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Russell Ward, Sydney

I’m Russell Ward, a thirty-something expat living on Sydney’s northern beaches in New South Wales, Australia and the writer of an expat blog, www.insearchofalifelessordinary.blogspot.com. I divide my time between government consulting, travelling the world, enjoying a bit of cooking and gardening, and writing whenever I can.

I lived in the UK until 2003, before emigrating to Canada (Vancouver and Ottawa), then most recently to Sydney, Australia (my wife’s home city). I moved abroad in search of a life less ordinary, different to the hum drum of the 9-5 routine and the weekends spent in shopping malls or spent nursing a never-ending hangover from the night before. I went in search of the great outdoors and a more positive way of looking at, and living, my life… and, to be perfectly honest, it’s worked.What challenges did you face during the move?

The biggest challenge was moving the entire contents of our 3-bedroom house plus our two dogs to a place where we had no jobs lined up, a small rental house waiting for us, and no family and friends. Dealing with the emotions of leaving loved ones, managing the logistics of the move, and getting my two beloved pups across the Atlantic Ocean in one piece were all major issues to overcome at that time.

Can you tell us something about your property?

I own a medium-sized house on Sydney’s northern beaches. We had the experience of previously buying property on the Canadian leg of our adventure so we knew that researching the local market was the most important thing plus spending time in our preferred suburbs/locales to really get a feel for the place.

The initial renting process was a nightmare given the fact we had two dogs. Renters with dogs are not an attractive proposition for house owners. The buying process was ultra-competitive given the heat on the market at that time plus the ‘beaches’ locations. We simply lined everything up in advance of the viewing (building inspectors, conveyancers) and, once we’d viewed and decided to buy the house, put everything in motion as quickly as possible. In Sydney, offering ‘over’ the asking price is commonplace, which went against everything we’d learned from the UK and Canada.

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What is the property market like at the moment?

Currently, the property market seems to be settling down; however, given we are close to the beaches, the housing market in our general area always seems to be on the rise. My advice is to carefully consider the kind of expat life you really want. If it is the beach life, for example, the be prepared to spend a lot of money and fight a lot of other families for the house of your expat dreams.

Are you employed or self-employed? What challenges did you face in either finding employment or running your own business?

I currently work for the New South Wales Government and have done so since arriving in Sydney four years ago. Having a permanent visa was the one requirement of my job (temporary visas were not enough). In Sydney, future employment is always based on your previous performance, as opposed to schooling or family background, and you may need to get some contract work under your belt initially in order to build up a track record in Sydney-based employment.

Are there many other expats in your area?

Sydney is busting at the seams with expats, particularly from the UK. Certain areas naturally encourage certain expat communities. I find that the northern beaches seems to attract a lot of Australians from across Sydney plus folks like me who have come here from overseas and are captivated with the possibility of life by the ocean.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

I’m married to a ‘local’ so my relationship is positive on the whole. Aside from the usual banter from our Aussie friends and neighbours given that I’m a Pom (basically British), relations with the ‘natives’ are good-natured and full of jokes and fun.

What do you like about life where you are?

– The beaches.
– The sun.
– The relaxed approach to life.

That said, living so close to major city is fast becoming not so advantageous, as hectic and stressed out living starts to infiltrate our environment. Long-term, I’d like to head somewhere quieter and even more laidback.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

The distance from my home country and the resultant time difference. Aside from the lack of family contact, watching sports or events from afar involves lots of late nights and a sense of being away from where the action is. However, this also has its positives!

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

1. Use the services of a reputable immigration consultant. It will ease the pain with the many issues you will likely encounter early on in the visa process.
2. Book a fact-finding trip to your country of choice. Witnessing firsthand the actual look and feel of a place is many times more valuable than reading any travel brochure or Lonely Planet guide.
3. Start writing a list of things to do well in advance of moving. There are utility companies to contact, bills to be paid, houses to be sold, crates to be packed, dogs to be shipped. Write lists of lists. There can never be enough lists.
4. Employ a little patience. It’s a long, drawn-out process and you’ve likely got a long way to go so don’t go putting the house on the market just yet.
5. Be brave. Loved ones will be upset/angry/annoyed, friends may question your decision, and work colleagues will think you’re mad. Keep reminding yourself of the reasons for leaving and stay the course in search of your better life.
6. I’d also add that the worst kind of expats are those that shun their former home in the search for a new country to live in. You are who you are and you should never forget that. Furthermore, the ‘locals’ will respect you a whole lot more if you show some pride in where you come from whilst also learning to adapt to your new home. No-one likes a hater!

What are your plans for the future?

I’d never rule out a return to my home country – my motto is ‘never say never’. I’ll continue to explore this beautiful world of ours and who knows where we may end up in our search for a life less ordinary!

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