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If you're considering a move overseas what more could you look for in a city than liveability? For expats in Australia’s second-largest city, it’s this that makes their stay worthwhile.

For a fifth-year running, Melbourne has topped the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2015 Global Liveability Ranking. And why not? The southern metropolis has affordable housing, a network of laneways stuffed full of bars and restaurants and a calendar packed full of cultural events.

“Settling kids into school, making a new network of friends and getting a job has been easier than any other city I have lived in.”

Situated on the Yarra River in the state of Victoria, Melbourne is 878 km south of its better-known rival Sydney, or just an hour’s journey by plane (it’s one of the world’s busiest air routes driven by the business between the two state capitals). Unlike its rival, however, Melbourne has an easily navigable grid system of roads, great public transport links and no less than four world-class sporting venues inside the embrace of the inner city.

Home to four million people, the city is a true melting pot of cultures – Melbourne has long had the largest population of Greeks outside of Athens and a recent study showed that almost half its residents were born overseas. Despite rhetoric from the Australian federal government to toughen border control as a crackdown measure on illegal immigration, the city remains safe and welcoming, while celebrating diversity.

This diversity translates to a thriving fresh-food market scene, a street-food culture, fine coffee and what some say is the best pizza in Australia.

“It really is the most liveable city in the world,” said expat Sarah Eke, an advertising manager who moved to Melbourne from Essex, England. “I like the cultural diversity of the city and how different the different suburbs are, so you go from one side of the city to the other and you can feel like you are in a completely different place.”

But you don’t get the European flair of this city without some European weather too. Melbourne’s climate inspired the Crowded House song Four Seasons in One Day because the weather is amongst the most unpredictable in the country. You will need to pack a coat for most of the year – and while there are beaches, they are only for the hardy until the middle of summer.

Getting a job

The state of Victoria has an unemployment rate of 6.2%, according to the most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics Labour Force Commentary — just above the national average of 6.1%. 

White-collar jobs make up the bulk of Melbourne’s occupations, with professionals accounting for almost a quarter of those employed. Managers, sales workers and clerical staff make up a further 38% of the workforce.

Sponsorship for foreign workers is relatively straightforward with an extensive list of eligible professions found at the Department of Immigration. Some of the most in-demand areas include marketing specialists, business analysts, actuaries, teachers, human resource specialists and doctors, nurses and engineers. Most positions don’t require labour market testing, but certain professions may be subject to a skills test.

Visa applicants will need to prove relevant professional skills, English language skills and meet health and character criteria. As well, they need to prove guaranteed earnings of at least A$53,900 ($38,350).

The visa application fee is A$1,060 ($755) per adult. In some instances a further fee of A$700 ($500) may be payable if the applicant is applying from within Australia and they already hold a temporary visa which they obtained while in Australia. 

Finding a home

The city and its fringes have a thriving laneway culture and major stadiums, hospitals and universities all quite close to the centre of the city, what Australians call the Central Business District or CBD, putting inner-city housing prices at a premium.

Compared to Sydney, however, Melbourne still has affordable housing options. “You hear people saying you can’t buy a one-bedroom apartment in Sydney under A$600,000 ($426,900), well you can still buy a very good one-bedroom apartment in Melbourne in the early to mid-A$400,000 ($284,600) range, in a good building,” said Scott McElroy, director of Melbourne property specialists Hocking Stuart. “As for the rental market, it will cost A$700 to A$900 ($500-$640) a week for decent rental property for a family of four.”

Expats say Melbourne's liveability makes their stay worthwhile. (Credit: Alamy)

McElroy says the city divides into three main markets for expats: the city, dominated by the more expensive and smaller inner-city rentals; the bayside market, in-demand southern side of the city with access to Melbourne’s city beaches; and the eastern market, which has the majority of the big private schools, with rentals here closer to A$800 to A$1000 ($570-$710) a week.

For those on a budget, he recommends the inner-northern part of the city (suburbs such as Reservoir) that is well serviced by trams and trains but offers good value for money. 

Getting settled

“I was struck by the friendliness of Melburnians,” said Adrienne Smith, who moved from Sydney earlier this year. “Settling kids into school, making a new network of friends and getting a job has been easier than any other city I have lived in, mainly due to the helpfulness of the people we have met.”

In terms of healthcare, Australia has an extensive state-subsidised system, called Medicare, as well as a private healthcare system that runs alongside it. Medicare has a reciprocal arrangement with the National Health Service in the UK and other European healthcare providers so citizens from those countries are instantly able to access some services during their stay. For certain cases, however, it may still be worthwhile to use a private insurer.

In terms of retirement benefits, Australian employers are required to contribute 9.5% of an employee's base salary before tax to a superannuation fund. While this money is locked up tight for Aussie residents, temporary residents can apply to reclaim their superannuation funds when their expat stay has ended.

A walk in the park

For families, Melbourne has ample green spaces with over 480 hectares of park spreading across the city with Princes Park to the north, the Royal Botanic Gardens in the central city area and Albert Park to the south.

To escape the city, the wineries of the Yarra Valley, the ski fields of Mt Hotham and Mt Buller and world-famous surf breaks such as Bells Beach are just some of the attractions within a few hours’ drive. 

Or you can see the sights closer to home — another big plus with Melbourne is its extensive, train, tram and bus network. Starting in January 2016, the city will be the first Australian capital to trial 24-hour public transport.

And while Melbourne has all the benefits of a big city, many expats find it is a more relaxed pace of life. Said Sarah Eke: “It is just really easy, it doesn’t feel like there is a rat race.”

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