I moved to Melbourne from Auckland over two years ago now. Prior to deciding on the move, there was plenty that was going on in my head. What was the lifestyle like? What could I afford? What’s there to do? I was ambitious with my research and came with a fair idea of things, but I feel like I’ve picked up a lot more tips and resources over the year. So that’s led me to compiling: the donutsam guide to moving to Melbourne (and Australia to a lesser degree). The budget part is because I like to save a dollar here and there, and well, who doesn’t?
Firstly, the triangle of life…
Establishing the triangle is your priority when arriving in Melbourne (or any new city in fact) as it will serve the foundation of many things. 1) job 2) permanent address and 3) a bank account. The fourth is getting a phone number but that’s easily remedied visiting any telco store (Telstra, Optus, Virgin, Vodafone). I’ve found them all reasonably on par but Optus had the best service for me).
When it comes to having “100 points of identification” for things like lease applications, expected documents include passport, birth certificate, proof of address (the full list has it all) so make sure you have all these handy.
Public Transportation – Airport (Tullamarine)
There’s not too many options getting from the airport to the city. The Skybus is under $20 one way (book online or at the booth) and it runs 24/7 every 10 minutes (daytime). It normally drops off at Southern Cross, but there’s also an option for Saint Kilda too. If you’re staying in the CBD there’s a free hotel transfer service, just enquire once you’ve departed.
If there’s two of more of you, depending on your destination you could be better off with an Uber, but note they don’t do pickups from the terminal. Instead order it from the Parkroyal Hotel next door (it might get stamped out eventually). Otherwise the usual taxis and shuttles are available.
Public Transport Victoria (PTV) has plenty of information on the Myki and public transport system, so that’s a much more comprehensive resource. The Myki card is the system for paying for your trip, which you can pick up at key stations and 7-Elevens. You can also top up the card online, at 7-Elevens and other outlets or at a machine. The card itself costs a non-refundable $6. When commuting, “tap on” your card at the train station, on the bus or tram, and “tap off” for trains only. There’s no harm to tapping extra though. You can’t pay cash for any public transportation.
Each ride on either of tram, bus or train costs $4.10 (full rate) with each tap lasting up to two hours travel time, so that can include switching routes. Each day is capped at $8.20 for a weekday and $6 for the weekend. The weekly, monthly or annual pass is a bit cheaper if you know you’ll be travelling about and these some concession rates available. Note: there is a subset of commuters who don’t tap on but I wouldn’t advocate that here!
All routes on Bus, Tram and Train go both directions. Train lines are named after the final destination and tram and bus routes are numbered. In the rare occasion there’s a letter behind the route number (e.g. 86a) that just means there’s a slight difference due to construction or roadworks. Using the apps is the best way to work out which method and route you should take, as there’s often multiple options.
Free Public Transportation
The free tram zone is in the boundaries of the city and is a fantastic way to get around when you’re in the CBD without cost. Key routes for east to west are on Collins Street (Route 11, 12, 109) and Bourke Street (86, 96), which always have plenty going around. South to north the best bets are Elizabeth Street (59, 57) and Swanston Street (1,8,16,64). These four streets form the busiest foot traffic parts of the CBD.
Route 35, also known as the City Circle tram is perpetually free and covers the full perimeter of the CBD. Running every 12 minutes between 10am and 6pm (9pm Thu, Fri, Sat) it includes audio commentary whilst whisking across major city landmarks and attractions.
Late Night Public Transportation
Melbourne is currently trialling all night public transport on the weekend for select routes, so find out a little more information here. It’s been mega handy for the occasional late one as is the NightRider bus. I do sometimes prefer the comfort of an Uber at a weird hour, it’s worth the extra.
Life without wheels
Melbourne is survivable without a car, but only if you’re living in the right suburb. Anywhere that’s inner city and you’re good (I had no car, ever). Melbourne is a flat city and is walkable. Even without the free tram zone, your feet are fine to get you across the city. The Melbourne CBD was originally designed in a grid like fashion, so it’s well set up to easily navigate and avoid getting overly fatigued.
When in doubt, Taxis are okay, but I’ve always found a happier and more together experience in Uber. The surge pricing can be a bit nuts at times, but that’s rare. Australia is a place you can flag down taxis on the street but book if you need a van or later pickup.
Working eligibility and visas
As a New Zealander I was fortunate to be granted the Special category visa (subclass 444) upon landing. This lets me live and work in Australia indefinitely, and didn’t require any preparation other than booking a flight here. I’d recommend you visit the Department of Immigration & Border Protection website for the most up to date info on the visa options available to you.
Before my move to Melbourne I made it a key focus to secure a role before committing. I used LinkedIn, Indeed, specialist recruiters and applied for ads on Seek. The latter is how I found my final job, in fact. Depending on your line of work, finding employment can be a challenge. Do use your exisiting networks and connections, as that will be your best chance of securing a job. Having funds ready is crucial if you are arriving with a job.
If you’re looking for a part-time gig the physical act of visiting stores/ locations in the neighbourhoods is a tried-and-true method. Friends on short-term visas were fine getting restaurant roles with a bit of door knocking. Also check out the Facebook groups such as Melbourne Hospitality Jobs. Be aware of the minimum wages rates and your entitlements as an employee. Some employers may try to take advantage of the less informed. The Fair Work Ombudsman is here for you to sort through any employer-employee issues or concerns so always speak up.
MoneySmart is a website run by the Government-led Australian Securities and Investment Commission and they provide extensive resources across all aspects of finance. The current law means employers must pay 9.5% if your income into a super fund. Check out the page for guidance on the nitty gritty. In terms of choosing a superfund, I ended up with my employer’s recommended provider but it pays to shop around properly if you have the time.
I did a major mishap and landed in Melbourne without enough cash in hand. I had enough to cover off expenses, food and entertainment, but not enough to put down my deposit for a flat or to furnish my apartment with. I had funds coming through from work but the first payment was some weeks off when I needed it. Luckily, I had amazing friends were willing to help with the shortfall. The money transfer I did via Currency Online for NZD to AUD came through in a few days, which help settle the dues promptly.
As well as the funds for life expenses, things I needed to cover off included: bond deposit, rent in advance, furnishings, household items. Properties here in Australia are mostly unfurnished and the cost of everything (bed, fridge, washing machine, internet, TV) all add up quickly. This could be helped if you move into an existing flat, go second hand or if you get a credit card to tide over the period.
Cost of living
These are some of the examples of the flat bills (per person), to give an idea of how much money you might need (based on my experience, which may or may not be indicative).
- Rent: $500 a week (shared 2 bedroom apartment) in inner city
- Internet: $70 a month (iinet)
- Water: ~$80 a quarter for the flat
- Electricity/ Gas: ~$250 a quarter for the flat
- Public transport: $42 a week (weekly pass)
There was additional charges for the installation of the internet. Most water companies will supply a rebate at some point in the year. With electricity and gas do shop around and there is a great Government tool to help you find the best value. We had some competitive join bonuses with Origin for when we signed up for an account. I’ve had some luck getting incentives for staying on where I’ve been a customer for a while.
The phone plan I used was from my work, and I didn’t opt for any insurance so that kept those costs down. Work out if you need it, based on your situation. In each week in the other avenues of spending, I would have spent approximately $100 eating out, $60 on groceries and $50 on general entertainment. That might be like movies, concert, activities.
In New Zealand I bank with BNZ, and they have a partnership with NAB here that made opening an account ahead of the move easy. You can do it twelve months in advance in fact, and then you can pick up your cards when you land. One of the most important things to me in a bank was convenience of withdrawing funds from an ATM, and you’re well placed with the likes of big players like Westpac, Commonwealth, ANZ, NAB, Citibank.
Credit cards have always been handy, not only for buying things in advance, but also the bonus incentives. As long as you pay your bill in time, you can only benefit from bonuses such as earning points, travel credits, sale promotions and sign up offers. Check out Points Hacks for the latest credit card offers.
I received a join up bonus when I signed up for NAB’s Credit Card (there is an annual fee though) and it had an okay earn rate. In joining up to a card directly with American Express Explorer card I received a 100K signup bonus (enough for four domestic flight or a one-way to London easily) and a $400 travel credit (there is a $400 annual fee though). American Express also do some fantastic cashback offers such as their Shop Small promotion. This runs a few times over the year giving you some money back when spending at venues.
What I learnt is that sometimes you do need cash though. A lot of smaller stores, markets, cafes and restaurants only accept cash payments. Some merchants may not take American Express and there can occasionally be surcharges by paying via card. On the flipside, there’s a few occasions like the Rose St Artist’s Market in Fitzroy where you can only pay with card. So it helps to have all bases covered.
- Home furnishings: IKEA, Kmart, Target, Big W (and occasionaly Aldi with their weekly super buys), Muji
- Clothes: DFO, Uniqlo, Topshop, Mr P, Myer, David Jones
- Electrical: JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman, Good Guys, Appliances Online
- Miscellaneous items: Costco, Daiso, The Reject Shop
- Medical/ Health/ Toiletries/ Beauty: Chemist Warehouse, Priceline Pharmacy
Don’t forget the second-hand options, you can get some good deals from the likes of Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree and eBay. There might be also buy/sell Facebook groups in your neighbourhood.
Well, I’ve written over 400 reviews of restaurants now so hopefully there’s a couple that take your fancy. Don’t be afraid to step away from the crowd, be adventurous and ask around. Zomato, Tripadvisor or Yelp are there for some guidelines.
Some hot spots (though you can get a good mix everywhere):
- Lygon St, Carlton for Italian (touristy though)
- Fitzory – Vegan, Vegetarian
- Richmond (Victoria St) and Footscray for Vietnamese
- Coburg – Middle Eastern
- St Kilda – Kosher
The cost of eating out can vary widely, but you can easily get away for $10 for a cheap eat. I’ll have another post on some good places for this soon. Tipping isn’t expected, but if you do I’m sure staff are very appreciative of the gesture.
Fridays and Saturdays are key days and top restaurants can get booked out. Be sure to get in early with a booking where you can or be prepared for a queue for some top notch dining. Places that you can’t pre-book and instead need to queue include the likes of Mamasita, Hardware Societe, Chin Chin and Rice Paper Scissors. If you prefer to dine in, Ubereats, Foodora and Deliveroo will get most restaurant offerings delivered to your door.
Each suburb in Melbourne has its own quirks and charms and as there’s enough going for any location. My preference and recommendation is to base it off where you will work, where your friends might be located and the location’s proximity to public transport. The zones don’t make as much of a difference in public transport costs these days, but ideally you’d want a commute under thirty minutes. I do have a topline overview of a few suburbs on my post here.
I do find a lot of the locals did live in more far out suburbs, but I do encourage inner city living for newbies to get the most out of the city. The more further out you get the bigger space and cheaper the rent is. It’s also better for those with cars, as it is very expensive to find carparking in the city and some places may not come with carparks attached.There’s not a lot of areas to specifically avoid, but if you looking at any of the above you can be pretty sure it’s got a decent rap.
Your first days
If you’re lucky to have a couch to crash on, that’s great! Do be courteous and don’t overstay your welcome of course, it can be a contentious area for friends. Backpackers and Airbnb are perfect options as well, I’d suggest a good week to get your bearings around the city and acclimatised to things.
Renting or buying
My first home was an apartment on my own. Not budget at all, but that’s what I felt like dammit. Real Estate or Domain are the big sites if you’re looking to rent or buy and from there it was easy to line up viewings. Booking for an inspection is recommended, but I’ve had no issues popping up on a whim.
Things to look for are in a property include: proximity to supermarkets, cafes/ shopping, public transportation, neighbourhoods and neighbours, cleanliness, size, cost, chattels. Fully furnished places are rarer. Given the local summers, something with an air con is a must. If there’s one in the bedroom too that’s a plus.
Viewings also are quick (10-15 minutes) and if you’re keen, make sure to rapid fire some questions. Two and three bedroom places can get especially competitive. It doesn’t matter what time you mail off an application on the weekends, since the agent won’t get to them until Monday. Applications are judged on a number of factors such as rental history, income, employment and then get forwarded to the landlord for final approval. Law requires all applications to have a physical inspection. The timings can differ but on my three occasions, I had a result in the space of a week.
My first house was $360 for a rather fancy one bedroom place in the handy location of South Yarra. I was able to get a six month lease, that’s occasionally possible on some places with the standard being twelve months. There is some horror stories where people have been “outbid” on applications, whereby other prospective tenants have offered rent above the listed price of offered to pay rent in advance. This is uncommon.
Flatting is definitely the budget way to go, places are already established and fully furnished. If you’re looking to join an existing flat, the biggest sites here are Flatmate Finders and Flatmates. I prefer the format of Flatmate Finders myself, but I’ve had success with both. Be clear if you are an individual or a couple, as that will be one of the first questions thrown around.
If you’re listing a flat, be cautious of putting your phone number on the listing, I had a very high volume of calls. Do be detailed with photos and the flat situation. It’s important you gel with your potential share house mates, so get to know them before. Key things for me are: employed, has income, clean, courteous… everything else is a bonus.
Meeting new people
An important part of any new city experience is meeting the people in it. I’ve made connections through work, pre-existing friends, Meetups, and the usual dating and friend Apps of Tinder, Grindr, Skout, Bumble etc. Meetup groups in particular are a fantastic way of finding people with similar interests. Reddit (r/Melbourne) and Facebook can occasionally also offer some social activities. Get involved in the community via volunteering or sports clubs and you’ll be sure to meet plenty of people that way too.
I spend a lot of my mornings checking out deals on Ozbargain. It’s a user-driven platform where deals (travel, finance, groceries and everything in between) are posted. On a regular occasion I’ve saved a good dollar by checking the latest prices/ deals on the site before committing to a purchase. Occasionally there’s voucher codes for things like Uber, and occasionally there’s things that are just straight freebies. Speed is the essence.
I purchased a subscription to the Entertainment Book for $65 (lasts a year) and this gives some decent deals across dining and activities. Even without trying too hard you can get your money back and a bit of effort means you can make good use of it. Some offers of note include: Chemist Warehouse ($10 off when spending $50), buy one get one frees at Trippy Taco, McDonalds, KFC, Mad Mex, Hofbrauhaus and many top places. I prefer the app over the book, which is a more conveninent but less shareable.
In New Zealand we don’t have too much in the way of cash back schemes, so the more I found out about Cashrewards the more excited I got. As a third-party affiliate they make money off your click when you shop on a variety of sites. Ozgameshop, ASOS, eBay, there’s heaps here. You get a % or flat dollar amount based on how much you spend. If you’re keen to sign up use this link and you and I both get a $5 bonus on the referral.
Where you shop for grocery items is largely going to be based upon where you live. The big supermarkets are Coles and Woolworths, with Aldi offering a more budget angle. I quite like the home brands of Aldi and the prices are certainly competitive. I do find that all supermarkets are aggressive with their pricing (some deals being 50% off in a week) compared to NZ. Lastly if you’re a bulk buyer with the luxury of a car, or proximity, Costco is an easy bet.
Many supermarkets do end of day (or close to expiry) clearance specials on perishable items. This differs by each store but Sunday mornings seem to have worked for me before.
Pick up fruit, vegetables and fresh goods at your local market. These are usually cheaper and better quality but can differ by market. Markets like Queen Vic, Footscray and Prahran often have end of day clear out deals, so you can get even better value if you’re prepared to wait.
There’s a forecast of course. Do not trust. Melbourne weather is nuts. I have seen the temperature drop or increase by ten degrees in the space of an hour. One side of the city could be flooding, with another side in sunny rays. Always be prepared for sudden changes in the weather (I carry an umbrella most of the time in winter). Layers in outfits is super important so you can adjust to the climate.
And be mindful in summer, when it nears the forty degree mark, stay hydrated and in air con where possible. The UV rays are rather potent so do the usual slip, slop, slap to make sure you don’t get an unintended burn.
I swear by the Citymapper app (and website), which added Melbourne recently. Citymapper isn’t completely dissimilar to Google Maps, but it comes up with plenty of options from navigating from one place to another. There are combinations of transport considered and you can also get fun “rain-safe” and “drop bear-proof” options. TramTracker and the PTV app are the official Melbourne resources for public transportation. The former is handy for calculating tram routes and arrival times with PTV being an alternative to Citymapper.
The 7-Eleven Fuel App lets you lock in fuel prices. For the non-driver, there’s also in-store vouchers for discounted food and drink. The Happiest Hour is a app for seeing weekly specials at neighbourhood pubs and drinking spots. Meetup for activity planning and the usual stuff like Uber, Deliveroo, Tinder, etc.
Making the most of a city means checking out events and activities on a frequent basis. These occur over the year seasonally and are of sizes, interests and qualities. I enjoy seeing a show or musical, and am lucky to have caught the likes of Les Miserables, Once and Avenue Q among others. You don’t have to pay full price either. Check out Halftix (note this is a store and cash only) and Lasttix which offer discounted shows.
The Melbourne Festival occurs over November and features all sorts of acts from circus, dance, music and speakers. The past few years have seen them run Swifttix, where tickets have been available at half off. If you have a bit of time and patience to spare, you can get $30 tickets to shows any time of the year at the tixatsix Arts Centre directly.
I’m a big advocate of Laneway Learning, which offer small, intimate classes on a weekly basis into a variety of subjects for a low cost (usually $14 + materials). Book on Mondays when the classes are released as the best do fill up quick.
Key ‘thematic’ public holidays to note include Australia Day (Jan 26), Melbourne Cup Day (Nov 7) and Grand Final Eve (varies). Full list here. These public holidays are significant ones for the community and provide good chances to mingle with the traditions. Australia Day often features relaxing with a snag on the barbie and listening along to the Triple J Hottest 100 playlist.
Public holidays can sometimes incur minor surcharges when dining.
Like any major city in the world, Melbourne has it’s share of danger. Overall, Melbourne is a very safe city with only the occasional act playing out in the media. At its core Melburnians are a caring bunch and look out for each other. Do keep alert. One recent bout had thieves snatching phones out of people’s hands so it pays sense to pay attention. At later hours keep your wits about you a little more.
There aren’t too many mannerisms to consider above the norm. Walk on the left side of the path where possible, and keep attention on cycle lanes and traffic lights. Note that jaywalking is an offence and I have known a few people caught and fined on key intersections like Southern Cross.
For public transport, give up your seat to the elderly, injured or pregnant if observed and move aside so others can exit or enter as required. Don’t block routes or interrupt the peace of the other passengers’ commutes. Don’t hit people with your bag either!
Melbourne is a huge sporting capital for Australia with AFL, GrandPrix and Australian Open ja few of the significant international events hosted by the city. As well as the big sports of AFL, cricket, football and NRL more niche sports like ice hockey also get a feature. These happen seasonally so check out the sports section of some of the new sites for upcoming fixtures. To get involved at a more grassroots level, have a look at community boards for social groups.
There’s plenty around, and your choice is guided by what’s nearby and something that you’ll frequent. Many offer 7 day trials, and doing so means you might get some enticing offers following. My first gym was Snap Fitness, which I liked for the no-fixed contract. Anytime Fitness was my second, that was with a fixed contract (12 or 24 months). The two were sufficiently equipped but the likes of Virgin Active are much more fancy. You do pay more, of course.
The all night public transport system helps plan a great night on the town, which can involve activities of all sorts from drinking, dancing, escape rooms and concerts. The crowd will veer based on the venue and there’s a wide range from the raging Revolver, to the rocking Toff in Town and the sophisticated Gin Palace.
Thursday and Friday are the late night shopping days with Melbourne Central and Emporium open until 9pm. Otherwise it shuts at 7pm and that’s standard across most retail stores. In summer and winter, the QVM does a night market. Other alternative activities include Escape Rooms, bar quizzes (check out Happiest Hour), movies, bowling, laser tag, Crown Casino and their downstairs arcade, Playtime.
Another cause for celebration is Melbourne’s bustling music scene. Buskers on key streets of Swanston, Bourke as well as the river walk are already impressive. That’s in part due to the council requiring a permit for these performers, so they are committed. Some of my favourite Australian acts are from Melbourne, be sure to check out the likes of Chet Faker, Courtney Barnett, Miami Horror and Vance Joy.
To check out some gigs check out the likes of TimeOut, Secret Sounds and Beat. You can pick up a physical copy of Beat at various music-related stores of JB Hi-Fi. Melbourne Music week is over November, so plug that into your calendars too.
Regardless at your level of experience, board games offer a fun and casual way to interact with people, new and old. Meetup groups such as the Melbourne Boardgames group are entirely newbie-friendly are regular enough that there should be one almost every day of the week.
For buying, I usually frequent Ozgameshop (online) or Mind Games (store), but not before checking prices over at Board Game Shopper. I did pick up a 10% discount card for Mind Games from one of the Meetup groups in the past, and there’s some good bargains to be had on the Boardgame Sale group on Facebook. I’ve also had drama-free and speedy trading whenever I’ve sold a game on there too.
Other things to do
For other ideas on things to do in Melbourne, check out my other post here.
I hope some of the above info has been of use and if you have any questions or suggestions please let me know in the comments below and I will update this page – it’s currently in development!