Dr Garry's Terrace: Ruminations

Some Tips and Advice for Americans Moving or Relocating to Australia

Australian compared to the USA
Australia compared to the USA. Source: Unknown.

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Opening Thoughts

I'm an Aussie who spent some time teaching at an American Ivy League university which my separation agreement prohibits me from naming. I respect my legal obligations. Here are my tips for those Americans who are thinking of moving to Australia for work or retirement, or just a long extended holiday {vacation}.

I think the best insight into Australia you can find is by this American, who watched hundreds of episodes of the Australian version of the international TV show MasterChef. You'll have to scroll down a bit to get to the meat of the piece. In a long 20,000 word essay he really gets to grips with the differences between the USA and Australia.

I heartily recommend that you search for the terms "american australian" on YouTube. You will find a plethora of vids where Americans inform their countrymen on what life in Australia is like. I particularly commend to you the vids made by Mormon missionaries to Australia.

Top Reasons Not to Move to Australia

There are many perfectly good reasons an American would not want to move to Australia.

If you:

  • will be getting a passport for the first time
  • don't like, or have never seen, British television or movies
  • think a six hour plane trip is long
  • agree with Grandpa Simpson that the metric system is Satan's plot to stop you measuring your road mileage in rods to the hogshead
  • love a huge variety of shopping and service choices
  • are used to a rich cultural life
  • are flummoxed by other accents
  • think that Jesus wants your nine-year old to own an Uzi submachine gun

—then Australia is not for you. You will be irked, sad, and lonely; stressed and distressed. None of us want that. Please, reconsider your plans. I am sure Emphysema, Missouri, is a fine town. Best you never leave it.

Australia is not the USA with kangaroos. Australia is more like Britain with possums, or Canada with good weather. When my British friends visit, they complain about how American Australia is, and when my American friends visit they are surprised to find how British it is. Apart from Justin Bieber, I don't actually have any Canadian friends, but I am sure they would boggle at the fact that in winter it is quite possible to have an active outdoor life without freezing your gonads off.

Unexpected Differences

Fresh out of the airport, Australia looks like America. After a week here you will be saying to yourself Help! This isn't the USA!, and you would be quite right. I suspect that this is the source of the disgruntlement that many Americans feel after moving to Australia. Both countries are painted with the same broad strokes, but at every turn the details are annoyingly, frustratingly different; for seemingly no good reason. Every detail of lived life in Australia is almost-but-not-quite the same: a Twilight Zone USA.

An American moving to Latvia or France is mentally prepared to accept a huge cultural and linguistic change. An American moving to Australia encounters thousands of tiny differences they did not expect at every turn.

Here is one take from an American who stayed in Aus for a while

We're not just talking about the big things, like being far away from your family and being surrounded by accents that sound completely ridiculous to even the most well-trained American ear. It's the tiny differences, from the aesthetics of road signs to the words they use to order coffee, that really get you. Before a move, you mentally prepare yourself to handle the stress of saying goodbye to your family, but you don't prepare yourself to live in a world where the vegetation, architecture, animals, and smells are completely different. At any time of day or night, absolutely everything you see seems designed to remind you that things are different and you don't belong there.

Go and read the full article on the humour site Cracked.com.

Most Common Complaints of Americans

The most common complaints of Americans who have moved to Australia are (in no order):

  • I can't make friends! I cannot help you here. I have no idea why this happens, but it is clearly a major issue.
  • I can't get my favourite food, washing detergent, or toilet paper! No, you can't. And if you do find a source, it will be ridiculously expensive.
  • It's so expensive! Yes, it is: price levels are about 60% higher than the USA. Sixty per cent!
  • I can't get Hulu, Netflix or other online services! No, you can't. You have to admit, this is no fault of Australia: no one here demanded that these American companies block their services to Australia.
  • Australians are rude, stupid, and arrogant! There are tens of thousands of Britons, Indians, and Chinese who would agree with you. Many Australians think the same about some Americans: reciprocity at work. See our section on Etiquette
  • I'm so far away from friends and family! Yes, you are. Crossing the Pacific from Sydney to LA is a soul-destroying 15 hours in the air. From Perth to New York you would cross both continents in a jaunty 25 hours just in the air, let alone the time in layovers.
  • There is a lot of anti-Americanism. That requires a detailed answer. See below.
  • I miss the four seasons. Few places in Australia have the four robust seasons that most Americans experience each year. If you are exhilarated by the differences between your crispy winter and your Beach Boys summer, you will be depressed by the bland changes between Australian seasons.

If you want to see the very worst opinions about Australians, there are over several hundred posts on this forum Why Australians are so rude, arrogant and racist that you can boggle over. You should also see the TV series Dumb, Drunk and Racist, which explores Indian opinions of Australia.

Working in Australia

I have no specific advice. But here are a few generalities, whether you are applying to be a backpacking fruit-picker, or a CEO. Australian employers do not care about your academic credentials. You parade a Masters from Oxford, Cambridge, or Yale or Harvard? To an Australian employer, that just means you have a big fat rubber stamp on your forehead that says "Arrogant A****hole". Employers care not whit about education. Australians distrust and dislike big-noters. We value modesty and circumspection.

I've read a lot of laments from Americans about how they failed to land a job in Australia. At interview, they paraded this experience and that qualification. And I am sure they did. But in Australia this experience and that qualification is secondary.

Above all else, Australian employers look for fit. Will you fit in and form a happy team with your work mates?


Australia was settled by the aborigines about 40,000 years ago, perhaps 20,000 years before humans entered the Americas. When the British lost North America as a dumping ground for criminals after the War of Independence, they decided to send them to Australia, starting in 1788. Australia became the world's largest penal colony. American snobs like to trace their high-born descent from the pilgrims, or the Revolutionary War heroes. Australian snobs trace their low-born descent from the British underclass sent here for stealing underwear.

The European settlers were thumping the crap out of the natives in America about 170 years before they started doing the same thing in Australia. That's why Australia is not as advanced as the USA.

The United States became a single indivisible country in 1789, after a bloody war. The six Australian colonies federated only in 1901, 112 years later, after some tea and cucumber sandwiches with the British Prime Minister. Seventy years after American independence, Americans fought an even bloodier civil war over slavery. Seventy years after Australian federation, most Australians were getting pissed dancing to ABBA.

Economics and Other Indicators

Australia is poorer than the USA. Only upper-middle class Australians can afford to hire illegal immigrants personal servants to do their gardening, baby-sitting, shopping or cleaning; because the rates those people charge are quite reasonable, as opposed to dirt cheap. Here are some indicators:

Indicator USA Australia Source
GDP per capita $46,000 $38,000 CIA World Factbook
Tax burden (%) 19% 13% OECD
Total taxation as % of GDP 30% 31% OECD
Ease of Doing Business (rank) 4 11 World Bank
Global Competitiveness (rank) 5 21 World Economic Forum
Corruption in the public sector (rank) 19 7 Transparency International
Peacefulness (rank) 99 16 Institute for Economics and Peace

Notes. GDP per capita: $USD Purchasing Power Parity. Tax burden: Percentage of gross earnings given up in tax (single-income family earning the average wage). Ease of Doing Business: Rank of 1 is easiest, out of 189 nations. Global Competitiveness: Rank of 1 is most successful in achieving economic prosperity, out of 152 nations. Corruption in the public sector: Rank of 1 is least corrupt, out of 174 nations. Peacefulness. Rank of 1 is most peaceful, out of 162 nations.


Like the USA, Australia is a federation: of six states, two territories, and some oddball other bits. Most of the functions that are run at the local government level in the USA are organized at the state level in Australia, such as police and education. Australian states do not have separate state, highway or sheriff's departments. In consequence, although Australia's population is only a fraction of the USA, police and education departments are much larger than those you are used to.

While local governments (councils, shires) are elected they are not seen as major forums for democratic action since they do so little. They are service providers: garbage, local roads, parks and so on. They do not even run major utilities, such as electricity, gas, water or sewage.

Another comparison: Australia has 18 police forces. The USA has 40,000 forces. On a per capita basis, it takes the will of 1,250,000 Australians to get their act together and make a new police force with powers of arrest and lethal force. In the USA, two new police forces are spawned every time Madison Square Garden is filled to its capacity of 20,000 souls.

In Australia, the policeman giving you a speeding ticket in Broken Hill belongs to the same organization busting you for marijuana possession in Sydney, 1,500 km {1,000 miles} away, his police force is larger than the New York Police Department, and he or she is answerable to parliament and the entire people of the state. In the USA, the policeman shooting you in the head for looking at him funny is only answerable to his brother-in-law the police chief.


Education is funded at the state rather than the local level, so there are very few schools that are terrible because their communities cannot afford better. Since there are no local school boards, the curriculum taught at your child's school is beyond your influence, unless you decide to become an Australian citizen and run for parliament.

Likewise, Australian universities are much more uniform. There is no doubt that the USA has the best universities in the world, but the average standard is not that high. Australia has no truly great universities, but the average standard is very respectable. Only 300 of the USA's 3,000 universities (10%) are placed in the highest classification (doctorate-granting major research) under the Carnegie classification system. Australia has only 39 universities, but all of them are doctoral-granting research institutions. Every damn one.

Gambling, Alcohol, and Other Vices

Gambling is legal everywhere. You will be able to find at least a poker machine {slot machine} within 200 m of where you live, probably in a pub. Alcohol is legal everywhere and is sold on Sundays. Prostitution is controlled by the states. It is regulated and legal in all states, but in some states brothels are illegal. Check with your local friendly police station first. Marijuana is legal in some teritories, but not in any state. Tobacco smoking is legal but socially frowned-upon and heavily regulated: for example, in my home state – New South Wales – you are not allowed to smoke within 10 m {393 inches in your zany system} of a bus stop.

Country and People

Australia is huge, about the same size as the Lower 48, but with only 15% of America's population. Our largest state is larger than Alaska and Texas put together. Even my own middle-size state of New South Wales (NSW) is larger than Alaska. Within that vast size, New South Wales only has the same population as Washington state or Massachusetts. The average Australian state population is only that of Kansas. Take a look at these two population maps, which are to the same scale:

Australian population density
Population density of Australia. Each dot is 1,000 people. About the same areal scale as the map below. Source: Unknown.
American population density
Population density of the USA. Each dot is 7,500 people. About the same areal scale as the map above. Source: Unknown.

Sense of Humour

The American and Australian senses of humour are very different. This can cause each appear rude to the other. I'll give you a test: can you pick which portions of this web page are meant to be satirical or (vaguely) humorous? No? Then perhaps you would be happier staying in the USA.

A Dangerous Country, But Not the Way You Think

Fire danger sign in Australia
A typical Fire Danger Rating sign seen throughout Australia.

You may have heard that Australia has a lot of dangerous animals: most of world's venomous snakes, spiders, jellyfish, molluscs, the world's only poisonous mammal and on and on. These are harmless, compared to the dangers posed by bushfires. Very few A small number Hardly any Not that many people die from Australia's dangerous wildlife. Vastly more die from bushfires. Take a look at the Fire Danger sign on the left. It starts at a happy green, only to be immediately followed by High, Very High, Severe, and Extreme. See the last category at three o'clock, the one with the hellish black-and-red stripes? It says Catastrophic. You should pay careful attention to these signs. Ok, you should also pay attention to the signs warning of spiders, jellyfish, aggressive kangaroos, giant downtown bats, the gut-ripping cassowaries and sharks, but those are dangers that Aussies cope with every day. Bushfires are in a whole different category. If you gaily drive past a sign saying Catastrophic Fire Danger, you have only yourself to blame when you end a up as an overdone French fry.

An Urban People

You may have a vague idea from Crocodile Dundee (Paul Hogan) and the Crocodile Hunter (Steve Irwin) that Australia is a nation of pioneering country-folk. No. The only people in that category are Paul Hogan, the late Steve Irwin, and a few other idiots who want to be called Crocodile. Most Australians live in big cities: Australia is one of the most urbanized nations on earth. About 20% of all Americans live in the USA's five largest cities. Two-thirds of all Australians live in Australia's five largest. Two-thirds!

So what are the cities like? Using population-weighted density as a measure of comparison, Sydney is like San Francisco, Melbourne is like Chicago, Brisbane is like Miami, and Adelaide and Perth resemble Las Vegas.

A Mixed People

You think the USA is a melting pot? Compared to the boisterous stew that is Australia, the USA is a delicate hollandaise sauce, at risk of breaking into a curdled mess if it is heated just one minute too long. About 13% of all Americans were foreign born (and, yes, that includes all those illegal immigrants). Twice that proportion of Australians are foreign-born, and another 20% had one foreign-born parent: that's a huge 46% all up who are first– or second-generation Australians. Australia resembles Queens county in New York city much more than it resembles Idaho.

A Gay People

Australians are more accepting of gay people. About 60% of Americans think that society should accept homosexuals, while about 80% of Australians think so. Same-sex marriage is legal throughout Ausrtalia. This is a cause of deep distress to a few religious persons who believe that their concept of marriage should be imposed on everyone else.


Religion is not nearly as important as in the USA. Only 4% of Americans list their religion as No Religion, whereas 22% of Australians happily do so. Half of all Americans do not want their child to marry an athiest. Few Australians would care.

Australia is a nation of lazy hedonists, with a deep reluctance to get involved in religious dialogue. Because Australians are not very religious, the divorce rate is half that of the United States: in the USA five marriages per 1,000 end in divorce; in Australia only 2.5. (Source: OECD).

Americans regularly call on religion in public and private discourse. Australians would be deeply embarrassed to do so. For example, Americans often say things like:

  • Marduk has a divine plan for Alaska
  • Six other people were killed in the car crash, but Mighty Thor saved me
  • Neptune sent a wind to push my boat to the shore
  • Ten years after being imprisoned in a basement, I reached out to Isis, and she sent my neighbour to break down the screen door.

That just sounds crazy to an Australian.

Crime and Guns

In America, lots and lots of people have guns. Almost all of these people are men, perhaps subject to some sort of Oedipal complex. In Australia, it is very difficult for a law-abiding citizen to buy a gun of any sort. On the other hand, the crooks can get their hands on illegal guns easily. The effect of this on Australian crime is evident from this table:

Indicator USA Australia Source
Firearm homicides per million per annum 36.0 1.3 GunPolicy.org
All murders per million per annum 48.0 9.7 UNODC

Sources: UNODC: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

As you can see, because only the bad guys in Australia have guns, far more fewer Australians are killed by guns than Americans. An American is thirty-times more likely to be killed by a gun than an Australian is; and five times more likely to be murdered by any other means.

Racism in Australia

In the USA, the concept of race is constructed quite differently to that in Australia. Australians talk about background or ethnicity, never race. The term inter-racial marriage is meaningless. When the comedian John Oliver berated Australia for its comfortable racism he noted that Aussies were very specific in their racism. Not I hate Asians, more like Vietnamese—lovely people, Cambodians—awful

At the time of its creation in 1901 Australia was racist to its core. It believed itself to be a part of Britain that had accidentally found itself on the other side of the world. Until the late 1940's Australia maintained the White Australia Policy, which severely restricted immigration into the country to the British, and — with some reluctance — mere Europeans. The fear of the Yellow Peril (Asians) peaked in Word War II, when Australia was under threat of a Japanese invasion. In the twenty years after the war Australia worked out it was not actually part of Britain. The country came to it senses and did a sudden volte-face: everyone welcome! Thank goodness for that.

We have a high level of low-level racism, but a low level of high-level racism. You can find plenty of Australians who have a grudge against some specific group or other. My father – a Hungarian refugee after World War II – always thought that the aborigines should go back to where they came from. You will find very, very few who demand that certain ethnicities sit in the back of the bus, or that they have separate schools, or clubs, or pubs. But you can always find truly offensive individual racists, I regret to say.

Being Jewish in Australia

I'm not Jewish, so you'll have to ask others on that score. On a per capita basis, we have twice the Muslims, three times the Buddhists, and one-third the Jews that the USA has.

Australia does not have a rich heritage of Jewish culture. Not because Australia is anti-Semitic, but because it is indifferent, just as the USA is indifferent to Zoroastrianism or Buddhist culture. When we watch Seinfeld, we have to ask a Jewish friend to explain the jokes: what's a bar mitzvah? Australia has never made a Jewish TV sitcom for the same reason the USA has never made a Parsee sitcom. Or take food. Most Australians have only vaguest idea what bagels, lox and gefilte fish are. But humus, tabouleh, and felafels are all over the place. We do not associate the latter as being Jewish, but as being Lebanese.

The highest office in Australia is the Governor-General. It is purely symbolic, but as a symbol is meant to be a unifying force for the whole nation. Australia's first Jewish Governor-General, Sir Isaac Isaacs, took office in 1930, 29 years after federation (that's the equivalent of 1818 in American history). How many Jewish presidents have there been?

Being Moslem in Australia

I regret to say that the most common ethno-religious prejudice in Australia is against Muslims, probably on the same level as in the USA. However, Muslim is often conflated with Arab. Most Australian immigrants of Arab descent are actually Lebanese or Iraqi Christians. Go figure.

Being Asian or Indian in Australia

I use Asian in the sense that most Australians and Americans use it, to mean east Asian: everywhere east of Burma (as opposed to the British sense of India and parts adjacent). Likewise, by Indian I mean all those living south of the Himalayas. There are proportionately four times the number of Asians and 40% more Indians in Australia as in the USA. Stereotypes are about the same.


Most people when they travel abroad assume that the natives whose countries they visit will have varying opinions as to their country of origin. When Australians holiday in Indonesia or the south Pacific, they are grudgingly prepared to accept that many Indonesians and Islanders have the lowest opinions of Australian tourists, thanks to the many instances of vile behaviour that Australians perpetrate.

When some Americans travel abroad, they assume that the world universally holds them in the highest regard; as beacons of truth, justice and the American way of drone strikes. They can be shocked that the high opinion they hold of themselves is not universally shared. They call this anti-Americanism, and attribute it to envy or malice.

The stereotypical view of Americans that most Australians have would go something like this:

  • Good opinions: Welcoming, warm, inventive, hard-working, go-getting, polite, respectful, resourceful
  • Bad opinions: Ignorant, self-righteous, loud, aggressive, superficial, parochial.

Your kids in school will be much more impacted by these stereotypes than the adults you work and interact with. Yeah, kids can be cruel. At dinner parties, the axis of division will probably be political. The centre of Australian political discourse is somewhat to the left of American politics. If your politics is much closer to Tucker Carlson's than John Oliver's, your life in Australia might be vaguely uncomfortable. Even many Australians on the right of the political spectrum would agree with this critique from the liberal comedian Bill Maher:

I'm just pointing out that in recent years, our foreign policy debates look like the Facebook page of a loner who shot up a McDonald's. We're the only country in the world that muses out loud about who we might bomb next. We did this with Iraq after 9/11, even though they had nothing to do with 9/11. We do it with Iran every day. We're like a schoolyard bully who's got every kid in the class nervous they're going to be next – and I don't know if anyone should have that power. Can you imagine going to work and sitting at the lunch table in front of ten people and saying: Hey, you think we should kill Bob? It would send a message to Steve.

Who acts like this? People in other countries don't talk like this. Probably because, if they did, we'd bomb them. Is there no self-awareness about how arrogant it looks to sit around politely pondering who needs a good bombing?

Do Australians Like Americans?

Of course they do, but they like Canadians better.


We like to think we have a good range of cuisines here, but you will undoubtedly miss many of your favorites. You can't get chicken tetrazini in a can, Cheese Whizz, Easter Peeps, streaky bacon, or Monterey Jack cheese, for example. Even the McDonald's, Pizza Hut, and KFC is different. The names of many common food items are different. You will miss Mexican foods and restaurants. There is a very good reason for that: the USA shares a border with Mexico (distance zero km), while Australia is 14,000 km away (that's about 550,000,000 inches in your measurement system). On the other hand, you can get quite good Thai and Vietnamese here, for reciprocal reasons.

Tea, Coffee and Kettles

My kettle, a very fine cherry red Russell Hobbes
My kettle, a very fine cherry red Russell Hobbes.

Australian electricity is provided at 240 volts, like all right-thinking nations. We do not have to install separate electrical systems to power large appliances such as dryers or air-conditioners. Everything in Australia is a masculine 240 volts. As a result, most Aussies use electrical kettles to boil water. Electric kettles are ubiquitous in Australia. Australian kettles boil water very quickly, in two minutes. Americans do not use kettles because the lower voltage means that boiling water takes four minutes.

And a special note. They are electric kettles, with bases made of plastic. Do not place them on a hot-plate. They will melt. Look at the picture for goodness sake!


Peanuts are not important to Australians. In my time in the USA, I found that every second product had peanuts, and that included hand sanitizers and tampons. If you do feel the urge to add peanuts to random consumables, just buy some peanuts and a blender.

Etiquette, Politeness and Social Relations

The fundamental fantasy of America is the American Dream, in which every toilet cleaner is just one toilet bowl from fame and fortune. The fundamental fantasy of Australia is egalitarianism. And just as social mobility in the United States is much more limited than Americans want to think, so Australians are not as equal as they like to think.

But regardless of the social and economic realities, the basic principle of Australian society is that no one is better than anyone else. We celebrate honesty and fairness, and helping your mates. Australians resent deferring to anyone; and pretend that there are no social hierarchies.

Americans defer to authority, social status, education, and monetary worth. Americans mock the British with their silly deference to people called m'Lord. Though most Americans would both deny and be offended by the charge, they are more British than the British when it comes to title-worship. Americans who have left public office decades before are addressed by ancient titles with pomp and ceremony: President Clinton, Governor Palin, Colonel Sanders. Australians would rather slash their genitalia than grant faded politicians such titles.

Americans strive to assert themselves in social hierarchies, be those hierarchies small or great. I have a great example of the difference: tipping in restaurants. Tipping in Australia is regarded as vaguely offensive, since it implies that your wait-person is not as good as you are, and must beg for money. They won't knock back the tip, but throwing money at them is like throwing peanuts at a monkey: it just shows your contempt for the monkey. I could not put it better than this description from the owner of a San Diego restaurant who banned tipping:

Our most transgressive act was refusing to allow our guests to pay our servers anything more beyond the service charge — this is where the angry came out. A certain small number of very vocal men (and it was always men) resented that we were not letting them try to exercise additional control over our team members. This was true even though compelling research has shown that servers do not adjust quality of service as a result of tips; instead the idea that the restaurant was not offering our servers up as objects of control, was heresy. For these people, the primary service they wanted from the restaurant was the opportunity to pay for favors from the server — much like the patron at a strip club pays the club for the opportunity to dangle bills in front a dancer for individual attention. The idea that a restaurant could legitimately want to be in a different business than a strip club, was not an idea these guests could countenance. Thus, I was ever subject to witty takedowns like you are a douche, along with other well-thought-out gems.

Do not use Sir or Ma'm; when addressing people. These are polite and respectful terms in the USA. In Australia they are obsequious and condescending, about the same as you would regard being hailed as My Liege or My Lady.

Manners and Compliments

Think of Australian manners as those you have seen in British TV shows and movies. No, not Downton Abbey. If you have never seen a British TV show or movie, you might want to rethink your decision to live in Australia: you are in for a very big shock.

Do not expect that your compliments will be returned. As Lynneguist, an American linguist resident in the UK explains, Americans are used to an unending drip-feed of positive reinforcement from colleagues, friends, strangers, homeless people, whatever. I love your hat! Great socks! Nice bike! Lovely aftershave! Didn't notice the labia-ring! Sweetest fart I've ever smelled! Nice hanky! Wonderful haircut!

Do not expect praise. If you rescue a 12-year old child from the pits of hell, the best you can expect is a Thanks, mate! from the parents, and a few beers later. You will not be feted as a hero. But should your own child fall into the Stygian pit, those same parents will be the first to attempt a rescue, and all they shall ask from you is a few beers.

Your genuine enthusiasm for something can sound creepy. You may think you are applauding the swimsuit design of your Australian neighbour's 12-year old, but your neighbour just hears you making paedophilic advances. At work, your effusive praise for your boss, or your colleagues, just sounds like toadying.

Climate Shock

Australian climate zones
Australian climate zones. Source: From AdamCadre, who found it somewhere else.

The Australian continent has a far more equable climate than North America. Many places are as hot as Arizona, Nevada, or New Mexico in summer, and as humid as New Orleans; but nowhere are there the raging blizzards and tornadoes that North Americans accept with equanimity.

You will never be so cold as when living in Australia. Australians don't warm their houses very well. Even in the cold areas of the country, central heating is only common in homes built in the past 20 years. To an Australian, a basement and a furnace are not standard parts of a home, like a bathroom or toilet, but the technologies that the ever-increasing multitude of American serial killers use to dispose of their bodies. This is why Australia has so few serial killers. If you move to a cold area, get an apartment: it will probably have reverse-cycle air-conditioning, which is just fine.

Domestic Life

Yet another big unpleasant surprise. The latest data I have is that at the most general level prices are about 60% higher in Australia than in the USA. 60%! That's huge. And that goes for everything from real estate to software to toilet paper.

This is partly ameloriated by the higher wages paid to Australians. I cannot comment on all occupations, but civil service jobs such as teachers, police, firemen and ambos are paid quite well.

The Sticker Price is the Price

While living in the USA, I always had to remind myself that the sticker price was but a fantasy, and that the real cost was somewhat higher. In Australia, the sticker price includes all taxes: what the sticker says is what you will pay.

Commerce: Cheques {Checks} and Credit Cards

In Australia, cheques are only used for huge expenses, like buying a house, or paying lawyers. Many Australians don't even have a cheque {checking} account. If you try to pay a restaurant or supermarket bill with a cheque, you may find the police being called. Use a credit card or eftpos {debit card} instead. Utility bills, such as gas, phone, and electricity, are paid by direct debit.

The USA has always been the world's technological leader except when it isn't. Along with Liberia and Burma (Myanmar) the USA is leading the world into the 17th century with its campaign against the metric system. It is also the last holdout of credit card magnetic-stripe technology. Australian merchants only accept credit cards that are chip-and-PIN. No magnetic stripes, no signatures.

The Cadence of the Year: Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas

In both the USA and Australia, Halloween is a time when tweenie boys dress up as some revered hero, and tweenie girls dress up as tarts, and parade through the streets: the boys parading their nascent virility and the girls their, uh, something. I really don't understand it. In Australia this costume drama is purely for pre-pubescents. There is no tradition of adult costume parties, and the idea of turning up to work in costume would be considered deranged.

The American holiday of Thanksgiving, in late November, celebrates the arrival of a group of religious zealots who were so upset at the liberalism shown by their home countries that they felt compelled to flee across half the world to establish their own rabidly intolerant theocracy. That is why Australia, which is much more tolerant of non-Christian religions, does not celebrate Thanksgiving.

In America, the holiday season starts at Thanksgiving and ends at New Year's. We do not have Thanksgiving. In Australia, holiday season starts at Christmas, and continues until Australia Day, in late January. This handily coincides with summer. While Americans after Christmas Day are brusquely walking back to work through snow-storms, Australians are just settling into a warm alcoholic haze that will last for weeks.

Health Care

Australia is cursed by a socialist health care system broadly similar to Canada's. Because of this, Australians live longer than Americans; have more doctors, nurses and hospitals per capita; and get better medical outcomes. We do so while spending much less than Americans do. We are also very good at preventing deaths in a pandemic while maintaining economic output. Here are the statistics:

Indicator USA Australia Source
Cumulative cases per million in the COVID-19 pandemic (Feb 2021) 80,500 1,100 OWID
Deaths per million in the COVID-19 pandemic (Feb 2021) 1,380 35 OWID
Physicians per 1,000 2.3 2.5 WDI
Nurses per 1,000 8.1 10.7 OECD
Hospital beds per 1,000 3.3 7.4 WDI
Life expectancy of women at birth (years) 80 84 CIA
Life expectancy of men at birth (years) 76 79 CIA
Infant mortality (deaths of infants under one year old per 1,000 live births per annum) 5.9 4.5 WDI
Percentage of 20 year old women who gave birth to a child whilst in their teens 22.0 9.0 UNICEF
Health expenditure per capita ($USD) per annum $8,608 $5,939 World Bank

Sources. CIA: CIA World Factbook. WDI: World Development Indicators, published by the World Bank. OECD: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. UNICEF: United Nations Children's Fund. OWID: Our World in Data, December 2020.

I can only recount one recent experience of an American living down under:

… This was my first trip to the doctor in Australia and I didn't really know what to expect. I don't get Australian Medicare as I am only a temporary resident at this point, so I was going to have to pay out of pocket and send the receipts to my private health insurance company. So I checked in, sat down, and prepared myself for the endless wait that is the inevitable when seeing a doctor.

Or not.

I was in to see the doctor in about 3 minutes. And I think I spent about 5 minutes total with him. He asked me about my symptoms and listened to my breathing with that little device that doctors always have, then told me that I have a respiratory infection. He then asked about any allergies or bad reactions to medications I've had in the past, gave me a prescription, and sent me on my merry way. Grand total at the doctor's office: $65.

$65. That's it. Do you know how much going to the doctor in the United States would cost without insurance??? Probably upwards of $250; AND they make you wait for an hour. Hell, even with insurance, $65 at the doctor is a pretty good result. And better yet I get a full reimbursement from my insurance company here because this doctor's office charges Medicare rates.

Abortion Is Legal and Not a Political Issue

Abortion is controlled by state law. It is legal under heavy constraints. Australians overwhelmingly approve of the right of a woman to have an abortion, although there are many differences of opinion as to when in her pregnancy it should be allowed. The Australian Pro-Life political movement is as influential as the Pro-Monarchy movement in the USA.


There are more pitfalls than you think. Australian idioms are much closer to those of the UK than the USA, and can be the cause of significant misunderstandings, not just linguistically but in etiquette. Australians and Americans can appear very rude to each other because they think they are speaking the same language. Check out NOOBS, written by Ben Yagoda, a professor at the University of Delaware, or Separated by a common language by M. Lynne Murphy, an American academic at the University of Sussex.

Even the word Please has different functions in our two languages.

Australian Accent

Most American accents are rhotic. The Australian accent is non-rhotic. That is, we don't pronounce the letter r much. Australians pronounce these words the same: panda and pander, father and farther, aunt and aren't. The closest equivalents would be eastern New England and New York accents.

Like most non-rhotic varieties of English, Australian has more vowel sounds than rhotic forms. The words father, bother and broader have very different vowel sounds in Australian English. Likewise the vowels in cot and caught; and Mary, merry, and marry. The sound that Australians use in the common word on is unknown in American

Cockney-like glottal stops (as in uh-o) are common in Australian English. Butter tends to be pronounced as bu'a.

Australia does not have regional accents, but class ones: a cultivated (the actress Cate Blanchett at the Actor's Studio), general (Cate Blanchett on Letterman), and broad (Steve Irwin on Conan O'Brien).

Other Sites to Consult

You should look at these:

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