Australia is a vast country but very sparsely populated. Despite being as big as the USA it has a population of over eighteen million, little more than that of the Netherlands. Most Aussies live within 20km of the ocean, occupying a suburban, south-eastern arc extending from southern Queensland to Adelaide. These urban Australians celebrate the typical New World values of material self-improvement through hard work and hard play, with an easy-going vitality that visitors, especially Europeans, often find refreshingly hedonistic. A sunny climate also contributes to this exuberance, with an outdoor life in which a thriving beach culture and the backyard barbie are central. Aussies often refer to their country as 'God's Own' and they're not wide of the mark.
The contracting industry is predominantly based in Sydney (some 92 per cent of Australia's IT companies are located here) and Melbourne, with a smaller number of roles based in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. The vast majority of UK contractors want to work in Sydney originally, just as those travelling to the UK initially seek work in London. It is perfectly natural to target the nation's largest city in the first instance.
You should expect to stay in Australia for several years, since most agencies will need to see commitment on your part before finding you work; you may well work through the same agency throughout your stay, since the contract industry is much smaller and heavily concentrated down under.
Wages for top technical positions will be considerably less than in the United States or parts of Europe, but the cost of living is lower and the pace more relaxed. Whereas the average UK contractor may earn three times their permanent equivalent, the Australian contractor would earn double. Salaries are normally quoted in Australian Dollars and at the moment, one Australian Dollar is worth about 39p at time of writing.
You can find some Oz-specific info at Candle Recruitment, while the SEEK Salary Centre lets you compare rates for a number of specialities.
Taking into account the difference in general living costs, the take home pay may not be that different. Accommodation costs are generally lower in Australia, and other living costs are substantially lower overall. Beware of Sydney though, accommodation prices are on a par with London, as one would expect of such a major city. Of course, most travelling to Australia are not going to make a quick buck, they are going for a lifestyle experience.
There are only a few areas of employment that are open to short-term, overseas workers and two of them are IT and e-commerce. If you are looking to work in Australia, you'll need to apply for a 'Working Holiday Visa'. Working Holiday Visas are valid for 13 months from the day of issue and allow you to stay in Australia for a maximum of 12 months. The visa limits you to work for one employer for no more than three months, however. You must arrange the visa before you arrive in Australia, and several months in advance to avoid disappointment as numbers are sometimes capped. The working visas cost £60 in the UK and some travel agents such as Trailfinders in the UK can arrange them for you.
You are eligible for a Working Holiday Visa if you meet the following criteria:
Another possibility is the Temporary Resident Visa. This is valid for up to four years, with qualification based on a points system, or via sponsorship (this will apply to the majority of contractors). Visa application forms can be obtained from any Australian Consulate, Embassy or High Commission.
Once you have secured your first job in Australia you should make sure you have obtained a Tax File Number and have completed a Tax File Number Declaration for the employer - if you haven't you can expect to find tax deducted from your salary at the rate of 48.5%. Once you get a TFN, the rate drops to 29% for earnings under about $26,000 per annum and deducted at source. A TFN can be obtained from an Australian Tax Office (ATO) anywhere in Australia. You'll need to take along your Passport showing your work visa and another form of identification (e.g.: international drivers licence, birth certificate or bank statement). The national healthcare scheme, Medicare, offers a reciprocal arrangement – free essential healthcare – for citizens of the UK, New Zealand, Italy, Malta, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden.
The Independent Contractors of Australia, which has been fighting successfully against anti-contractor tax legislation down under, has launched a new site to highlight and lobby against a range of issues which threaten the state of the Australian contracting industry.
The key concerns for Australian contractors include 'Pay as you go' (PAYG) which involves deducting tax at the source of earning, introduced in July 2000.
For many UK based contractors, Australia has always had great appeal as a destination, although some may be put off by the 24 hour flight. However, for those who are prepared to spend several years down under, there are some great opportunities. Return flights can cost from about £500 and it's best to try discount outlets such as Trailfinders or EBookers. You should also check out deals from the key carriers to the region - British Airways and Qantas.
The cost of living is Australia is generally lower than the UK's but as you'd expect, the cost of living in Sydney is appreciably higher. To check out rental costs and the property market in general, a good site is Domain.com.au.