It is now three months since my wife Lynn and I arrived in Sydney from the UK to live here permanently. Since then, things have been sort of sluggish while trying to settle in. We didn’t feel quite home after arriving since our furniture was still en-route at sea. A furniture container should take about 6-8 weeks to ship from the UK to Australia, but ours did not arrive until 11 weeks later. In spite of this inconvenience, everything else has gone just fine since arrival. Our two bedroom apartment provides great scenery plus we now have Bear, our new dog. As if those were not enough things to be happy about, my wife and I are expecting our first child with great joy.
Moving to Australia, though, was not easy at all. It was a long drawn out process (took us almost 18 months) with its own fair share of challenges and a few mistakes as well. I would like to share our experience to help other people out there know what it really takes to pack your bags, leave your old country and start a new life in Australia. But first, let me explain how the idea of living here came about.
What Prompted the Idea to Move to Australia?
In December of 2011, my sister in-law invited us to spend the holidays in Brisbane. It was a great time to go on vacation and escape the cold UK winter. At that time of the year, there is plenty of sunshine in most parts of Australia. We arrived one week before Christmas and pretty much spent the whole time with family. After that we chose to explore the region a little more. Sydney was our first stop and we got there just in time to catch the spectacular New Year’s fireworks display. From there, we spent a few days exploring the breathtaking scenery in the Hunter Valley, the region’s wine-making capital. Our trip ended in Teewah, a beach located just a couple of hours drive north of Brisbane.
It was during that trip that we fell in love with Australia. After just a bit of exploring, we got a glimpse of what the country was like. It was obvious that there was so much more to see since we had only visited a fraction of Australia’s destinations. Having travelled a lot around Europe, my wife and I thought living in Australia and discovering new places wasn’t such a bad idea. After all, who wouldn’t enjoy the outdoor life, sunshine, sand and beaches?
As much as the decision to move to Australia was exciting, we could not ignore the solemn reality of what had to be done to make this happen. The first thing to do off course was applying for visas, which sounds pretty straight forward but can be quite complex.
Finding out our Visa Options
How I wish moving to another country was just a matter of show up and settling down! While that was the case for early migrants during the old Victorian era, those days are long gone. In today’s world, non-citizens require a valid visa to enter a foreign land, at least in most sovereign states. During the initial stages of planning our move to Australia, I decided to check out the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection website.
As mentioned earlier, applying for an Australian visa can be a complicated process. I have heard many people say that it’s possible to do it on your own, but I say don’t go down that road. We chose to seek professional help from a migration agent. Migration experts know all about Australian visa subclasses and can help you make a more informed decision. These experts are required to register with the Migration Agents Registration Authority (MARA) and must abide by a strict code of conduct. They are independent agents and have no affiliation with the Australian Government.
Before a MARA registered agent can lodge your visa application, he or she must believe that you have a good chance of approval. Since these agents can lose their licence for submitting too many failures, what could go wrong with a little bit of advice and guidance from a professional migration expert? Nothing, right? Well, that is what I thought until we settled for the wrong agent. Choosing the right migration agent is important, otherwise it can cost you a lot of time. I’ll talk a little more about that in the next section while also explaining how much it costs to move to Australia.
Weighing the Costs
One of the important questions that anyone would want an answer to when contemplating about moving to Australia is, how much would it cost? Well, one thing for sure is that it’s not cheap. Although I won’t disclose the exact amount we used to get us here, I will list the expenditure items so that you can get accurate quotes for yourself.
- One way flight tickets, for us they were two.
- Fees for hiring a MARA registered migration agent
- Visa application fees payable to the Australian Government
- Skills assessment fee (might not apply to your case)
- Medical examination fees
- Criminal record certification application fees
- Shipping a contain full of furniture to Australia
- Buying or renting a home
Lodging Our Visa Application
Before lodging a visa application, there is quite a bit of paperwork that needs to be filled. Finding out what forms you need to fill can be confusing, although the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection website provides all the information one needs. From the onset, we had decided to work with a migration agent. Remember what I had said earlier about choosing the right agent? Well, don’t make the mistake we did which cost us three months. Here is what happened.
A friend recommended an agent to us so we could find help with the complex visa application process. She was a registered MARA agent, who seemed professional during the first consultation. Long story short, things moved at a snail’s pace.
After the first meeting our agent asked for all the necessary documents she needed to examine our case. We complied and sent the information but she went silent for over a week. We tried to get in touch with her but she would make excuses and apologies then promise to get our case started the “coming week”. Before we knew it, two and a half months had passed and nothing had been done.
My wife and I had decided that after three months we would get another migration agent if no progress had been made. Finally three months down the line, no concrete action had been taken so we chose to switch to another agent. This time, we did not rely on word-of-mouth alone but did a little research and found a Sydney based migrationagent with good reviews.
What was the lessoned learned? Don’t stick with a migration agent for more than a couple of weeks if he or she is not communicating or doing anything to get the wheels rolling. The worst thing of all is that during all the time we were waiting, it reached a point where we through that perhaps our agent didn’t think we had a good chance of getting our visa application approved. But, after choosing to get a second opinion, that notion was far from the truth.
Our second agent was quite efficient. After a week, he had already sent us feedback on the best visa subclass we should apply for. We migrated to Australia on a Skilled Sponsored BQ Subclass 138 visa, but this might not be the best route for everyone. The visa subclass that you would be eligible to apply for will depend on your specific scenario.
I was applying to emigrate to Australia as a skilled migrant. So, I needed to nominate an occupation on the Skilled Occupation List (SOL) and provide a recognized qualification. Although I did not have a recognized qualification in my chosen skill, I had two years of experience in the selected skill out of the last four years of employment, which allowed me to proceed with the application. However, I had to be assessed by an authorising body and prove that I am skilled in the occupation as claimed. So, I put together a folder with a full CV, signed contracts, and examples of work undertaken. For other people, your skill may be harder to prove. It all depends on what you do, but it is important to provide truthful information so that you can pass the skills assessment test or else your visa application will end before it even begins. After all, if you fail the assessment passing yourself off as a locksmith, you can’t reapply claiming to be an accountant. Fortunately, my skills assessment was approved and we were able to move on to the next stage.
By the time we were lodging our visa application, it had taken us five months. However, you can get to this point in a couple of months because we wasted three while working with an inefficient agent. Before applying for an Australian visa, any applicant must be able to meet the minimum application points for their chosen visa subclass. You see, Australia uses a points system to determine which migrants are eligible to enter the country with a visa. If you do not have enough points, then there is no need to apply for the visa. The assessment test helped us raise the points we needed for the skilled migrant visa.
Filling the visa application forms is the easiest part, but it can take a bit of time. Again, you still have to provide a solid application with all the supporting documents to gain approval. We left no stone unturned during this stage, and with the help of our migration agent, the application was lodged. We sent the papers via courier, but I came to learn that applying electronically is faster.
The Long Wait
Putting together a visa application takes a lot of work and time while consulting with someone who is an expert on the matter. But, once you have lodged your application, the entire process is no longer in your hands. At that point, you can only wait to hear from the Australian authorities, which takes some time. I remember my wife staring at our agent with her jaw dropped when we heard that it could take up to 10 months to get a reply. Getting through this period was tough. At some point it even seemed as though time had come to a standstill. However, all the anxiety and thinking only made things harder. So, my advice to anyone waiting for a reply after submitting a visa application is to go on with life and maintain a positive attitude.
Ten months and two weeks later, we got a letter informing us that we had been allocated a case officer and were required to provide our medical and police records. This was thrilling news, but we were not out of the woods yet. We provided the requested documents and sent them again via courier and had to wait again for a response. A couple of weeks later, the good news came. Our visa had been granted and we had been given seven months to arrive in Australia and have it validated. Once validated, we could come back to the UK and still have the right to return to Australia any time until the visa expires.
Planning the move
The seven months we had before arriving in Australia to have the visas validated gave us plenty of time to plan our move. There were still so many things to be done, including selling the house, finding a place to stay once we arrived in Sydney and of course, shipping our furniture. Luckily, we were able to find a nice two bedroomed apartment online and sold our old house in five months.
Leaving your friends behind
While moving to a new country to start a new life can be exciting, it comes with its own emotional challenges. I can’t help but recall feeling nostalgic the last week before our move. Saying goodbye to your family, friends and a place that you’ve known as home for the longest time was the biggest hurdle to overcome after making the decision to move to Australia. However, the prospects of making new friend and promise of the many good days that lie ahead gave us the strength to move on.