Life in USA Vs Australia

Okay, I’m biased. I moved from the US to Australia 3o years ago. Best decision of my life.

There have been many changes in both countries in those 30 years, not all for the better in either one.

Superficially the two countries are similar. It takes a while to really understand the differences, partially because of the ubiquitousness of US popular culture in English-speaking countries. It takes years to understand the cultural references of a place and until you can do that, you will be an outsider.

When I migrated to Australia it was almost as hard to get a visa to live here as it is to get a greencard to live in the USA. I waited nine months for my visa. I was a skilled migrant coming to fill a specific role.

Australia is more egalitarian than the US and Australians are more able to live with ambiguity than Americans are. Each country holds a place of fascination for the other.

During the 30 years I’ve been here I’ve travelled to the US quite a bit and the cost differences used to be bigger than they are now. Cars and books are still less expensive (significantly so) in the US. But I live quite happily in a capital city without a car (and have done so for 20 of my 30 years here) so meh.

Books, well they are a different matter. I can’t live without them, don’t even want to try. This used to mean that I would come home from an annual trip to the USA with a suitcase full of books.

But after a couple of moves I decided to only buy ‘reference’ books and second-hand books when I was traveling, because despite the efforts of Liberal National Coalition governments, local libraries are well-funded and cooperate throughout the country.

For the past 10 years at least I have found almost every new or classic book I’ve wanted to read at either my local library  (or through library link cooperating public libraries). If I can’t find a copy, I suggest my local library buy a copy. For new releases, the answer is almost always yes.

The same goes for many services paid for through local council rates (local taxes in US speak). Example: rubbish removal much more economical for the council to buy these services than for you to individually buy them from a commercial concern.

Food, yes I think it is a bit more expensive, but I think it’s better, with less emphasis on manufactured food. However that is changing, and not for the better with the expansion of major US agribusinesses into Australia. Fresh food in Australia is superior to that available in supermarkets in the USA and while we don’t have a multitude of supermarket chains to choose from, we do have local ‘markets’ and green grocers, butcher shops etc. in our cities and towns. Farmers’ Markets too. No one has to shop at a supermarket except for convenience.

Electrical appliances are also a bit more expensive, but the differential is nowhere near as large as it used to be. People tend to be more discriminating about what they buy.

Here’s the thing though. I live a good life here. A very good life. I couldn’t live the same quality of life in the US for a number of reasons, in my opinion. I’m debt free. Have been for 20 years. None, not even a credit card.

First and foremost and again, despite the efforts of Lib-Nat coalition governments, health care. It’s your right in Australia. I came here as a migrant. Within the first week I was in residence, I received my Medicare card in the mail. It doesn’t cover everything, but you know you won’t bankrupt yourself if by chance you get sick.  You will never have to choose between going to the doctor and buying groceries.

With a moderate extra premium for private health insurance a year-long saga involving four stays in hospital of more than a week each, three major surgeries, one requiring two surgeons and 10 hours, my out-of-pocket expense was a grand total of 2,000 and that was all for the extra surgeon. If I didn’t have private health insurance I would have gone to another hospital, possibly had to wait for one of those surgeries, but wouldn’t have had any out of pocket expenses. Not one cent.

Second, the ‘safety net’ all the various forms of income support) does not replace a full-time wage, but keeps you from becoming homeless if you are out of a job. For those of us who are employed and always have been this is more of a security blanket, you know it will be there if you need it. For those who are out of work it is a God’s send. It makes for a more civilised society, in my opinion.

Third the belief in a ‘living wage’ (others have written about minimum wage here) basically the Australian way is that people should be able to put a roof over their heads and food on the table no matter what they do for a living (and that shouldn’t be reliant on tips). This means that even when I was not working in a high paid professional role I wasn’t living hand to mouth, wondering if I would be able to pay rent.

Yes there is homelessness, unemployment, drug use and crime in Australia, but nowhere near the % it is in the US. For the most part Australian’s take a more open hearted approach to the solution of these issues, less blaming the victim, more hope for redemption.

Australia isn’t perfect, but I wouldn’t live anywhere else.