Welcome to another edition of Expat Tales, where you meet some of the many interesting expats living around the world, and hear their top tips for life as an expat.
This edition, I’m chatting with a new friend, Tammy Thurman. She’s a Brit living here in my home city of Melbourne. I recently met her during a travel writing course in Melbourne and we bonded over travel blogging and expat life. She’s one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met so I was thrilled when she said she’d be interviewed for Expat Tales. I love how she took a chance in moving to Melbourne and has embraced life abroad, despite the inevitable homesickness that comes with being an expat.
Name: Tammy Thurman
Originally from: Yorkshire, England
Now living in: Melbourne, Australia
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What brought you to Melbourne/Australia?
I had a quite a big quarter life crisis – it’s as simple as that! I had been working as a corporate marketing and event manager in London for a few years and the burnout from working 40-90 hours a week combined with the desire to do my own thing became overwhelming. I quit and moved home for a few months before deciding it was the ideal time to go abroad. I had wanted to do the whole expat thing for a while and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
I actually initially looked into moving to Canada. I was in the pool waiting for an invitation to apply for a visa but weeks passed and I’d heard nothing. I’m pretty impatient and so I decided to get one for Australia instead, the other country I was toying with. The visa got accepted instantly and I couldn’t believe it was as simple as that!
I’d travelled Australia (Sydney to Cairns) for two months back in 2014 as part of a year-long world trip, but I actually only visited Melbourne for two days to meet some travel friends. I instantly fell in love with it. It was like nowhere else on the east coast I’d visited. The street art, the vintage shops, hipster restaurants and cafes, the music scene… it absolutely wowed me and I felt so at home. I told my friends that I seriously wanted to move there. Little did I know, four years later I would!
Typically, the day I booked my flight to Melbourne my invitation for a Canadian visa came through but by that point I had my heart absolutely set on Melbourne. I 100% made the right choice. In my opinion, Melbourne is one of the best cities in the world to live in.
Is this your first expat experience?
Yes! Although I’ve travelled long-term before, I had never settled and worked somewhere abroad for more than a few weeks.
I was conscious that most working holiday visas have a cut off at the age of 30/31. Although I was a few years off, I thought it was better to go sooner rather than later before something came up and stopped me.
What do you do for a living?
I’m the marketing, tourism and communications officer for the City of Melbourne waterways unit currently. It’s a dream job to be able to promote boating and the world-class marinas in Melbourne, but it’s only a 6-month contract. That’s the worst thing about a working holiday visa in Australia (well, aside from the fact you have to do 88 days of farm work) – you can’t work for any longer than 6 months with an employer.
I also do freelance digital marketing and travel writing which keeps me busy every evening and weekend. After my contract is up, I’m planning on going full time with it. After years of dreaming about remote working and travelling at the same time, I’m finally going to give it a go. I can’t wait!
I also blog over at Travelling Tam and make a small amount of money from it, but once I go freelance, I plan to focus on monetising it properly. Combining a passion with a job has always been my ultimate goal.
How easy is it to live in Melbourne? Is it easy to get a visa to live in Australia?
If you’re coming from Europe, especially the UK, then there’s absolutely minimal culture shock. Melbourne is a very European-like city, particularly in terms of the lifestyle. The biggest shock will be getting used to Aussie slang and the unpredictable Melbourne weather!
As ever with moving to a new place, you’ll no doubt find they do things a little differently. I remember when I first got to Australia, I found things like the process to buy a car and the fact you can’t buy alcohol from a supermarket or service station confusing but they’re obviously extremely minor things! I think moving here was probably one of the smoothest transitions I could have had.
If you’re 18-30 years of age (or 18-35 if you’re Canadian, French or Irish), you can get a Working Holiday Visa valid for 12 months online for $485. So long as you don’t have any criminal convictions, it’s basically instantly accepted. It’s an extremely easy process to move to Australia short-term.
In order to get a second Working Holiday Visa, you have to do 88 days of rural farm work during your first visa. I personally worked at a winery which was such a fun and well-paid experience (compared to picking fruit or working on a dairy farm for example). Contacts are particularly important to secure good farm work so if this is something you’ll need to do, ask around with your friends and family to see if they can recommend anything.
There seems to be plenty of opportunities for good employment in Melbourne. It’s common for backpackers to move here, live cheap and save lots of money as there are great casual rates and a high minimum wage.
What’s the cost of living like in Melbourne?
The cost of living in Melbourne is quite high. I would draw a parallel here with London prices, although I’m saving more money than I ever have before because of the higher salary.
I live in St Kilda, a suburb near the beach that’s popular with backpackers and Brits. I live in a lovely, spacious 1.5 bedroom period apartment with my partner. I’m essentially paying the same amount for my own place as I did for a bedroom in a four-bed flat share in London.
The thing is with Melbourne is that there is so much going on and so many good restaurants, cafés and bars. I spend a lot more money on having a social life and eating out than I probably should. I think that’s the most deadly thing – the price of having fun in Melbourne isn’t cheap and you’ll be hooked in without even noticing!
I’d say a rough month in money looks something like this:
- $900 rent
- $100 bills (gas, electricity, internet)
- $30 phone bill
- $55 car insurance
- $200 groceries and toiletries
- $220 eating out and socialising
- Total: AU$1,505
What are your favourite spots in Melbourne and beyond in Australia? Where do you always take visitors?
I always warn people coming to Melbourne that I don’t think it’s the most tourist-friendly city compared to somewhere like Sydney. The street art, the galleries and parks are amazing, but tourists probably won’t be blown away by just wandering the streets.
For me it’s all about the food, the music, the nightlife, the lifestyle – something that’s quite hard for a tourist to really submerge themselves in and be impressed by on a short trip. Though I do have a few go-to places I take visitors and everyone loves them:
- A trip to the Mornington Peninsula for a leisurely day of wine tastings and a charcuterie board
- A cycle along the St Kilda foreshore towards Brighton and then back through Catani Gardens
- A tour of the art-filled laneways, including Hosier and AC/DC lanes
- Breakfast at Miss Jackson’s in St Kilda (the food is quite rich but it’s absolutely delicious and I always crave it)
- A gig at Cherry Bar in the CBD, the Prince of Wales in St Kilda or the Corner Hotel in Richmond
- Dinner at Shujinko on Russell Street for the best ramen in town
I’ve also recently discovered the stunning rainforests and waterfalls of the Otway National Park, a 2.5-3 hour drive from Melbourne. So, the next time someone comes to visit for a while, I’m taking them there camping for the weekend.
As much as I love Melbourne, my favourite state in Australia isn’t actually Victoria, it’s Tasmania. I’ve travelled around Tassie a few times now and I just think it’s the most beautiful, interesting place. If you don’t believe me, just have a look at these fascinating 20 facts. Perhaps after Melbourne I’ll end up in Tasmania!
I’ve also loved exploring places nearby Melbourne, such as the Great Ocean Road over a long weekend and the former gold mining town of Ballarat.
Is there anything you don’t like about living in Melbourne?
Although it’s not about Melbourne directly, I think the biggest thing I don’t like about life out here is how far away Australia is from everywhere.
As dramatic as it sounds, not being able to go to Europe for long weekends has been hard. I used to travel last minute regularly and I’ve realised how much of a big part of my lifestyle it was. Out here I feel so isolated. Though it’s not only the distance, flights are expensive too.
Any advice for anyone considering living in Melbourne/Australia?
Like I said, for many nationalities, moving to Australia is an absolute breeze. All you have to do is get a visa and then you can basically work everything out when you get here, such as a sim card, bank account and TFN (tax number so you can start working). I really wouldn’t overthink it. Book a flight and a week accommodation in a hostel or hotel and you’ll easily be able to get yourself organised in a few days.
One word of warning though – even if you plan to stay just a year, you’ll probably end up staying longer (you won’t want to leave like the rest of us working holiday tourists!).
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned as an expat?
I think my lessons have all been very personal. I’ve learned so much about myself these past few years, such as my ability to adapt. I enjoy change and starting afresh in a new, unfamiliar place is exciting (albeit a bit daunting at first).
Despite perhaps looking all rosy to other people, there are of course challenges you face living abroad. Homesickness and loneliness can really hit hard, especially when you first arrive and you’re alone many miles away from home. You need to put yourself out there quite forcefully to meet people which can be uncomfortable if like me, you’re not very confident.
What’s the best thing about being an expat?
There are loads of things but you can’t beat having two homes. I have one life out here with a great job and friends and also another, more familiar home with friends and family back in the UK. Essentially, I have two home bases to make memories in. I strongly think that living abroad widens your pool of friendships, life opportunities and experiences in every way.
I also love learning. Being an expat and submerging yourself abroad is such an eye-opening experience. I’ve learned things I never would have had the opportunity to if I hadn’t left my home town and immersed myself in the lifestyle.
What do you miss most about home?
There’s lots. My friends and family are a given (I especially miss my mum, gran and little sister) but I also deeply miss the quiet, green quaintness of the English countryside. Victoria has some beautiful vegetation, but there’s something about the English greenness that is simply stunning.
I also used to spend most of my weekends exploring National Trusts in England and I miss the beautiful old buildings and casual history on every corner. Australia doesn’t have the kind of history and quaintness I’m used to and sometimes I really crave it. Whenever I go back to the UK though, it just makes me appreciate everything all the more.