Moving to Sydney on a Prospective Marriage Visa to Becoming an Australian Citizen

Cristin Kelly has really packed in a lot of major life events while living in Sydney.

First off, she decide to move with her then boyfriend on a prospective marriage visa. Then, while in Sydney, she has gotten married and had her daughter. Oh yeah, she also became an Australian Citizen.

In the interview below, Cristin shares her advice and some great budget tips for anyone making the move to Sydney.

You can follow her adventures down under on her blog Between Roots and Wings where she shares advice from finding playgroups in Sydney to life as a new Australian citizen.

Settling into Life as New Mom in Sydney

Why did you decide to move to Australia? What was the reaction of your family to your decision to move permanently? Why did you settle on living in Sydney?

So, I was dating this guy for a couple of months, and things were going very well … then Lehman Brothers and the stock market collapsed. He thought it was time for a change, and started an application for a skilled work visa for Australia (It is “the lucky country,” after all). He asked me if I would go with him if he went. Ah, love! Of course, I said yes. He was approved in record time, just six months later, and that began our Australian adventure.

We chose Sydney because he got sponsorship from New South Wales, so that bound us to living in this state for two years. I’m glad, because we could have ended up in any state that sponsored him, and Sydney has been a pretty grand place to land.

I should mention that we’ve been happily married and living in Sydney for nearly six years now, and we have a 3 year old “Ausmerican” daughter.

As for my family’s reaction – I think they were a little perplexed, but they’ve never been the type to hold me back from chasing any of my wild hares.

Australian Citizenship Ceremony

Australian Citizenship Ceremony

What type of visa did you have when you relocated to Australia? Do you have the same visa today or are you now an Australian citizen?

I came over on a Prospective Marriage visa, sponsored by my husband. We had to get married within a year. I then transitioned to a Partner visa, and I had to apply for my Permanent Residency after two years of marriage.

I became an Australian citizen in November 2014.

When you relocated did you ship a lot over or just a few boxes or nothing at all? How did you decide what to take and what to leave behind? How did you ship your things over? How did you pick what shipping company to use? Can you recommend any good
resources to others moving to Australia from the US? Maybe a review site in the US for international shipping companies.

I moved with two suitcases! It was wild. I sold or gave away almost all of my belongings, minus a few things I’ve stored at my Mom’s house. I bring back whatever of that I can fit into my suitcase each time I visit, but it’s usually just a few sentimental things.
I don’t think I even shipped any boxes, so I can’t help with international movers or shipping.

Looking back on your move now, knowing what you got yourself into, what would you do differently?

I don’t think I prepared at all to hit the ground running. I spent the weeks before I moved reading this long book about Sydney history. While I do think it’s respectful to know something about the history of where you’re moving, what I really should have been doing was reading the Sydney Morning Herald every day, figuring out who and what are popular in Australia, and reading blogs of other expats who have made the move to get a sense of what life is really like. People don’t usually just sit around cafes talking about Captain Phillips and the landing of the First Fleet!

What so far what has been the biggest surprise about living in Australia that you didn’t expect?

The cultural differences between the U.S. and Australia tend to be fairly subtle, so they can take you by surprise. In the early days, I kept running into little conveniences that I thought would be available as readily as they are in the U.S.

No, the hotel doesn’t have Internet.

No, a side of tomato sauce isn’t free.

That sort of thing happened all the time. My husband said, “don’t assume anything here.” It helped me adjust my thinking from being annoyed that things weren’t the way I was used to having them to understanding that some things are just done differently, and that’s fine. It was up to me to learn how things are done in Australia, not for Australia to adapt to me.

What has been the biggest frustration or hardest part of settling into life in Australia?

Finding work. I have a Master’s in Dramaturgy (working on the literary side of theatre),and I had a good job and a lot of professional connections at home. It was a big part of my identity. It’s a very small field in Australia, and I found it very difficult to work without the kind of connections that you make in school. I tried for a long time to find my way into the theatre world, and I did a bit here and there, but I never seemed to get very far with it. So, in the meantime, I had to work in unrelated fields, which was sometimes fun and sometimes less so. I think the transition out of a career that I worked hard for was the biggest compromise of this move.

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Now that you’ve lived here for awhile, what about Australia do you like/love the most?Flat whites!

No, but honestly, it’s just a good lifestyle here. I love getting outdoors nearly every day, people are generally in a good mood, and you’re encouraged to have work-life balance. It tends to be a community minded country where people try to look out for each other and there are quite a few social services. We have friends from so many different countries and lifestyles. It’s a nice place to call home and raise a family.

Wedding at Darling Point Sydney

Wedding at Darling Point

How has it been socially settling in? Are most of your new friends in Sydney other expats or Australians? Have you ventured out to any of the several Sydney expat Meetups or events? How did it go or why haven’t you? Do you have any suggestions for someone new to Sydney that is trying to build up their social circle?

We did go to a few Meetups in our early days here, but I didn’t like them. I’m an introvert, so I struggle with small talk, and I found that they were mostly about asking each other the same questions over and over – “Where did you move from? How long have you been here? What brought you here? How long are you staying?” They just weren’t for me. I’m more apt to meet other Americans for one on one coffees or (now) play dates.

I got lucky early on and joined a book club that a fellow newly arrived “Yank” organized. I’ve stuck with those few girls – and a few we’ve added along the way – through thick and thin. When you’re an expat couple, it helps to have fellow expats who also don’t have family or old friends nearby to share the good and bad of life, holidays, and to call for help. They’ve become my Australian family.

Now that I have my daughter, I’ve started to make more Australian friends. She’s been my “in” to meeting more Aussies through mums groups and networks.

I think Facebook groups are a great way to make new friends in real life. You may have to put yourself out there for arranging catch ups, but you’re likely to meet a few people that you click with because you know you already have some sort of similar interest.

What advice do you have for other expats, similar you, that are thinking of moving to Australia? What has been your top 3 go to resources for expats moving to Australia?

I think the biggest thing for most people (aside for people moving from a couple of extremely expensive countries) is adjusting to the cost of living. To any American, I’d say that you should expect that you will be downsizing in terms of how large your home is, so you’ll want to pack accordingly. You don’t want your shipping container to arrive and have no place for half of your stuff.

As to resources, well, I surely wish we’d had SMG when I moved over. So much good information.

Otherwise, I think that blogs of other expats are the best way to get the idea of what daily life is like and what challenges you might face in the transition, as well as the things you can get excited about experiencing. Of course, you’re all invited to pop over to my blog, and for more, I find that has a good directory of expat bloggers for each city.

I’d also start reading the Sydney Morning Herald to get an idea of what’s going on locally so that you can start off knowing a little bit about what people are talking about at work or in the cafe.

And, I’d join a few Facebook groups for expats (for Americans, Yanks Down Under and Americans in Sydney are a couple of the larger groups. American Families in Sydney is also a good one if you have children). It’s likely that most of your questions have already been asked and, if not, you’ll find people there who know the answer.

What about the spiders and snakes and all of the other dangerous critters in Australia? Have you see any or have a story to share with us? Are there as many as you thought there would be?

No, thank goodness. I’ve never even seen a Huntsman, which I think makes me a pretty rare case (I feel that I’m tempting fate every time I admit this!). I read Bill Bryson’s book, In a Sunburnt Country, before we came, and he had me so worked up about dangerous animals, I was on edge for the first year. We had our honeymoon in Far North Queensland, and I spent half the time worrying about a crocodile stalking me for dinner.

Honestly, I do stay on my guard for the poisonous spiders that we have in Sydney (red backs and funnel webs), especially since I have a young child, but the only scary Aussie creatures I’ve seen have been in the zoo.

How do you stay in touch with friends and family back home? Do you have any favourite apps that you use to keep in touch to share with us?

We Skype or Facetime, and I have never-ending Facebook Messenger conversations going with a couple of friends. I’ve tried a few other apps, but they never picked up much momentum with my friends, so I mostly stick with the old reliables.

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Ok, Let’s focus in more on Sydney. How about the cost of living in Sydney? How does it compare to back home? Do you have any money saving tips for expats that have just moved to Sydney?There’s no comparison.

The price of everything is far higher than at home, sometimes double or more. I remember one of my lowest moments was standing in a grocery store trying to pick out of loaf of bread, and they were all around $5+. I walked out and cried. … And, then I had to go back in because we still needed bread! I guess what I’m saying is that it’s a real shock at first, but you adjust. Prices look normal to me now (until I go home for a bit and then I have to re-adjust again!).

I’m a pretty frugal person (less money on stuff means more money for travel!), so a few of my tips:

  • Shop at Aldi. It’s becoming trendy to buy your groceries at Aldi, which is funny because it used to be so daggy. I figured that we save around $40 per week for our family of 3 by shopping at Aldi.
  • Go to the movies on Tuesdays because a lot of theatres have specials.
  • Buy “cleanskin” wine for drinking at home. Some of them are quite good. (You wouldn’t bring them as a party gift, though. You’ll have to step up for host gifts!).
  • KMart. They have the cheapest everything, and they’re really stepping up their game with style, especially in the homewares (not so much with the clothes).
  • Op shops. While they’re nothing like our giant Goodwills at home, there are plenty of deals to be had, especially if you go to the ones in fancier neighborhoods.
  • Facebook Buy-Sell Groups for your area can be a great place to pick up furniture and household items, especially as you’ll often find people who are moving and need to offload a lot of items (you will mostly likely be expected to pick up, so factor in the cost of renting a truck or hiring someone).

What suburbs in Sydney would you recommend to newly arriving expats? Why those suburbs?

Suburbs are SUCH a personal thing, and I actually think that picking the right suburb is the single most important step towards making a happy transition to Sydney. It depends so much on where you are in life, where you work, and what you want to do in your free time.

We live on the lower north shore, which is a bit suburban, but less than 10 minutes to the CBD. It’s nice for families and has great parks.

My beach-loving friends prefer Manly, which has a laid back vibe, and you get to take the ferry to work!

Newtown is the funky suburb with a young and artsy vibe.

The Inner West like Glebe and surrounds is great for cafe culture and a village feeling.

West Head Lookout Sydney Australia

What suburb in Sydney do you think is most overlooked? Why do you think that is?

Like I said, I think that it depends on your lifestyle, but I’d say that when you’re looking, make sure to extend your search to the suburbs surrounding the one you have your heart set on. There are a lot of suburbs that don’t get mentioned very often, but still offer the same feeling and benefits as the more popular ones.

For instance, if you like Newtown, expand your search to include Redfern, Enmore, Erskineville, Marrickville, and so forth. If you like Neutral Bay, branch out into suburbs like Cammeray, Crows Nest, Cremorne, and Naremburn.

There are over 600 suburbs around Sydney, but I feel like only 25 or so are the “popular” ones that you hear a lot about.

What is one expensive that expats under budget for when they move? Were there any expenses that came as complete surprise when you moved? Is it the cost or that you just didn’t realise that it needed to be added to your moving budget?

I hear a lot of expats talking about how they found it necessary to increase their housing budget after they arrived and started looking at places. It can be hard to get a sense of what rental properties are really like from the pictures on the real estate sites. I could tell you stories about some of the *shockers* we saw in the under-$500 budget range. That’s $500 PER WEEK, not per month, by the way! We Americans pay rent by the month, so we’re used to seeing prices listed that way.

What hard to find items in Australia from the US would you suggest new expats stock up on before they move?

Australia is much better than it used to be on having items we love from home, so my list of must-bring-backs gets shorter every trip. My list still includes stick deodorant, a face wash that I like, Graham crackers, powdered ranch dressing and Italian dressing, and canned green chilis. I also usually stock up on makeup because it’s a lot cheaper in the U.S. and clothes because I just haven’t found a clothing shop that I love.

Let’s try a fun Sydney Travel question. Your best friend from back home is coming to Sydney for the first time for a visit but only has 24 hours to spend in Sydney. What are your must dos for that 24 hours? Where would you take them for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Why? For example, for a specific dish or for the view or the people watching, etc.

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I assume we’re starting in my part of town (and that my husband has so generously offered to take on child minding today), so we’ll have a long North Shore breakfast at The Greens, complete with delicious and overpriced Bloody Marys. I love The Greens because it’s beautiful, but laid back, and you can sit outside and just relax. It’s very Sydney.

From there, we’ll make our way down to Milson’s Point and walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge into The Rocks. She’ll get her first taste of the Harbour and the Opera House. That’s when you know you’re in Sydney. We’ll have a quick wander through The Rocks, especially as The Rocks Markets will probably be on, and then we’ll arrive at Circular Quay to catch the ferry to Watsons Bay. This is the easiest way to see the Harbour. We’ll take the coastal walk up to the lighthouse. The view is just spectacular. And then, we’ll head back down, ready for a lunch of fish and chips at Doyles.

We’ll catch the next ferry back to Circular Quay, and from there, we’ll spend the late afternoon walking to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair at the Botanic Garden and then taking a tour of the Opera House. After the tour, we’ll have a light snack and a couple of lovely glasses of Prosecco at the Opera Bar.

It’s getting late, so we make our way back over the Bridge for dinner. There are plenty of great places to eat in the city, but I have a personal favorite that I want to share with her – Toshiya, a Japanese restaurant in Cremorne. I adore this place, especially the sashimi tacos. It’s late, but we have time for one more drink at The Oaks in Neutral Bay on the way home – classic Australian hotel (pub). We’re exhausted, but we’ve just scratched the surface, so I spend the end of the day trying to talk her into staying another week, so that I can really show her Sydney!

How does Sydney compares with your hometown for eating out? How does the
quality, selection and cost compare? Are there things you just cannot find in Sydney that
are readily available back home? Or how about the opposite, are there things that you now cannot live without?

I think eating out is much better and more varied than at home. There are so many good restaurants in Sydney. I can point you towards great Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, French, Greek, African, burgers, pub food, and so on. I love an Aussie brunch – smashed avocado on toast and a flat white. Perfection.

The only thing I’m yet to find is perfect Tex Mex. I make that at home.

How about takeaway? What are your top three favourite takeaway places in Sydney?

There’s a fish and chips place just under the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the North Shore side (next to Milson’s Point) that is delicious and is great for a picnic in the park with the best view in town.

Five Points Burgers in North Sydney will actually make you feel like you’re back in the U.S. for a minute.

And, for Mexican (important to Americans!), my best bet is Mad Mex.

How about Australian slang? Has there been any misunderstandings? What’s your favourite Australian expression so far?

I was slow to take to it, but I’ve really come around to Australian slang. The Aussies just have a way with words. I’ve picked up a lot of little things like “keen” and “heaps,” but my favorites are the ones that are very descriptive like, “it’s a dog’s breakfast” (a big mess) or “budgie smugglers” for a men’s Speedo style swimsuit.

What are a couple of your must have apps for living in Sydney?

I’m a public transport girl, so Tripview is a must.

Menulog is good for the nights when you just cannot deal with the cooking.

Let’s run through a few of your favourites in Sydney

What’s your favourite –

  • Tourist Attraction: Sydney Opera House. It never gets old, and I love that you can just grab a drink at the Opera Bar, enjoy the Harbour, and think, “I LIVE here!”
  • Beach: I like Balmoral because it’s lovely and very kid-friendly.
  • Picnic Spot: Wendy’s Secret Garden
  • Favourite Spot of Brunch: The Grounds of Alexandria
  • Weekend Market: North Sydney Markets are my favorite markets to go to with my daughter. They have good stalls, food, and music but they also have kid’s activities, face painting, and so forth. They’re only one once a month.
  • Cheap Eats: I can’t pass up a Sushi Train
Great Ocean Road Trip Victoria Australia

Great Ocean Road Trip

What is one of your must see Australian Travel Destinations? Have you added anything to your bucket list since living in Australia that you didn’t know until after you moved?

We did a fair bit of travelling around Australia in our first couple of years, which I would recommend to anyone moving here to make a priority. There is just so much to see in this country. There are amazing places like Jervis Bay and Port Stephens just a few hours from Sydney, and further afield, we love Tasmania, Port Douglas, and driving the Great Ocean Road on to Kangaroo Island, to name just a few.

Number one on my Still Must See list is Uluru. I have sworn I won’t leave Australia without seeing it.

Be sure to check out Cristin blog, Between Roots and Wings, for more advice and an up close look at what it’s like to live in Australia as an American expat.