Mike Hawryluk is a Canadian expat who relocated to Perth Australia with his wife and two young children in 2012. In his interview with Expat Arrivals, Mike talks about the pros and cons of being an expat in Australia. While life in Perth can be a bit isolated at times and his family is now a long way from home, they've settled down well in Perth and are making lots of friends and enjoying the great lifestyle Australia has to offer new expats.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I was born and raised in Winnipeg, Canada, went to university in Edmonton, Canada and lived there for 18 years.
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Perth, Australia
Q: When did you move to Perth?
A: June 2012
Q: Did you move to Australia alone or with a spouse/family?
A: I have a wife and two young kids (5 and 3 years old) that came along for the adventure.
Q: Why did you move to Perth; what do you do?
A: The company I work for had purchased a company in Perth and wanted me to work on integrating it into our organization. I’m an engineer by trade and have worked in operations management / oil and gas services for the last 15 years.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your Perth? How would you rate the quality of life compared to your home country?
A: Weather! The weather in Perth is truly unbeatable, it is almost always nice out. The people are also fantastic, it is not unusual find yourself invited to a neighbour’s house you hardly know for a bbq. I think overall the quality of life is very similar to Canada with some things better and some worse.
Q: Any negatives about living in Perth? What do you miss most about home?
A: Perth is very,very isolated with the closest major city being approximately a 4 hour flight away. It takes us over 30 hours to get back to Canada. I miss the selection of inexpensive food options and I miss having 4 true seasons.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in Australia? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: The first big shock was the limited options and convenience. We lived in a nearly 24 hour world where you could buy anything you needed at any time and moved to a city where at 5pm most shops and services were closed. The other was the attitude towards education and the role reversal of blue collar and white collar workers. It is very common for students to leave high school at 15-16 years of age to begin an apprenticeship leading to blue collar jobs that often pay better than white collar jobs here in Australia. Private schools are common and it is not unusual for families to pay AUD 20,000 per child per year. In Edmonton, a high school diploma is a requirement for most jobs and private schools are almost non-existent.
Q: What’s the cost of living in Perth compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Perth as a general rule is very EXPENSIVE. I believe it is currently ranked the 8th most expensive in the world for expats. Particularly expensive things are: Food (both grocery and restaurants), housing, cars, fuel, clothing and utilities, and don’t underestimate the amount you'll be expected to pay in Australian taxes. Mobile phone plans, golf courses, technology items and sporting items are very reasonable in price here.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Perth? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?
A: Perth has a light rail system that runs from north-south and east-west into the Central Business District as well as a good bus system. I would say public transport in Perth is good by North American standards but far behind what you would see in Milan, Paris or London. Many people ride their bikes to work as the weather is pretty much always good and bike paths are common. I do think ultimately you need to own a car to get around though, especially if you have kids.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Perth? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals in Perth you would recommend?
A: It is a two tiered public/private system and in our limited experience it seems to work. Being on a visa we are forced to have private insurance and have had good experience with the facilities we’ve used. The Murdoch Private hospital emergency unit was particularly good.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Australia? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: I always feel safe in Perth and there are not really any areas that I would categorise as dangerous. Some would say that Northbridge which has the largest concentrations of bars can become a problem but I have been there many times and never experienced any issues. The largest issue we know of is home invasion or theft. We have heard that other expat families have had their homes broken into. In this case I think the key is just taking some reasonable precautions. Thankfully, violent crime is very low.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Perth? What different options are available for expats?
A: It depends on your standards, what you can afford and where you want to live. Generally the houses are double-walled brick construction (built to last) with little to no insulation, hard wood and tiles in the common areas and either hardwood or carpet in the bedrooms. Air conditioning is commonly found and very much-needed. You are best off looking for a ducted system as split units often don’t work very well. The only real issue I have with the houses in general is the lack of insulation. In the winter even though it doesn’t get very cold, the house can feel very cold and the air conditioning systems are not up to the task of maintaining a consistent temperature.
Q: Any areas/suburbs of Perth you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: It is heavily dependent on where you will be working but I would recommend: South Perth, Applecross, Melville, Como, Subiaco, Leederville, Carine, Duncraig, Trigg, Rockingham, Gwelup, Woodlands, Sorrento and City Beach (where the International school is).
Meeting people and making friends
A: It’s honestly hard sometimes to tell who is a foreigner and who is a local. There are no issues here at all.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in Perth? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: Once we got out of temporary housing and got our daughter into a school it was very easy to meet new people in Perth. Neighbours have been very welcoming as have colleagues and parents of other kids at the school. There are many expats in the same situation looking for friends as well which we met through fitness clubs and the American wives club.
Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends in Perth? Any social/expat groups you can recommend?
A: When we first arrived we mixed mainly with expats but as our time has gone on that has changed to about 50/50. If you’ve got children in school you will meet friends whether you want to or not. If not, I suggest fitness clubs such as Lords in Subiaco. The American Wives Club is also a good option.
About working here
Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit for Australia? Did you tackle the visa process yourself or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: The company took care of the visa process. I was asked to fill in some online forms and provide proof of my qualifications and some identification. The process was very streamlined and complete in less than 3 weeks.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Perth? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job there? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: I think generally it is quite easy to find work in Perth if you have experience in Oil and Gas or Mining. Unemployment is low and salaries are quite high to try to match the high cost of living. The main site for looking for work is seek.com.au. Currently the economic climate is softening somewhat and generous expat packages are being scrutinized due to the extreme high cost and tax treatment.
Q: How does the work culture in Australia differ from home? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Perth?
A: It is more laid back than in North America. Certain basic skills do not seem as readily available such as computer skills and writing skills. It is very common to see expats in the management roles at companies.
Family and children
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A: My wife adjusted quite quickly as her interests fit the outdoor lifestyle and she met friends quite quickly.
Q: Did your children settle in easily? What were the biggest challenges for your children during the move to Perth?
A: My daughter was 3 turning 4 at the time and often complained that she hated Perth for the first 3 or 4 months. Once she was in school and met friends the problem went away and she has flourished. Our son was 1-1/2 years at the time and had no issues.
Q: What are the schools in Perth like, any particular suggestions?
A: They are hit and miss. Private schools are very common and often very expensive with high school rates coming in around AUD 20,000 per child. Public schools are chosen purely based on where you live so if you are planning to send your kids to public school you need to do your homework. There are many good ones, and some definite bad ones. The academic rankings are published online at www.bettereducation.com.au and you can often find comments online from parents talking about their experiences. Generally the private schools offer more impressive facilities (some outlandish) and more programs for the kids but not necessarily better academics.
There is talk that the government will start charging expats on term work visas such as the common 457 long stay visa for sending their kids to public school. The current talk is this will be AUD 40,000 per child. This is worth watching if you’re thinking of coming over.
Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Understand the terms of your work contract. If you are on a 457 long stay work visa (the most common one for expats) and you lose your job you have just 90 days to find employment and the employer must transfer the visa to their sponsorship. Once you have been in the country for 2 years you can apply for a permanent residence visa which is expensive (AUD 7,000 for a family of 4) but will often be covered by employers and eliminates the risk of being deported if you lose work.
– Interviewed February 2014