Cost of living for International Students in Australia

Planning your budget when moving to Australia is imperative. This will not only help you understand your spending capacity, but make a sensible decision regarding your overseas studies. Before you make a decision to enrol as an International Student, I’d suggest you take a moment to draw the budget. In this post, I will breakdown the monthly average spend for an International Student in Australia.

Keep in mind this is an average. The numbers may vary depending on your lifestyle and services / products you opt for. Also, since I live in Sydney, this information is based on living cost here. Sydney is known for its high cost of living compared to other states.

Accommodation

In my experience, major proportion of the living cost is attributed to rent. The monthly rent actually depends on the type of place you rent. Whilst a studio or one bedroom apartment could be between $350.00 to $400.00 per week, most students prefer shared accommodation for its reasonable pricing. On average student accommodation will cost $250.00 a week. Try to find accommodations with bills included, so you can budget exactly how much rent you will incur.

Refer to our How to find cheap accomodation article to learn more about saving $$ on rent.

Transportation

Unfortunately, International Students in Sydney are not eligible for concessions on public transport. If you do not live in walking proximity to the University, you may incur an average of $40.00 a week for travel. Other states like Victoria where the students are fortunate to receive travel concessions, will incur an average weekly cost of $20.00.

Tip: Learn to use public transport to your advantage to help you save on unnecessary spending.

Tuition fees

It is hard to put a finger on the average spending because it depends on the course, level of study and University. Due to work restrictions for International Students it is not easy to find the money to pay for tuition through a part-time job right away. I’d recommend you have tuition fees for at least the first three semesters in-hand prior to arriving in Australia.

Medical expenses

This shouldn’t be a problem because you will most likely have paid for Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) prior to arriving in Australia as a part of the Student Visa process. On average OSHC will be around $500.00 per year. For day to day medical expenses, OSHC cover mostly consultation for general practitioners and proportion of prescribed medicine. You can compare different OSHC covers through this website to understand what is suitable for you depending on your medical needs.

Groceries and food

It goes without saying, cooking at home is way cheaper than eating out. For example, a coffee from the local cafe would be around $3.20; you do the math if you plan to have a coffee everyday.

If you are living by yourself groceries will not cost a lot. You can go for house-brands, which are relatively healthy. I am pretty generous when comes to groceries, because I am happy when my tummy is happy. For a person like me, $40.00 a week is more than sufficient.

You can check out our Heathy Study Snacks post to get some ideas on healthy, tasty and cheap snack ideas.

Mobile and internet

This is obviously an essential but is not very expensive. You can find a prepaid sim for $30.00 per month with Unlimited National Calls / Text and few gigs of data from providers such as Optus and Vodafone.

Most student accommodation comes with free WiFi, so definitely is not something to worry about. In the rare chance you are need to have your own internet connectivity, TPG offer unlimited downloads on high speed internet connection for around $60.00 per month.

Entertainment

This expense is subjective depending on your lifestyle. As students, you are able to receive student concessions at the movies, adventure parks, etc. If you are part of University clubs and societies, you will receive special discounts at certain stores. Alcohol is expensive in Australia, a night out could cost you up to $70.00. Always look out for weekday specials and student discounts for cost-effective options. On average, I would say up to $30.00 a week is a reasonable estimate.

In summary

Weekly cost for a student would add up to:

  • Accommodation – $250.00
  • Transportation – $40.00
  • Tuition fees – Depends
  • Medical expenses – Depends
  • Groceries and food – $40.00
  • Mobile and internet – $10.00
  • Entertainment – $30.00

What are your thoughts on this analysis? What other expenses would an International Student incur?

How important is your Credit Score?

Credit Score was one of those terms that I learnt about but never paid attention to until recently. I never understood why grown-ups kept harping on maintaining the credit score, until I was looking to borrow money. Here’s what I think, we tend to ignore the concept of credit when we are students. Once we surpass that stage of our life, loans, some may say, are inevitable. So it is not a bad thing to think about how you can look at improving or maintaining your Credit Score even whilst studying.

What is a Credit Score?

Before we go any further, I think it is important understand and clear any misunderstandings about Credit Score.

In simple, Credit Score is a numerical figure that represents your reliability in terms of borrower. It looks at your financial history and summarises it into one figure that screams if your credit worthy.

You can use site like getcreditscore.com.au to get your Credit Score free of charge. They connect directly to Equifax, Australia’s leading credit bureau, to identify you. You are required to provide personal details along with your Australian driver’s license. If you do not have a driver’s licence, you can get a free credit report from Equifax.

Importance of Credit Score

Credit Score isn’t a one time deal, it follows you through your entire life. Definitely don’t take it for granted. I am sure this applies to many countries, in Australia, Credit Score is everything.

Once you leave behind the student life and start your professional career, you will realize your Credit Score will appear in various aspects of your life. Credit Score will enhance your borrowing capacity with banks and financial institutes for luxury purchases. Your Credit Score will also add value to your renting history to rent a property of choice. Now a days, vendors including insurance companies, energy retailers, seek your credit history prior to contracting services.

It goes without saying that, a bad credit score can be disasterous. Not having neutral credit score may not be that great too.

How to build Credit Score while in Uni?

For starters, repaying any student loans whilst in University is a smart decision. Student loans, in most cases, are not required to be paid off until you graduate and earn above a certain threshold. However, you can get ahead of the game and start making smaller and consistent contributions towards your student loan.

Make sure you pay your rent on time! Whether you are residing in on or off campus accomodation, ensure you request for a transaction log from your landlords / real estate agents. Whilst you can not directly report rent payments to credit bureaus, your landlord / real estate agent may be registered with special credit services that accepts rent reports which will in turn be added to your credit record. This is a great way to use paying bills to your advantage, but at the same time finding landlords / agents who are registered for such services is not easy.

Get yourself a credit card. Credit cards have bad conotations, especially amongst students. If you are not adult enough to responsibily manage a credit card, how can you expect lenders to have trust in you? If you are serious about building the credit score, walk to a bank and sign up for a credit card. It is a very simple process, even for International Students. Simply make sure you pay for the relevant transactions at the end of the month without delays.

I would love to hear your thoughts on Credit Score. Is this something you thought about while being a student? How did you build your Credit Score while in University?

Things to pack when you come to Australia as an International Student

This is a question we don’t put much stress until the last minute: what items am I going to fit in the 30 to 40 kilo weight limit? As soon as I had my University acceptance letter and student Visa in my hands, I thought stressful times are over, all I need to do was move. That bubble pooped a few weeks later when I was struggling to fit all my possessions in the weight limit and having to decide between what I need and what I want.

I think the first reaction when you are arranging your bags is that you need to take every single item a student needs for daily living. The reason for this could be because you are unsure what you need and what is available in Australia, and whether it fits your budget. I will break down essentials you need to bring and common items International Students tend to bring that you need to leave at home. If I had to do it all over again, I will start with a list. This way you know exactly what to buy and of what quantity. 

Don’t worry, let me help you with that list.

Stationery – Leave at home

If you are like me, you love your coloured stationery and have created the illusion you study better with rainbow study notes. Don’t worry, there is plenty of places in Australia to buy quality stationery for cheap. KMART is a great place to start. You can find a wide range of cheap stationery at your local KMART store. If you don’t mind splurging a bit more, head over to Office Works, my stationery go to stop. I am not sure if this is there in all universities, but UNSW (University of New South Wales) had a stationery shop, where you can get stationery for FREE. So in case you are running late to class and realised you forgot your pen, you can just head over the University stationery store.

stationery

Clothes and shoes – bring only essentials

Especially for girls, this must be the most important and difficult category to decide. You can find plenty of clothes and shoes according to trends and seasons right here in Australia. If you are coming for the February / March in-take, it is beginning of Spring. The minimum average day time temperature during this period is about 15 to 20 degrees. For those from colder countries, this is considered perfect weather. If you are tropical like me, this is considered brisk weather. Definitely pack your cardigans, sweaters and leg warmers, you will need it at touch down. If you are coming for the July in take, a thick winter jacket and clothes to keep you warm is a must. At least until you start to shop. 

You must pack a bath towel, a napkin, a bed sheet and two pillow covers as these are not provided and you need these right from the first day.

Cash in hand

cash in hand at australia

The amount of Australian dollar you need to bring depends on your circumstance. If you have any outstanding fees to pay, such as rental bond, tuition fees, be sure to bring this with you in form of cash or money orders, whatever is accepted. In addition to that if you are looking to take a post-paid or under-contract mobile plan, the service provider will request you for your bank statement with a minimum AUD 1,000 balance. If you don’t want such complications, you can opt for a pre-paid plan. 

If you are bringing over AUD 10,000 you will be required to declare this at customs. 

Prescribed medication 

If you have prescribed drugs, it is best bring that along with a prescription since you need to declare this at customs. You are allowed to bring three-month supply accompanied by a prescription. I’d suggest you do so because you may not find the same drugs in Australian pharmacies. However, there are substitutes, most of which are not available for over-the-counter purchase, and requires a prescription by an Australian practitioner.  

Don’t worry about adaptors

You can find any type of adaptors at any convenience store or electronic stores like JB HiFi. It might be a good idea to have one adaptor packed so that you won’t have trouble charging your electronics on the first day. Australia uses two flat pins in a V-shape as well as a grounding pin.

You can visit Australian Border Forces website to see what you cannot bring in to the country and what goods need to be declared.

Toiletries – bring travel size 

travel size toiletries

Toiletries are very heavy and can take a lot of space and weight. Let’s also not forget possible liquid explosions in the bag. You can find toiletries ranging from convenient store brands to premier brands here in Australia. Don’t waste your space and weight. Simply bring travel size bottles just enough for the first couple of days.

Food – no fresh produce, only packaged

All food items must be declared at customs. I think it goes without saying, it is illegal to bring any fresh produce in to the country. If you want to avoid the inconvenience of declaring, I’d suggest you avoid any food items. Since Australia is a multi-cultural country, you are able to find stores catering to different nationalities and products from your home-country. You just need to do a bit of research on where to find these stores. Alternatively, you can bring packaged food items provided it has a label with ingredients.

Cookware like a saucepan, cups, plates, bowls, spoons – leave at home. You can find everything here at KMART at affordable prices.

Sentimental and valuable possessions – only if it is essential

If you want to bring sentimental or valuable items which are irreplaceable or costly to replace, just bring only if it is essential. Only reason being you will have to take extra care of these items during your travels, shifting apartments and on a day-to-day basis. 

Finally, travel light

The 30 / 40 kilos you receive from the airline is plenty when moving to Australia for the first time as an International Student. It is always best to have fewer possessions as it will make your move comfortable. A typical International Student changes living spaces at least three times during their University period. It is very convenient to have less clutter and only essentials during these moves. Furthermore, student accommodation is not spacious, hence limited storage.  

I really hope this helped you to start planning your move. Let me know if there are any items that you would add to this list.

Until next time… 

Integrating with Australian Community as International Students

Research shows that most International Students interact with co-nationals. Whilst their best friend is also a co-national, they limit interacting with domestic students. This is understandable given that there is a certain level of comfort and commonalities communicating with people from your country.  It was found that International Student’s social life play an important role in their academic excellence. International Students are more satisfied with their University life if they have domestic student friends.

Before we go into How to improve interaction, we need to question Why; why most International Students fail at integrating with other domestic students?

COMMON MISTAKES

Stereotyping

As humans we are quick to reach conclusions about other people. Most are driven by the stereotypes received through media and friends. Stereotyping redirects us from value-adding interactions to close-minded conversations. It is like rejecting a delicious cake before trying it because someone else said it doesn’t taste good.

A general perception is that Asian students engage only with other Asian students. According to a research, this is not far from wrong. The Asian students interviewed had said they are friends with few or no domestic students as they feel domestic students are not interested in hanging out with them.

Fear of being misunderstood

Each culture has it own rights and wrong, ways and means and do’s and don’ts. International Students feel it is easier to engage with other students of the same beliefs rather than be misunderstood by another. While many Asian students claim they are interested in hanging out with domestic students, they fear the domestic students feel otherwise. They believe they have nothing in common and possible language barriers. Speaking of language…

Difficulty in communication

This may be a real concern for International Students whose English skills are not top notch. In ability to express themselves to domestic students withdraw their interactions. We see the same applying in a lecture hall setting where the class participation is greater amongst the domestic students as oppose to International Students. Some students are insure about their foreign accents that restrict them to converse with domestic students and limit their interactions to only co-national students.

A recent case study revealed, one of the test subjects (an International Students) said, “If you try to engage with them, you will have to understand the slang, the sense of joke. Sometimes, everybody laughs, I don’t really understand what is funny.” However, it was suggested that academic interactions were easy compared to social interactions.

Sticking to comfort zone

In my opinion, all this leads back to being in the comfort zone. There is always something familiar about being around same nationality as it is the closest thing to home. Most International Students are less involved class activities and spend more time studying in library. They prefer to be alienated as oppose to exposing themselves to active participation at lectures.

WHY INTEGRATE?

Then the question is why is it important integrate with the Australian community. It is said that associating with domestic students lead to psychological, social and academic benefits.

There are many phases of settling overseas as an International Student. One of the earlier stages is culture shock. Research has shown that integration with domestic students makes one happier. The reason being local mates help International Students to cope with culture shock by sharing local knowledge and helping them adapt to local experiences. Hence, being well-adjusted.

Furthermore, International Students can improve their communication and interpersonal skills through these interactions. The same can be extended to classroom participation and build confidence for future work placements and job interviews.

Even from University point of view, International Students are likely to  recommend their University if they have had good experience with domestic students.

HOW TO INTEGRATE?

As the Universities recognise the importance of multi-cultural interactions, there are many efforts done in this regard which International Students must take advantage.

Leave stereotypes at home

This is easy, just don’t have any preconceptions about any nationality. A study on preconceptions claimed  it is not uncommon for International Students to perceive domestic students as uninformed and disinterested in their culture. Even so, you should not fear and limit your interaction just because you believe other International and domestic students may have stereotypes about your nationality. As far as my experience, I have not had any unfavourable interactions with domestic students. They are welcoming and offers assistance whenever you require.

Participate in University clubs

University clubs are a good way to connect with domestic students with similar interests, and break down any barriers and a great conversation starter. Participation in club activities will improve your interpersonal and communication skills, help you to be updated with world issues and it will also look good in your CV.

Learn about the Australian culture

It doesn’t hurt to learn about the Australian culture, history and other interesting facts. You will then have information to start a conversation with domestic students or be able engage in a conversation with fellow students. Researching is not that difficult as there is plenty of information online and on YouTube.

Improve communication

This not only related to integration but also to improve your overall academic and professional years in Australia. If you believe in the need to improve your communication significantly, you can join English language courses. Speak to your University administration. Otherwise, there is no better way to improve your communication other than by practising. Take conscious effort to participate in classroom activities, engage in conversations in English and read academic literature. Remember, accents don’t matter – be yourself. Ensure your communication is clear, concise and slow paced for better understanding. If you don’t understand what is said by your counterpart, there is no harm / shame asking them to repeat.

Make the first move

You can always make the first move to start a conversation, invite a mate for dinner or grab a drink after class. Sometimes you need to put the extra effort to start a friendship.

Leave a comment down below if there are other ways for International Students to integrate with Australian community.

Until next time…

Master PTE Exam (epi. 1) – How to score 90 in PTE Speaking?

I have met International Students with all the relevant points required for the permanent residency, but only fell short of the threshold because they are not able get the maximum scores for the English language requirement. While it is mentally draining not to achieve the score you desire, it is also a financial burden. I know there is a lot of resources out there on how to get the perfect score, but I thought there is nothing better than hearing straight from the horse’s mouth. By the strangest coincidence, I found a student who scored 90 for Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking in his first try. After a short conversation, I gathered some interesting tactics he used to get the perfect score – I want to share it, with the hopes it would help at least one individual.

Master PTE Exams series is dedicated to all students who are struggling or unable to get the desired score or sitting for the exam for the first time. As the title suggest, this article is all about the Speaking test.

Let’s get started…

What is PTE?

Before we jump in to the good stuff, if you are reading and wondering what in the world is PTE, let me get you on the same page. PTE, The Pearson Test of English Academic, is an online based exam to test your English language skills in four areas of Speaking, Reading, Writing and Listening. This is essentially required for International Students who are aiming to obtain their permanent residency (PR) in Australia. Majority of the candidates seek a score above 79 points for each band, which is equivalent to 20 points for the PR.

Speaking test format

This is the first section of the exam. You will be given a headphone to listen and respond to questions. You will be tested on scenarios you see and hear in real-life. This includes lectures, diagrams, conversations and accents from native and non native speakers. Speaking test is around 30 to 40 minutes. You don’t have to worry about the overall time, because it is highly unlikely you will run out of time.

This section is broken in to sub-sections, as shown below, in the given order. As one sub-section ends, the next begins without any indication. Just be sure to know exactly what is required for each sub-section so you don’t waste time reading instructions or worse, be confused.

Read Aloud

You are required to read the sentence on the screen out loud. You have 30-40 seconds to prepare and as soon as the microphone opens, read the sentence. If you are silent for 3 seconds, the microphone will turn off and move  on to the next question. There are 10 sentences in the Read Aloud section.

Repeat Sentence

You will hear a sentence – about 10 words long. Once the microphone opens, you are required to repeat the sentence exactly as you heard it. There are 8-10 similar questions in this section.

Describe Image

You will be given an image, with 25 seconds to prepare and once the recording begins you have 40 seconds to describe the image. There are 6-8 Describe Image questions. Remember there is insufficient time to write down anything, so use the 25 seconds to study the image.

Retell Lecture

You will hear a short lecture, and you will be required retell the lecture in your own words in 40 seconds. You have less than 10 seconds prep time after the recording to start speaking, so make sure you jot down the points as you listen in a numbered order. There are 2-3 Retell Lecture questions.

Answer short questions

The computer will ask a question (which is usually general knowledge or common sense) and you have to provide the answer in a couple of words. You have about 10 of these questions, and generally is the easiest section to score full marks.

How to get 90 in PTE Speaking?

Many reckons PTE is the easiest English test, until they sit for the Speaking section. Based on the description above, the sub-sections may seem straightforward. However, as the entire exam is graded by a computer, there is  (what we call) microphone-bias. If you do not understand the correct way to approach the Speaking section, it may be difficult to get the desired score.

1. Oral fluency and pronunciation

The grading for the Speaking section is primarily based on oral fluency and pronunciation. Understanding these two components will help you to score better in the overall Speaking test. Pronunciation is your ability to speak like a native speaker, and this DOES NOT mean you have to imitate the accent. The PTE system is designed to recognise various accents, but you as the candidate need to speak clearly.

Oral fluency is self-explanatory. The fluency is not dependant in how fast you speak. It is scored based your ability to speak at a natural consistent pace without unnecessary pauses or hesitations. The pauses at a full stop or comma must be around 1 second. If it is anything more than 3 seconds the microphone will turn off and you will automatically move on to the next question. Anything around 2 seconds, maybe misinterpreted as hesitation. Best way to understand your fluency is by recording your answer during practice sessions on your smart phone. When you playback check the voice pattern to ensure there are no spikes or long pauses.

2. Strategy for each question

During prep time, it is important to develop strategies that works for you and based on the marking structure for each question type. It is not about how well you are able to converse in English, but about understanding the grading and playing accordingly.

Describe Image, prepare a standard structure for every question.

  1. Introduction: This [pie / bar / line chart / image] [describes / illustrates / demonstrates] [insert title of the image] [insert description of x-axis and y-axis figures]. This bar chart illustrates the number of women in workforce between 2002 to 2014 given in percentages. 
  2. Body: Describe the highest point and lowest point. The highest number of women in the workforce was present in 2014. A significant growth from 2002, where only 20% of the workforce were women. 
  3. Conclusion: Provide a concluding a sentence to summaries the image. In conclusion it is evident that number of women in the workforce is increasing at a rapid rate. 
  4. Predictions: You can add some additional information not present on the image. The reason for this increasing trend could be due to higher women are enrolling for higher education programmes. 

You can apply the same principle for Retell Lecture.

Repeat Sentence, you don’t have time to write the sentence. Here are few tricks that you can attempt.

  1. Write the first letter of the word as you listen to the sentence or,
  2. Close your eyes and concentrate on what’s been said, or
  3. Repeat best as you can, and if you forget a word replace it with “something” naturally to ensure your fluency is not effected. You will be penalised on content, however, you will still score better on fluency.

3. Exam starts at self introduction

Many believe that the exam commences at Read Aloud (first section). This is incorrect, as the exam begins at the 30 second Personal Introduction. In the first couple of minutes you will given 30 seconds to give an introduction to yourself and this not graded, but yet highly crucial for the Speaking test. The introduction is designed for the computer to identify the baseline for your speaking. This way, computer is able to eliminate “noise” and identify your response during the course of Speaking test. During the Personal Introduction make sure you are fluent (avoid umm or ah) and keep at your regular pace of speaking. This pace must be maintained through out the Speaking test because at deviations might lose you points on fluency as it maybe misinterpreted by the computer as hesitation.

Do not place less importance to this area. Make sure to prepare and rehearse your personal introduction multiple times. Keep the introduction simple: name, age, what University, major, nationality, etc.

My name is Anna. I am 25 years old and I am from China. I graduated from Macquarie University after completing my two-year programme in Masters of Communication. In China, I worked for ABC Company for three years before receiving a scholarship to study in Australia. I have an older sister who is planning to follow my footsteps study journalism in Australia.

4. Headset

The headset you receive for the test are very sensitive. So lesson number one is, you don’t need to speak loudly and disturb others. Be considerate of the rest of exam takers.  There is a section, prior to the Personal Introduction to test your microphone. Use that time wisely to speak and listen if it picks up your response. Rather than saying “Test, Test, 1, 2,3”, read out an actual sentence to get a better understanding. Secondly, as it is sensitive, your microphone is likely to pick up your breathing.  That may disrupt your responses. Make sure your mouth piece is slightly below your chin level. Once again, test it out.

5. Practice, practice, practice

Now that you understand the tactics, all that is left is to practice, practice and more practice. There are abundance of resources on PTE Academics website, third-party sites or even on YouTube for you practice with timings. The more you practice, the more confident you will be. You can even practice while you read a novel or magazine by reading the sentences out loud as you would do at a PTE Speaking test. TED Talks are good practice for Retell Lecture, where you listen to a TED Talk for about three to four minutes and retell the lecture in 40 seconds.

How useful was this article? Let us know in the comment section. Remember this is one approach that worked, there might be plenty other successful ways to approach PTE Speaking. Please do share below any that had worked for you.

Until next time…