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The complete guide for graduates moving to Sydney

Jaymes Carr

Moving to Sydney as a graduate is full of endless possibilities. Make a smooth transition with our comprehensive guide for grads.

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 to 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 living 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 it's 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 room share 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 a 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 are space and privacy?
  3. Do you prefer the 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 in which the suburbs are ranked according to various liveability criteria.)  

How do I find flats, apartments, or a room in a share house? 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 fea