Working in Australia: It's wizard working in Oz

Australia is a top destination for UK accountants looking for overseas postings. John House eyes up the prospects.

Whether you've just qualified and want an opportunity to travel, or you're a manager looking for a new challenge, you probably belong to a generation that was raised on Neighbours and Home and Away. Even if you managed to ignore the subliminal influence of antipodean soaps, you would probably be glad to trade in a winter in London or Manchester for summer in Sydney. It's not surprising then that Australia is a top destination for accountants looking to take secondments and longer stays overseas.

Australia is one of the larger economies in the Asia Pacific region, and has experienced growth for the last 11 years. Punching above its weight when it comes to exerting economic influence over its neighbours, Australia trades and competes with some of the most fascinating markets in the world. With a multicultural expat community, it offers a lively professional and personal experience regardless of whether you're working in practice or industry.

UK accountants are highly regarded in Australia, particularly since a new taxation law similar to VAT in the UK came into force over a year ago. Employers found that local accountants lacked the understanding necessary to deal with the requirements of the new legislation, and turned to the UK profession for personnel.

Most Australian accountants have got to grips with their country's new tax requirements. However, going to an interview in Australia with a UK qualification means you're immediately thought of as on a par with local accountants.

Working in Australia has obvious career enhancement benefits - it gives you exposure to another economy and shows that you are capable of succeeding in a different environment. But UK accountants who have lived and worked in Australia say that quality of life is the biggest attraction.

Most UK accountants coming back from Australia say that life seems less stressful and more enjoyable than in Britain. 'The people work hard, but seem to have a better, balanced lifestyle,' says Lesley Armstrong, who has just left her role as a financial accounting manager in Australia to return to England with her husband. 'I have realised that the UK … has lost its way and it needs to re-evaluate its work ethic.

In the UK we concentrate far too much on working hard, complaining about everything, and forget the joys in life.'

Although Australia is just as vulnerable to the impending world recession as any other economy, the country has so far been virtually unscathed by the global slowdown. At present, hiring among the Big Five and mid-tier firms in Australia, as well as international companies, seems to be unaffected. Although you'll find it hard to secure a position in a troubled industry, such as telecoms, hi-tech and airlines, Australian business seems to be in a strong position to weather the storm. Katrina Spence, Michael Page's international candidate manager, says that if you're thinking of working in Australia you should not let fears over a global slowdown stop you: 'If there's a skills fit you'll find work - if you feel like doing it now, don't put it off.'

Recruitment consultants suggest that if you are thinking of striking out on your own you should go out on a holiday working visa first. This allows you to work in Australia for up to 12 months - however, you may only work on three-month contracts at a time. This, says Spence, gives you an opportunity to go out there and see what the country has to offer, and help you decide whether you would want to live and work there for any length of time.

Recruitment consultants will assist you with job hunting and arranging visas. If you're more independently minded, your first port of call should be the Australian High Commission in London, where you can get advice on applying for a visa and information on how to contact recruitment consultants in Australia. The High Commission also has a reading room where you can read Australian newspapers and magazines for classified ads, and access online job advertisements.

However, if you can move within your company or firm, sponsorship from your employer means that you automatically receive the appropriate business visa for your stay in Australia. Such sponsorship will also allow your spouse to live and work in Australia, and cover school-age children.

Both recruiters and your firm's HR department can assist you with internal moves. And most of the larger firms, as well as employers in industry, are switched on to the concept of offering secondments and job swaps as rewards and remuneration. Your company or firm will usually be able to arrange flights for interviews at Australian offices. Some firms in Australia are now using video conferencing to interview candidates in UK offices for secondments and transfer positions.

Harbouring a desire to go? Here's what you need to know Visas

Everybody who wants to work in Australia must obtain one of two main types of legitimate visa before travelling. The working holiday visa is relatively easy to get and allows you to live and work in Australia for 12 months, provided you are a Commonwealth citizen. The independent permanent residence visa takes 12 months to process and allows you to work and live in Australia permanently. Sponsorship from your employer also ensures that you are covered by the right visa.

Bank accounts

Bank accounts are relatively easy to set up as long as you have your passport, some proof of address in Australia and a reference from your bank in the UK. Check with your bank in this country first: some have reciprocal agreements with Australian banks.

Tax and superannuation

You have to register with the main tax office in the city where you are working and obtain a tax file number to be eligible to work in Australia. It's important to remember that Australian employers deduct 8% of your earnings as superannuation tax payments - which are similar to national insurance in the UK. When an employer quotes hourly rates of pay they do not usually include this deduction, so make sure you know exactly how much you're going to be paid after superannuation has been deducted.


Australia has a national health service, known as Medicare, and even as an expat you are entitled to free medical attention. However, unless you are an emergency case you will have to register at a surgery and apply for a Medicare card before you can see a doctor.

Cost of living

Prices are significantly lower in Australia compared with the UK. A pint of beer will cost you less than £1 in Sydney and you can rent a studio flat close to the centre for under £65 a week.

A great working climate

Gerry Brophy, aged 28 and working in corporate finance in PricewaterhouseCoopers' Sydney office, says he almost ended up in the Channel Islands instead of Australia. He began his career at Andersen in Glasgow in insolvency, and then went on to work at the Bank of Scotland. It was an experience that started him thinking about working in off-shore banking. 'But I realised that what I was really interested in was working overseas. Europe seemed unrealistic because of the language barriers. So Australia was the logical destination.'

'The best things about Australia are the weather and the lifestyle,' Brophy says. 'I'm a sports person and the climate is great. When you have quite a long and stressful day you can leave work and go straight to the beach - it's a lifestyle that really allows you to relax. I do a lot of road cycling and after work I go training two or three nights a week - in the UK that's just not possible, with commuting times and the weather.' But, he says, it's not just the weather that makes living in Australia more fun. 'At home you finish work later and you go straight down the pub.'

Brophy initially went out to Australia two years ago on a working holiday visa and landed a job through one of the big UK recruitment consultancies as a management accountant at the Greater Sydney Ports Corporation. Going out without the backing of a firm did bring its difficult moments, however: 'It suddenly hits you that you're 20,000 miles away from home without support.' Brophy moved out to Australia in late 1999 and says it was hard being out there on his own during the Millennium celebrations.

'It took about two months to settle in,' but, 'once you're over this and you've established yourself, it's great.' He says it was a very interesting time to be working in Australia because it was the run-up to the Olympics: 'It was great to be living in the city where the events were being held. But it was also a great opportunity to be involved in the ports corporation, which played a big role in hosting the games.'

Brophy has only recently received sponsorship from PwC and has spent much of the last two years working on short-term contracts with a number of employers. He says this has given him invaluable exposure to the Australian market, as well as offering him the flexibility to work near Bondi Beach at one point.

'Oz was meant to be a launching pad for a career in insolvency in the UK. But after two years I've really settled in,' he says. He has found a position at PwC that allows him to use his experience in business recovery and insolvency. 'Now I'm thinking of how I can progress my career out here. I reckon my focus is to stay here for a while.'

Brophy says that the biggest difference between working in a Big Five office in Sydney and working in one in London is the 'team mentality' of the Australians and other expats. 'In the UK you are very aware of a hierarchical situation.' He says that in Australia there is a more democratic approach to management. 'Although you have a very professional office situation, everything is more relaxed. That allows everyone to pull together, and the result is that you finish at six and you leave the office knowing you've got the job done.'

Jump at the chance

Justin Bohm, 26, works in audit in Andersen's Sydney office and is nearing the end of a twoyear secondment. He travelled to Australia with his wife and says that their experience of Australia has left them reluctant to return home. 'It's hard for a lot of Brits here to leave. Some are thinking of staying permanently.'

The biggest professional benefit to working in Australia is the exposure you receive, according to Bohm. He explains that his experience there has really made him appreciate the integration of a global firm such as Andersen: 'Working on an audit in Sydney is just like working on an audit in London.'

But Bohm says the real benefit is the 'personal-experience you get from working in Australia, not the professional one'. He explains that 'there are big cultural and lifestyle advantages. Nine to five is just like working in London. But the quality of life is a lot better.'

'We came out here as Australia was about to host the Olympics, and as you can imagine the atmosphere was amazing. A lot of people from Andersen wanted to come out here at that time, so there were a lot of Brits and other expats on secondment.'

He says that the secondment system has offered him and his wife a lot of support. 'It was very easy to set up, it just involved a few emails to my HR manager.' Bohm also used UK recruitment consultant Michael Page for advice about the move, and assistance with finding a placement in Andersen's Australian office. 'Sponsorship from your firm or company allows your spouse to work on your visa. At the moment, I'm on a temporary resident visa - and that's notionally the same for my wife, who works in marketing.'

Bohm says that if you get the chance of a secondment to Australia, jump at it: 'Don't think about how much it's going to cost you financially or whether you'll make friends - just do it.'

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