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Setting up Your Life in Sydney: Diary of a Poor Backpacker

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

Ready to set the scene? Let's go. Your tummy is full of butterflies and you have spent the last hour of your plane ride gazing in awe at the Australian landscape, wondering what your new home will look, feel and smell like - but you already have a very specific vision in your head as you have been preparing for this moment for probably years. You have managed to find your way to your hostel and are shocked that a bottle of Coke and your train ride has set you back $25 (FYI transport in Sydney is super cheap, but the airport train is not).

After a couple of days you will have settled into your hostel and found your bearings. You now know what a 'schooner' is and you're getting to know the local happy hour spots! Everyone is so friendly and you're feeling easier about living in a brand new place. It doesn't take long until you realise your hard-earned British Pounds do not stretch very far here, and thoughts about finding work are dancing in your head.

I myself did not prepare for life down under before I leapt on my flight to Sydney. My decision to move to Australia was spontaneous. I didn't have any money saved and I figured many things out as I went along - which is very unlike me! In doing so, I learnt a lot and I want to share with you the (what I consider to be) important bits that will guide you through those first few crazy weeks!

SIM Card

When you arrive, you will most likely only be able to use WiFi on your phone as it will cost a bomb to use your mobile data. Pick up an Aussie SIM card as soon as you can - this will give you lots of freedom and help you to find your way around. I got a Vodafone pay as you go SIM which gave me 15GB of data and unlimited texts and calls for around $25. Do not delay!

Opal Travel Card

This app will be your bible to help you figure out the public transport system in Sydney. You can top up your balance on the app as well as on the card. As mentioned earlier, transport in Sydney is so affordable. A short inner-city journey costs around $2.50 with daily caps, and you can travel 3 hours to the stunning Blue Mountains for around $6.50! Don't be like me and miss your first two job interviews because you caught the wrong trains, due to not downloading the Opal app!

Bank Account

I chose to open my bank account with Commonwealth Bank - because it was extremely easy to do so and it was recommended to me. I applied online a couple of weeks before I was due to land in Australia and picked up my new bank card when I arrived. Please note: when you pick up your bank card, you will need to provide an Australian residency address for tax purposes - I was lucky enough to know somebody whose address I could use, but I am fairly sure you can use the hostel address until you have your own address.

TFN (Tax File Number)

This is very important! Your tax file number is not compulsory to have, but if you do not have it you pay more tax. When you start a job, you have 28 days to declare your TFN until you start paying the high threshold of tax. I would recommend that you apply for your TFN as soon as possible as mine took around four weeks to arrive. Your TFN is also required to be able to effectively contribute to your superannuation (your pension). Although your pension doesn't seem important now, if and when you leave Australia, you are able to claim back a percentage of your accumulated super - definitely worth it!


Download the HostelWorld app - this app is extremely easy to use and makes booking accommodation simple. Comparing prices, room sizes and even private rooms (if you need time to unwind) is straightforward.

I recommend Wake Up! as your first hostel experience. The weekly rates are competitive, the location is perfect, it is very clean and there are themed nights most nights which gives you the perfect opportunity to meet friends when you are new to the city. Wake Up! also provides opportunities to work at the hostel in return for discounted/free accommodation.

When you are ready to flee the hostel nest, there are a number of ways that you can find an apartment or house to live in. Personally, I was in and out of hostels and room lets for my year in Australia - my longest hostel stay was around 3 months! This all depends on how your time here is spent, as I would work for a couple of months, then travel for a few months and repeat. In between travelling I would look for temporary rooms available to rent on Facebook groups such as 'Irish Around Sydney' and various accommodation-related groups - just search 'Sydney rooms' and join the Facebook groups with the most followers. There are so many opportunities from lease takeovers and lease transfers, to 1 week or 6 weeks roomstays while the person is on holiday or visiting home! Hostels provided me with back-up accommodation while I was searching for a room let. I loved this style of living as I was able to experience life in lots of different suburbs and meet so many amazing people.


The dreaded word, but eventually we need it in order to keep travelling and buying beers! If you are unsure what job you would like to do and time is an important factor, I found the most efficient way to search for work was through recruitment agencies - sign up to as many as you can and be open to different types of work! My jobs ranged from recruitment and reception roles through to brand ambassador and festival work.

Important: to work in a place that serves alcohol in NSW you need to obtain an RSA card (Responsible Service of Alcohol) which costs you between $125 and $150. To work in construction in NSW you will be required to obtain your 'white card' which will set you back around $110.

Once you land yourself a job, you will be earning upwards of $25 per hour and you will typically be paid weekly. Once you start earning Aussie wages, you won’t even blink an eyelid at grabbing a $13 beer at Opera Bar.


I still shudder at the thought of goon! As this post is a diary of a poor backpacker, I must address the cost of alcohol in Australia which is considerably higher than the UK. I can guarantee you will have been introduced to goon by the end of your first week. This is a cost-friendly box of wine-like substance that is usually always followed by the famous 'goon hangover'.


If you don't like sushi, skip past this section! Sushi deserves its own special mention and is a fond memory of Australian life for me. Sushi in the UK is expensive and quite frankly below average (unless of course you go to a sushi restaurant). Sushi in Aus is so affordable and is sold everywhere - you can grab a california roll for as little as $2.50! This was my go to lunch through poor and not-so-poor times, and it was so fresh and delicious! Absolute winner.


Now I know this part may be a crowd divider as good coffee is, obviously, a non-negotiable. Sydney is full of wonderful and quirky coffee shops that serve the best coffee I have ever tasted. However, if like me you are prone to buying 2-3 coffees a day, especially when you're in 'holiday mode', scrimping on your morning caffeine fix may not be the worst idea. 7/11 sells $1 coffee. No, it does not compete with the likes of Campos and yes, you can taste why it is only $1. But hey, coffee is coffee when you're poor.

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