Visa and Money Matters: starting a year abroad

Bad news first: for the second time in my life I will miss a knockout game of a big football event (2008, Netherlands vs Russia, broken ankle, night in hospital – never again) as I spend 24 hours sat on a plane, travelling diagonally across the largest continent on earth.

  

journey map
Vienna – Amsterdam – Singapore – Brisbane

The good news: upon landing I will set foot on Australian soil to spend a year at the University of Queensland (UQ) for my degree in Politics & Economics. Brisbane is the capital of Australia’s “Sunshine State” and is conveniently located on the Pacific coast between the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast. All of this was appealing to me as I chose my destination to study abroad, the nice weather accompanied by plenty of things to do outdoors.

 

weather
British “summer” vs Australian “winter”

So, with only a day left before embarking on this journey let me give you some advice.

VISA

This was my really my biggest issue. The only time I applied for a US visa through the American Embassy I had it authorised within 24 hours. As such I was expecting a similar time frame for Australia. Most Australian universities, including the University of Queensland, will offer streamlined visa processing (SVP) which essentially rules that you have reduced evidentiary requirements. This means you can apply for your visa online (no embassy) once you receive your Confirmation of Enrollment (CoE) and should have it authorised within an hour.

Not so with me.

For reasons I am unaware of I was asked to provide a certified copy of my passport by the Immigration Office (some friends will now feel reassured in their assertion that I am, in fact, a spy). I did this once and heard nothing. I did it again two weeks later and heard nothing. I then called the Immigration Office in Australia  who were only able to take a note that I had called.

Seven days before my departure I had no permission to enter Australia. Those that know me will say I tend to remain calm in these situations but with no response from the Immigration Office and the prospect of having to cancel my flight I was quite worried.

It was only the third time I provided a copy of my passport that I finally got my visa – 5 days prior to my departure.

So, even if you don’t get your visa within a day like everyone else, don’t panic. Just keep e-mailing and calling. It all worked out in the end.

 

MONEY MATTERS

Your finances will inevitably form a big part of your study abroad experience and getting it all right requires patience. I’ve chosen to open a bank account with ANZ as they have a branch at the UQ St Lucia campus and I was able to apply for it online before arriving. I am using Transferwise to convert my currency – it’s transparent, offers you the mid-market exchange rate and doesn’t take long either (none of which could be said about banks).

What you want to avoid doing is exchanging money at a bad rate. At the moment the € is at a 30-day low – not ideal! Depending on the sum you’re transferring you could save hundreds of Australian dollars by keeping an eye on the exchange rate and converting at sensible times.

exchange rate

Other things you might want to do before leaving:

  • Check for any vaccinations you need
  • Get your health insurance sorted
  • Have contact details of your nearest embassy at hand
  • Make sure you have progressed into next year and have your uni courses approved

Most importantly, know that there are always people to help with issues you may encounter (the international office at UofG or your host institution, subject coordinators, immigration office, embassy, other students abroad that have done it all before…).

That’s all I have for now. I will keep you updated with articles, pictures and video clips to give you a taste of life in Australia at the University of Queensland. Feel free to message me (2141584s@student.gla.ac.uk or https://www.facebook.com/jamesyoungsmith) with any questions you have!

 

stuff
All my belongings (+ flight entertainment*) 

*anyone interested in U.S. Foreign Policy, definitely worth a read!

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