Could I live in Australia or New Zealand?

As we slowly make our way around the world (only one continent unvisited!), we’re paying attention to the places we might want to stay longer and possibly use as a long-term base. We’ll still travel, but at some point I’m sure we’re going to want a place that feels a bit more like “home” where we can both make friends and be part of a local community. We absolutely loved Australia, and we’re enjoying New Zealand so far. But I have to wonder if I could live in Australia or NZ.

live in Australia

Our visit to Australia really surprised me. We actually only went there initially because (1) we were fairly close, (2) we needed to go there to cross the 6th continent off our list, and (3) Tigger really wanted to go. Despite hearing wonderful things, I just didn’t think I’d care all that much for it. I prefer undeveloped to developing countries. Australia seemed to be just one more European metropolis without the charm of say, my favorite city in the world Paris.

I ended up really liking it, though! We only had a few days in Sydney before our housesit in Ballarat, a small town about 1-1/2 hours outside of Melbourne. Sydney was nice but not impressive. The best part for me was visiting with some friends. For Tigger, their incredibly fast Internet was a huge feather in Australia’s cap.

When we arrived in the small village of Buninyong for our housesit, I was a bit concerned. It was very rural. I like rural, but I also wanted to be able to explore and see new things. However, we quickly fell into the rhythm of small town life, and we fell in love with our village and the town. We had such a great time there, and both places had such a great vibe to them.

We did manage to visit Melbourne, and I instantly fell in love with the city. It has such a great energy to it, has a gorgeous beach area, and a wonderful public transportation system. It’s just such a freaking cool city.

Once I got past the initial culture shock, it was even easier to enjoy the area. But the longer we stayed, one thing kept coming up for me.

Australia is way too . . . vanilla for me.

live in Australia

There’s plenty of museums, shows, theatre, etc. If you’re in bigger cities, there is a lot of ethnic food available. But I felt like I was surrounded by . . . I hope no one takes this the wrong way, but far too many white people.

I grew up in a melting pot, a place full of color, different languages, and ethnicities. As we’ve traveled, we’ve primarily remained immersed in similar situations. Even in France, there was a healthy amount of diversity. Not so much in Australia.

New Zealand has a slightly different culture, especially with its large Maori population. But it still feels very, well, “white bread.” I greatly miss hearing all the languages around me I don’t understand, seeing all the different colors of skin, the down-to-earth lifestyle of developing countries. I miss my hawker food places. I miss the challenge of trying to figure something out because I don’t understand the language. While it can be nice communicating with the locals, I miss both of us, a local and me, laughing as we try to figure out how to communicate. I even miss the chaos of motorbikes whizzing around.

live in Australia

Most of the people I’ve met in both countries have been extremely friendly. But it still feels. . . sterile.

New Zealand reminds me of home in the Pacific Northwest, but I don’t think I could live here long term. Australia would be a bigger draw to me. I’d love to visit and stay longer in both places, but could I live in Australia or New Zealand long term?

They’re both special, wonderful places, but I don’t think I could call either country “home.”

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  1. Interesting read, especially for me, as I fancy myself a bit of a moving target and ambassador of change. Having lived in São Paulo for 2 years, I’m starting to peek at future places to possibly live and this post really hit home. I think if you grew up somewhere, or maybe even lived somewhere for a significant period of time, that was multicultural, it’s hard to get used to something else. And why would you want to?

    I was born in NY, lived in Miami for 16 years and even went to Northern Illinois (1 hour west of Chicago) for two years, so diversity and multiculturalism is something I’m accustomed to, and am wondering now, after reading this, if that’s one of the reasons I feel so at home here in SP, especially now as its becoming more of an expat destination. For me, where I live has a lot to do with who I live with and who I’m going to meet on a day-to-day basis. And having considered Australia and New Zealand as potential options for my next big move, I’m making a note to myself after reading this post. So thanks for the great post.

    What are the other places you’ve considered?
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    • Yes, it’s definitely hard if you’ve been raised in a very diverse area and find yourself in a more homogenized one. SP does sound quite diverse. I can understand why you’d enjoy it so.

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  2. ‘White’ doesn’t mean it’s not cultural…!
    Australia has a lot of cultures from around the world (Italian, Greek, Turkish, Lebanese, Somalian…)!!
    And you obviously missed the Indigenous then? Our history & land owners!
    You want culture? Go to Alice Springs & visit Uluru and it’s surrounds (can’t believe you missed this?).
    You stayed in one of the most rural towns in Australia…probably a little withdrawn from culture!

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    • Bahahahhaha ahahahah hahahaahahha ahem.

      Yes, Ballarat… its between the Back of Bourke and Darwin.. The electricity is powered by a hyperactive kangaroo riding a bicycle and the internet is run primarily by koalas on speed.

      Seriously.. no culture in Ballarat or Surrounds? There is loads if you look.
      Admittedly Brynie it isnt Sydney or Melbourne, however there is a lot that Talon and his Son did not get the chance to see or do as well.

      Calling it the one of the most rural owns in Australia is a real giggle. I can point out at least 150 other * tiny* places that make Ballarat look like New York City in comparison, by just looking at a map. But hey.. each to their own.

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      • We loved that kangaroo, too. Got to feed him his triple shot.

        I didn’t say there was no culture, I said there wasn’t enough for me to live there long term.

        I had a great laugh at that comment, too. I’ve been to towns MUCH more rural than Buninyong or Ballarat while we were in Oz! LOL

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  3. I have to say I’m not entirely surprised at your final conclusion. While I bet it was a refreshing change for a bit, the “normal” life tends to get quite boring once you’ve experienced the excitement of a foreign language, a new road or had different opportunities to learn.
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    • Most definiely. It’s been very comfortable, but I really like having more challenges and diversity.

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  4. I totally understand about wanting to be surrounded by more diversity. I live in a very “white bread” city, even with the large latino population. I need some more frustration in my life! LOL
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  5. Our son lived/studied in Melbourne for a semester and he absolutely fell in love with the city, I think he could have lived there long-term. I also loved Melbourne, I enjoyed Sydney as well, but I loved Melbourne – I think because it had a more European vibe. Personally, I wouldn’t want to live in Australia or NZ just because it is so far away. For you globetrotters, it may not feel that way – but for me, it’s too far removed.
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    • It is definitely far from other places. It’s relatively inexpensive to get from there to SE Asia, but it’s still around a 7- to 8-hour flight. Anywhere else is even longer.

      I liked Melbourne better than Sydney as well. The general vibe was just cooler, and they have a better public transportation system.

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  6. Both are places I’d like to visit, but not necessarily live. I think my problem is that anywhere can become mildy mundane after too long – even my current home of Beijing, which despite the frequent frustrations and miscommunications, is still just an urban lifestyle.

    Of the places I’ve visited recently, the one I’d really like to live in for an extended period is your home area: the Pacific Northwest. Full of new wonders for me, lots of new places within a short travel distance and surprisingly often cheaper than Beijing
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    • Very true. Any place can become mundane. Which is one reason we move around a lot. We just have an itch to see and experience new things.

      That’s one thing I’ve noticed about large cities. They tend to be all quite similar to each other which isn’t as enjoyable for me.

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  7. After six months in NZ, we could definitely live here… but not near Auckland and probably not on the North Island at all. We loved, LOVED the south island. We miss a lot of the same things you do, but for us, this could be a great base… the only trouble… it’s too far from all the people we love most! Our home base will eventually be closer to our home hearts!
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    • Not being close to any family, that definitely isn’t a factor for us. NZ definitely reminds a lot of home, but I need more cultural differences and things.

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  8. I agree. I’m from NZ and I don’t feel it’s the right place for me. As you said, too vanilla. I need a bit of spice in my life. With NZ and Australia there is nothing really unexpected. I think because the language, food and culture is all reasonably similar. I like it when things are challenging or a little offbeat and I don’t ever feel that in Australia or NZ.

    If you want to experience culture shock though, there are some very diverse suburbs in Auckland. Most of the Pacific Island population live in South Auckland and that might make for an interesting excursion for you if you’re craving a little chocolate sauce for your vanilla experience. ;)

    http://www.aucklandnz.com/activities/listing/otara-markets
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    • Definitely agree with you. And Otara was already on my list. Problem is we are night owls so don’t usually get out of bed early enough to hit these markets. LOL

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    • They are both fabulous places to visit, especially Oz. REALLY enjoyed our time there. Just wouldn’t want to live there long term.

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  9. I surely hear ya Talon – after two years of constant Vietnamese blabber for background music (not to mention the challenge of crossing the street!), I’m sure most “Westernized” countries are now far too tame for me.

    Interestingly, I can also relate to your discomfort with too much “white” – surprisingly, I felt much the same way – when living on an island OFF THE COAST OF SEATTLE!

    Seattle itself is quite multicultural and racially diverse. Living on that island though… truly idyllic to be sure – but after awhile, it seemed kinda creepy, just waaaay too “waspy” for me.

    LOL, clearly that’s not a problem here in Vietnam. ;)
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  10. I studied abroad for a semester in Sydney, Australia. Since then I always thought it would be a place I’d want to return and live in for a longer period of time. But these days I think of Australia less and less. It’s a great place, but not sure I could call it home either.
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  11. I WOULD like to know more about Australia as far as living expenses, education for minors (I have my 13 year old) and what the people are like? Are they into technology the way that most people from the States are? Recently, when I visited the States I got off the plane and right out of customs looked over at a small bistro diner of sorts and every person at every table was reading the phones, computers and ipads instead of looking at the person across the table from them….this is the society that is now in place and I don’t want to be part of it….

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    • I generally don’t use airport settings to gauge things like that. Someone sitting in an airport may have been there for hours. I would say, though, that while the Aussies we observed do love their technology, they don’t seem to be as absorbed by them as people in the States are.

      Living expenses are pretty up there. Sydney was very expensive. Other areas we were in were very similar to US prices, though. Except for food which was generally higher. Restaurants are much more expensive. A dinner in the States that would cost me around $16-18 would be $30 in Oz.

      From what I’ve heard the schools are quite good; however, they’re starting to have some of the same problems we have in the States of moving toward teaching to the test rather than actual education. I hope they stop that before it gets too bad. I believe public school costs more in Australia than in the States as well. Although, if you have residency in Oz, you’ll also have national health care which is quite good. I didn’t have it and paid $240 AUD for an ER visit which included all labs, the physicians (including a specialist), etc. It’s a pretty decent system.

      Aussies are quite friendly people. I really enjoyed mingling with them, and I always felt safe, even in big cities.

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      • Having recently moved back to Sydney after living abroad for 22 years, I’m chuckling at your comments. The city I’ve returned to is sooooo very different than the one I left. While the multicultural experiences aren’t as prolific as they used to be, (although Melbourne still does), the lifestyle and attitudes are a lot more diverse. Less 1950s mindset, even though the lifestyle can sometimes be that way. But I find my days surrounded by ‘non-white’ people, as you put it, and love it.

        For Brenda, I have a blog that answers a lot of her questions, having made the decision to move back to Sydney. While Australia is expensive, there are a lot of ways to save. Being a family of 3, we are living on less money, with less “Stuff’, and our expenses are less living here versus what they were in Texas. So, it can be done.

        I’m disappointed for you that you found Australian ‘vanilla’. Sydney, Melbourne, Tasmania, and yes, the Outback, have a lot more to offer, if you can get past the tourism, which it seems you experienced mostly in the larger cities. A shame really. Even though you loved it, I think there is a lot you missed.

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        • It goes without saying that we missed a lot since we visited about 5 cities/towns. It’s a huge country.

          People have different concepts of culture. To me culture is more than having some ethnic restaurants and people of different colors around you. When you put Australia up against say SE Asia, it’s quite vanilla in the culture department. That doesn’t mean Oz is a bad place. We really liked it there. But it was too vanilla for me (although NZ was worse) and what I enjoy.

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  12. Hi Talon,
    Having just spent 3 years living in Australia and 7 months in New Zealands south island, I write this comment from Abel Tasman to say that NZ is a great place to spend a few weeks/months to travel around and Australia also, but both places lack the pace/challenges/excitement of Europe and Asia…

    Most of New Zealands west coast was just mining towns and they are just small country places that live a quiet life.. Queenstown is fun but after the adrenilne activities its just a small ski village… Perth became boring after 2 years, it is all very barren and boring after a while..

    I love both countries but look forward to moving to Thailand next week and getting back into the fast paced life of travel!
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    • We enjoy them both as well, but Malaysia felt more like home for me than either of these two countries, even though NZ reminds me of my home in the US. I just need more diversity and challenge. Wonderful places with wonderful people, but not for me for long term. Tigger, OTOH, could easily live in Australia long term.

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  13. I agree… I much prefer developing countries to developed ones (except for if you’re talking about Paris, and then I love Paris). It’s a fun choice you get to make though, have fun choosing.
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  14. Being surrounded by people who speak the same language as you after a long time in a place where everyone speaks something different is incredibly weird. Must be even weirder because they speak the same language, but a very different variety than your own. I’ve not had that exact experience. I’ve never been to New Zealand, but I do see what you mean about Australia. How does Tigger feel about this?
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    • Luckily, Australian and Kiwi English is close enough to what we speak to make it work. There have been some discussions, though, where I’ve had to ask for translations. LOL

      Tigger is much more into developed countries than I am. He feels Australia could easily be home for him. But he also liked Malaysia quite a bit, which is high on our list of long-term places, as well as Ecuador and Utila, Honduras.

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    • If I had to pick between the two, I’d say the US’s PNW. It’s even more gorgeous, and it has better salmon. And it’s cheaper.

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    • Spain too familiar for an American? Wow, they have no clue!

      Not a lot of Spanish here in NZ, though. :)

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    • Really can’t blame you. There isn’t much. . . life here. Aussies seem to have more energy and joie de vivre.

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  15. I find your views refreshing, Talon. I don’t necessarily agree–I liked both Australia and New Zealand, and felt I could live in either of them for a while. (I LOVED the incredibly clear skies after a month in smoggy China).

    But I do appreciate that you’re not just saying something is “awesome” and “amazing” because that seems to be the prevailing viewpoint.

    One of the things I love about travel is it teaches us more about ourselves. You’ve learned you need diversity, I’ve learned I’m happiest in cities, and my husband likes to be around anything historic (and a good donut shop doesn’t hurt :) )
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    • A good donut shop never hurts. This is very true!

      I believe in being honest. Both with myself and my readers. :) And I respect and love how we’re all different. For some people both of these countries would be Shangri-la. For me they’re wonderful to visit but wouldn’t want to call them home. I love that there’s somewhere wonderful and different for everyone.

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    • Sometimes you definitely have to be intentional about it. Denver was like that for me as well. Had to seek out diversity because it wasn’t really present in our yuppie suburb.

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  16. I’ve been in NZ for currently six months. At the moment I’m living in a very small town (300 people!) in the South Island and although it’s very, very beautiful, you have to sacrifice a lot to live in a place like this! Only 1 shop, same people all the time, no diversity, no cultural activities (like live music etc). It’s good temporarily but permanently? Hmmm.
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    • That was my feeling, too. People are lovely, the scenery (esp on the SI) is fantastic, lots of great outdoor activities, but the lack of culture and diversity was too much for me.

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