The complete guide for graduates moving to Sydney

Moving to Sydney as a graduate is full of endless possibilities. Make a smooth transition with our comprehensive guide for grads.
Jaymes Carr
Jaymes Carr
Team GradAustralia
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With a vibrant cultural calendar, a diverse population, and some of the world’s most famous beaches, Sydney is a popular destination for graduates arriving from interstate and abroad. As Australia’s largest city, located 286 kilometres from the nation’s capital, Sydney has a truly global job market in which Australian businesses, including its most influential banks and law firms, are joined by international giants, such as Deloitte, Microsoft, Boeing, Accenture, Google, KPMG, and many more.

Whatever your reasons for moving to Sydney as a graduate, it can be nerve-wracking to take stock of all that must be organised when relocating: from finding a job and a place to live, to meeting new people and finding out about local events. To make that part of the process easier, we’ve assembled a survival guide that contains everything you need to know if you’re a graduate moving to Sydney.

The Pros and Cons of Living in Sydney

Seasoned Sydneysiders will have their own lists, and you might even prefer colder European weather: still, we asked around and most locals seem to agree about the following pros and cons of life in Australia’s Harbour City.

Pros

Great weather (most of the time)

Its weather that attracts many people to Sydney and convinces them to stay: situated in a humid subtropical zone, Sydney boasts a sunny climate with mild winters and warm summers, making it perfect for those who like to spend time outdoors. From an average maximum temperature of 16.4°C in July to 25.8°C in February, there aren’t many days when it’s too cold to go outside—and with moderate rainfall throughout the year, it’s seldom too wet either.

The downside, as locals will tell you, is that Sydney summers can be punishing, with high humidity and temperatures that often soar above 35°C. Of course, on such days, it’s a relief to remember that, in Sydney, you’re never too far away from a beach, park, or swimming pool to cool off.

Culturally diverse with a community feel

Sydney is famous for its culturally diverse communities, with the largest overseas-born population in the country. The top five countries for residents born overseas are China (4.9%), the United Kingdom (4.0%), India (2.9%), New Zealand (1.9%), and Vietnam (1.8%).

As the ‘gateway to Australia’, Sydney welcomes approximately 3.7 million international visitors a year, resulting in a constant influx of new ideas and a cosmopolitan culture that has positioned Sydney as a truly global city. In fact, Sydney was ranked among the world’s top ten cities in the 2017 Mercer Quality of Life Index, which covered 231 cities. Sydney has held a top ten place each year since 2010.

Thanks to its cultural diversity and tight-knit migrant groups, many of Sydney’s 600 suburbs have a distinct character, with their own strips of local shops and a sense of community.

Vibrant lifestyle

From the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras to Vivid Sydney, an annual festival of lights, music, and ideas, there’s always something happening in Sydney, a city that loves an excuse to show off its prettiness and have a good time. The heart of the inner city (including suburbs such as Newtown, Chippendale, Surry Hills, Glebe, and Enmore) is famously progressive, with a community that encourages social inclusion.

Further west, suburbs like Parramatta, the ‘second CBD of Sydney’ are developing into commercial and business hotspots offering their own range of exciting events, such as Tropfest and a range of festivals hosted by Sydney’s Indian community.

Numerous employment opportunities

As the largest city in Australia, Sydney ranks highly when it comes to the employability of graduates from a range of backgrounds. Its most prominent industry is insurance and finance, which currently generates 16% of income in the city, and will contribute as much as 21% by 2026. Other industries that are expected to grow include professional, scientific, and technical services (8.5% to 11.4%); healthcare and social assistance (6% to 8%); and knowledge-based jobs more generally, which now enjoy an average salary of $78,352.

Beaches and national parks

Sydney is famous for its natural beauty, and with good reason: from world famous beaches like Manly and Bondi, to well-kept secrets (Collins Flat Beach, for example), and a range of national parks, one of the great advantages of life in the Harbour City is that you’re never more than an hour away from nature. Sydney’s most popular national parks include Royal National Park, Sydney Harbour National Park, and Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.   

Cons

Remote (in an international sense)

If you’re moving interstate, then Sydney’s global isolation won’t change much for you: in fact, if you move from Perth, which is the world’s most isolated major city, then Sydney’s position on Australia’s east coast may prove advantageous. However, there’s no getting around the fact that, unlike many other global cities such as London, Hong Kong, and Los Angeles, Sydney is a remote location. To put this into perspective, if you board plane in Sydney, it’ll take you about three hours to get to New Zealand; four hours to get to Fiji; ten hours to get to China; 12 hours to get to Malaysia; and more than 20 hours to get to the United States or Europe.

Expensive to live in

We’ll expand on Sydney’s cost of living in a dedicated section. Suffice to say, for now, that Sydney, for all its charms, is a notoriously expensive place to get by, with a 2018 study ranking it above London and New York as one of the world’s ten priciest cities.

Lacklustre public transport

At the time of writing, the New South Wales state government is involved in several projects to modernise the city’s infrastructure. It is hoped that these projects will deliver improved disability access, more efficient train scheduling, easier movement around the CBD, and an expanded train network.

For now, however, the state of public transport in Sydney is a topic of controversy: crowded, frequently late, overpriced (according to many), and liable to be cancelled at a moment’s notice, the buses and trains of Sydney cause frequent outbursts of public frustration, filling local media with stories of aggrieved commuters. For now, it might be best to walk!

Some people accuse Sydney of being a bit… pretentious

‘A pretentious, stressful trap’. ‘Sydney, you’re so full of it!’. ‘The Venus Fly Trap of Australia’. Opinions will always differ when it comes to cities with millions of residents and visitors: but as the headlines just quoted demonstrate, Sydney’s detractors are a passionate bunch, accusing the city of slipping into a cultural decline thanks to rude and stuck-up locals. Is this fair? It’s hard to say. But, for what it’s worth, we’ll be hearing from grads who love life in Sydney, and applaud the friendly, laid-back nature of Sydneysiders.

Rent and cost of living

How much is rent in Sydney?

Are you sitting down? There’s no easy way to say this, especially to a graduate who is probably excited about having a disposable income for the first time since starting university: Sydney is, by any objective measure, a very expensive place to live.

How expensive? One source indicates that Sydney is ranked as the 32nd most expensive city in the world, ahead of its Australian rivals and contenders like London and Seattle, but below Paris, Tokyo, Zurich, and other financial centres. By contrast, in 2018, the Economist’s Worldwide Cost of Living Survey, Sydney was ranked as the tenth most expensive city in the world. Given the volatility of prices in Sydney, it’s a good idea to check on up-to-date rental data by using a tool like that Family and Community Services rent and sales dashboard.  

How much will I spend on everyday purchases in Sydney?

According to the website Expatistan, a loaf of bread in Sydney will cost about four dollars; a dozen eggs, six dollars; a basic lunch, $16; a couple of movie tickets, $40; a pub dinner for two, $53; and a cocktail, $18.

Where should I live? A brief guide to the suburbs of Sydney

This is the big question, and the one that only locals ever feel properly qualified to answer: where’s the best place to live? Setting aside logistical considerations, where’s cool? Which suburb is the SoHo of Sydney? Where is its Upper East Side? We haven’t space here to go into the charms (and shortcomings) of Sydney’s suburbs in detail, however, it’s possible to generalise about major regions.

Inner city

Suburbs: Sydney CBD, The Rocks, Millers Point, Potts Point, Woolloomooloo

If you want to live in the thick of it, then the city is the place to be. With a vibrant nightlife and a world-famous harbour, the inner city of Sydney is an exhilarating place to be: but it’s also an expensive one! A one-bedroom apartment in the CBD can easily cost around $650 per week, and roomshare arrangements are not uncommon.

Eastern suburbs

Suburbs: Bondi, Bronte, Paddington, Darlinghurst, Randwick

Many people are drawn to the Eastern suburbs by its picturesque beaches, upbeat local communities, leafy streets, and parks. Public transport to the Eastern suburbs is generally quite reliable, with a train from Bondi Junction Station to Central (in the CBD) taking about 15 minutes. As with the CBD, rent in the Eastern suburbs is steep: expect to pay around $1,100 per week for a house, or $670 a week for a unit.

The Inner West

Suburbs: Ashbury, Ashfield, Balmain, Chippendale, Dulwich Hill, Enmore, Glebe, Hurlstone Park, Leichhardt, Lilyfield, Newtown, Marrickville, Petersham, Stanmore

With a reputation for progressive politics, community and ecological initiatives, and an outstanding coffee scene, the Inner West of Sydney is where a lot of new arrivals end up: a pretty and inclusive area that, for now, remains slightly more affordable than the inner city.

Particularly popular among younger demographics, the inner west is home to a large Vietnamese community (in Marrickville), a Portuguese community (in Lewisham), and an Italian community (in Leichhardt). Renting a house in the inner west will cost about $780 per week, whereas a unit will cost around $560 per week.

Canterbury-Bankstown

Suburbs: Bankstown, Campsie, Greenacre, Revesby, Yagoona

The suburbs of the Canterbury-Bankstown area, which connect to the CBD via the Bankstown train line, are an affordable choice: renting a house costs about $550 per week, while a unit costs about $430 a week. This region is very diverse, with migrant communities from Vietnam, Lebanon, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Africa. It takes 30—35 minutes to travel from Bankstown station to Central.

The Hills District

Suburbs: Baulkham Hills, Castle Hill, Kellyville, Rouse Hill

Home to Norwest Business Park, which includes the headquarters of companies like Woolworths, HWL Ebsworth Lawyers, and Wyeth, the Hills District is an affluent and conservative region in Sydney’s north-west. It’s a convenient place to live if you’re working in the surrounding areas or in far-western Sydney.

The state government is completing a new rail link that will connect Norwest and Castle Hill to the train network, allowing commuters to travel to Wynyard in approximately 48 minutes. A unit in the hills will cost about $430 per week, while a three-bedroom house will cost about $650 per week.

The Lower North Shore

Suburbs: Cammeray, Cremorne, Mosman, Neutral Bay, Chatswood

Welcome to upmarket Sydney! The Lower North Shore boasts some of Australia’s most exclusive suburbs, with sweeping views of the Harbour set just north of the CBD. The Lower North Shore is famous for containing hundreds of parks and reserves, including Sydney Harbour National Park and the Lane Cove National Park. It’s a clean, safe, orderly place to live, which has led to it developing a reputation (possibly unwarranted) for radiating a certain… stuffiness (this is probably not helped by the density of expensive private schools and European luxury cars in the area).

With a train station at Milson’s Point (just north of the Harbour Bridge) and frequent buses on Military Road (which snakes through the north shore, all the way to Manly), getting into the city in less than half an hour is easy. However, this convenience comes at a high price: a house on the Lower North Shore can cost more than $1,300 a week, with units coming in at around $610 per week.

The Upper North Shore

Suburbs: Gordon, Hornsby, Killara, Pymble, Turramurra

The Upper North Shore is located north-west of the Sydney CBD, extending from the suburb of Roseville (12.5km from the CBD) to Hornsby (25km from the CBD). This is an affluent and leafy area, famous for containing many heritage-listed properties in exclusive postcodes. Is it a good place for graduates though?

A May 2018 study found that Kur-ring-gai Council (which encompasses most of the Upper North Shore) is the most socio-economically advantageous place one can live in Australia (followed by Mosman, on the lower north shore). Nonetheless, younger residents have been known to complain that the North Shore has few local entertainment options and can feel “like an elite retirement village”.

Certainly, if you can afford it, the Upper North Shore is a beautiful place to live, and a northern train link makes commuting into the city quite easy (an express train from Hornsby to Central takes 35—40 minutes. As of March 2018, a house in the Upper North Shore area costs about $850 per week, with units costing around $545 per week.  

Western Sydney

Suburbs: Blacktown, Granville, Parramatta, St Marys

Western Sydney is a sprawling area west of the Sydney CBD that includes everything from Parramatta, the ‘second CBD of Sydney’ (with trains arriving at Central in less than 30 minutes), to the Blue Mountains, a scenic tourist destination about an hour from the CBD.

Certain parts of Western Sydney are poorly served by public transport, leading to some of the longest work commutes in the country: 75% of residents in Penrith, for example, use private vehicles to get to their jobs.

Socioeconomically, the western suburbs have historically lagged behind areas that are closer to the city, but times are changing. Now, some suburbs of Western Sydney, such as Parramatta, Rosehill, and Harris Park, have started to climb up ‘liveability’ rankings, and, in the first half of 2018, Blacktown was the state’s most popular suburb for home buyers.

Fortunately, the suburbs of Western Sydney remain a (comparatively) affordable option for graduates who can manage the commute and don’t mind living a little further from the CBD. In March 2018, houses cost an average of $470 per week to rent, and units cost around $450.

Tips for choosing a place to live in Sydney

Ultimately, the suburb that suits you best in Sydney is going to be reflection of your preferences, social and professional obligations, and financial resources. There is no quick way to find your perfect match, so we recommend considering your preferences before using the online resources in the next section to do some further research (this will also give you a more reliable sense of prices in your target area).

We recognise, of course, that being able to choose a suburb based entirely on personal preferences is a luxury, especially in Sydney, so the following questions are intended to provide some clarity even when navigating the inevitable compromises of renting life:

  1. Where is the suburb? (Don’t get confused between Darlington and Darlinghurst, Cabramatta and Parramatta, or Rosehill, Rozelle, Roseville and Rose Bay: use this tool if you’re uncertain about the suburb’s location.)
  2. How valuable to you is space and privacy?
  3. Do you prefer city, suburban, or rural environments?
  4. Do you own a car? If not, is there reliable public transport (or safe cycleways)?
  5. How will your choice of suburb affect commuting times?
  6. Is it important for you to be near good restaurants? Fresh food markets? Beaches?
  7. What’s your budget?
  8. Where do you work?
  9. How long do you plan to live in your next house?
  10. Do you need a big outdoor area?
  11. Do you enjoy solitude or would you prefer to be nearer to the nightlife?
  12. Is it important for you to live somewhere with a strong sense of local community?
  13. Would you like to live close to a shopping centre? A local library? A swimming pool? A train station?
  14. Have you considered how you might build (or maintain) social connections when you move to Sydney? Will the suburb affect this?
  15. Can you learn more about the suburb to determine whether or not you’d be a good cultural fit for the area?
  16. What’s the local arts and culture scene like? Is this very important to you?
  17. Are there any local parks, reserves, or other open spaces?
  18. What’s the local crime rate like?
  19. Will you have adequate broadband and mobile coverage?
  20. How does your suburb compare to other suburbs? (NB: This can be one of the hardest questions to answer when you’re new to an area, so, if you’re uncertain, we recommend using a tool like the Urban Living Index, which allows you to view a map of Sydney on which the suburbs are ranked according to various liveability criteria.)  

How do I find flats, apartments, or a room in a sharehouse? What about flatmates?

There are a variety of tools that you can use to look for accommodation and flatmates in Sydney, some of which are free with basic features (like Gumtree) and others of which charge a fee. Some of the more popular options include:

If you’re on Facebook, it can also be helpful to check whether or not there are any groups for individuals looking to rent or share in different Sydney regions.

The job market for graduates in Sydney

Major industries: finance and insurance, professional services, healthcare
Smallest industries: Mining, agriculture, utilities, arts and recreation services, rental, hire, and real estate services

Sydney is well-known for being a city oriented around the banking and finance industry and, indeed, as noted above, it remains the city’s top income generators. However, data from the Department of Jobs and Small Business’ Labour Market Information Portal, gives a more complete view. For example, the five industries that employ the most people in Sydney (the metropolitan area) are professional, scientific and technical services; health care and social assistance; retail trade; construction; and education and training (financial and insurance services comes in at number seven).

While most professional jobs remain concentrated in Sydney’s CBD, one of the emerging employment trends of recent years has a been a shift in the growth of new jobs in Sydney’s west. This has been supported by the ongoing development of Parramatta, which has become a major commercial and business centre in its own right.

Across all ages, Sydney is now the best capital city in which to try and find a job. According to the website Adzuna.com, job seekers in Sydney are more than 2.5 times as likely to find a job when compared to the regional NSW. Outside of Sydney, 7.32 job seekers compete for a single role. In Sydney, the number is down to 2.85.

Unfortunately, the numbers are not as encouraging if one focuses solely on graduate positions: then, it appears that there are 20 graduates fighting for every graduate job in NSW. So, while more than a third of advertised graduate positions are listed in Sydney, that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to get one without hard work, dedication, and a dash of luck.

What do graduates in Sydney earn?

For graduates in professional occupations, Sydney offers relatively high average salaries that are competitive both globally and in comparison to other Australian capital cities. The following average salaries are taken from the 2018 Hays Salary Guide, which itself draws on a survey of 3,000 businesses in Australia and New Zealand that together employ some 2.3 million people. We’ve included a representative sample of salaries for popular graduate occupations: if yours isn’t listed, consult the GradAustralia website for more information. Note that the average salaries below exclude superannuation.

Lifestyle in Sydney

Shopping in Sydney

While London, New York, and Paris might be the first places you think of when it comes to high-end shopping, Sydney is fast catching up. At its best-known shopping malls, such as the Queen Victoria Building and Pitt Street Mall, you’ll find a range of local and international retailers, from Uniqlo to Prada. Other popular shopping destinations include Birkenhead Point, which hosts a variety of outlet stores for brands like Armani and Bonds; Macquarie Centre, in the Northern Suburbs; and Parramatta Westfield, which is 23 kilometres west of the CBD.

Sydney is also famous for the shopping experiences it offers to those in search of a bargain or a unique find. Inner city suburbs like Surry Hills and Newtown are famous op-shopping destinations (check out Cream on King or Vinnies Surry Hills to start). There are also various markets that supply arts and crafts, clothing, flowers, fresh produce, and much more. For example, you might visit the Carriageworks Farmers Markets, the Glebe Markets, Paddy’s Markets, the Sydney Fish Market, or the Sydney Flower Market.   

Arts and culture in Sydney

Sydney has an exciting calendar of cultural activities that includes major festivals, like Sydney Film Festival and Vivid Sydney, a plethora of local events (such as the intimate jazz shows at Venue 505), and an ever-changing roster of concerts, plays, public talks, and other events, both homegrown and visiting from abroad. Some of Sydney’s most popular venues for events related to arts and culture include the Sydney Opera House, the Art Gallery of NSW, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the State Theatre, City Recital Hall, the Enmore Theatre, The Wharf Theatre (home of Sydney Theatre Company), and the Domain.

Nightlife in Sydney

The topic of Sydney’s nightlife is a surprisingly controversial one: in 2014, the state government responded to a high-profile incident of alcohol-related violence by implementing so-called ‘lockout laws’, which prevent bars, pubs, and clubs in the Sydney CBD from admitting new patrons after 1:30 am or serving drinks after 3:00 am. Since then, while alcohol-related offences in the CBD have declined, some 176 venues have closed.

While this may sound like terrible news if you’re a night-time person, it’s important to keep the lockout laws in perspective: many fantastic clubs, pubs, and bars within the CBD are still thriving, and there are a host of popular venues in suburbs that are outside of the lockout zone but still within 15 minutes of the CBD (for example, Newtown, Enmore, Erskineville, and the Eastern Suburbs). You can start your search for clubs here or choose a bar from this list.

Food in Sydney

Yes, the food of Sydney deserves its own section: from cheap eats in small family restaurants to elaborate degustations prepared by leading chefs, there’s a reason why Sydney has become a must-visit destination for foodies of every type. If you’re a foodie, then make sure to check out Sydney’s Good Food Month (in October) or its Good Food and Wine Show (in June). You should also make sure to visit local favourites like Chinese Noodle Restaurant, Faheem Fast Food, Mamak, Mary’s, or VN Street Food.

Finding out what’s on in Sydney

If you’d like a sense of everything that’s happening in Sydney, then you’re best bet is to check a website that aggregates events, such as Concrete Playground, Time Out Sydney, or What’s On Sydney. These offer a great way to learn not only about events in the CBD, but things worth doing in the suburbs (for example, you should try the pho in Cabramatta, or enjoy iftar in Auburn or Lakemba). Otherwise, it’s a good idea to check the events pages of major venues in Sydney, and keep an eye out for annual events that might interest you, such as the famed Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, the Korean Film Festival in Australia, or the Sydney Writers’ Festival).

Meeting people in Sydney

Straight up: the best way to meet people in Sydney is to get a really, really cute dog and just walk around with it. If that’s not possible, then here are some other things you can try:

  • Social apps: check for local social groups and activities on Facebook, or meet new people using apps like Tinder (caveat lector), MeetUp, or Nabo
  • Volunteer with a local organisation
  • Join a sports team
  • Get your hands dirty at a community garden
  • Take up a new hobby like salsa dancing or cycling
  • Join a gym or take up yoga
  • Attend a networking event related to your career

Getting around Sydney

Sydney’s public transport infrastructure includes trains, buses, ferries, and trams. To access public transport, you will need to get an Opal card from an authorised retailer: you can then top it up at any train station or by using the Opal card app. The best way to plan your trip is with the app TripView or the Trip planner website.

If you’re planning to stay within a manageable area, why not consider cycling or walking? Sydney is a beautiful city to explore on foot or bicycle and boasts a growing network of cycleways and footpaths. Before heading out, familiarise yourself with the City of Sydney Cycling Guide or take a look at some of the more popular walking routes.

Don’t forget!

We’ve covered the big things that you’ll want to know before moving to Sydney, but it’s important to remember the little things too. Here’s a quick list of resources that will help you make sure that you’ve covered everything.

Legal resources

After moving to Sydney, you’ll need to change your enrolment address and also, if necessary, update the contact details on your driver’s license. If you move into shared or rented accommodation, it’s advisable that you lodge your bond with rental bonds online. If you require legal advice, and you’re under the age of 25, you can access free support through the Marrickville Legal Centre. You may also qualify for assistance from NSW Justice Victims Services.

Health resources

Moving cities can be hard—you’ll have to adapt to a new job, new accommodation, and a new environment, all while building a social network far from the one you left behind. If you require support through the transition, or as a result of other life events, don’t hesitate to avail yourself of free (or affordable) resources dedicated to mental health. These include Lifeline, headspace, and various local organisations.

It’s usually not difficult to find a good, bulk-billing doctor in Sydney if you would like to discuss your health. Free specialised services are offered through the Sydney Sexual Health Centre, the Aboriginal Medical Service, ACON (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) health), and NSW hospital network.

Financial resources

Need help opening a new bank account? Managing your superannuation? Making a budget? Dealing with debt? Saving for a holiday? Check out this list of free financial literacy courses, access free advice via the national debt helpline, or use the ASIC Money Smart tool to find a trusted financial counsellor in your area.

Affordable meals in Sydney

Need to eat but also counting your pennies until the next paycheck comes through? Visit the donation-based restaurant Lentil As Anything in Newtown for a hot meal, join a local food coop, or check out an alternative retailer like OzHarvest, which redistributes surplus food donated by local individuals and businesses.

To take your first step towards moving to Sydney, browse graduate jobs and internships at GradAustralia.