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The talesofasia guide to Sydney

Updated August 23, 2005


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Matt Kemp's monthly column on life in Sydney



Sydney, in comparison with the rest of Australia, is an expensive place to spend time in. The greatest expense you are likely to encounter in Sydney is paying for accommodation. The layout of the city, the travelling times involved in getting from A to B, the sometimes unpredictable nature of the public transport system and the length of time you intend to stay in Sydney all combine to make choosing the right area in which to live just as important as choosing the right type of accommodation.

Short Term: One to Three Weeks

If you are only planning on being in Sydney for a couple of weeks, (and I’m assuming that if you are reading this guide then the Hyatt probably isn’t your first choice of travel accommodation) then a backpackers hostel is probably a pretty good choice. Sydney has a huge number of hostels, with the highest concentration being found in the city along George Street between Town Hall and Central Stations, in Kings Cross / Potts Point and out at Bondi Beach.

Most backpackers hostels offer a range of rooms from 6 bunk dormitories to twin and single private rooms. Dorm rooms usually start from about $25 per person per night and increase in price depending on how much privacy you want. The better hostels will often have free internet access, free hot beverages and arrange pub outings and bbq dinners. If there are several people in your party, or you are staying for an extended period (i.e. 10 days or more) it is pretty likely that you will be able to negotiate a discount with the management. The location of your accommodation for a short term stay isn’t quite as important as when deciding on long term accommodation, and you may wish to stay in a couple of different places to suit your activities. That said, if you intend to spend your days relaxing on Coogee beach and your nights getting rowdy at the Coogee Bay Hotel it would make sense to find local accommodation rather than having to face catching a bus back into the city every night in a drunken stupor.

Long Term: Three Months and Over

If you are going to stay in town for a couple of months or longer and you’re not related to Rupert Murdoch then you are probably going to have to work to fund at least some of your stay. If this is the case then moving into an apartment on a 3 or 6 month lease with a few other people is probably the best way to go. Here, the type of work your are doing, and the location of your job become important factors in selecting accommodation.

  • Many people will pick up work in bars or restaurants. Many restaurants employ people to do “split shifts” working from 11am to 3 - 4pm and again from 6pm anywhere up to 1am. Bar work can finish as late as 3 or 4am. Be sure to investigate getting an RSA (Responsible Service of Alcohol) Certificate. Ironically enough, although I’ve never ever seen anyone kicked out of a pub for being too hammered, you will need one of these to work in a job that involves alcohol service. They can be obtained by doing a day long course and cost about $75.
  • Transport is reasonably expensive. Depending on the length of your journey and the type of transport you take, you can reasonably expect to spend between $20 and $45 a week on train / bus / ferry passes. Using taxis will increase your costs exponentially.
  • Most public transport starts at 5am and ceases to operate at about midnight, with the nightrider buses providing a limited all night service.

With these factors in mind it is probably not a bad idea to find a job first while you are staying in backpacker accommodation, and then look at getting more permanent accommodation close to where you work. Being able to walk to and from work will not only keep your costs down, help ward off the adverse effects of ‘one too many after work pints’ but also mean you don’t have to spend upwards of an hour each day using public transport. It also means that if you do have to work late you won’t get stranded after the transport systems shut down for the day.

Furnished Apartments v Unfurnished Apartments

Furnished apartments should contain pretty much everything you need on a day to day basis (TV, fridge / freezer, washing machine, clothes dryer, furniture, beds, linen, cutlery etc). An unfurnished apartment will probably only come with a clothes dryer. Understandably, furnished apartments are more expensive than unfurnished apartments, and you have to pay a larger bond on signing the lease. To my mind, choosing between a furnished and unfurnished apartment comes down to how long your lease is. If you are only going to be in the apartment for three to six months (and won’t use that new cream leather couch to stub out your ciggies or clean your shoes) then furnished is the way to go. You don’t have to worry about buying and selling appliances and everything will be set to go when you move in. Additionally if anything breaks down then you don’t have to pay for it to be repaired.

If you are going to be in your apartment for a year or more then unfurnished is probably best. There are a number of places the specialise in cheap reconditioned appliances (www.aboutyourfridge.com.au is a good place in Maroubra where you can pick up reconditioned washing machines and fridges for about $300 each, and they deliver). www.ebay.com.au is also a good place to pickup a cheap microwave or TV. The Salvation Army and the St Vincent de Paul (known as vinnies) are good places to pick up super cheap furniture. There are also always flyers stuck up in buildings and around busy intersections for people advertising furniture and appliances for sale. If you offer to take the entire lot you will be able to negotiate a significant discount.

Where (and how) to Find Accommodation

If I wanted to find somewhere to live in Sydney there are two ways I would go about it.

Estate Agents

Estate Agents will usually post a list of available tenancies, the sort of property (number of bedrooms, furniture / appliances that come with the apartment and the weekly rent) in their windows. Six month leases are usually the shortest lease that is available, although the Summit Apartments on George Street and the Goldsborough Building on Pyrmont Street (immediately behind Darling Harbour) do have 3 month leases available. Be warned that big apartment complexes like these are run by pretty hard-ass managers who will always have a crack at taking some of your bond for maintenance type cleaning (I.e. buffing tiles in the bathroom after you move out) which is not your responsibility.

Getting into a rental property is reasonable expensive. You will need to pay either four (for unfurnished apartments) or six (for furnished apartments) weeks rent as bond, and two weeks rent in advance before you get your hands on the keys. For a one bedroom apartment you are probably looking at an initial outlay of at least $1500. The Estate agent will be able to arrange an inspection and sign you up for the property on behalf of the landlord. When you fill in your lease application it is a good idea to have a couple of supporting documents, such as a reference from a previous landlord, a photocopy of your bank account showing that you have sufficient funds to meet the rent for the next couple of months or a letter from your new employer in Sydney.

The best way to keep your weekly costs down is to share your apartment with several people (I.e. get three or four people into a one bedroom apartment and covert the lounge into a second ‘bedroom’ at night). Understandably, landlords aren’t terribly keen on having 4 drunken brit backpackers crammed into their shiny new one bedroom apartment. The idea in this case is for one person to go along with their boyfriend / girlfriend (presenting a stable professional couple image), inspect the apartment and sign the lease on behalf of the rest of your party.

Although your lease will say that no more than two people may normally live in the apartment, your landlord has to give you several of days notice prior to inspecting the property (giving you time to arrange for your mates to conveniently be at the pub when he or she visits), and in the unlikely event that you do get busted you can always claim that they are just visiting for a couple of days. The only downside here is that the people on the lease are the only ones liable for the apartment, so if you are going to sign up a lease on behalf of other people be sure that they aren’t going to trash the place or hold out on you at rent time.

Once you are in you will need to arrange for the connection of power through either AGL or Energy Australia (the two suppliers of electricity in Sydney). They may ask you to pay a bond on your power account, but if you tell them their competition wasn’t going to make you do that then they will probably drop the matter. Assuming you leave the property in the same condition in which you found it (fair wear and tear excepted) then you can expect to get all of your bond back. The Estate Agents must lodge your bond with the Office of Fair Trading (Level 4, 234 Sussex Street) or they are liable for a pretty hefty fine. If you don’t get a notice of bond lodgement in the mail within a week of having moved in be sure to chase the matter up with you rental manager and the Office of Fair Trading.

Power Poles

Another good way to find medium term accommodation in Sydney is to check out the flyers that are put up all over the place on power poles or traffic lights in the central city and inner suburbs. Basically you pick the area that you want to live in, go to the closest train station or shopping centre and start screening flyers for the accommodation that you are looking for. There are also large flyer boards on campus at the University of New South Wales and Sydney University.

This method of finding accommodation has several advantages and disadvantages:


  • It is an excellent way of meeting people familiar with the area, so you may get a local introduction to the best local restaurants, pubs and shops. Your new flatmates may also know good places to go looking for work or know people in the industry.
  • Most existing flats are already kitted out with appliances and furniture so you don’t have to worry about spending cash on a more expensive furnished apartment or going to the hassle and expense of buying (and later selling) your gear.
  • Most people will advertise a set weekly rent that includes all bills (electricity, gas and water) and will often offer free internet access and cable TV.


  • Unless you choose carefully you may end up living with Buffalo Bill or Ivan Milat. Additionally many insurance policies will not cover you if the people you live with rip off your stuff.
  • As you are not officially listed on the lease the people who are on the lease can evict you pretty much any time they like.
  • Any bond that you pay (and you probably will have to shell out a couple of weeks rent in bond) will not be lodged with the Office of Fair Trading, so if your new flatmates / landlords decide to rip off your bond there isn’t much you can do about it (unless you have a few large mates that is).
  • Your new flatmates will not be stoked to find that 5 of your drunken mates are going to be staying on the couch every night of the week when they get back from the pub at 2am.

How to Find a Job

Assuming you have the correct Visa and travel documentation, getting employment in Sydney is relatively easy if you are prepared to get off your chuff and go looking for it.

Job Essentials

Irrespective of what field you are in, there are three things you need to have before you can get a job in Sydney; an Australian bank account, a Tax File Number and a cellular phone. Any major bank will give you an account as long as you can supply them with an address in Australia and show them your passport. You can get a Tax File Number from the Australian Tax Office by visiting www.ato.gov.au and following the appropriate links. They will take approximately 2 weeks to send you a notification of your tax file number. In the mean time you can tell your employer that you have applied for a Tax File Number and you have a several week grace period to provide them with that number before the have to charge you at the nondisclosure rate that approaches 50 cents in the dollar.

The final piece of equipment that is essential to getting a job in Sydney is a cellular phone as potential employers will want to contact you at short notice for interviews and trials, and if they have to leave a message with three of your dodgy flatmates or reception at the backpackers they are going to give up on you pretty quickly. The cheapest way of getting a phone is to bring your handset from home and buy a sim card in Australia. The Pitt Street Mall is a good place to go shopping for a sim card as all of the major networks have stores here and you should be able to get a number with $50 in free credit for about $25. If you are not a permanent Australian resident you will find it very difficult to get anything other than a prepaid cellular account.

Finding a Job

How you go about looking for a job in Sydney is very dependant on what sort of work you are looking for. As a general starting point the ‘situations vacant’ advertisements are usually placed on Wednesday and Saturday each week. There are also a number of job websites such as www.mycareer.com.au and www.seek.com.au.

For those looking for work in the hospitality industry, you chances of getting work immediately will vary depending on the time of the year. Getting work is very easy from September through to New Years eve. Sydney ‘slows down’ significantly in January and February, so it may be a good idea to plan on working through the Christmas period and then going touring in the new year. In my opinion, the best way to get a job in a bar, restaurant or hotel is to put on a decent set of clothes and go door knocking. Every person I know that has taken this approach between September and January has got full time work within 24 hours. You will need an RSA (Responsible Service of Alcohol) Certificate before you can be employed. These can be obtained by taking a one day course at a cost of $75. I imagine that this is an expense that can be claimed as a tax deduction.

You may wish to look for ‘hospo’ work on the internet or in the paper, but in my experience this approach takes longer and is less successful that the direct approach. Waiters and bar staff can expect to earn $16 an hour as a base rate, with extra penalties for working nights and weekends. Wait staff will also make good money from tips in a number of restaurants. If you are prepared to put in a solid weeks work (40+ hours) you can earn about $700 a week after tax. Some more upmarket places will supply a uniform, whereas for bar work a pair of black pants, a white shirt and black shoes will suffice as a uniform. If you can’t bring these with you then Lowes (the home of the $10 pants) is a good place to get a cheap uniform.

For those looking to get office or admin type work then temping agencies are your best bet, and there are a large number in Sydney. Jones and Koller are, in my experience, one of the best firms to work for as they take government contracts (and working for the public sector equals lots of breaks with not much pressure). They also have the highest pay rates of any temping agency in Sydney. Select and Julia Ross are other larger companies in Sydney that should be able to find you work based on your qualifications without too much delay. It is a good idea to have a concise, up to date CV stored in an email account or on your mp3 player for rapid access.

There is a massive demand in Sydney for health sector workers, in particular all grades of nurses and doctors. Physiotherapists, Pharmicists and Speech Therapists will also find that there is plenty of work available. There are several companies that specialise in finding temporary work for nurses, such as Nursing Australia and Nightingale. The shortage of nurses is such that you could probably work 12 hours a day 7 days a week if you so desired. Temp nurses earn $20 and upwards an hour depending on qualifications and experience. If you want to work on a casual basis in just one place many of the larger hospitals have an ‘in house’ casual staff office, the hospital switch board will give you their number if you call. If you don’t have any specific nursing qualifications but have worked as a carer or orderly in a hospital overseas then many causal staff offices will employ you as an orderly (pushing beds, fetching forms) on a base rate of $17 an hour. The only downside is that hospital staff offices have to perform a criminal record check on you before they will employ you which can take up to three weeks to process. Health sector workers get excellent overtime and weekend (+50% for Saturdays, +75% for Sundays, +250% for Public Holidays) penalty rates.


Everyone working in Australia has to make compulsory payments to a superannuation fund. These payments are often matched by your employer and are paid into an account on your behalf. However, if you are just visiting to work for a year, then a superannuation fund is not terribly much use to you. If you do not hold a permanent residents visa then you can apply to have all of your super refunded to you after you leave the country, making the super payments is an excellent enforced savings scheme to fund further travel. You need to supply the ATO with a copy of your expired visa and your departure documentation. Visit www.ato.gov.au or complete the extra panel on the back of your green departure card for further information.

Sydney index page
Getting there
Getting Around
Staying there
Short term
Long term
Things to See and Do
Matt Kemp's monthly column on life in Sydney

Specific comments regarding this section should be directed to Matt Kemp . Comments or questions regarding any other part of the talesofasia.com website (except for sections noted as such) should be directed only to Gordon Sharpless.

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