having been here for a month now, I thought it might be useful for those of you getting ready to come over if I noted down a few tips/observations which might be helpful for you in the first few weeks. These are obviously all my own opinion, and others may disagree, but hopefully it might help a bit...here goes!
Compared to the UK, renting and buying here is expensive. Most people seem to get a short term furnished let for a month or so and then try and secure a longer term unfurnished. That was what we did: got a furnished let in Ainslie which is inner North (about 10 mins walk from the city centre). Staying in the city was handy for banks, shops etc, especially if you don't have a car organised. However, most of the suburbs have pretty good shops and nowhere is really that far from a supermarket - so don't feel you have to stay in the city if you don't want - Canberra is not really that big a place, so if you have a car, you are 20 mins at most from anywhere unless you are right on the outskirts. Word of warning -it is cold here at the moment at night and if possible try and get somewhere with ducted heating or at least plug in radiators - you will need them.
I have already posted re longer term lets - try and get on to this as soon as you get here - viewings are generally very quick (15 mins) and you will not be the only people looking. Again, I would warn you that there are some shockers out there - we saw quite a few properties with original (1950-1970s) kitchens!! At least 2 we viewed were bascially uninhabitable. Depends on what you want and what you are prepared to pay - we have ended up in Weston Creek which is about 10k west of city - nice area and nice house too - not ultramodern but good roomms and good size yard for our dog. A lot of people say that the newer developments up North (Forde, Gungahlin) are better equipped and modern as they are new builds - but they are on smaller plots and tend not to have large grassy gardens - depends on what suits you I guess. Now is a good time to rent - competition is not so fierce - we put in for this house we are in and got it, maybe lucky. If you are not working, make sure you provide agent with a bank statement with plenty cash in it if possible - they are ultimately interested in who can pay the rent!
Ive read quite a lot about prices here - a lot of which isn't true. Some things are a bit more expensive whereas others are definately cheaper. For example, microwaves are for some strange reason more expensive than in the UK - bring yours if you can; whereas TVs and laptops are cheaper - I bought a pretty high spec laptop for about 400 quid - would have been more in UK. If you are buying electricals, barter with them - and try and buy as much as you can at one time as you will get a better deal if you are buying 2 or 3 items at once - the Good Guys in Belconnen or Fyshwick were very good and were prepared to do a deal.
Supermarket shopping is different from UK - the two main supermarkets, Woolies and Coles tend just to sell food, not everything like Tesco or Asda. Also, the alcohol is sold in adjoining liquor stores - dont spend ages looking for the wine aisle like I did!! If you are going in to buy Heinz beans and other UK brands you will pay more, but shop around and buy bulk when you can as you get a better deal. Meat prices here are really good - steaks and chicken are very well priced - especially if you buy a lot. A kg of chicken breast cost us about 10 dollars - thats maybe 6 quid - pretty good. There is a Costco opened out at the airport - some of our new pals here have joined it and say that it has great savings on household products etc. again, if you buy in bulk - I think its about 60 dollars to join. Veggies and fruit can be bought cheaper outwith the supermarkets - most shopping centres have vegetable/fruit markets - plus there is a farmers market just north of the city at the Canberra Exhibition park every Saturday morning from 8ish - we got good prices on great frsh vegetables and meat there.
For kitchen, bedding etc. i can't see past K Mart, Target and Big W: especially when you first get here because they are cheap and if you are waiting for your shipping, there is no point in spending a fortune. They are basically all like Matalan in the UK. There are also quite a lot of "pound shops" which are great for dish cloths, kitchen basics etc. - they also sell some brand toiletries and cleaning products cheaper than the supermarkets. We got a set of plates, cups, mugs and cutlery from K Mart for 19 dollars which was great. They also sell microwaves, irons etc and have pretty good prices. For furniture, Fantastic Furniture in Fyshwick was great - modern stuff but reasonably priced and really quick delivery.
OK - basically second hand cars are more expensive (by a lot) than in UK, but new cars are reasonably priced - I bought a second hand toyota and actually wished Id paid another 4 or 5 thousand dollars and bought a new one! Buying the car was the same as UK - haggle with them and if they don't budge - walk away - they will chase you!!
The system here is that a car has to be registered in the State you live in - each state has its own numberplates! If possible, try and buy a car registered in ACT as then you don't have to change the registration and the plates (if you buy one not registered in ACT bring a screwdriver - or get one from K Mart as i did!) You have to go to 'Canberra Connect' to register a car - there is one in Dickson, inner North. You need proof of residency to register - they basically needed a passport, bank card with your name embossed on it, a medicare card (or the temporary receipt if you don't have it yet) and a lease agreement. The lease agreement has caused some people problems, particularly if it is a short term arrangement and not a formal lease - if possible try and ensure you get a formal lease if you are intending to register a car. The folks at Connect told me they will take a short term lease as long as it is for occupancy of an entire unit - e.g. a standalone house. I could go on forever about cars and drivers licences - so if anyone has any specific questions please let me know - I've just been through it all and happy to help!
Medicare - go into Medicare centre in city asap after you have filled out the form, which you can print off from internet - just search for 'Medicare'. They give you a temporary receipt - you can then use as a proof of ID. Medicare cards arrived a few weeks later.
Insurance: get home insurance asap - renters insurance is pretty cheap here.
Tax number: go online asap and apply for this - it took about 4 weeks for ours to come through.
Banks - make sure you get a visa debit card asap - NAB seem to give you a basic card if you organised an account from the UK, but you can go on to their internet banking and request a visa debit - took about 10 days to come through.
We are so far enjoying Canberra - its a really nice location and the folks are all friendly. Great wildlife on your doorstep and good weather to see it. The first 4 weeks or so will be hectic - ours have been, but just try and sort one thing out at once and remember that some things take time to organise. Oh, and i would recommend the PIO meet ups - we went along to the last one and met some nice people who we are now friends with.
Good luck and enjoy the experience!! :wacko: