Advice for Americans applying for a research degree in Australia

This entry was posted by Laura on Monday, 3 May, 2010 at

I arrived in Australia last week after having applied to and gotten accepted to University of Canberra.  This acceptance was mid-term, starting whenever I arrived.  There wasn’t orientation and I sort of had to do it by feel, but the people at the university were super helpful and nice and made things as painless as possible.  (Ditto for the people at the mobile phone place, the bank and the post office.)  This is based on my experiences so far and may not work for you.    For anyone else going to Australia to do a research degree, I figured I’d let you know some things I’ve learned at this waaaay early stage:

  • If you have a Masters by coursework, make sure you can give some sort of equivalent to another Australian degree (or British or Canadian or anywhere else where they have degrees by coursework and degrees by research).  Evaluating my existing Masters caused a hold up in my application as they did not know what to make of it.
  • Check your baggage limits.  United gave me two 50 pound bags under the plane.  That’s it.  Go over and it costs you $200.  An extra bag costs you $200.  I’d advise to go heavy on the clothes, shampoo and books as clothes here feel more expensive than the US and a paperback book runs between $12 and $20 AUD.  A cheap laptop in the US can run you $400 but the cheapest I’ve found here is about $550.  (Nicer but still a much higher price point if you’re on a budget.)
  • Get a hold of the admissions office and research office as soon as you get your acceptance so you can get your CoE, which you need for your student visa.  As US loans applied through via FAFSA don’t pay out until you get there, this can be a major catch 22 as they want payment upfront before you’re accepted.  To get around this, I faxed them my completed FAFSA paperwork, which showed I was eligible for US based aid and to what dollar amount, FAFSA paperwork that had already theoretically been sent to them when I applied.  They then sent me my CoE and after I completed the student visa form, I had it in two days.
  • Before you leave, get a hold of your supervisor (mine was awesome at helping move my application along after it got briefly stuck), tell them when you will arrive and set a time to meet.  You’ll need to do this to set a time up to do your plan for your degree.  This plan will need to eventually get on file with the research department not long after you start.
  • One of the absolute first things to do when you get on campus is to get your student ID card.  This ID will help you things like getting a cell phone, opening a bank account and getting a post office box.   For UC, it also doubles as your library card and contains the number for your health insurance login.
  • After you get an ID card, set up an appointment with an International Student Advisor.  If you’re entering mid-semester, this is the way to get an orientation packet, get a list of things you need to do, information on who you should contact next, where resources are located or ideas on where to get a bike.
  • Find the research department.  They will have additional paperwork for you to fill out.  They’ll also want a copy of your passport and possibly some other stuff as part the student visa work on their side.  If there is a mailing list for research students, make sure you get on it.  The one for UC has scholarship notifications, social gathering announcements, training session information, etc.
  • Go through your orientation packet and read it to see what it says.  It should say things like setting up e-mail, checking to make sure your research modules are signed up for, etc.  My packet was geared for undergrads so some of this was confusing.  If you don’t understand everything in the packet and you think you should, ask for help.  At UC, everyone has been beyond nice and helpful and accommodating.
  • When you first meet with your supervisor, find out about the library and if there is some one in the library that research students in your department work with.  If there is, schedule an appointment with them.  At mine, I learned all the major databases, how to get access to them, how many days I can check out books, how I can get access to resources not provided inside the library already, signed up for a SCOPUS training session and checked out books related to doing a degree by research in Australia.
  • Get an Australian bank account.  This will give you a proof of address, which will be necessary for other things like a cell phone.  You don’t need to prove where you live, just tell them your address.  (I went with WestPac as my bank as I can take out money free from Bank of America there and easily transfer funds.  It just seemed easier.  There is a bank on campus here, that is advertised in the International Student Orientation packet.)  Bring your passport with you and proof that you have a student visa.  I printed out my online confirmation and that worked.  There are no overdraft fees here, or at least WestPac doesn’t have them.  (I boggled.)
  • Health insurance is a requirement of your student visa: You need it.  US aid won’t pay out right away.  When you get to campus, you’ll need to find the person in charge of this and see about buying at least 3 months worth of health coverage until your US aid kicks in.  I think that is around $130 AUD.  Could be a bit less.  If your US aid kicks in pro-actively for health coverage from when you started, the amount you paid out of pocket will be refunded to you.  You just need to fill out paperwork.
  • You can get a pre-paid or post paid plan.  If you’re going with a plan, you need to have a copy of your student visa, your passport, a credit card, and proof of your address.  Cell phone plans are generally two years so they need proof that you’ll be in the country that long.  You don’t pay your cell phone bill until well, you get the first bill.  (This confused me.  I walked out of the store with a phone that worked but I hadn’t paid the shop anything.) You can pay in the store or online.  Data plans feel pretty affordable. I’m getting a fair amount of minutes, 500 MB transfer, free facebook, twitter and YouTube for around $49 AUD a month for an iPhone.  I’m paying the iPhone up front for $280 AUD instead of tacking on cost of it for each month.
  • Post office boxes are handy to have for things like cell phone bills, bank statements, for the university keeping in touch with you and getting absentee ballots from the US.  Mine cost around $87 AUD for 11 months.
  • Don’t buy a new bike if you’re looking for one.  Ask around to see who has them.  I got a used one from my supervisor for $30 AUD, cheaper than my bike helmet at $37 AUD.  (Bike helmets are required by law here.)

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  • Welcome Laura! Hope you have an awesome time here in Oz. If you make it up to Sydney (and you should!) give me a shout.
  • I'll get there at some point. It is pretty much inevitable. :) Just more a question of when. :) And if I do, will do.
  • Great advice.

    Hope lots of students take it.

    Australian Universities usually have orientation in February or March.
  • I don't think there are many American research students in Australia. And yeah, going through orientation is easier. Not going through it was a bit of a handicap but relatively easy to get all sorted.
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