Sydney Expat Interview Series: Part 1 – Expectations vs Reality

Sydney, Sydney Expat Interviews

I’m so excited to share the first in what will be a monthly series over the next year and a half. Recently, I put a call out to expats in Sydney to answer a series of questions about their lives here. I was calling it a “sideways interview series,” because instead of sharing an interview with one person, I’ll be sharing one question with multiple answers. I hope it will be fun and informative, whether you’re also an expat, you’re a native of Sydney, or perhaps you’ll visit or live here one day. And, make sure to visit all of my fellow bloggers who are linked here, once you’ve read this post (and commented, shared it, and liked Between Roots and Wing’s Facebook page, of course!!). 

Question1 - Expectations and Reality

QUESTION 1: Tell me two things that surprised you about Sydney, and one thing that was exactly as you expected.

Name: Caitlin 
Country of origin: England 
Lived in Sydney: 6 months 
Caitlin blogs at Where’s Wallis


1) The weather! Perhaps foolishly I’d been led to believe that Australia is sunny all the time. The amount of rain in my first couple of months in Sydney took me totally by surprise!


2) How small it is! I’d expected Sydney to be similar to London but I quickly realised that it’s more like an oversized village where you’re only 2 connections away from anyone else. If I had a pound (sorry, dollar!) for the number of “coincidences” there have been over the last 6 months.


As expected: The beautiful surfers down at Bondi!

Name: Dido
Country of origin: India
Lived in Sydney: 1.5 years

2 surprises were:
1.)  Visible Discrimination in society
2.) That it is quite expensive.

The laid back culture was expected.

Name: Victoria
Country of origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 5 years
Victoria blogs at The Freedom Travellers

The first thing that surprised me was how bad the traffic was, was totally not expecting that when I first moved here. Having moved from a small country town in the UK where there is little to no traffic it was pretty full on to be stuck in heavy traffic travelling very short distances. On the bright side the second thing that surprised me was that I could take a ferry to work and miss all the traffic! My first job in Sydney was based in the city so I could catch the ferry from Rose Bay to Circular Quay every day…amazing way to commute!

The beaches were exactly as I expected, amazing! Having lived most of my life in England having beaches like Bondi on your doorstep never gets old, I appreciate living in this amazing country with it’s coastline so much for that reason!

Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach

Name: Ashley
Country of origin: United States
Lived in Sydney: Almost 2 years (in Newcastle)
Visit Ashley on Instagram 

Two things that surprised me are the cleanliness and how little police presence there is. You rarely find graffiti (unless it’s art) and there isn’t trash everywhere. The air is so clean and pure compared to the industrial areas of the U.S. The only time I ever really see police are walking in pairs around Darling Harbour. It’s just not a common site. And police cars…rarely seen as well!

1 thing that’s exactly as I expected is the difference in nationalities you find around you. In America, you will find a lot more South American and African people than you do in Australia. Australia tends to have a lot more Asian and Middle Eastern influence, which is awesome, because that means a lot of Asian and Middle Eastern culture!

Name: Julia
Country of origin: UK
Lived in Sydney: Nearly 6 years


It’s a lot smaller than other cities, (e.g. London) with so many different neighbourhoods with different styles and characters, but lots of great places with a villagey vibe really close to the city.

NYE in Sydney!! you cannot beat the fireworks – I first came to Sydney about 14 years ago as a backpacker and had one of the best New Years of my life – Basement Jaxx playing at King Street Wharf – followed by the fireworks at midnight. Not been able to top that one – and each year I watch the Fireworks – you know they are never going to be a let down.

Name: Mollie
Country of origin: USA
Lived in Sydney: 4 years

1. How quickly food spoils without so many preservatives and chemicals.
2. How short the cereal aisle is without all the high sugar ones, that I lived on as a child.

I was not surprised by the fact that most Australians are generally nice and like Americans. I can’t count how many times people have said, “I love hearing you talk.” And believe me, no one ever said that until I moved here.

Name: Nom de geurre – “Bushranger”
Country of origin: Serbia
Lived in Sydney: 6.5yrs

2 surprising things: 1. Birds…I could not sleep the first few days because of the background noise. I felt like I was in the jungle, but then I got used to them.
2. The Harbour – I did not think it was going to be so awesome.

1 thing as expected: Before coming to Sydney I’ve watched a lot of Australian movies and one that made a lasting impression was “Kenny” – a mockumentary about a plumber who works for a portable toilet rental company and his interactions with people and how similar and different everything it is in comparison to US. When I came to Sydney, things were almost exactly like in this film.

Name: Melissa
Country of origin: USA
Lived in Sydney: 4 months 
Melissa blogs at Leche Love

One thing that surprised me was how many smokers there are here. I know it’s such a weird and random thing, but there are a lot of smokers here. After seeing the cost and packaging, even more so.
Another surprising thing was how easy public transit is here. I lived in Austin, and our bus/train system was pretty bad. Having moved here without a car, this was important.

I expected it to be beautiful, and it has been.

Name: Shane
Country of origin: USA
Lived in Sydney: A year in July!
Shane blogs at Sea Salt Secrets

2 things that surprised you about Sydney:
How culturally similar it is to most metropolitan area in America. The people look similar, speak English (with a quirky accident and vocab), listen to all our music and watch all our shows.

The diversity in people, food, and nature. I am friends with Indian, Lebanese, Chinese, Korean, South Africans, Kiwis, Sri Lankans, Iraqians …very few are originally from Australia which keeps things interesting. You walk down the main strip of my suburb and restaurants from Thai, Greek, Japanese, Turkish, Italian, Vietnamese, African and so much more, your taste buds never get bored! Then the flora and fauna, you get everything to the beach to the big city to rainforests and then of course the dry Outback!

1 thing that‘s exactly as you expected:
The laidback lifestyle. They take “no worries” to the extreme and you can’t take anything they say seriously. All Australians are entitled to four weeks annual leave which makes for a great work/life balance. And 4 o’clock drinks in the office? Normal.

Name: Debbie
Country of origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 10 years

I was amazed by the beautiful deep blue colour of the sky – I had always kind of assumed that the photo’s in holiday brochures had been photo-shopped.

Not long after arriving, we got invited for a charity fundraising lunch in a park. I remember being absolutely blown away that there were public barbeques in the park, that people actually used them and they weren’t vandalised!

The way of life here is just what I thought it would be – a lot more relaxed, lots of outdoors living. In my opinion, the perfect place to raise a family.

Name: Erin
Country of origin: Texas, USA
Lived in Sydney: 6 ½ years
Erin blogs at TexErin-in-SydneyLand

The lack of air-conditioning in homes and apartments for lease in such a hot country, and (of course, I think almost all expats experienced this) the high prices of everyday products. $5 for Chapstick? $7 for a pack of band-aids? $3-$4 for a bottled water? Say what?!?

The beauty…I dreamed that Australia would be beautiful, and it did not disappoint.

Photo by Erin

Photo by Erin

Name: Kirstie
Country of origin: United States
Lived in Sydney: Since September 2013
Kirstie blogs at Venga Vale Vamos

2 surprises:
I expected Sydney to have a laid-back beach culture, similar to Orange County, California, but offices are fairly corporate, and people are always dressed to the nines when they go out! I was also surprised by just how international Sydney is, particularly how much of an Asian influence it has.

1 thing that‘s exactly as you expected:
Sydney Harbour never fails to blow me away.

Name: Rachel
Country of origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 3 years, 2 months

Surprise Number 1 – Just how expensive it is to live in Sydney. I was naïve about the cost of living and genuinely thought that the price of rent was per month until I learnt that that was per week!

Surprise Number 2 – the harsh parking/ driving/ public order penalties, which are approximately 3 to 4 times as high compared to the UK. They don’t seem to act as a deterrent to most of the drivers here either.

As expected – the amazing weather. It lives up to my expectations and then some. Incredible to enjoy the outdoors and live a more active life thanks to the sunshine for ten months of the year.


Sydney expats – did you have any expectations or surprises of your own?


14 thoughts on “Sydney Expat Interview Series: Part 1 – Expectations vs Reality

    1. Cristin Post author

      Thanks for taking part, Erin! It’s been so interesting reading everyone’s responses – lots of common themes and some great surprises.

    1. Cristin Post author

      Lovely to blog-meet you! Just had a wander over – love your site!
      Join me on Facebook and/or Twitter (@ceeristin) for future contributor call outs.

  1. Josephine Minerva

    Delighted to read this post..esp that we just also moved recently in Sydney and so far, yet to go to the great beaches around! Will be stalking your next posts 🙂 Thanks for sharing!!!

    1. Cristin Post author

      Welcome to Sydney! So many amazing beaches here, and plenty of gems beyond Bondi and Manly. Never a dull day in Sydney, as long as the sun is shining. 😉

  2. Rachel ¦¦ A Nesting Nomad

    I found this really interesting. I have a sister who lives in Sydney, and who I try to visit as much as I can. We talk about some of these things together, so it’s interesting to hear about them from another perspective. One day, I’d love to go and join her…!

    1. Cristin Post author

      It’s been interesting to see how common themes have emerged, as well as individual preferences. Overall, I think it’s a great city – definitely worth considering, in my humble opinion!

  3. Trekking with Becky

    What a great idea for a post and for a series! 😀

    This was very interesting and surprising too. I doubt that I’ll ever live in Sydney, but I’ll have a much better idea of what to expect when I do make it there some day. 😀

    Thank you so much for sharing this for #ExpatTuesday! 😀

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