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Some downsides to life in Australia

Australia is not, of course, a land of milk and honey.

On the economic front, the nation may not have endured a recession but the economy is not firing on all cylinders. Local commentators speak of a “two-speed economy” with the resources sector and the states where it dominates (West Australia and Queensland) in the fast lane. Retail, manufacturing and finance are all in the slow lane.

May commentators dismiss worries about the two-speed economy, saying Australia's good links with China and India, which together by all sorts of natural resources and are doing so at historically excellent prices, inoculate the nation against economic downturns.

Others argue that industries experiencing trouble are in deep, structural, trouble. A carbon tax kicking in on July 1st 2012 is said by many as likely to make things even harder for struggling industries.

Another thing to watch out for is that interest rates are currently among the world's highest, thanks to the Australian Dollar being near parity with the US dollar. That means investors wary of sluggish equity markets are happy to park some cash in the Australian dollar to get the five percent or so on offer for deposits.

Housing is therefore expensive in Australia and can be hard to find, especially rental housing. Budget at least AUD$550 a week for a family home in a capital city commuter belt suburb, and plenty more for a better suburb or in boom towns like Perth. If a room in a flat is what you want, prepare to shell out AUD$200+ each week for your share of an inner-city or beachside location and make sure you have four times that sum handy as rental bond.

Families may be keen to know that government education is solid but not stellar: 49% of Sydney children now attend private schools, an indication of parents voting with their feet. North American families will find few familiar sports: basketball has a decent following, but baseball and American Football are almost invisible, both on television and as a junior sport. Europeans will be appalled by the low standard of soccer/football, but will have no trouble finding a club for their kids or personal enjoyment.

A few other things to watch out for include fuel prices, which at AUD$1.50 a litre are high for Americans (about US$5.60 a gallon) but decent for Europeans.

There are plenty of lifestyle differences, but a big one for imported workers is the fact that Australia has almost no few business parks: you'll almost certainly work either in a central business district or suburban office cluster. Prepare for radial train or bus commutes, rather than highway drives around or beyond the urban fringe.

If you come on a 457 it is also worth knowing that political debate around imported temporary workers is currently fierce. Australia's booming resources sector insists that without temporary workers it cannot commence projects that will create jobs. Unions aren't keen on that argument. As a 457 holder you won't be spat on in the street, but you may be asked the occasional curly question.

Another issue to consider is staying on in Australia, because if you like it here a 457 visa is no guarantee of an extension or upgrade to permanent residence. If you decide to stay, an employer who swears blind they'll go down the gurgler without you makes a useful difference. ®

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