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‘Don’t dream it’s over’: how to move to Australia with a family

Relocating to Australia with a family is manageable but make sure you budget for extra costs

While it might be an endearing stereotype that the Irish heading off to Australia are all young backpackers seeking time in the sun, the statistics say otherwise.

Australia granted 48,700 temporary skilled work visas to foreign citizens in 2022-2023, an increase of 24,000 on the previous year while 79,000 permanent visas were approved.

Ireland was in the top 15 countries whose citizens successfully applied last year for a skilled visa that allows recipients to work in certain occupations experiencing domestic skill shortages. This type of visa is popular among those who have aged out of the working holiday permit, and are looking to pursue their career rather than a sun tan and/or have children, given it’s one of the few visas that allow family members to be added through subclass application.

Applicants from Ireland made up just over 4 per cent of the total number of visas granted under this category.


While the 21,000 odd Irish availing of Australian working holiday visa under the mandatory age of 35 have dominated the headlines, that doesn’t mean the dream of a life Down Under is over for those who are slightly older and possibly carrying the extra baggage of a family.

For those checking their visa eligibility, booking flights and taking a chance on a new life in Australia as a family unit (even if it’s just you and your cat), here’s a guide on what to budget for when heading south.

Upfront costs

Things can add up pretty quickly and before you even step on a plane. There are a number of upfront costs that need to be covered before you leave your home country. The first is your visa.

As fans of Australian border and customs reality television shows will attest, Aussies don’t muck around when it comes to immigration. So it’s important to have all the right things rubber-stamped and ready to go. Some visas can cost €1,000-€5,000, depending on the type.

But that’s not all; be prepared to pay for other documents and processes that may be required to submit your application.

These can include health screens, background checks and occupational skills assessments that are required for certain professional qualifications received outside Australia. It depends on visa requirements and occupational requirements but to give a rough idea of costs, Engineering Australia charges about €860 for a competency demonstration report plus relevant skilled employment assessment. The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Accreditation Council lists a full skills assessment at €358.

It is also important to be aware that some visas will require allowing immigration to look over your bank accounts for a certain period to make sure they accord with your application.

When it comes to certain skilled visas, “the applicant needs to prove two years of work experience by showing evidence of payslips and bank statements,” says Audrey O’Connor, founder of Kelly & O’Connor Migration. In the case of some occupations, more evidence will be required, she says.

That means you might have to plan ahead with your finances if there are gaps or unexplained irregularities in your accounting.


Once you have your visas sorted, it’s time to pack, which is a daunting task for a family of four heading to Portugal for a long weekend, never mind starting a new life in a foreign country. While it can be tempting to ship everything including the kitchen sink (which has been known to happen with the odd Belfast sink back in the day), costs need to be examined first.

Shipping items to the other side of the world is quite expensive. One of the most popular and cost-effective methods to ship larger, bulkier items such as furniture is to split the cost of a shipping container with others making the same move whom you either know or can get in touch with directly, or through a shipping company that divvies up portions for you.

One of the bigger operators, Seven Seas Worldwide, offers three different sizes of “Move Cubes” large enough for an adult man to stand up in which can be filled with furniture and other household items that won’t fit in a plane.

However, for the largest option (226cm x 146cm x 187cm) to be delivered door-to-door from Cork to Melbourne, The Irish Times was quoted €3,896.54 including all charges. Given the expense and an estimated transit time of 112-138 days (16-20 weeks) before it arrives, you need to be ruthless in assessing what “essentials” really need to be shipped.

Filling a shipping container full of the same Ikea furniture that can be bought in Australia and paying handsomely for the hassle might not be worth it.

Furniture tends to be cheaper in Australia, even at trusty, European Ikea. For example, the price of the Friheten corner sofa bed in Ireland is €650 but on the Australian website, it will set you back the Australian dollar equivalent of €483.27. Televisions, laptops, desktops and other electronics are also usually cheaper in Australia if the cost of shipping your beloved flat screen TV is threatening to make a serious dent in your moving budget.

Australia also has a decent range of discount department stores with home goods sections (think Penneys but with a larger selection of dishware and cooking utensils) that could save you money in the long run by leaving or selling your good pots and starting over when you land.


One thing that can’t be left behind and instantly replaced is the beloved family pet. The good news is that, over the years, they have managed to make the long plane journey less taxing on animals. The bad news is that it is expensive. And while it is straightforward, it is also very bureaucratic.

Australia has strict biosecurity laws to protect its farming industry and natural environment. Just ask Johnny Depp who nearly had his dogs put down when they were snuck in on a private jet. The government has a 20-step process for taking dogs and cats into Australia that requires vet assessments, blood tests and vaccinations.

When your pet arrives in Australia it will be quarantined at the country’s only facility in Melbourne (regardless of your final destination) for 10-30 days but up to 180 if there’s a complication – at your expense.

The estimated fee for a 30-day quarantine is €2,299 but this can rise depending on requirements. Pet Carriers International, an animal freight service, says the “approximate cost for importing a cat or dog into Australia can range from 8,000-30,000 Australian dollars” (roughly €5,000-€18,000) depending on the country it is coming from and number of pets, including “freight charges, import permits and quarantine fees”.

Plan for emergencies

This is where savings become important. Dr Paula Cobain, executive officer at the Irish Support Agency NSW, stresses the importance of having contingency savings.

“Funds for an emergency flight home are essential,” she says. “As we all know, that phone call we never want to take is all too common and if people need to get home at short notice, the flight costs will be expensive.”

Last-minute flights from Australia to Ireland for one adult can cost in the region of €2,500-€3,000 at certain times of the year so keep that in mind when assessing how much you need to set aside in an emergency fund.

If you intend to transfer a large amount of savings from Ireland to an Australian bank account, it may be worth looking into using services such as Revolut or Transferwise over international bank transfers, which can be fee heavy and subject to less favourable exchange rates.

Then comes your health insurance, which is crucial for certain visa holders who will not be covered by Australian universal healthcare scheme, Medicare.

“Insurance cover is key,” Dr Cobain says, because while the reciprocal healthcare agreement between Ireland and Australia covers inpatient hospital care “anyone without access to Medicare needs to pay all outpatient expenses in the event of an illness or injury”.

“It is imperative that they ensure they have full overseas cover ... particularly if they have pre-existing chronic conditions that require access to expensive medications. Those with autoimmune disorders and diabetes have found it particularly difficult.”

Dr Cobain says medical repatriation cover should be strongly considered in case you find yourself incapacitated but in desperate need to get home.

Lastly, it would be unwise to rely on a bail out from the Irish State if you run into money problems in Australia. “The Irish consulate’s remit does not include the provision of financial assistance in any jurisdiction,” says Dr Cobain.

“Should someone experience difficulties in any regard, we would encourage them to get in touch with the team at the Irish Support Agency. We cannot help with flights either, so should someone deplete their available funds, it would be back to friends and family to assist.”

Hopefully, it won’t come to that with some careful planning, budgeting and consideration of what to pack. After all, you can even buy Tayto in regular Australian supermarkets now.