Living in Australia vs USA: Pros and Cons

Australian flags shown on the sunglasses, headpiece and handheld flag by a boy alongside the beach area.

Australia is a popular destination for Americans looking to relocate for work, stay, or education. While both countries have many similarities, there are as many cons and pros of living in Australia vs the US.

We will share some of the pros and cons of living in Australia vs. the USA in this post. This includes some similarities both countries share that make settling much easier for the first-time expat. The post will address your concerns about moving to Australia from the USA and share insights to help you determine how best to adjust to life in the Land Down Under.

Learn how living in Australia compares to living in Canada.

Pros of Living in Australia vs USA

If you’re planning to move to Australia, you probably wonder where Australia is superior to the USA. Below is a list of advantages of living in Australia over the US.

1. Work-Life Balance

Compared to the US, work-life balance in Australia is far much better. For instance, Australians get four weeks of paid vacation for every year worked, protected by federal law regardless of how long they’ve been in a company.

In comparison, Americans get approximately 10 days of paid leave for employees who’ve been working for a year. However, those with more than 20 years of experience often get about 23 days of annual paid leave – which is less than Australians get.

In the US, the number of days you get as annual vacation days typically depends on the level of your experience and the employer.

But perhaps the best indicator of the difference in work-life balance between the two countries is maternity leave.

A recent report by Unicef found that of all the wealthiest countries, the US had the worst annual leave policy. On average, Americans get approximately 12 weeks of parental leave. Worse off, that time is typically unpaid.

On the other hand, under federal law, Australians are entitled to a maximum of 18 weeks of paid parental leave. Additionally, those who want to can extend their parental leave to one year and be guaranteed they’ll get their job back after. However, this extension is unpaid.

While there are plenty of other examples of why Australians enjoy a better work-life balance, these two show just how much better Australia is in this aspect.

2. Healthcare

It’s no secret that the American healthcare system is one of the most expensive. For instance, the average Australian spent about US$5,552 on healthcare in 2020. That number was over twice as much in the US, with the average cost of healthcare for Americans in 2020 totaling US$12,530.

Even with this disparity in costs, it’s typically easier to get a doctor’s appointment in Australia than in the US. Medicines are also much cheaper in Australia than in the US, as Australia’s universal healthcare scheme covers them.

Part of the reason for these disparities is the countries’ different healthcare systems. The US healthcare sector is primarily privatized and unregulated. This means that medical practitioners can charge as much as they want.

On the other hand, Australia has a hybrid health sector with a mix of private and well-oiled public healthcare sectors. The Australian tax system also makes healthcare more affordable for Australians.

Unlike the US, Australia, like the UK, deducts health insurance payments from employees’ salaries as part of the tax deductions. This makes health insurance much more accessible and affordable for Australians than for Americans.

Despite America using about 19% of its GDP on healthcare and Australia approximately 10%, research shows that the results and outcomes of healthcare in Australia are far much better than in the US.

3. Social Security

One of Australia’s biggest advantages is how well its social security is defined and structured. So much so that there have been high-level talks about how the US can learn from Australia and reform their social security.

The American social security system is funded by FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act). The system pays old-age benefits to Americans who’ve contributed long enough to be eligible. Typically, payments start from age 62, with those deferring their benefits to ages 67 and 70 getting more benefits.

Unfortunately, most Americans rely on social security benefits in their old age rather than savings. Similarly, because of how the system is structured, it ends up paying benefits even to those in old age with the means to take care of themselves without help.

The Australian social security system combines voluntary savings, superannuation, and Age Pension to fund retirement. Australia’s Age-pension, however, is vastly different from the American system as it’s means-tested.

Means-testing refers to a system where benefits are only paid to beneficiaries who don’t meet a certain income threshold. However, those who earn more than the predetermined threshold gets fewer or no benefits.

Additionally, the mandatory Superannuation Guarantee program has helped Australians save more for old age, which has seen a larger number of Aussies live a more comfortable life than their US counterparts.

Superannuation requires 9.5% of an employee’s earnings to be contributed to the program by the employer for employees aged 18 to 70.

As a result, research conducted by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College found that, unlike in the US, nearly every Australian has a pension that’s enough to live comfortably in retirement.

4. Lifestyle

Compared to the US, where time is money, Australians are much more patient and willing to wait for things to happen in due time. So, don’t be surprised if the locals don’t rush to make things happen.

Still, one of the biggest cultural differences is what Aussies refer to as the ‘tall poppy syndrome.’ While standing out and making yourself heard is essential in the US, it’s frowned upon and regarded as attention-seeking in Australia.

As an expat, you’re less judged if you’re more laid back and don’t demand the attention that’s common in American culture.

Similarly, the work lifestyle is more cordial in Australia than in the US. While most managers rarely mingle with their subordinates in America, evenings and weekends out with your work superiors are the norm in Australia.

In fact, those who hang out with their superiors more are often considered for promotions faster. However, like in America, you still have to show results to make the cut for a bigger and better position or higher salary.

Cons of Living in Australia vs USA

a view of building with the statue of liberty in New York.

Just as there are advantages of living in Australia, there are also some downsides.

1. Extremely Long Travel Distances

Australian cities, towns, and settlements can be thousands of miles apart, but that’s just the beginning. For an expat traveling in and out of the country frequently on business or for any other reason, flying to and from Australia can be tiresome.

A flight from LA to Sydney, for example, takes almost 15 hours on a good day. While you may use the time to wrap up a few reports before you land for your next meeting, 15 hours of flight time is equivalent to almost two working days, the time you would be much more productive if you weren’t on a long-haul flight.

Check this article to learn about how living in Australia compares to living in Canada.

2. Language Difference

While both countries are English-speaking, some language nuances often take expats by surprise. For instance, a manager saying they’re briefly considering other options when presenting them with a proposal means you start afresh and give different ideas.

If a manager wants to talk about something and mentions ‘incidentally,’ don’t be surprised if the incidental topic is the primary one.

These nuances extend beyond the corporate scene and differ depending on where you relocate. Brisbane is a good example, where ‘rorted’ means scammed and ‘crook’ means unwell.

Similarly, when a Brisbanite says they’re shopping for ‘Manchester’, they mean they’re buying beddings. When Brisbanites are heading out for a beer or pint, their common phrase is heading out for ‘schooners!’

Generally, Australians have tons of slang that expats take time to get used to, often causing confusion and misunderstandings.

3. Hot Housing Scene

Statistics show that in 2021, the average price of a residential home in Australia went up by $44,000 in 12 months to a whopping $920,100. According to the Australian Bureau of statistics, the sudden surge in Australian prices in 2021 had raised the value of the country’s housing market to $9.9tn from 2.2tn.

While the rise in housing costs differed across different Australian capitals, all regions recorded double-digit property cost growth. As a result, even Australians find it increasingly difficult to afford a home.

The US homes’ prices rose by 17% within the same period, almost ten percentage points less than in Australia! Moreover, there are plenty of locations in the US where houses cost below-market rates, and one can own a property already with $200,000.

In contrast, Australia’s median property price is AU$549,918.

4. High Cost of Living

While the standard of living in Australia is high, the cost of living is also significantly higher than in most places. The country is currently at the spot 16th globally.

However, not everything in Australia is expensive. Still, it’s essential to keep in mind that some things will cost more than you’re used to.

For instance, anything imported from Australia is often highly-priced. One of the reasons for this is that it costs more to transport products into Australia. As it’s common knowledge, the continent has the world’s most bare borders – which means the countries closest to Australia are an ocean crossing away!

Read about what average Australians make in this post.

5. Alienation From the Rest of the World

Australia might be big enough for you to spend a lifetime exploring, but most people who travel frequently prefer to hop from one country to the next for a long-awaited vacation.

Unfortunately, moving to Australia makes this almost impossible. Due to its location and distance from other mainland countries, most people find it arduous and prohibitively expensive to travel to and from Australia.

The US, on the other hand, while enormous, is not as isolated as Australia. While Australia’s closest border to another country is over 1,000 miles across the ocean, the US shares a land-based border with Canada in the North and Mexico in the South, making it easier to travel across borders.

6. Metric System

This might not seem like much, but many American expats are utterly frustrated and confused for a while after moving to Australia. Like most of the world, excluding the US, Myanmar, and Liberia, Australia uses the metric system.

The Metrics Systems’ units of weight or mass, length, and capacity are decimal measuring systems based on the gram, meter, and liter. Similarly, Australians typically quote distance in kilometers instead of miles like in the US.

To avoid the confusion of these standard metrics, you’re better off learning what they represent to ease your integration.

7. Driving on the Left

Since Australia was a British colony, the government adopted the British road system.

As a result, Aussies drive on the left, so keep that in mind before moving. While it would be great to have a consensus on where you drive across the world, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like we’ll ever come to agree on this one.

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