8 Things About Australia I Took For Granted

Image: iStock

They say that you don't know what you've got until it's gone. It's a truth that I haven't been able to stop thinking since I left behind the only home I've ever known. Relocating to Canada gave me the change in pace that I needed, along with some perspective about some of the things I took for granted about life in Australia.

Canada's culture is an odd and fascinating mix of British, French and American influences. For instance, speed is measured in kilometres per hour, but space is measured in square feet; nearly everything is written twice — once in English and once in French; and the province of Quebec is like its own country within a country. I'm having a great time here in Vancouver, and I don't necessarily want to go home just yet. But adjusting to a new life in a new country has got me thinking about a bunch of seemingly inconsequential things about life in Australia.

Before we get into it, I want to be clear that I'm not here to have a whinge or make unfair comparisons. These are just some of my reflections and lessons about some things I took for granted as an Australian now living in Canada. Examples are based on personal experience and are only there to provide context.

#1 Better Banking Technology

Banking is a pain in the bum everywhere, but Australia showed the rest of the world that early adoption of new technology does more to enhance security than compromise it. Electronic payments took over as the preferred method of payment in Australia a long time ago, making cheques and all related fraud all but obsolete. Meanwhile, some countries still write cheques today for employee wages, bill payments and refunds. Here in Canada, for example, it's not unusual for tenants to pay rent with post-dated cheques that are handed over at the start of the lease. And while Visa/MasterCard debit cards are now ubiquitous in Australia, Canadians still rely heavily on EFTPOS-type cards that can't be used online or outside of the country. Canada might have the soundest banking system in the world, but Australia holds the Number three spot and appears to be much quicker at integrating technology for the sake of convenience.

In fact, it wasn't until I tried to pay my first mobile phone bill in Canada that I discovered BPAY was actually an Australian invention. It turns out BPAY was the world's first single bill payment service when it launched in 1997, and now it processes 27 million bills worth $19 billion each month. Since I didn't want to pay Canadian bills with my Australian credit cards, and there was no way I was going to pay with a cheque, my only option was to pay that mobile phone bill with a direct deposit that required a manual search. I've yet to find something as unified, convenient and seamless as BPAY outside of Australia.

#2 More Secure Shopping

Australian merchants, on the whole, seem to be more vigilant when it comes to credit card security. In the time that I've been living in Vancouver, I've walked away several times with the merchant's copy of the receipt or not signing for my purchases at all. When they do ask for my signature, they don't check it against the one on the back of the card. The only time I ever got checked was when I bought a bed at a department store — in other words, when a large amount of money was involved. I'm sure it's not just Canada as well. Maybe these countries are using other, more discreet ways that I'm not aware of to prevent fraudulent activity.

#3 Reasonable Food Portions

There's something disturbing about sitting down for dinner at a restaurant, having a ginormous plate of food put in front you, not being able to finish it, and then ending up with a bill that's a lot less than what you would expect to pay in Australia. In North America, soft drink refills are usually free, and a small-sized meal at McDonald's is the equivalent of a medium-sized meal in Australia. Fortunately, it's much rarer to see this kind of generosity in Australian restaurants — our obesity levels are struggling enough without them. Photo by feministjulie (Flickr).

#4 Local Produce

Grocery shopping is an eye-opening experience of its own kind. Brown onions are the size of small melons, strawberries are freakishly large, margarine tubs are as big as saucepans. When everything comes in giant sizes, food (and money) inevitably goes to waste, especially when you're only feeding two people. While there are opportunities to buy normal-sized locally-grown produce with careful planning, it's next to impossible to completely avoid foods labelled with "Product of USA". I find it odd because Canadians, especially in the province of British Columbia, seem to be very conscious about the environment and genetically modified food. So while Australia's food prices might be one of the highest in the world, the combination of reasonable portions, wide variety of ethnic foods and locally sourced produce make for a better eating experience, at least for this Australian expat.

#5 Unit Pricing

Australian supermarkets started adding unit pricing on most grocery items in 2009, and it forever changed my shopping habits. Instead of using bad maths to work out which laundry detergent offered the best value for money, the new labelling showed me exactly how much each bottle cost by the litre. Australia isn't the only country with unit pricing, but it's one of the few that make it compulsory on some level. Since none of the supermarkets seem to do it in Vancouver, I'm back to using the bad maths to work out who's trying to rip me off with sneaky labelling or unusual packaging. I also realise now that the ACCC deserves more credit than it gets as Australia's consumer watchdog for enforcing policies like unit pricing and clarity in pricing, as well as going after dodgy SMS services. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

#6 One GST to Rule Them All

When you walk into a women's underwear store anywhere in Australia and see a sign that says "3 panties for $27", you pay $27 for three panties at the till. If you were to walk into that same store with the exact same sign in Canada, three panties will cost you between $28.35 and $31.85, depending on which province you're in. It's a similar story if you're shopping in the US and many other countries around the world.

When you grow up with GST-inclusive prices, having to add 12 per cent at the point of purchase can feel a bit like misleading advertising at first. Canada has a comparatively messy system of sales taxes that vary from province to province. In British Columbia, they can't even make up their minds about having two separate taxes or combining them into one Harmonised Sales Tax (HST). Some places will even add a "green tax" at the checkout without telling you, such as a 25c recycling deposit or an environment handling fee. Australian retailers, from my experience, will usually tell you if you that plastic bag is going to cost an extra 10 cents.

#7 Universal Healthcare

Australia's publicly funded healthcare system is routinely ranked as one of the best in the world [PDF]. Getting treatment under Medicare in Australia might involve long waiting periods, but the whole point of universal healthcare is that it's accessible to everyone. Canada also has universal healthcare, as do some European and South American countries. But you're out of luck in China or the US. I've heard enough horror stories about Americans who couldn't afford private health insurance being left to die. Even though the introduction of ObamaCare has improved the situation in America slightly, so I'm grateful for the system we have in Australia, as flawed as it may be. Photo by Getty Images.

#8 Better Value on Mobile Phone Services

This one surprised me the most. We often complain about how Australia gets screwed when it comes to the latest technology, but things have definitely improved and it's really not all that bad.

Mobile phone plans and contracts are woeful in Canada due to weak competition between the carriers. Voice and data plans are expensive and stingy. Phone plans have started to become more competitive now but they're still expensive compared to Australia. For example, Virgin Mobile in Canada charges $55 per month for unlimited talk and text but you only get 2GB of data. In Australia, Virgin Mobile is currently offering a $50 sim-only plan that gives you a total of 10GB of data with unlimited calls and text. Even on Telstra, the most expensive carrier in Australia, you can pay $50 and get 5GB of data. No carrier in any country offers perfectly transparent and easy-to-understand mobile services, but I prefer the way it's done in Australia.

Once again, I'm just pointing out some of the things that I miss about Australia now that I'm living overseas. I really am having the time of my life here in Vancouver, and Canada is an awesome place to live with plenty of things to brag about too. We often talk about how Australia's high cost of living is putting the squeeze on families, but it also brings a high standard of living that is envied by the rest of the world. It's what makes Australia one of the most desirable places to live, but that's not easy to appreciate when life in Australia is the only life you've ever known. When I eventually make my way home, I'll get my second chance to make the most of it.

Agree or disagree with any of these? Got something to add? Discuss your thoughts in the comments below.

This article has been updated since its original publication.


    wait so Telstra aren't the worst telco in the world, i think i feel a heart attack coming on


      If I told you about US telcos, French Telecom (Orange) etc you would live your life in a cardiac unit.

      I love my Telstra pre-paid $30 cap, i make most of my phone calls after 6pm at night anyway and i dont pay a cent between 6:00 and 6:00. I never go over my credit allowance. Since Telstra brought these cap plans out and combined with the quality of service signal, speeds and coverage.. Telstra is hands down the best value mobile provider in Australia.. 3-4 years ago i thought Telstra was an utter joke, they had the biggest rip of pricing structure, they gave nothing and took everything. Biggups to Telstra in 2012.

        Whats better than that? I dont have to call Telstra EVER. If i had to communicate with their helpdesk id be weighing up whats more attractive.. Optus or Suicide.

        Why only between six and six? The plan I am on gives you unlimited talk and text to mobiles all day and something like $300 credit for other calls. I never run out of credit. I can't say what the data is because I don't care.

      US and Canada you get Minutes on plan. Incoming calls come off your minutes as well. get 1000 minutes i call you for 10 minutes you now have 990 minutes left. have fun working in Australian Telco and an American and Canadian Customers.... "you don't get charged for incoming calls and you don't get charged roaming if you go to (insert state) Vic, SA. NSW or the ACT. Yes i will put that in writing Sir/Madam". P.S. don't let Telstra find out..

        I feel like I remember this used to be a thing in Aus- Receiving calls/SMS would cost your usage. They all did away with it ages ago though- so I think we're safe that they won't bring it back

      As alex says, not even close. I'm an Australian/Canadian dual citizen. Bell in Canada broke my phone for a week because someone knocked something in the exchange when a DSL line was deprovisioned. It was fixed as mysteriously as it was broken but Bell never admitted fault. A friend had a similar experience with Bell but his phone was broken for three weeks. I believe mine was fixed faster because I complained to Bell daily. Afger a few days I couldn't even leave messages for the complaints department as their voice mail box was full. What does that tell you? :)

      In Australia I would have had the TIO on to them, but in Canada you're plum out of luck. CIRA is not TIO.

    not too sure about no8, health care in Canada is very similar to us. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) ranking of health systems in 2010, Canada was ranked 30 whereas Australia was 32.

    But my point is more that it sounds from the article that you were comparing Australia with US healthcare which is more or less non-existent without private health insurance.

      The article is "things about Australia I took for granted". Not what Australia does better than Canada.

        true, however, it seems an odd thing to say. 'You know, being in Canada makes me think of the things Australia has that I miss, that Canada also has'.

          Well he did say "the whole point of universal healthcare is that it’s accessible to everyone. Canada also has universal healthcare", it's probably the proximity to America which has made him appreciate it. If Nz didn't have universal healthcare we would probably appreciate Medicare more.

            Sidenote: the author is female.

              That makes sense, I thought he was just a perv buying women's panties.

      Canada's is actually fundamentally different. It's 100% public healthcare. There is no private health insurance (it's illegal to offer it). The standard of care in the public health system is slightly better than Australia, but Australia treats the public system as a baseline stop-gap so that you're always covered for minor issues, and if you want to you can pay private insurance for improved care.

        I've interacted with both health care systems and I'm not sure I could see a difference in health care provision. I'd be interested if you have source for claiming Canadian health care is slightly better.

          I don't believe there is any equivalent of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in Canada and that's one to watch for. Employer provided health insurance that covers drug costs is valuable in Canada. In Australia a wide variety of medications are subsidised by the government and total prescription medication costs are capped per annum.

          Canadian health care systems are provincial whereas Australian medicare is national. This can matter because the possibility remains that not all health care costs will be covered out of province.

          One interesting facet of the Canadian health care system is that it can use the US as an overflow. If a province runs low on beds it can move less critical patients (with travel ID) to nearby US hospitals. In this case the provincial health insurance foots the bill for US health care. The value of this capability for Canada should not be underestimated. It means the health care doesn't need to worry nearly as much about spikes in demand - those same spikes that usually account for a significant proportion of the cost of service provision.

          Off the topic of health care, banking integration is out of sight in Australia. With a BSB and an account number you can transfer money to any account in the country. Try doing that in Canada or the US.

    Huh, the bpay thing really is surprising.

    It's one of those things that you don't really look for while traveling, and only notice once you start living somewhere.

      I don't actually "get" BPay. Can someone explain the benefit?

        At the bottom of your bill is a BPay number. You use that number to pay the bill using one of the payment options (personally I've only ever done it online, but I think there's phone and post office options). It's sort of like PayPal in that it's hard to explain why that's better than just paying normally but the unified process for all your bills really helps keep things neat and tidy.
        The feature that seems to capture most is online payment for bills/fines without the need to register accounts or remember passwords.

        The benefit of bpay is ease of use for regular bills. All you need is a biller id and ref number issued by the biller, then pay the bill using your internet or phone banking. It's like a direct transfer from your bank to another bank, but easier because there's only 2 numbers to worry about and you don't need to login to BPAY at all in the process. Unlike Paypal, where you need to login to paypal to make a payment. BPAY is good UX, better than credit card because nobody likes leaving their credit card details ongoing with all businesses. I've had my credit card double-dipped more than once by billers who have not offered bpay.

        Is great.....I have years without need to go to a banck branch.....I pay my house and all my bills at home true bpay....here all the bill come with a number personalize for you can pay your bill in a easy way online and even can save for future payments :-)

      It's not just bpay, the US & Canadian banking systems are so antiquated that even something simple like a bank-to-bank transfer which is a few clicks in online banking in Australia becomes a multiple-step dance that often involves the use of cheques to enable it. It's immensely frustrating.

      EDIT: Just realized this is a re-post and I'm responding to 2012 comments. :\

      Spoiler: none of this has changed.

      Last edited 14/03/17 11:54 am

    The sales tax not be included in the price is big annoyance for me of being in US. That and the expectation of a tip irrespective of quality of service (not sure if that's a Canadian thing as well). There were places I went to in the US where the tip was already included in the bill before I even got it. It may be a cultural thing but I found it rude and dishonest. If you expect $20 for a service, ask for $20, don't ask for $16 and expect an unspoken $4 tip.

    I'm so glad to live in Australia.

      If you go to a restaurant as a large group, they'll often automatically charge for a tip (and sometimes forget to tell you that they have done this). Otherwise, it's all up to you. My understanding in the US is that employees are paid less than minimum wage and it's assumed that their tips will cover the rest. In British Columbia (I'm not sure about the rest of Canada), employees at restaurants must be paid minimum wage and any tips are just extra. I much prefer it this way. If someone gives me terrible service (or just hardly any service at all), I don't feel bad not tipping them because they're still getting paid.

        I have a friend living in the US. She works as a waitress and gets paid $1.50 an hour. The minimum wage (around $8 per hour) isn't applied to service staff. Service staff are reliant on tips. Prices are lower to begin with, because the employer doesn't have as high staffing costs

          Pretty sure the business has to give them min wage if they don't make enough tips.

        Or they automatically charge for a tip, and hope you don't notice because they provide an opportunity to re-tip them again on the receipt.

    Yeah I'm not sure about the healthcare part . Canadians always boast about their healthcare, how is ours better? Hey, maybe you can also do a follow up as to 8 things you like a lot about Canada compared to Australia.

    Surely there are some advantages.

      Canada has universal healthcare, just like Australia does. I should have specified that. That bit was more a reflection on what my American friends have told me about how brutal the healthcare system in the US can be, where there is no universal healthcare. Made me realise that we have it pretty good in Australia in terms of healthcare.

        My wife (from the USA originally) told me the other night she still finds it amazing that someone in Australia can just *go* and see a doctor. In the US, if you don't have health insurance (which is pricey) then good luck seeing any kind of medical practitioner.

        She wound up working in a factory in town because they provided free health care. How bad is that?

          yeah its terrible that your wife had to work., how did she cope?

            Working is one thing. Not being able to start a business or work at the job that best matches your skills, preferences and salary expectations because you have a pre-existing condition so your options are work at a company that offers health care or go bankrupt ... that's something else entirely.

          Your agreeing about a system you have no idea about. All Americans wether they have insurance or not will be treated for life threating conditions. You also have to remember the old phrase, "Cash is King" means something. A lot of doctors will prefer to see you if you pay cash and is usually a lot less than what they would charge your insurance carrier.

          When I didn't have health insurance thru my company I go to my local State Farm insurance and get a Catastrophic Health Plan which is really cheap. It's also called a High Deductable Plan with a deductable of $10,000. So if I go to say my Doc who's also my flight surgeon I just pay cash and go whenever I want. Now I have to pay for my visits which a year mean about $100 to $300 and maybe $600 a year for my health plan but I know I'm covered 100% past $10K and the added benifit of not having to wait for anything like our esteemed commonwealth cousins in a Unversal Healthcare system. Yes I'm paying for it but my health is my resposibility not the government's.

            I've never had to wait to see a doctor in Australia either, and my GP bulk bills so I don't have to shell out any cash.

            No, Americans will be *stabilised* for life threatening conditions, billed for the emergency room fee and then shipped out onto the street once they aren't likely to die.

            You don't wait here for anything outside of elective surgery. It's entirely possible to ring almost any doctors surgery and get a GP appointment in minutes. If you get hit by a car, you will be dropped at a public hospital, and cared for until you are well enough, NOT STABLE ENOUGH, to leave - with all outpatient services covered, without paying a cent.

            If you don't want to wait, you can get a basic private hospital plan for $480 and skip the waiting list. Still ridiculously cheaper than the US. The system is shithouse there and its sad you can't see that.

          Hell, you can get a Dr to visit your house after hours and it's bulk billed so you pay nothing up front. It's amazing.

        Anyone in the US can see a doctor with or with out health insurance, they can just go to the emergency room at the local hospital. This is a nationwide mandate for all hospitals.

          It's not free, that's a myth. - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergency_Medical_Treatment_and_Active_Labor_Act#EMTALA_is_not_free_care

          It just says that you can't be turfed out onto the street if you are critical and don't have insurance. Once you're stable enough to not die on their premises, its a wheelchair and taxi for you.

          They can see them without health insurance, They will just be left with a hefty bill afterwards. Some emergency departments in the US ask for credit cards before treating people. No joke

            I was in the emergency department in a private hospital and I was asked to pay with a card after treatment, lying in a gurney before going to a ward. I suspect if I forced the issue, they would have made do with a bill posted to me.
            The emergency department seemed to be run by a different company to the hospital, so there was a changeover process and my perception was that everyone who saw me asked me a lot of questions.
            I was told the two public hospitals were 'chockers', so I was spared from lying in an aisle in the emergency department or sitting in a waiting room for 8 hours.

      *Real* Maple syrup (not "maple-flavoured syrup") = advantage canada
      Ice Hockey = advantage canada
      Wilderness full of shit that will kill you = about even

        "Real" maple syrup is available in Australia but it's a bit pricey (about $7 -$8 for a 250 mL bottle).
        Wilderness: Aussie bush critters may kill you but they tend not to want to eat you afterwards (or during)!
        AFL = advantage Australia.

        Australia has an Ice Hockey league. I saw the championship match last year and I've got to admit that ice hockey is pretty damn awesome to watch!


        What a great post.
        I don't share your love of hockey - but your comment made me laugh :)

    One thing that Oz got right was your No6, GST. OK, we don't like it and many opposed its introduction back in 2000, but at least it was controlled Federally rather than by the States. Unfortunately that latter scenario is what has happened in Canada and the US where you have this ridiculous system of state govts setting their own sales taxes (if at all). We're now the only ones, most other places have universal sales tax (SE Asian countries, most of Europe for example). I know people who live in New Jersey (7% tax) and regularly drive 20/30/40 miles across the Delaware border just to take advantage of zero tax on fuel/tobacco/electronics etc.
    Mind you, if the Australian State govts had their way, the situation might be different.......

      Yeah but while we have a 0% on certain items we should also have a 20% on luxury goods. Junk food should be taxed more. When we brought in GST we got rid of the luxury tax that did this.

        I totally disagree with your comment regarding a 20% GST on Luxury Goods, junk food or anything else for that matter.

        The intent of the GST was/is to provide an equal tax on all products irrespective of cost. The more charged for the item, the more tax you pay. SIMPLE.

        I personally think that the GST would be even simpler if we included it on ALL food. I know that would be unpopular, but it actually makes sense. (Check the ATO's GST food guide and you will realise how stupid the current implementation is).

        As for taxes on Junk Food. I gather you believe that additional taxes on junk food will reduce the obesity rate in this country? I have a better solution, STOP EATING JUNK FOOD.

        Its a parents responsibility to teach their children good eating habits and its the governments responsibility to have better food education in schools. SIMPLE.

        Simply taxing something is NOT an answer. Actually making a concerted effort to change behaviours IS the answer.

        I will shut up now.

          I'll go one step further and say I would love to have seen John Hewson's original GST proposal go through, with a flat rate of 15% replacing every other type of sales tax, including fuel excise. It was a real shame that Hewson couldn't sell it.

          you know a millionaire might spend 0.001% of his weekly income on food paying 0.0001% tax while a minimum wage worker will spend %50 on food and pay 5% tax

            The post did specify every other type of sales tax not all taxes. So income tax and the like would still be collected from that milliionaire.

          You can't have a GST on all food and all items the same because that would mean some things would be taxed far more.
          For example- there doesn't tend to be a tax on raw food items. This is because they're simple food components. If you taxed all the raw items at 15% then food made out of them is taxed AGAIN, meaning people are double taxed for food.

            Not quite. If you collect GST when you sell something, before paying that GST to the tax man, you deduct any GST you paid on the item or its components.
            So if your business is making furniture, for example, you pay GST on the wood, nails, glue and varnish etc, but you then deduct that from the GST you collected when you sold the finished product, giving the difference to the tax department.

            The only reason there's no GST on basic food items is because the GST legislation was unpopular and it wouldn't have gone through if they left food in.

        Taxing Junk Food extra isn't the answer. Cost of living is high enough. How about finding a way to make healthier alternatives not cost up to 2x that of the junk way out!

        When I was at Uni back in 98-01 it cost $5 for a basic sandwich with meat and bread, adding anything else cost 50c a pop. So if you wanted some beetroot and some cucumber and a couple of other bits you could easily spend $5. While a container of Potato Gems were $3 and a 660ml Pepsi was $1.20! Which as a Uni student would have you purchased?

        Granted half this was before the GST but still go to your local shopping centre and check the difference between a junk joint and a "healthy" food shop.

        Last edited 23/12/12 11:34 pm

      It is the ACCC which is the hero here. Prices displayed have to be the price paid or the ACCC will prosecute for misleading and deceptive conduct. This dates from the Trade Practices Act, one of the reforms of the Whitlam era.

      If Australia ever had state-based taxes then the price displayed would simply include them.

      Other countries tend to lack this all-in price display due to a philospohical difference: shopkeepers are opposed to taxation and choose to display the ex-tax price. That isn't an option for Australian retailers (although taxes can be itemised on the receipt, and in the case of the GST, must be itemised)

      The Trade Practices Act was coloured by trade unionists memories of "town shops" where shops in mining towns would display prices lacking the "transport levy"; that is, with no relationship at all to the price paid at the till. This and the use of "company cash" (wages paid by notes printed by the company, good only in their shops) was the scourge of mining towns and one the Whitlam government was determined to kill forever when it wrote the TPA.

        You have to understand the mind-set behind it. Americans simply don't trust their government and want to know exactly how much they are giving them with each transaction. I think it is kinda cool, especially in the face of the dozens of different, devious taxes we used to pay before the GST.

        While I do generally agree with your sentiment, the real reason tax inclusive prices arent displayed are actually due to the extraordinarily fragmented tax system in the US.
        In a major retail chain, they will generally create a national price for the product. In the case of Apple, they charge US$199 for a base model ipod touch.

        Because of the state, municipal and city based taxes, the amount you pay is quite different.
        In New York City you will pay US$ 216.41 (4% state & 4.5% City and 0.375% commuter district tax).
        However, in Washington D.C, You would pay $210.94 (6% City Tax).
        Finally, in Portland Oregon, you would pay $199.00 (0% sales tax).

        To make matters worse, if you buy a product over the internet that is sent to New York but the seller is in California, you pay no sales tax at all. UNLESS the business has a physical presence in the recieving state.
        Also... some states have different tax rates for different services or products. In New york, if you buy a piece of clothing under $110, it is not subject to the 4.5% state tax.

        This is one of the reasons that Amazon (and mail/internet orders in general) have been so successful. They base themself in a state where no sales tax is applied and then ship from there. They can successfully undercut most retailers in tax savings alone.

        Its a mess of a system that really benefits no one.

        So... for those in Australia who think 10% GST is a confusing tax, think again. While it does have flaws, its a good stable system that is more often than not, easier to understand than others.

      I like the state system much better. It allows states to compete with each other. It'll also save money. Now the federal Government controls the tax and pays revenue to states using some model. Administrative costs are involved in that. States collect it themselves, then it'll save on admin costs.

      I had this when I visited the US. At Knott's Berry Farm some popcorn was $3.75 and I heard numerous people go up to ask how much is it before they order. The answer a nice even $4 and 4c! Seriously!

    Yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep and yep.

    I lived in the United States for three years and within a month of my arrival I had made exactly the same observations, especially about banking and security and what seemed to me a quaintly old-fashioned reliance on checks/cheques.

    I was kind of prepared for the oversized portions and health care issues, since that's something you hear about overseas or might experience when travelling, and the need to do all sorts of calculations – tax and unit prices – when shopping became annoying but was probably good for my mental agility.

    But I was profoundly shocked to learn that I was expected to pay for incoming mobile calls as well as the calls I made – to the extent that I decided not to get a mobile at all while I was there. The idea that a nuisance call or a wrong number or a really chatty friend might represent a cost to me just wasn't acceptable.

    Other things I appreciated about Australia after moving to the US:
    • Discounting outlier cities like New York, Australia has better public transport and a wider general acceptance of public transport use.
    • The Cabcharge system
    • Green bags in supermarkets (this was nearly ten years ago, so green bags were newish)
    • Being able to find food that wasn't sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup (the trick, I discovered, was to look for imported food: European chocolate, for example)
    • Interiors that aren't overheated in winter
    • The metric system (did you know that the US is *officially* metricated but no president has ever had the gumption to try to actually implement that)
    • The ISO paper system (i.e. the A and B paper sizes) – Letter-sized paper never did feel quite "right"
    • Darrell Lea liquorice – even those who purport to sell "Australian liquorice" in the States don't really have a clue what it should taste like

    On the other hand – giving credit where it's due – in the US I became a convert to mail order/online shopping. Particularly in niche product areas, this is a godsend. Have narrow shoulders and want to buy petite size contoured wooden coat hangers so your jackets aren't ruined? In America you can! Want to make an illuminated panel? You can buy the appropriate calfskin, pounce, real gold leaf, gesso and burnisher from a little business three states away. In that respect, especially then, America's population base meant they were way ahead of Australia.

      When I lived in the US I found it was easier to manage all my Australian financial affairs over the web then do anything with my US affairs.

      I was so frustrated with bill-paying hassles that I signed up for an electronic service to do it. After a month I found it was worse than what I was doing because it was just a web front end on people writing checks manually and posting them.

      Mail order/online shopping in the US evolved partly to get around state sales taxes which aren't paid if the item is being sent to another state. It does make clothes shopping online viable, but forget that in Australia!

      Yvonne, get thee to Cost Plus World Market for Darrell Lea liquorice. At least, they used to sell it there. You won't find the mango flavour, but hey, something is better than nothing.

      Australian licorice is disgusting. Luckily, I can American licorice (Red Vines) online at USA Foods or at candy kiosks in the mall. I usually buy the big tub and my Aussie mates absolutely love it. :p

        Red Vines is hardly licorice. It's like eating cherry coke. Comparing them to licorice based on their shape is like calling draught-excluders snakes.

    7. Universal Healthcare

    Rawr! you socialist pig! rawr!


      Imperialist pig...

    It is nice to see an article about this issue/situation, I too am an Aussie living in another country (Japan).
    Although Japan is a great place to live and I feel many of the things and services that Australia has are of the same quality etc..., after 5 years I still do feel I took for granted many things and often miss the sunburnt country.
    Some simple things I miss now (remember like the author I'm comparing with where I am living now):
    A summer christmas (nothing like a BBQ on XMas day)
    Having much more open land to use, and huge parks.
    Parking, yes! anywhere in Japan (even the country areas) you must pay for parking. There is basicly no free parking and no parking on the streets. If you buy a house you can get 1-2 parking spots (not all the time), but if you buy an apartment (like I did) you still have to pay extra for parking every month. This is why I don't own a car here.
    No crazy high humidity in Summer (at least in Melbourne)

    Anyway I could go on but I won't.
    Just would like to say although I love living here in Japan I can relate with this article, and now and then feel an earning to return back to Oz.

      You didn't mention the ATMs! Having 99% of the ATMs close (at least where I was) over Golden Week was the most absurd thing I've ever seen... how can ATMs NOT be 24/7 at banks, omg.

    - Better banking technology? There's hadly a month goes by when one of the big 4 doesn't have an outage.
    - Universal healthcare? There's life-time tax loading if you don't have private insurance - the government is trying to wash it's hands of providing free healthcare for all as quickly as it can.
    - Better value mobile phone plans? You're clearly now just joking. Our plans are not only NOT reasonably priced but also as legally confusing as they're allowed to be. Where else in the world is a 'cap' the minimum you you will pay? And th euse of 'dollar value' instead of minutes etc. is a farce. As is the continued use of flag-fall pricing.

    The others may be true (some only to an extent - of course we can have local produce if we count flying it all the way across the country 'local' - it's about as local as Londoners getting their oranges form Seville...) but come off it some of this list is just bollocks.

      - regarding banking technology - expecting 0% downtime from a 24 hour per day system is completely unrealistic, and the fact that when these do happen that they make national news indicates that they are taken seriously and happen infrequently enough to not be mundane
      - regarding universal healthcare - the tax is deliberately in place to ensure that support is prioritised towards low income families. this is the perfect way to run a universal health care system when there is not enough money in the budget for every single man woman and child. The only other option for this would be to do a flat tax across everyone, which only benefits those that dont need it and severely hurts those who need it the most
      - regarding mobile phone plans - while the system is confusing for consumers, it has been consistently improving in the last few years and the value and availability of new technology (4g, new phones ect) is among the best in the world

        Banking has more outages here than, say, the UK. It is literally nearly once a month one of the big 4 has problems. Universal healthcare isn't universal if it isn't free for all, c.f say France or any northern European country. As for mobile phones, not only is the pricing more expensive than it ought to be but we don't' even have proper 4G in place yet. It is a well known fact that skilled telecom workers quite often learn the skills abroad in the early adopting countries and then come over here to reimplement it. Just because prices are improving does't mean they are reasonable and the infrastructure lags many other developed nations.

          Literally nearly once a month - way to almost commit to a point, mate. Banking outages make the news every time. I don't recall seeing one every month. Of course, I could be wrong - as could you.

          Johann - I've spent 5 of the last 8 years living overseas. There is not a day that goes by that I find myself missing the good life that far too many Australians whine and complain about.

      I'm curious Johann, what country are you living in that has all those things better than Aus?

        I'm in Australia. I realise the name might confuse!!

          So being in Australia, you obviously know better what other countries are like at the moment than the guy in the other country?

          You're confusing in several ways. Maybe the article isn't what's bollocks.

            A little egg on my face, sorry - obviously the article is written by a woman. Assumptions!

              I know you're a familiar face around here, so I'm a bit surprised :P

      I can't comment about the rest, but the ACCC is currently working on precisely the mobile pricing issues you mention. The carriers will soon be forced to standardise on something easier to understand

      Johann, on your point about mobile phones.. I've lived in the Middle East, USA (NYC), France and Australia and I will gladly say Australia has the best value mobile phone plans.. They're not perfect naturally, but they're the best I've come across..

      Australia does have better value mobile plans on postpay and most definitely prepaid when compared to Canada. On Rogers, you have to pay at least $60 a month to just get 1GB of data. Yes it's on LTE but just see how quick that 1GB will be gone with those speeds. Even on Fido, a 'budget' carrier even though its owned by rogers, you can get a $35 a month unlimited plan of calls and texts, but would need to pay another $25 to just gain a decent amount of data. I for one am glad that Australia doesn't adhere to the 'Minutes' model because I think Australians are becoming more data centric these days with whatsapp, viber and skype. Also when they talk about 'minutes' on canadian plans, they have this weird system of local call and long distance calling within the same country or even province. While here, no matter where you are or who you are calling in Australia, the charge is the same.

      And not forgetting that Canada has.... 3 YEAR CONTRACTS!!! Want an HTC One X on Rogers? Pay $99 for the handset and be stuck with them for 3 years. If you want to only be with them for 2 years, then pay $524 upfront... And then you still have to pay the 13% tax on that as well.

      The major difference between Canada and Australia is that we have more competition thus better competitive pricing. I'm on woolworths prepaid and I pay around $26 bucks to get $500 worth of credit and 5gigs worth of data for 45 days. I mostly use my data for texting so I barely touch my call and text credit. You would be hard pressed to find better value in Canada.

    I am a Canadian now living in Oz and the difference in healthcare is that in Australia you can choose to have private healthcare on top of Medicare, which you can't do in Canada. You have to use Medicare, which is universal, but over crowded. You may be able to get an "extras" plan through your employer which helps. If you need to wait 6 months for heart surgery, you can always go to the US and pay a huge sum to have it done in a private clinic, so you don't die waiting. I like the choice here in OZ, but having a second system for people with more money is considered a bit elitist by Canada's government. Too bad. It takes pressure off the public system.
    I wish I could say the same about the school system in Australia. We have a decent public school in our area, but I feel there is great social pressure to send your child to a private school. In South Australia at least, the high school you went to seems to set your social standing for life.
    In North America, it seems, most go to the local public school and its your university that gives you social cred. And the fees horrify me. Ha ha.

    my parents had that EXACT map when I was growing up (I think like a tea-towel version?) I remember being fascinated by the Aboriginal guy. Why is he in that particular spot? What's he supposed to be facing? What's the weird creature near the WA/SA border?

      Zoom in and you'll see it's a pair of bunnies. I just can figure out what that big turd-looking thing near Pt Augusta is.


          As an ex-Victorian, you mis-spelt "Melbourne" ;)

          I just can figure out what that big turd-looking thing near Pt Augusta is.


          +1. This.

          Last edited 24/12/12 12:05 pm

        It's an echidna

    Are you kidding me?
    Mobile phone services in Australia are incredibly expensive! and the services the companies provide i.e. hotlines,... is a laugh. So far I have not experienced a country with a worse service/price relation.

      15 cents a minute no flag fall & 12 cent texts on Telstra ain't expensive, what the hell are you smoking?

        For comparison in Estonia you can get unlimited mobile calls & SMS for 22EUR/month. Or for prepaid 0.04 EUR/min for calls & 0.05EUR/text.
        Or 100/20 Mbit/sec internet for 24 EUR/month.
        As for banking goes, transfer between different banks - up to 2 hours.

          For comparison in Estonia you can get unlimited mobile calls & SMS for 22EUR/month.

          Yeah, but on the downside, you're in Estonia. I'll pay a lot more to not be in Estonia.

      In the country I live, my mobile bill is slightly less than what it was in Australia, despite similar usage. What I find profoundly different is the transparency here. (Malaysia.) You pay an access charge, then you pay for separately for calls. You have a data allowance after which point your internet speed is SHAPED. No obscure "cap plans", no "included value", no hidden data charges. So much easier to get your head around.

      Vaya - $11 per month for $100 of calls (about 16 hours) and 1.5 gigabytes of data is EXPENSIVE?
      Please, please tell me where mobile phone services are cheap then. I'm still amazed I can get service this cheaply in Australia.

    Decent article, cheers.

    Number 3 is a positive? Oh right Lifehacker....
    Well interesting read otherwise.

    One thing I love about coming back to Australia - no tipping!

    I was shocked the most at having to pay for incoming calls!?

    i'm a german who immigrated to australia about 3 years ago. i most points mentioned in the article are basically the same in europe. of course wages might be lower but it _sort of_ balances out with lower rents and food costs.
    what i like better in aus is the wide acceptance of eftpos. even foodstalls on the roadsides sometimes accept payment with a card. i also grew very fond of debit cards instead of credit cards here. online banking is in my opinion more secure in germany, where special devices are becoming more and more commen for transfers. these generate a transaction code using your bankcard in combination with a barcode on the computer screen.
    the transition from living in eur and to living here was more than easy. australia feels kind of like an european island (just very far away) with better weather, more optimistic people. the only things i'm sometimes missing are (of course like most germans overseas - cliche!) bread, cheese and sausages :0

    I'm a Canadian living in Australia, have been here over a decade. Took me a while to get used to not tipping-- and the much higher cost of eating out. When info back for a visit, it's no problem to do the calculations. It's silly, sure, but it's just how it is. Wages for waiters was generally a few cents below the normal minimum, because tipping is so engrained. I do find the service generally worse in Oz, but it's not sycophantic. Other annoyances here (at least in Melbourne) is the lack of good signage (complicated by changing the name of streets as you drive along them-- street numbering is ridiculous as well).
    The bizarre English style class society, where the government pays for 2 health systems and 2 education systems, one for the rich and one for the not rich, is idiotic.
    Local produce is fabulous in Oz-- but that's got more to do with climate than culture.
    There does seem to be far less inner city povert in Melbourne than Toronto, and the safety net seems more generous, but maybe I just knew my old city better than I do Melbourne.
    It's a pretty easy move to make-- pretty good countries to live in.

      Isn't the "2 class" health system better than the one in the US (and Canada?) where the poor have nothing? The "higher class" of healthcare in Australia is an attempt by the government to reduce money spent on medicare.
      Don't see how that, or the fact that there are both public and private schools, is BAD for you?

      I agree that service is worse in Australia -- they don't have to work so hard for the tips that the US or Canada rely on because the minimum wage is so low. I also find that in Vancouver once you factor in the 15% tip and 12% HST, it's almost as expensive as Australia.

        While tips do encourage good service, what i do find concerning about some states (in the US) is that they are allowed to REDUCE the minimum wage to account for the tips recieved by a waiter.

        What this means is that some places dont pay their waiting staff a single penny. The wait staff make ALL their wages off tips. Its a pretty dire situation really.

        There isn't that big of a service culture in Australia which is true, but that doesn't mean the service here is generally bad. I've never had a terrible experience in Australia but I never really thought too much about the service unless it was bad. It wasn't until I lived in Canada that I had to judge the servers on their service. I didn't know the title 'server' was a position. While eating out, factoring in Tax and Tip can make it equal with Australia, even more if you are a fantastic tipper. But buying food in general, like groceries and fast food is substantially cheaper.

    As a Canadian (and now an Australian too) living in Sydney, I can sympathise (now I spell it right!) with your comments. The only thing I'd note about mobile (cell) phone plans is that in Australia I pay extra to call a mobile from a land line, so if my friends decide to trash their landlines and go all-mobile, guess who pays for that: me! In Canada and other jurisdictions, a landline user pays the same whether the call destination is a landline or a mobile. So maybe the Canadian mobile owner pays more -- i.e., for incoming calls, but that seems to be reasonable: they're paying more for the extra mobility of their phone, rather than forcing their callers to pay.

      But that's terrible. I mean I understand the poor situation with all your friends going mobile, but the perception here is that mobile phone services cost the providers more to transfer so they charge you to use it. However you get the convenience of being able to contact anyone where they are rather than hoping they're at home.

      To me that's like saying you shouldn't pay more for cable-tv because you're still watching it on your old TV

    this article is not proof that Australians are getting it good, it just showed that Canadians are getting screwed over more.

    Good quality mobile plans, reasonable food portions??? Are you for real?

    mobile plans here are a rip off
    food portions here can at least be halved and our obesity problem can be partly solved.

    seriously, australians are getting screwed over so many ways it's not funny

      I wasn't trying to prove anything or make unfair comparisons -- this is just a list of things I realise I took for granted now that I'm living overseas.

      Vaya is about the cheapest mobile phone plan i've ever seen. I get about 16 hours a month of phone calls, plus 1.5gb of data for $11 per month. I don't call that a rip-off at all.

      Like all things, if you really want to go Telstra/Vodafail/etc, feel free to be ripped off all you like. I'm very happy with my mobile phone plan.

        You get that on a plan? XD

        Try Kogan mobile. For a prepaid service using the Telstra network you get unlimited calls, texts and 6GB of data for $29. That's value.

    Good grief. People are paying $40 to Telstra for 800MB and are HAPPY about it!?
    For $18 TPG gives you 1.5GB (and $550 "worth" of calls).
    for $30 Woolworths/Optus gives you 5GB and $500 "worth" of calls.
    I'm amazed every time I hear someone say they use Telstra.

      What's the coverage like with TPG and Woolworths. If its anything like Optus' coverage then they are no good to people in rural areas. Telstra = only good coverage to those outside the big cities.

        It depends where you live. My brother travels all over NSW with his job. His work phone is on Telstra but his own is on Virgin (Optus). He finds that the coverage on Optus is actually better overall than Telstra, especially on the highway between towns, which was a huge surprise to me (and to him).

      There are still places that only have reliable coverage with Telstra, and besides, a lot of people who are less tech-savvy stay with the one carrier for years instead of going through the hassle of switching.

    I moved from Melbourne to Montreal, Canada last month and I 100% endorse this article. The most irritating thing is tipping and taxes. When eating out, you mentally have to add 30% to all the prices (15% taxes in Quebec + 15% tip).

    A few people are being skeptical about mobile phones here, it is totally true, Canada is much worse for phone deals. I have refused to get one so far.

    You forgot to mention tax time in general. The Australian government supplies a platform, auto links information from other sources, and makes it downright easy to do your taxes. They then give you your return within about 2 weeks. In Canada you need to buy your own tax software or do them MANUALLY ( on paper) and it has taken 4 -6 weeks.

      Good point. I'm having a hard time trying to find an accountant who understands both Australian and Canadian tax law. I tell them I'm working remotely for an Australian company and they all shake their heads and show me the door.

        Elly, I would also consider looking for an Australian accountant that can also do Canadian taxes and see if they will deal with you remotely.

        I know there are accountants in AU that specialise in AU/US taxation, so I am sure there would be something that fits your needs!

    Don't forget the ABC. (TV, Radio, Triple J, SBS, etc). Being away makes you appreciate the ABC, even if you're not a big fan. Comercial-free TV and radio is not too common.

      This is a great point. Australia has great free-to-air offerings, at least in terms of the number of channels if not the content. Plugging the antenna into the wall here in BC, I get exactly four channels, and two of them are French-speaking. If I want more, I have to go cable. :(

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