Moving to Sydney on a Working Holiday Visa then Applying for Permanent Residence

Katie Dundas arrived in Sydney with only a few suitcases. She now has a de facto Permanent Residence Visa.

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

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

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?

I moved to Sydney for a variety of reasons- it is always hard being far away from family, but I think they appreciate that I am happy living over here, and luckily they are able to come visit from time to time.

What type of visa did you have when you relocated to Australia? Do you have the same visa today?

Ah, visas- the bane of my existence for quite a while. I am now a permanent resident through a de facto (relationship) visa, but originally moved here on a working holiday visa. I then applied for the temporary de facto visa, was on a bridging visa while that was processed, then received the temporary and then permanent visas. The immigration process is fairly straightforward, but it can be tedious and time-consuming.

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 over without very much, it was all in a few suitcases, so I can’t help as much with advice on shipping companies. I would recommend doing a clean-out of as much as possible before moving- shipping is expensive, so only bring what you absolutely can’t live without. Everything else can be bought once you arrive.

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

It’s hard to say, but perhaps consider the best method for transferring currencies, which can be quite expensive. There are a lot of ways this can be done, so some research beforehand is helpful, and try to open a local bank account as soon as you arrive.

Also, it gets cold in Sydney! The media may portray Sydney as a never-ending summer of long, warm days, soaking up the bronzed surfer lifestyle, but definitely bring your winter clothes when you move over, or you’ll be shipping them over later on (not that I speak from experience here…). As many flats and homes don’t have central heating, but rely on space heaters, you’ll definitely want your wool socks and sweaters.

Picture-postcard snap of Sydney Harbor

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

Really, just that it is so similar to back home. There is a massive American cultural influence in Australia, and sometimes it is easy to forget that you are living thousands of miles away…until someone offers you vegemite on toast and to bring you back to reality. Even though I am a pretty easy-going person, was surprised how quickly I was able to settle in.

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

A major frustration, at least in Sydney, are the astronomical property prices. If I had stayed in America I probably would be able to own my own place by now, but in Sydney, the median house price in my suburb is well over one million, so the white picket fence and the Labrador just aren’t feasible at the moment.

The geographical distance to get home is also a factor- although home is just a flight or two away, the 20 hour travel time limits your ability to pop home for a visit for birthdays or special occasions.

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

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I love the summer lifestyle and mild climate, compared to the East Coast of the US- going for ocean swims after work, diving at some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, bushwalking and running on perfect sunny days- it’s great being outside and making the most of it- I feel very lucky to be able to live in such a spectacular part of the world.

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 Meet-ups 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?

I’ve found it fairly easy to meet new people in Sydney, you just have to put yourself out there. I’d recommend joining a sports club or finding a hobby that you like, as they are great ways to meet new people, or volunteering for a cause that is important to you. Also, I have made some great friends through work.

There is an American expat club in Sydney (‘Sydney Expat Americans’ on Facebook), and they are constantly holding get-togethers, such as Super Bowl and 4th of July parties- their events are always a fun night out and great for meeting others, especially if you are new to Sydney.

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

There are great resources online for expats, and they are especially useful for hearing the experiences others have had dealing with immigration and the visa processes. It can feel a bit overwhelming, especially if you are applying for a de facto or spousal visa, which requires a massive amount of paperwork, so it’s helpful to connect with others via online forums who have been through it.

I’d recommend Yanks Down Under and Poms in Oz for connecting with others, as well as the Department of Immigration and Border Protection for all the official information on immigration, visas, and citizenship.

Tamarama Beach, easily reached from Bondi Coastal Walk

Tamarama Beach, easily reached from Bondi Coastal Walk

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

I actually have a bit of a soft spot for snakes, but spiders make me cringe. Living on the north shore of Sydney, I tend to encounter a lot of huntsman spiders, which are harmless but look like something out of B-grade horror movie. After a few scares, let’s just say I open cabinet doors with caution.

The most intense encounter with wildlife was probably on a road trip through the Outback, from South Australia up into the Northern Territory. Driving up the Stuart Highway, barren dessert for literally hundreds of miles in every direction, and a pair of emus decided to pick just the moment I was driving past to run out right in front of my caravan. I can deal with deer and foxes on the road back home, but six-foot tall birds were another story! Luckily I was able to break just in time, or that would’ve been a disaster for all parties involved.

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?

Any internet-based messaging app is useful for keeping in touch and avoiding international roaming charges. I tend to use Apple’s iMessage, WhatsApp, or Facebook’s Messenger.

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?

Sydney can certainly be expensive, but so can most major cities in America, so I would say it’s comparable. Free or low cost days out are easy to arrange, and train fares, even out to the Blue Mountains or down to the beaches of the South Coast, are very reasonable. Consider a coastal walk along Sydney’s scenic coast line, a picnic in the Botanic Gardens, or picking up local produce from a farmer’s market and hosting friends for a dinner party, inside of dining out or going to bars.

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Saving money on furniture and homewares can also be done by checking out Gumtree (, a free local classifieds site).

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

The Inner West area is a great place to start off in Sydney, such as Newtown, Erskineville, or Marrickville. These areas are close to the city and on the train line, full of young people and cheap eats abound. There are always things happening, such as weekend markets, concerts, neighborhood festivals, etc.

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

Hm, Sydney has become such a desirable place to live, there are few suburbs that have been overlooked in the property boom. If you are looking to save a bit on rent, perhaps consider looking at some of the western suburbs, such as Parramatta or Penrith- both contain plentiful options for dining, shopping, etc., but are also just an express train ride from the city.

Blue Mountains, Australia

The Three Sisters, Blue Mountains

What is one expense 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?

The cost of moving a pet overseas can be very costly. From vet checks, vaccinations, mandatory quarantine costs, etc., it’s definitely something to look into well in advance, to ensure your pet meets the Australian requirements.

Depending on your situation and whether or not you need an Australian visa before your move, it is worth keeping in mind that visa applications can run into the thousands of dollars, so that could also be something extra you’ll need to budget for.

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

Everyone has different favorites, but for me it’s Peter Pan brand peanut butter, Bounce dryer sheets, and Sam Adams Summer Ale (not necessarily to be used altogether…). American groceries and products are getting easier to come by though, but I always save room in my suitcase on trips home for the above.

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.

Great question! One day is never enough in Sydney, but I’d start with a morning ferry to Manly, checking out the harbor and seascape along the way. We’d walk through the promenade and down to Shelly Beach, keeping an eye out for the water dragons that make their home there. A bit of snorkeling at Shelly Beach, in the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve, hopefully seeing some rays, tropical fish, or groupers, and then dry off for brunch at the Boathouse, overlooking the beach.

Then, take the ferry back to the city and explore Circular Quay and the Rocks, checking out the Rocks Markets, if on. Maybe cruise through the Botanic Gardens and the National Gallery, followed by a sunset champagne with great photo ops at the Opera House Bar, overlooking the Harbor Bridge.

In the evening, head to Newtown in Sydney’s inner west for melt-in-your-mouth southern style fried chicken at Hartsyard, saving room to split one of their giant pretzel and donut ice cream sundaes. For a nightcap or two, head down King Street to Earl’s Juke Joint, Bloodwood, or Miss Peaches for a bourbon or Lord Nelson Ale. Or, check out the Enmore Theatre for any good concerts or comedians performing that night.

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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?

Growing up near Washington DC, we were lucky to have access to restaurants featuring cuisine from all over the world. I find Sydney to be similar in terms of variety, but it does really shine when it comes to Asian cuisine, due to the geographical proximity. I’d recommend the suburbs of Cabramatta or Strathfield for Vietnamese, or Chippendale for the street-food style outdoor dining along Spice Alley.

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

Has to be Mary’s for a greasy, cheesy American-style burger, Thai curries from Thai Pothong Thaiways, conveniently next to Newtown station, or Guzman y Gomez for a veggie burrito or tacos.

How about Australian slang? Has there been any misunderstandings? What’s your favourite Australian expression so far? There is a classic Australian movie, The Castle – some great quotes from that have made it into the lexicon. “Tell him he’s dreaming” is a great one, as is “This is going straight to the pool room”- definitely worth a watch for introduction into Aussie culture.

The Australian tendency to oddly shorten words whenever given the chance, but you get used to it.

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

Trip View for checking the train timetables, SMH (Sydney Morning Herald) for the day’s news, BOM Radar for the weather, and Map My Run, as I love exploring new running routes around the city.

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

What’s your favourite –

Tourist Attraction: Sydney Opera House & Harbor Bridge

Beach: Balmoral or Clovelly

Picnic Spot: Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, Sydney Botanic Gardens

Favourite Spot of Brunch: Three Williams, Redfern

Bar/Pub: anywhere in the Rocks- Harbor View or Glenmore to start

Weekend Market: Glebe or Kirribilli

Outdoor Cinema: St George Open-Air or Tropfest, a short film festival

Place to find US food products in the city: A yearly membership will get you access to Costco, which stocks similar American products to back home. for ordering online, or the chain stores City Convenience in the CBD tend to always have a lot of Hershey’s chocolate products, for a sweet fix.

Cheap Eat in Sydney (can be more than one):

Harry’s Café de Wheels for a meat pie, complete with mash and mushy peas.


Uluru is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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?

Everyone arrives in Australia expecting to see the Great Barrier Reef, the Opera House, the Great Ocean Road, which are incredible places and well worth the visit, but to me, the rugged beauty of the Outback is something that can’t be missed. Broome and the Kimberley region of northern Western Australia, Uluru and Kings Canyon, and the quirky underground mining town of Coober Pedy are some of my highlights so far.

Thanks so much for your time!! I really do appreciate it.