Moving to Australia from Ireland – Sari Coakley’s journey to permanent residency
Moving across the world is a big decision that can be so daunting, with an overwhelming about of things to tick off before leaving home while researching about your home to be. I hope my sharing my personal account of my move across the world from Dublin to Sydney will help shed some light on what to expect, important things to consider and tips for getting an apartment and general settling in.
I arrived in Sydney three years ago with just a 10kg hand luggage case with broken wheels, no job, no apartment and less than €2000 in my bank account. I’m now a permanent resident and a business owner. I hope this story might inspire you to give Australia a try; or, if you have recently made the move, give you the confidence to keep your head up if things haven’t been all sunshine and oranges since you arrived.
My name is Sari, I’m a from a small town just outside Dublin. A qualified physiotherapist, I enjoy travelling, running, swimming, content creating and travel blogging… when I’m not working.
I had always dreamed of moving to Australia. When I was in college there was a hiring freeze in the health service for physiotherapists. I had heard of many physios who had qualified a few years ahead of me heading off to Australia. Their lives sounded amazing.
5 reasons I dreamed of moving to Australia
1. Good pay
2. Good work-life balance
3. Plenty of professional sport
4. Opportunities to travel the country
5. Being able to go to the beach before or after work
It sounded like the dream to me, and I could see myself fitting right in to the outdoor and health-conscious way of life. I am a keen triathlete and the weather in Ireland didn’t always lend itself to being out on a bike, ocean swimming or running along the beach.
Why I moved from Ireland to Australia
Nothing dramatic made me decide to move to Australia. It was just something I had always wanted to do and had the travel bug big time. After a few years in a relationship that wasn’t meant to be, that ending was the catalyst to finally deciding to go. I had heard you stand a better chance of being sponsored and being invited to apply for permanent residency if you have several years’ experience working as a physiotherapist, so I worked for three years in Ireland. During that time I also spent six months working in the French Alps as a physio. I thought this might quench my thirst for travel and working abroad, but it only ignited it. After working for another two years, saving and dreaming, I saw a black Friday sale in November 2018 for flights to Mexico for under €300. So I booked a one way ticket and that is how I started my journey to Australia.
In January 2019, aged 25, I set off with a 20 kg backpack for Mexico. I packed a suitcase and left it at home with instructions to my mother to send it to Australia if I made it there.
I had originally planned on making it to New Zealand for August and Australia for October. However, I fell in love with Central and South America and ended up spending more time there than anticipated. I met an Irish guy in a hostel looking to get rid of six tickets to different games in the Rugby World Cup in Japan a few months later. I decided to reroute to Australia via Japan and spend the reminder of 2019 traveling around Asia.
Where to stay when you first arrive in Australia
With very little money left, I arrived in Sydney in Dec 2019 knowing a grand total of 4 people, two of whom I met traveling in Central America and remain life-long friends. One of those friends let me crash on her couch for the first few nights until I moved into a short term sublet for 3 weeks. I figured it would be easy to get a lease on an apartment even though I had no job, no rental ledger and very little money in the bank. Thankfully I was applying for the lease with two friends who had stable jobs, money in their bank accounts and good rental ledgers.
I was very lucky to have moved at a time when accommodation was not that hard to come by. It would certainly not be so simple now to secure an apartment in Bondi. I was very naïve about the ins and outs of getting a job and rental, and how easy it would be to make friends.
Finding work in Sydney
I spend my first week attending job interviews and realised very quickly my visa status as a working holiday maker would go against me. Within the first two weeks I decided that applying for permanent residency would make the whole process a lot easier. I looked into this and spoke to a few other physios who had gone down the route of applying for the Independent Skilled Visa. This offered physiotherapists the opportunity to independently apply for permanent residency. I thought this was the answer to everything, no farm work, could get my dream job with a professional sports team and I could stay in Australia as long as I wanted.
I very naively thought it would be granted in a matter of months and within six or seven months I would have the same working rights as citizens of Australia. This was the way I navigated around the conversation of visa status when interviewing for jobs. Thankfully, a clinic I fell in love with didn’t seem much wiser than I was and offered me a job. I assured them I would be granted permanent residency within 6 months.
The pros and cons of Covid lockdown
I now had a great job, had landed on my feet with a beautiful apartment in Bondi Junction, had made great friends and was living my best life, going out at the weekends and spending the afternoons by the beach. Less than a month later the news started to report about a virus in China that was spreading rapidly around the world. It had just started to reached Australia by mid march and I recall being on the beach one Friday afternoon. The beach was heaving and there were news camera and photographers down at Bondi Beach to report to the world how Australia wasn’t taking Covid seriously. Shortly after that, went entered a strict lockdown for 12 weeks.
My dad called me one day and said, “It’s never happened before but the skies might close down and you will be stuck there. You should come home before they do”. It was such a scary and uncertain time for everyone around the world but especially expats, not knowing if and when they would be able to see family again. I really thought about leaving, a friend called me who was a doctor in Perth at the time and she said there was a flight leaving bringing doctors back to Ireland from Perth tonight, and if I could get myself to Perth by the end of the day there would be a seat on the flight for me. I decided to stay.
How Covid helped Irish expats form a community
As expats who remained in Australia, and especially Irish, formed a really strong community and I felt we always had a group of people who would look out for one another. During I started a run club with three friends, as it was the only way to socialising in a group was if you were exercising. This is how I met my now fiancée.
Ten months into life in Australia I realised it might be about time to ask work about the possibility of sponsorship, as there had been no movement on my application for permanent residency. I was so lucky to have a supportive employer and they were happy to sponsor me whilst the wait continued for an email from immigration.
This really took a huge weight off my shoulders as it meant I would not be deported from the country. Doing regional work wasn’t really an option as I had left it too late and many of the farms and working hostels had closed due to Covid. The fortunate thing about Australia’s strict Covid controls that curtailed the virus meant that we could travel this beautiful country without the chaos of international tourists. During my first 18 months I had notched up some spectacular Australian trips
5 Great Australian travel ideas
1. Drive from Sydney to Byron Bay on a road trip stopping in the coastal towns along the way
2. Visit Melbourne and travel the Great Ocean Road
3. Fly over the Great Barrier Reef
4. Sail around the Whitsunday Islands
5. Drive a camper van along the West Coast (one of the best trips to date).
Too many people focus on the East Coast, which is also amazing. My advice would be explore the west coast too.
At last! Permanent residency
Just as Australia started opening its borders in October 2021, I received an email on a Sunday morning from immigration saying I had received an invitation to apply for permanent residency. An email on a Sunday made me think it was a prank. It wasn’t.
After a medical exam, paying nearly $5,000 and a few months’ wait, I was granted permanent residency in February 2022. A few weeks’ later, my mum called me to let me know she was coming to Sydney with my sisters. I handed in my notice to some time off to travel and spend time with them. That hug in Sydney Arrivals was the best to date. It had been three years since we had last seen one another.
Setting up a business in Sydney
Leaving that job was the best thing I did for my career, I enjoyed my time but my passion was in sports medicine. Having permanent residency meant I could apply for jobs anywhere and also to work casually with football teams. I got a job working in a sports clinic and doing sports coverage for the local AFL team. Within six months through a colleague, I got put forward for a position with the South Sydney Rabbitohs for the position as lead physiotherapist for their senior women’s NRL team.
I left the sports clinic I was working in and set up a clinic from a home gym. Working for myself gave me the flexibility to set my own hours and prioritise the teamwork, which was three afternoons a week and weekend games. The physiotherapy business was getting busier at home just through word of mouth, so I decided to do something that was scary but one risk that really paid off. In February 2023 I opened a physiotherapy clinic in Bondi Junction, Sports and Spine Physiotherapy. We now are a team of two physios located in the heart of Bondi Junction. Just as the women’s season was coming to an end with South Sydney Rabbitohs, I got a message asking if I would be interested in a position with the Sydney Roosters NRLW team. I jumped at the chance!
Luck and hard work pay off in Australia
“Luck happens when preparation meets opportunity”
This was one of the quotes that I used to read from the wall of my local swimming pool growing up. I really believe I have had luck on my side; I have also been in the right place at the right time, worked hard to build a reputation and persevered with lower-level sports teams, working every weekend in the cold and wet.
At time I felt as though I had forgone progressing my career in favour of travel and had wasted time in jobs that I wasn’t passionate about in order to obtain a visa. Of course, if you chose to travel, you can’t be climbing the corporate ladder at the same time. However, my experiences set me apart from other candidates when applying jobs and has taught me much more than I would have learned with the extra year in a clinic.
If you have any sort of an itch to get out of your comfort zone, see a bit more of the world and experience a different way of life, just go. Otherwise, you will live your life wondering what if.
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