by Rachel Walsh and Alison Anderson
For expats returning to Australia after living overseas, it’s a massive undertaking even at the best of times. You need all the advice and tips you can get.
Thanks to COVID-19, many expats are returning to Australia sooner than expected, and in some cases very suddenly, with little time to prepare. Throw in a couple of kids and the logistical complexity increases.
Australian Mums, Rachel and Alison, returned from the US to Australia with their families this year. In this guest post, they offer detailed tips on what expats need to know about returning to Australia, including: whether to sell or move your gear, what to do about US bank accounts, and what you should definitely bring back to Australia with you.
For specific advice on legal and immigration matters, such as how to renew your passport, or what to do if you lost your job whilst on an E3 visa, consult the Australian Consulate directly and/or an immigration attorney; or check out these recent webinars provided to Australians in New York:
- Australians Abroad: How the Australian Consulate Can Help: with Alastair Walton, Consul-General of Australia, hosted by America Josh.
- Guide for Expats Impacted by COVID-19: with Zjantelle Cammisa Markel, hosted by American Australian Association.
- Navigating Visas and Immigration Status: with Zjantelle Cammisa Markel, Immigration Lawyer, hosted by Alastair Walton, Consul-General of Australia.
Otherwise, settle back for Rachel and Alison’s tips for the big move home:
Tips for Expats Returning to Australia
Disclaimer: This was written by us (Alison and Rachel) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Alison moved home in early January 2020 prior to the outbreak ramping up. Rachel moved in late March 2020 after the pandemic was declared and was required to quarantine when she arrived in Australia.
This is not intended to be a gospel, but rather a shortcut to make some things a little easier!
Household goods: Shipping vs Excess Luggage vs Postage
Depending on your situation, you need to think about the following:
- The cost to purchase the items as a replacement in Australia. Include the shipping cost. A good middle of the road amount to factor the cost of shipping is $19 – $21 USD per square foot.
- Ask yourself this question – do you love the item? Will you love something more that is different but just as nice that you can get in Australia? Will you miss the item in 12 months time?
- Can the item be used in Australia, i.e. Does it work with Australian voltage, and regulations such as gas etc? Your bbq won’t work without an Australian attachment professionally fitted for example.
- To get a gas firepit approved to use in Australia costs upwards of $2k AUD.
- Also some vacuums and mix masters won’t work without a step down transformer. These transformers are quite big and heavy. So you won’t be able to move it easily around the house to vacuum, but it can comfortably sit on a bench top while you plug in your mixmaster.
- Anything with a 110-240v range (listed on the power label) will work in Australia with just a standard power plug converter.
- How quickly do you need the items in Australia? Shipping will take 3 months at an average, so you could send it through excess luggage providers or postage.
- Rachel and Alison both used Schmaucher Logistics. Rachel just did 20 boxes and Alison did an entire shipping container, which is 40ft.
- To send bags, consider: sendmybag.com or use excess luggage on your flight. To send boxes through the post try: USPS or UPS.
Luggage on Flights
- You get two pieces of luggage back to Australia free, provided you purchase the entire flight on one ticket, i.e., the domestic and international segments are on the same ticket, otherwise you may have to pay additional luggage costs to get to LA or wherever your Australian bound flight leaves from.
- If you are traveling with a lap infant it may work out roughly even to buy them their own seat, as you get two extra bags when they have their own seat. For lap infant tickets, you only pay the flight taxes, and for a child ticket you pay about 60% of the adult fare price. So for Rachel it was $460 for her child, giving her an extra two large suitcases.
- You also still get your allowance of 2 infant items (portacot/pack and play, pram, checked car seat, etc).
- It might be worthwhile investing in one of those luggage scales so that you make use of total luggage space.
- You cannot use USA manufactured car seats in Australia long term, though they are permitted for use for short holidays.
- It may be best to sell your car seats in the USA via Facebook Marketplace etc, and get a car service with car seats to the airport. Alternatively if you have booked seats on the plane for each child and your seats are approved for airline use, you could carry the car seats on board with you and use them for the first few trips in Australia until you get new seats.
- You can buy seats online in Australia and get them shipped to your parents or family from Babybunting and Baby HQ. Rachel used these guys and they had a great deal on them. Her items were delivered to her parents’ house within three days. BigW also sells more affordable car seats online.
- You can organise mail redirection through USPS. It is free! It is a card that you fill out and lodge in person at a USPS office or put in the mailbox. The card is very simple and you wonder if it will work and it magically does! There is no place to put the country on the form, but write that in there and one day you’ll receive mail!
- Otherwise there are mail forwarding companies you can use at a cost.
Selling Your Home in the USA
The only piece of advice I would have is that you think about leaving a Limited Power of Attorney for a locally based friend to sign documents on your behalf in relation to the sale. You can sign this and leave it with your title company. Some title companies don’t like you to use Justices of the Peace in Australia to witness documents.
We sold and closed prior to leaving, which had its own challenges. Start selling stuff early, as it helps clear the house for sales presentation and reduces clutter. Try and schedule your shipping container to be packed 2 or 3 days prior to closing. Schumacher were actually great with moving dates, as long as we had things tentatively booked. You will have to complete a 1099S form for the sale of the house through your escrow company, and you will need to include this in your next year’s tax return. If selling your house in the following tax year (after you move back) is the only income you need to declare, be aware you will still need to do a tax return for that year.
Selling Your Car in the USA
Alison and Rachel both used Carvana and found It super simple and easy to use.
I did a comparison between two car dealerships, Car Max and Carvana, and Carvana offered me the best price. You do it online, then they come and collect the car from your house and transfer the money to your bank account then and there. It takes two days for the transfer to arrive. I can’t recommend this more highly.
We went to Carmax, Carvana and Shift and got comparison prices. We also heavily researched the process that they go through. We needed certainty and to walk away with a cheque on the day. Carvana had the best price, we could lock in the day and time and we knew we would have a cheque to back before we left.
Everyone’s banking situation is different. Alison and Rachel took different approaches, but here are some things to consider and to check with your bank:
Can you close your account remotely/from overseas?
We have moved back from the USA twice, and the first time we were not able to close our Bank of America account from Australia. We had to close it on a trip back to the US.
Do you need to still pay for things online on US websites?
The banks will change your address to an Australian address, which then stops the ability to pay for anything on a US website, e.g., Alison couldn’t pay her final Cox bill with her US cards as it was now registered to an overseas address.
Final accounts and refund cheques will be sent through to you. How will you deposit the cheques?
Alison has been depositing cheques into her US account with HSBC using their mobile app. Check you can do this with your banking app!
We used OFX to transfer all our large and small sums of money back to Australia. Their app is really easy to use, and they confirm all large transactions with a phone call.
Some Apps won’t work on an overseas IP address, such as Venmo.
Medicare for a US Born Child
There are two important steps to get your Ausmerican child a Medicare card:
1. Obtain Australian Citizenship by Descent
This can be done online either in the US or in Australia. If you apply for citizenship before you leave the US then you will also need to obtain their Australian passport, as your child with Australian Citizenship will need to enter Australian on an Australian passport. The duration varies, but if there is a backlog this can take anywhere up to 6 months to get both Aussie Citizenship and Australian passport.
2. Enrol Your Child in Medicare
This has to be done at a Medicare office in Australia. You will need their US birth certificate, Australian citizenship papers, their US passport, Australian passport (if you have that already), and your own Medicare details. You’ll fill out the Medicare Enrolment Form for your child. If you have been overseas for more than 5 years you will also have to re-enrol yourself at the same time as enroling your child. You’ll need to fill out 2 Medicare Enrolment Forms: 1 for you and 1 for your child.
Bring a few paper copies of your kids’ US immunization history back to Australia with you. When you can, take the document to either your local GP or your local council’s immunisation centre and have them enter the history in the AIR database (Australian Immunisation Register). You can’t do this until your child is registered for Medicare/has a Medicare number.
I was told it was quite a complicated task to enter each vaccination online and match to the appropriate Australian one, so it was easier to let the GP nurse do it. It took a couple of weeks for it to be registered. At 13 months the only vaccine Emma hadn’t had was the general Meningococcal one, which we quickly did a catch up. We also paid extra for the Meningococcal B vaccine to be done at the same time.
Handy Things To Bring Back to Australia With You
- A ream of Letter-sized paper to print US documents once you are in Australia.
- A check book for your US account, even if you never use it. Some states only accept tax returns to be paid by check.
- A stash of nappies and formula to wean you and your bub over to the Australian version. The USA regular formulas are sweeter than Australian. The best replacement to match the sweetness to the ones in the USA was S26 in Australia.
- A Children’s Tylenol stash if your bub prefers the taste. Panadol tastes quite different to Tylenol, and when it’s 3am and your kid is screaming you don’t want to have them reject the Panadol!
It took me a few days to find nappies that I liked and that didn’t give Emma a rash. I could take my time as I had a stash of my US nappies with me.
General Tips for Moving During the COVID19 Pandemic
- Try to control the things that you can and then don’t worry about the things out of your control.
- You won’t be able to choose between a daytime or a nighttime flight home or even be guaranteed seat choices.
- Your kids won’t get in flight kids packs and we didn’t even get requested meals. Don’t worry about these things as they are out of your control.
- Pack snacks and food and entertainment for all of you. Remember the flight will be over after 24 hours. Just do what you can to remain calm and get through it.
- If you have the time, buy an Australian pay as you go SIM card online from Telstra or Optus and get them sent to you before you leave the US, so that you can use a local network to make calls whilst in quarantine.
I had to reschedule our flight three times and it was really stressful, but luckily had booked through an Australian USA based travel agent so she took on that stress for me and rescheduled our flights. During the crisis there was no getting through to airlines. Virgin for example just won’t accept any calls.
I had to go straight into quarantine for 17 days (14 for me and my husband came 3 days later). If your kids are picky eaters (mine are) pack enough non-perishable snacks in your suitcase to last the two week quarantine period, as they may not like the food that is provided.
This guide was written by Rachel Walsh and Alison Anderson and is republished with permission.
Are you an Aussie expat who’s recently returned to Australia?
Share your tips and advice in the comments below.