Ten years ago, Layla Roberts moved to Sydney from the UK.
She is now the founder of Sydney Concierge, an agency that helps others settle into life in Sydney.
Layla has had a Working Holiday Visa, a Skilled Migration Visa and is now an Australian Citizen.
In this interview, she takes us through each stage of her adventures down under and how it has contributed to her life now as a Sydney-sider.
Ok, let’s get on with the interview.
Moving to Australia was a Dream Come True.
- 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?
It is a long story, but the short answer is that I have wanted to live in Australia since I was about 7 years old! My obsessions started when my relatives in Melbourne sent me gifts from Australia and was fuelled by me thinking I could sail from South Wales in the UK to New South Wales in my dinghy, as well as that if I clicked my red shoes together I could be magically transported from Melbourne, UK to Melbourne, Australia! It was a little harder than that of course, but as with all the best things in life, it was worth the wait.To be honest, my mum is only starting to get used to the idea now, and I emigrated here almost 10 years ago. I don’t have children, but I imagine it would be hard to watch them move to the other side of the planet. Part of the problem was that she thought it would be like her sister all over again, who moved to Melbourne in 1973 as a Ten Pound Pom and has only been back to the UK 3 times since (2 of them were sadly for her parents’ funerals). Luckily, it is much easier now; flights are cheaper and Skype is great to keep in touch with each other between visits. My mum has even joined Facebook, purely to keep up to date with my life over here.
- 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 arrived on a Skilled Migrant – Family Sponsored Visa with Permanent Residency. I was incredibly lucky, as that visa has changed now to one with only temporary residency. Plus, you have to live in the same state as your sponsor, and my sponsor lives in Melbourne. I would rather have stayed in London, than move to Melbourne, but that is another story! As visa laws change all the time, I applied for citizenship as soon as I was able and became Australian in July 2008.
- 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 UK? Maybe a review site in the UK for international shipping companies.
When I moved over here, I shipped about 10 large boxes with clothes, photos and other personal belongings. I had a huge clear out before I left, and gave away my furniture and appliances to a charity shop and friends. I was a bit of a hoarder until this point, so it was a good opportunity to be ruthless. To be honest I can’t remember which shipping company I used in 2006, but I remember making a huge Excel database with all of the details and quotes from several companies. I don’t know of a review site in the UK for international shipping companies, or at least it didn’t exist when I came out here, but it’s a great idea!
- Looking back on your move now, knowing what you got yourself into, what would you do differently?
I’m not sure I would do anything differently, as I believe everything happens for a reason.
- What so far what has been the biggest surprise about living in Australia that you didn’t expect?
It was a steeper learning curve when I first arrived than I thought it would be. Having been to Australia 3 times before the big move, I thought I knew it all. But travelling around the country as a backpacker and tourist is very different to living here, and once the initial honeymoon phase wore off, I got surprisingly homesick. I am not sure that can be prevented though really and unless you have a heart of steel, it is probably inevitable to some extent. I guess being forewarned is forearmed though.
- What has been the biggest frustration or hardest part of settling into life in Australia?
You think to yourself, we speak the same language, we have the same sense of humour, how hard can it be? But as I mentioned above the first couple of years can be hard. It takes time to settle into life here. Be patient with yourself and realise that Rome was not built in a day. For every similarity, there will be something different. You will probably find yourself comparing every tiny little thing, and even converting prices into £ for awhile. Don’t. It’s a slippery slope. You may only be comparing apples and oranges, but Australians will assume that you prefer apples over oranges and wonder why you moved here in the first place. Sometimes you will wonder too, when you miss your family and friends, so be sure to remind yourself of why you moved here. I find the Manly ferry or trip to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair used to fix that.
- Now that you’ve lived here for awhile, what about Australia do you like/love the most?
There are so many things that I love. About Sydney in particular, it is the harbour, the beaches, the weather (most of the time!) and the Opera House. Regarding Australia as a whole, it is the relaxed lifestyle, the fact you can ski one day and scuba dive in warm water the next. Living in our little Sydney bubble, we sometimes forget how amazing, varied and big Australia is.
- 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?
When I first moved to Sydney I knew of one friend that was due to move here about the same time as me from Melbourne (though she was also from the UK), but I only had her Melbourne work email address and little did I know, but she had already moved here. Luckily, after 4 days of living in Sydney and trying to find her, I bumped into her on a bus!! It’s a small world. She is an extremely sociable person, so already had lots of friends in Sydney. In turn, these became my friends and were a saving grace, especially in the early days before I got a job. I am still friends with most of them, though sadly they were English and have all moved back to England now. This has happened a lot. Some people only ever intend to stay a couple of years, and then they miss their family too much to stay. On the other hand, I have another English friend who said from the very start that he was staying for 2 years max. He has been here over 8 years now, and I believe has no intention of going back.After I had been in Sydney for about 6 months, my best friend in the UK came to visit. She knew a couple of other English people in Sydney, who we met up with and in turn they also became my friends. Then through them, I met more people, and so it goes on.
When I first visited my Melburnian relatives in 1996 I was shocked that most of their friends, bar one Aussie couple, were also English. But for a long time, it was the same for me. I think it is partly as you have so much in common, even if you wouldn’t necessarily in the UK. Although our sense of humour is very similar, there will always be some in jokes that all English people know and Australians don’t. Or shops that you miss (like Marks & Spencer). Other English people, or from your home country, will just get it. And that will bond you together.
I have never been to an expat Meetup event. To be honest, it never occurred to me. I guess I was lucky to make friends quite quickly in other ways. If you aren’t as lucky as me to bump into an old friend on a bus who seems to know all of Sydney, I think the expat meetup groups are definitely worth a try. Anything is worth a try at least once. You definitely need to make more of an effort that you might be used to though.
Now, a decade later, I have friends from England, Ireland, Scotland, Mexico, New Zealand and Australia.
- 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?
When I lived in London, I went at least once a year to one of those ‘Moving to Australia expos’, mostly to see if I had enough points and to get my Australia fix. Once I moved here, expat friends became invaluable. As I mentioned above, they are the only ones who truly understand what you are going through. Or a professional who has done it themselves before.The main advice I would give to other expats is to not give up too easily. In 2008, after I had been here almost 2 years (and most of my friends had gone back to the UK), I decided to move back! My Dad thought he was ill at the time too, which helped me make my decision, but luckily it was a misdiagnosis. By the time I found out, my flight was already booked. As I said above, I believe everything happens for a reason, so I don’t regret it, but it was a costly exercise as I kept half my belongings in storage here and shipped half to England. Talk about having a foot in both camps!
I left Sydney in July, travelled around Australia for a month, then Asia for a month (including the Beijing Olympics) and finally Europe for a month. Life was good. The first month back in England was good too, as they were enjoying an Indian summer, I hadn’t seen my friends for over 2 years and my birthday was coming up. Then reality hit and I needed a job. I soon got one in London (my second favourite city in the world) at the company I used to work at before emigrating, but it felt like a backwards step. In January 2009, I received my first Australian passport from the embassy in London, and as soon as I told my housemate, he knew I would go back. He was right. Now, I just had to break the news to my mum! I came back in March 2009 and it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I still get homesick sometimes and miss my family and friends there of course. I still miss London’s theatre and shopping, but moving back to the UK for 5 months made me realise that when I am there I miss here more!
In sum, I don’t regret going back to the UK, but in hindsight I made the decision too early. I think people should give it at least 2 years before they even contemplate moving back. Also, if you are from the UK or an equally cold country, you should visit in winter when it is wet and miserable (Christmas doesn’t count) before making the decision.
- 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?
I should start by saying that I HATE snakes and spiders. Luckily there aren’t too many in Sydney though, unless you live in woop woop (the outskirts). Touch wood, I have only seen 2 snakes in the wild here in Australia – Uluru and the Daintree River in Queensland. I have actually come across more snakes in the UK (people seem to walk down Blackpool high street with them wrapped around their shoulders all the time, to promote a fair or circus or something, and have even chased me across the road!).Spiders are unfortunately a little more common; in particular, Huntsmen. Now, they might not be poisonous, but they certainly look big, fat, hairy and gruesome. Over the 10 years I have seen them about 5 or 6 times. The worst time was probably when I was sat in a car, in the passenger seat, and I saw one crawl up the back of the driver’s headrest. Thankfully, we were parked, so I screamed and threw myself out of the car. I was so scared that I could not even tell my friend in the driver’s seat what had happened. Finally, I was able to point, and my friend being from the country, simply shrugged and killed it with her shoe. Luckily, I have not seen a Redback yet, which are pretty small but can be very poisonous. The Funnel Web Spider is also incredibly deadly and is specific to Sydney, but again, touch wood, I have not seen one yet.
- 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?
Technology now is amazing, especially for expats. Life is so much easier here now, than it was for my aunt and uncle back in the 70s. I use all the usual apps – Facebook, Whatsapp and Skype. My mobile network provider, Virgin, allows me to use my credit for overseas calls and texts too, which is invaluable, especially as Telstra used to charge me about $2 just for 1 text!
- 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?
When I first visited Sydney in 1997, it was so cheap. Partly as the exchange rate was great, partly as they had not introduced GST at that point and partly as it was before the Sydney Olympics, so it had not yet exploded on the world map. It is a very different story now of course, and in many ways I think Sydney is more expensive than London! Wages are higher here though, so it does even out I overall.Public transport is cheaper here, but domestic flights are more expensive. Books and CDs are more expensive here, but iTunes and Book Depository help with that. Travel insurance is much cheaper than the UK, but many credit cards include it for free. Clothes are also more expensive here, but that is changing as more European stores open in Sydney, such as H&M, Zara, and (hopefully soon, I’ve been reliably told, M&S)! House prices are ridiculous here, and getting on the property ladder is getting harder and harder (though apparently prices are going down slightly now).
Having said all of that, Sydney Concierge prides itself on knowing all of the deals in Sydney. And I am not talking about Groupon. Follow our Facebook page to find out where to get discounted tickets, as well as restaurant reviews and the top events in town.
Here are just a few of the promotions and places that we promote to our followers:
- 3-course lunch at a 3-hatted restaurant for under $50;
- Seafood buffet with unlimited champagne and cocktails for only $79;
- The best hidden restaurant near Sydney;
- ‘Michelin’ restaurants in Sydney;
- Gold Class movie tickets from just $26 (rrp $41 each);
- Magnums of Chandon in a harbourside bar for only $99;
- A restaurant with 360 degree views of Sydney’s stunning harbour;
- 20% off Sydney Opera House Tours;
- Receive your age % off all food and drink, for a month after your birthday, at one of Sydney’s best Japanese restaurants!
Watch out for my next blog post, ‘How to Live a Champagne Lifestyle on a Beer Budget’ in Sydney!
- What are your most often recommended suburbs in Sydney for new expats?
When I first moved here, I wanted to live a short walk from a beach and be able to travel to work by ferry. This leaves just a handful of suburbs, in particular Manly, Rose Bay and Watsons Bay. Having looked at all of those places, plus Balmain which has the ferry but not the beach, I chose Coogee in the end. I had lived there in 2000 so knew it quite well, it has a holiday atmosphere (even for the locals) and lovely beach. After Coogee, I lived in Clovelly for over 5 years, which I still miss…especially snorkeling with the Blue Groper! All of these suburbs are great and I think the Eastern Suburbs or the Northern Beaches are the most popular with expats, as the beach is one of the main reasons a most of us move here.However, just over a year ago I moved in with my boyfriend, who has lived in the Inner West for over 20 years! We lived in Glebe for a year, and just before Christmas we moved to Leichhardt. Both are lovely, but no, I don’t get to the beach as much as I would like to. Having said that, I don’t get much time too anyway.
I would definitely recommend living as centrally as you can, so that you can explore as much as of Sydney as possible. Which suburb to live in though really depends on your budget, if you have children, friends living here already, would like a pool or backyard etc though. Here at Sydney Concierge, we help our clients decided on the best suburb for them, based on their individual criteria.
- What suburb in Sydney do you think is most overlooked? What do you think that is?
There are so many great suburbs in Sydney and if you look beyond the obvious (Bondi, Coogee, Manly etc), there are some hidden gems, and at a much cheaper price. Randwick used to be great as it was cheaper than the beachside suburbs, but it was still near the beach, has a large hospital and great public transport. But people have cottoned on and now it’s almost the same price as Coogee.When my partner and I upsized lately, we wanted to stay in Glebe, but by moving just a little further out to Leichhardt, we got a lot more for our money. We are also just 2 minutes’ walk to the light rail, which is currently being extended in Sydney, so anywhere near one of those stops, such as Dulwich Hill and Lilyfield are great. Redfern and Chippendale used to be seen as dodgy, but they are now 2 of the hippest suburbs in Sydney. Of course, the price is going up accordingly, so you need to be quick!
- What is one expensive that expats under budget when they move? Are there any expenses that come as complete surprise to your clients? Is it the cost or that they just didn’t realise that it needed to be added to their budget?
When you first arrive in Sydney, you will need to set yourself up, perhaps from scratch (depending on what you ship over). I am was lucky enough to stay for my first 5 weeks with the mum of one of my Aussie friends in London, but hotel accommodation can really add up and it can take a few weeks to find somewhere more permanent. Other set up costs include: the deposit (or bond, as they say here) for your new home, medical insurance, a driver’s licence (though you can use your UK licence for the first 3 months), furniture and appliances. And of course, you may not find a job immediately. I found temping invaluable for the first few months, until I found the right permanent job.
- What hard to find items in Australia from the UK would you suggest new expats stock up on before they move?
The only thing I still miss from the UK is Marks & Spencer’s, and yesterday they announced their brand new M&S Aussie website which has free delivery (if you spend over $50) and local returns. I am still hopeful they will open a store here; so many other European stores have lately (H&M, Zara, Top Shop etc). Lots of UK stores also deliver here, Coles supermarket often has a small British section with food such as marmite, PG tips and Minstrels. And there is always the British Lolly Shop if you get desperate, but their prices are quite high.
- Let’s try a fun Sydney Travel question. Your best friend from the UK 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.
I would start with breakfast at Bills in Bondi. Although, he has branches in London now, it is such as Sydney institution that it would be rude not to. Then we would walk from Bondi to Coogee along the coast, before having lunch at The Coogee Pavilion Rooftop. The views don’t get much better than this! After a relaxing lunch, we’d get a taxi into the city and explore the Botanic Gardens and do The Bridge Climb at Twilight (for more stunning views), before having a few drinks at Henry Deane Rooftop Bar at the Palisade Hotel (you can never have too many rooftop bars!) and dinner at Bennelong.
- I was wondering how Sydney compares with the UK 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?
In the UK, there is an Indian on every street. Here it is Thai food, so I do miss a good curry sometimes (though they can be found, just not as often). Like London, Sydney has food from all over the world and the quality is amazing! Given its location, it’s not surprising, but seafood is really fresh here and cheaper than most of the UK.In terms of supermarkets, I used to miss Sainsburys, but Woolworths and Coles have come a long way in the last decade, mostly as they now hire a lot of executives from Tescos and other UK supermarkets. If you are from the UK, you will notice a lot of similarities, such as Coles Finest Range. This improvement in supermarket is not all good though. I found when I first moved here that Australians would usually go to the butcher for meat, fishmongers for fish, the greengrocers for fruit and veg, the bakers for bread etc. But now, it is becoming more like the UK, whereby most people just buy everything at the supermarket as its more convenient.
Cost wise, I think supermarkets cost a little more here, although that is also changing as Coles gets more buying power (again, not so good for the little guys and the farmers). Restaurants are probably about the same as London, when you consider salaries.
- How about takeaway? What are your top three favourite takeaway places in Sydney?
I don’t get take away much, but when I do it is usually from Crust Pizza. They have branches throughout Sydney and do the best pizza!
- How about Australian slang? Has there been any misunderstandings? What’s your favourite Australian expression so far? For me, as an American, Australian slang took some getting used to. Is it easier being from the UK do you think?
When I first lived in Australia, on a working holiday visa in 1996, I worked in a $2 shop. There were many misunderstandings when I was asked where the bon bons (Christmas crackers here) and lollies (sweets here) were. Ten years later and my Australian boyfriend will occasionally still surprise me with a phrase I have not heard before. Their spelling might be the same as UK English, but sometimes I wonder if they speak the same language! They abbreviate everything of course (such as arvo, avo, rego….most words have an ‘o’ on the end). My favourite Aussie expression is ‘no worries’ as it really sums up their relaxed lifestyle.
- What are a couple of your must have apps for living in Sydney?
Tripview for all public transport, Uber for taxis, Facebook and Skype to keep in touch with family and friends back home, Instagram to take photos of your new amazing life, Xe for currency exchange rates, Google Maps so you don’t get lost, Domain to find somewhere to live (rent or buy), Dimmi for restaurants and The Entertainment Book to save money on pretty much anything.
- Let’s run through a few of your favourites in SydneyWhat’s your favourite –
- Tourist Attraction: Sydney Opera House – it looks different from every angle. And wait til you see it in Vivid!
- Beach: Clovelly – the beach itself doesn’t look amazing, but once you snorkel there, you will understand why.
- Picnic Spot: Any of the many harbourside parks, such as Bicentennial in Glebe or Blackburn Gardens in Double Bay
- Favourite Spot of Brunch: Bills in Bondi or Bar Sirocco in Annandale
- English Pub: The Lord Dudley
- Weekend Market: Paddington on a Saturday
- Outdoor Cinema: St George at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair
- Place to find UK food products in the city: Coles and The British Lolly Shop
- Cheap Eats: Chur Burger and Din Tai Fung
- 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 about before you moved?
Travel is my passion, and in my 20’s I got the travel bug really bad. I first came to Australia as a backpacker, who worked my way round all of Australia. I travelled again around much of it in 2000 and 2008, and have definitely see more of this huge country than any Australian I have met. Over the last 2 decades, I have been to all of the states and territories multiple times. There are so many must see places that I would recommend, such as The Blue Mountains, Kakadu, Jervis Bay, Kangaroo Island, Broome, all of the West Coast, The Great Ocean Road, Wineglass Bay, Byron…I could go on. In fact, the only places left on my Australian bucket list are The Bungle Bungles, Margaret River and Lord Howe Island. The Whitsundays is my number one favourite place in Australia for a holiday though. I am going back there this June for the fifth time and can’t get enough of it.
Thanks so much for your time Layla!! Some really great answers here and some priceless insider tips.