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Thanks to an extensive public transport network, getting around in Sydney is straightforward. The various modes available not only allow new arrivals to explore the city, but also give them more choice when it comes to accommodation as commuting from outlying areas into the city is relatively quick and efficient.
Having a private vehicle is not essential but it does afford more freedom and makes it easier for expats to travel and explore Australia.
Public transport in Sydney
Sydney boasts an extensive network of public transportation which includes trains, light rail, buses and ferries. It is easy to get around the city on public transport, especially with an Opal card, which is a smartcard that can be loaded with credit. Travellers simply tap in and out of the terminal with the card, with the fare being automatically deducted.
Sydney has a comprehensive suburban train network run by Sydney Trains. The rail service consists of a number of lines, most of which run through the city centre. The suburbs and the city centre are both well serviced by these trains.
Sydney’s light rail system is a tram route that was designed to complement the monorail. It runs underground through rail tunnels and then on the streets like a conventional tram when it reaches the city centre.
Buses are a major branch of Sydney’s public transport network and are a handy way to reach spots not covered by train routes. Some bus routes run 24 hours a day and can be used as a substitute outside of train operating hours. While traffic can delay buses at peak times, Sydney buses are frequent and are generally reliable.
Sydney Ferries is a government-owned organisation that operates the commuter and tourist ferries on Sydney Harbour and Parramatta River. Harbour ferries are a popular option among daily commuters.
Taxis in Sydney
New South Wales has a large taxi network. Most taxis are owned by small-scale operators, and taxis can be hailed either on the street or at one of the city's designated taxi ranks. Ride-hailing applications such as Uber are also available in Sydney and are a convenient option.
Driving in Sydney
Because of Sydney’s extensive public transport network, most expats manage to get around without the use of a private car. Even those who do have their own vehicle tend to avoid Sydney’s city centre area during peak hours due to heavy traffic and expensive parking.
For expats who have children, live further out in the suburbs, or who want to travel around Australia, a private car can be useful.
Expats can drive on their foreign licence for up to three months, as long as it's in English. Those with a non-English licence will need an International Drivers Permit (IDP). To continue driving after the initial three months, expats will need to apply for a New South Wales driver’s licence. Depending on nationality, some expats may be exempt from tests and can simply exchange their foreign licence for a local licence. Others will have to take written and practical tests to be granted a local licence.
The road conditions and signage in Sydney are of a high standard and the city is easily navigable, except during peak times when traffic becomes a problem in the city centre. Expats planning on using a car outside Sydney, in more rural areas and on country roads will need to be careful at night to avoid hitting large animals, especially kangaroos.
Cycling in Sydney
Sydney is quite hilly, so it might not be the easiest place to get around on a bicycle. Cyclists also often have to share the road with motorists, so they should respect the rules of the road and always be aware of motorists.
Walking in Sydney
The government is working hard to encourage commuters to walk, for the benefit of both the environment and their personal health. The mild weather in Sydney makes commuting on foot a breeze, and some people purposefully take public transport only part of the way to their destination and walk the rest of the way.
►To learn about the culture of the city, see Lifestyle in Sydney
"You definitely don’t need a car, although it is fun and handy to have, as public transport will get you most everywhere. However, if you do go down that road (pardon the pun!), traffic can be very heavy here, and parking scarce." Read more of our interview with US expat Katie about her experience of living in Sydney.
"Trains are regular, air-conditioned and not too expensive. The challenge comes if you live away from a train line – the eastern beaches are a prime example. Though buses do run regularly, they can be time-consuming and take a while to get anywhere." Learn more about life in Sydney from UK expat Libby's interview.
Are you an expat living in Sydney?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Sydney. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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