From PK to AU – A Survival Guide Part 1

Who are you?

O Hai, Greener Pastures!

For this post to be relevant, or even interesting to you, you should be someone who has lived in Pakistan all your life and are now considering, as many are, moving to greener pastures, this blog post is for you.

That is unless, of course, your idea of greener pastures is the no longer AAA rated United States or somewhere in Europe. To be fair, you may intend to migrate to Nigeria, for all I know, or the easier to adjust to United Arab Emirates or (arguably) your spiritual home, Saudi Arabia. Returning to the point, this blog post is of little use to you if you are planning/trying to migrate anywhere but Australia.

Who the heck am I?

When writing, one is told time and again to write what they know. In my case, for the past year or so, what I knew consisted mostly of things that are different “here” i.e. In Brisbane and Sydney, Australia, as opposed to how things used to be for the quarter of a century I lived “there”, i.e. Karachi, Pakistan. I moved to Australia with my husband around May 2010. A year has gone by and some of the shininess and has faded and I’ve learned some things that I’d like to share with my fellow wannabe-migrants.

Don’t sue (or worse, flame) me, yo.

Let me also provide a standard disclaimer before I begin that it is quite possible that you may find your own experiences to be quite different from mine. You may sit in Perth or Melbourne and be able to unequivocally state that none of what this silly woman is on about was relevant to yourself. This is fair enough, given that we leave room for local differences.

Why did I bother to write this?

Sydney at night

As a precursor to the information presented here, since moving here, I’ve lost count of the number of friends back home who have asked me one or more questions about the following, after asking about how hard it is to get in? For that information, refer to another of my posts that deals with the options available to move here.

The reason I write this particular post was that I have, over the last year or so, repeatedly had to formulate and convey the information I will put into this series of posts to people and I figured that I may as well write about it in one place. Why discriminate against people who don’t know someone here who can tell them these things to give them a bit of a head start into life in Australia.

Admittedly, knowing these things a year or so ago would have made my life and transition a bit easier, so that is as good a reason for me as any to put it down here.

Buy or Rent?

Rent? Pfft!

To begin with, let’s say you’re all set to come here, possibly to look for work and need a place to stay. One of the most basic differences you will find is the rental culture. Unless you’re someone in their thirties or have/are planning to have children, chances are you will be renting a home rather than buying one. That being said, it is a well known (and oft-repeated) fact that its a buyers market for houses in Australia just now, so if you can afford the upwards of 300,000 dollars required to purchase a house, go for it.

From my experience, when you’ve converted all your PKR savings to AUD, the resultant number is significantly diminished and slighty alarming! I believe that it’s safe to assume that no matter how much of a buyers market it is, when you first arrive here, unless your name is Bhutto-Zardari, you’re renting. This is not a necessarily a bad thing.

What you need to know about renting property in Australia.

The best and worst thing about renting a property is that you don’t own it. This is good because if you lived in one place for a period of time and grow to detest it with a passion usually reserved for Rebecca Black songs (click on that link, its hilarious!) and fanboys, you can simply move to another place and never have to see the place again. This is bad because the lack of ownership means that you are on a very short leash in terms of what you are allowed to do with the property.

When life gives you bat poo...

Depending on the terms outlined by your landlord you will most likely not be allowed to have pets, loud parties (neighbors operate as judge and jury regarding the loudness of your parties), hammer nails into walls to hang your stuff or put up shelves, install air conditioners or dishwashers, have friends over to live with you for an extended visit, sublet the place without permission, make structural changes, etc.

To supply an example that hits close to home, we have a tree in our property’s yard that serves as a nightclub for bats. Every night, they’ll silently gather, do the bat mating ritual or sit in a circle and smoke pot or whatever it is that bats do for fun and in the morning, I’ll be left with a small mountain of bat poo. I’m not allowed to get rid of the tree without permission from the owners of the property and I’m forced to clean the stuff and toss it every few days. It strikes me that this could serve as a metaphor for my life of some sort, but I’m too grossed out by the implied metaphoric connection between my life and bat poo to follow this up.

There’s always a middleman.

Acting as arbiters in this exciting new relationship in your life are the estate agents, the people who serve as firewalls between yourself, the troublesome tenant and the owners, who really don’t want to be directly bothered with the rubbish you get unto and your pleas for maintenance.

In my experience, estate agents belong to either one end or the other of the niceness spectrum. They will be either extremely accommodating, sympathetic, cooperative and understanding, or they will be the estate agent from hell: late to return your calls, holding you responsible for wear and tear to extract repair costs out of you and insisting on judging not just condition of the house on the quarterly inspection, but also your life (“tsk, tsk.”, “what?”, “oh, nothing at all, dear. “).

A nice agent can make life in a not so perfect house feel like a good trade-off while an evil agent can easily make your dream house feel like a test of patience and, to stumble head-first into a cliche, a nightmare.

How long am I stuck here, again?

The shortest lease period allowed is six month. Yes, you can get out of your contract before your lease expires, but based on the amount of hassle and expense you’ll likely end up with by the time you manage to move into your new place, you may well wonder if it was worth it.

To get an idea about this ordeal, let’s say that for any one of a myriad of reasons (found a much more appealing new place, hate your flatmate, hate the neighbors, moving into a need place with significant other, etc.) you want to exit your ongoing lease. Once you’re certain you want out, you’ll approach your agent and give the bad (or good, as the case may be) news. The crux of the ensuing discussion will be to locate a worthy candidate to take over your lease. The catch is that until one is found, you’re stuck paying the lease as usual, even if you don’t actually live there anymore.

In addition to paying rent for two places, you also have to take care of the moving costs (Around AUD 200 for a moving service) and apply for electricity, internet, a phone line, etc. for your new place.

If you thought the concept of paying rent twice when you don’t even live in one of he place you’re paying for was punishing, wait till you have to pitch the place you are vacating to friends, relatives, strangers in elevators, anyone really, who might mention a passing interest in moving. Aside from this, you’ll also likely have to show people around your property, most of whom will likely not be interested enough to apply. This can potentially go on for a month or two if you’re terminally unlucky.

In summation, weighting the mental and monetary cost of finding a suitable candidate to take over your lease, showing strangers your living areas and facing judgement (“tsk, tsk”, “WHAT!?”, “Oh, nothing.”) may lead to serious reconsideration and/or abandonment of the idea of breaking your lease.

Fresh off the metaphorical boat.

When I first arrived in Brisbane, I was coming in from Pakistan and needed a place to crash. Since I didn’t know anyone in Brisbane, I was forced to either opt for a motel (AU$ 50-100 per day if you’re into a decent motel room with some semblance of comfort, and more for a hotel) or opt for one of the few shared living facilities that allowed booking without actually seeing you first. We picked the latter, a seemingly charming little student accommodation called UniResort in Brisbane’s Upper Mount Gravatt area.

In theory, the idea of living with students sounds like fun. I like to think that a temporary madness took over our thought processes wherein we fancied ourselves as more the early twenty-somethings we used to be, and not enough of the married, nearly thirty-somethings we actually are. Less of the “Par-TAY!” and more “Get off my lawn, you darn kids!”.

Your Shared Uni Accommodation Living space

Suffice it to say, three months into our six month lease and the idea of paying AUD 235 a week for more or less one room and bathroom with paper-thin walls and a messy common room shared by three other people had completely lost is appeal. I believe I had to either blog about it or release my tentative hold on sanity and indulge in leaving absurd messes and making a ridiculous amount of noise every weeknight.

To be fair, at the time, we had little other choice: either paying through the nose while looking for a more permanent residence, or Uniresort. If you have the chance to, I would highly recommend crashing with an acquaintance who can barely stand you to avoid this horrible choice with no win.

Links:

Gumtree is the Australian equivalent of Craigslist. Given enough time, you can find anything there, from people looking for someone to move in with them to used furniture.

Real Estate is your go-to website to locate a place to rent or buy.

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