic art deco buildings and cinemas across various parts of the city.

Q: Any negatives about Perth? What do you miss most about home?
A: It’s expensive to live here. The mining boom has pushed the prices up on everything – from a bottle of water to breakfast in a café, housing and furniture to public transport and petrol. I often hear people complain that Perth is priced for the mining community and the rest of us mere mortals are forgotten about and I’m starting to see that now. In reality, we’ve gone from being a financially comfortable family to being money-conscious again.

I never thought I’d say it but I miss the cold weather! Whilst I enjoy summer, we’ve had days so hot that I’ve actually craved a bit of cold wind or rain to fall on my skin. I miss my family and friends, forest walks with the kids, a good English cup of tea, Marmite on toast, decently priced bookshops, windy walks along the beach, the buzz of London...

There are many things I miss, but there are many things I love about Australia too.

Q: Is Perth a safe city?
A: Yes. Naturally there are areas you probably wouldn’t go out of your way to visit at night and as with any city, there is a darker underbelly to Perth that’s definitely best avoided. But on the whole we feel very safe here, most areas are lovely and there’s a good camaraderie between locals – it’s refreshing after living in London where people do their best to avoid each other.

Q: Describe an ideal way to spend a weekend in Perth?
A: Saturday is usually coffee and eggs benedict at Dome Café followed by an hour in Hyde Park, a quick swim at the pool and afternoon picnic in the park. Sunday we often spend with friends or family – probably with a BBQ and a few beers. If it’s not too hot we might attempt a family bike ride along the river, there are parks/BBQ spots along the way and lots of cultural events taking place at the moment so it’s a good time to be exploring. 

About living in Perth

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Perth as an expat?
A: There are expats all over Perth – English expats alone make up 10 percent of Perth’s population I believe! We live in Mount Lawley which is a suburb about ten minutes north of the city and there are lots of expats people here. Other popular areas include Joondalup, Dalkeith, Nedlands and all of the outer ‘new community’ suburbs like Ellenbrook.

Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Perth?
A: There are lots of different types of accommodation and if you are happy to live quite far from the city, you can get a lot of house for your money. Our area is relatively close to the city so rentals are expensive and property prices premium. Many expats are of the belief that moving to Australia will entail a big brand new house with a pool and all the mod cons for the same price as their UK property. This is often the case – but only if you’re prepared to live in the outer – somewhat isolated – suburbs.

Q: What’s the cost of living in Australia compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular
A: Everything seems expensive compared to home – partly because of the strong dollar but also because the mining boom has accelerated inflation. Perth is also an isolated city globally so imported goods are costly. Shoes and clothing can be cheap (as long as you’re prepared to shop in mass-produced shops like Kmart or Target) and you can get good deals on food if you look out for special offers. I would say that most other things are more expensive than the UK – even small items like chocolate bars, stamps, stationery and magazines.

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: We have our Australian family here and we’ve met a few new friends through local events and the school – some expats, some Australian citizens. Perth is fairly multicultural and has a great mix of people.  

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in Perth?
A: Moving to a new country means opening your mind to new ideas, being friendly and pro-active, confident and approachable. We already had family here so half our work was done, but I was painfully aware that the children had no friends, that we more or less had to start from scratch and build our own network. We’re well on our way now and are meeting some lovely people – mostly through the school and kindergarten. Having said that, one of my first friends was a mum I met in the library. We got on well, our children struck up a nice relationship and we’ve met up a few times since.

About working in Perth

Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A:  No, it took four months for my permanent residency visa to be granted.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in Perth, is there plenty of work?
A:  Yes, there’s plenty of executive jobs, plus office/admin work. If you have a trade you won’t be short of jobs – especially if it complements the mining/building industry.

I would also advise anyone thinking of making the move to consider their qualifications and research the job market thoroughly. Employers like to see degree-level qualifications for many jobs and if your expertise is in the creative industry, such as mine, you may struggle to find the right kind of work for you. Tradespeople, on the other hand, are in high demand – carpenters, architects, engineers, plumbers, electricians – anyone trained in these kinds of industries has the potential to earn a good salary in Perth.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: People are very driven and committed to their jobs, the normal working day is from 8.30am to 5pm so it’s also a little longer than the UK. I’d say employers are still coming round to the working-from-home culture. Other than those who have their own businesses I’m yet to meet a self-employed person (like me) who works from home, whereas in the UK I was surrounded by mums working most of their hours from home so they could be on hand for the children and enjoy a better work/life balance. I think that ‘organic’ approach to work is still something yet to be realised here in Perth.

Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move to Perth?
A: No, we managed the entire move by ourselves.

Family and children

Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: A little. We were both excited initially but now that the daily pressures of working/earning a living/finding a property have set in, we’ve stopped seeing everything through rose-tinted glasses! The same pressures you face at home – paying your mortgage, finding that perfect job, a great work/life balance – still exist here.

Q: Did your children settle in easily?
A: Thankfully yes. They are both easy children and love new experiences, people and places so we knew they would adjust well. We’ve had the occasional moment where they ask to go home and see their friends and naturally they miss their grandparents, but on the whole they’ve settled into Australian life quickly and happily.

Q: What are the schools like in Perth, any particular suggestions?
A: Most schools in Australia are of a good standard and whilst there is no Ofsted equivalent, there is an underlying pressure for schools to perform well and deliver a great education for the children under their roof. Parent involvement is heavily relied on and you are expected to partake in school events, assist in fundraising and any other activities that can make school a better, more efficient place. Our children go to Mount Lawley Primary and we are delighted with it so far. Our son is happy and has made lots of friends and our 3-year-old attends the on-site kindergarten for two and a half days each week.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Australia?
A: The government runs a system called Medicare which allows you to see any doctor at any surgery and they will contribute up to 70 percent of the costs. You have to apply for a Medicare card and are then issued a number which you use for all healthcare appointments. The system works well as you can select your own healthcare professionals and enjoy a better service of care. No queues, no missing medical notes, no ridiculous waits for an operation – it’s quick and extremely efficient. 

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Do your homework! Look at areas you want to live in, explore the job market and ensure you are close to things that interest you. Knowing what to expect can make for a much happier move without any unexpected surprises along the way. I’d also advise to join forums, read as much as possible and chat to other people who have already made the move. There’s nothing quite as valuable as the voice of experience and you should use the opportunity to ask as many questions as possible.

On a smaller scale – never rent or buy anywhere without air con unless you can afford to put it in straight away! Download Skype to your computer so you can chat to your family for free. Get a copy of the Parents Paper for local family-friendly events, clubs and classes and always volunteer at school – it’s a great way to meet other mums and make friends of your own. 

Interviewed March 2011

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