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Living in Australia – A Guide for PhD Students

Written by Ben Taylor

It’s no surprise that Australia is such a popular destination for international PhD students: as well as boasting a bevy of world-class universities, the country scores extremely well in quality of life metrics. Of course, there’s also the enviable climate, unique wildlife and cosmopolitan cities to enjoy.

This page will give you an overview of what you need to know about student life in Australia, from culture and accommodation to the cost of living and transport.

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Student life

PhD students in Australia will have plenty of opportunity to explore this antipodean nation’s fascinating culture and natural beauty, from the Great Barrier Reef to the Gondwana Rainforests. Major cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane draw visitors from around the globe, frequently appearing near the top of various liveability metrics.

Culture and tourism

Many of Australia’s most iconic sights are located in Sydney, its largest city. From the sail-like structure of the Sydney Opera House to the Sydney Harbour Bridge (the world’s biggest steel arch bridge), Sydney is understandably a big draw for tourists, who also flock to the Bondi Beach surfing hotspot.

Melbourne is another major Australian metropolis with its own unique atmosphere, sometimes thought of as the country’s cultural capital. The National Gallery of Victoria hosts sprawling collections of Australian and international art, while the Queen Victoria Market is home to an eclectic range of food traders.

Situated in the centre of Australia, the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is a sacred site for the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal peoples. Visitors to the UNESCO-listed park can learn about Indigenous culture, as well as hike in the stunning natural surroundings.

Sport and leisure

Sport is a huge part of the Australian national identity. Cricket, rugby and Aussie rules football all have fanatic followings, while the ‘Socceroos’ are a fixture at the FIFA World Cup.

Australia is also one of the world’s great surfing destinations. The country’s natural attractions also provide unparalleled opportunities for hiking, snorkelling and other outdoor (or should that be ‘outback’?) pursuits.

Food and drink

Australian cuisine is much more than the stereotypical ‘shrimp on the barbie’ (although barbeques are undoubtedly an important part of Australian life). The food on offer reflects Australia’s status as one of the most diverse countries in the world, with dishes from every corner of the globe. Greek, Vietnamese and Lebanese are among the popular cuisines in Australia.

Australia is also known for its café culture, and it’s said that the flat white was invented in Sydney back in the 1980s.


The large numbers of international students at Australian universities are well-catered for when it comes to accommodation, with university-owned dorms or private lets available. Whichever option you go for, it’s wise to begin your search as early as possible, particularly in the major cities like Sydney and Melbourne.


Many international students in Australia choose to stay with a host family. The Australian Homestay Network is the most widely-used homestay provider in the country. You'll typically pay around AUD $370 (USD $235) per week for a 'complete' homestay, which includes utility bills and three meals peer day. You will usually have the option of paying a reduced rate for fewer (or no) meals.

University accommodation

University-owned accommodation is often centrally located on campus. It can come in the form of shared rooms, shared flats or self-contained studios.

On-campus accommodation usually costs in the region of AUD $487 per week (USD $330). This normally includes all utilities and bills.

Private sector accommodation

Private accommodation offers a little more flexibility in terms of location and size. You could share a house or flat with some fellow students to save on costs or find your own apartment. Weekly rent for a shared house is usually around AUD $243 per week (USD $165).

Living costs

Australia is quite an expensive country to live in. The Australian government requires that international students have AUD $21,041 (USD $14,170) per year to support themselves (not including tuition fees).

Prices in Australia

This table will give you a rough idea of some of the typical student living costs you’ll encounter in Australia.

Student Cost of Living in Australia - 2024
Restaurant Meal AUD $25 (USD $16)
Cinema Ticket AUD $21 (USD $13)
Monthly Travel Pass AUD $168 (USD $107)
Monthly Utilities AUD $210(USD $144.51)
Based on crowdsourced data published by Numbeo.

Working during your PhD

An Australian student visa allows international students to work 40 hours per fortnight during term-time and unlimited hours during study breaks.

Voluntary work doesn’t count towards the limit if it benefits the community and is for a non-profit organisation.

Please note that you can only work for the duration of your course – not before you’ve registered as a student or after you’ve graduated.


Some Australian banks allow international students to open an account online in advance of their arrival in the country.

If you’re not able to do this, it’s easy enough to organise once you’ve arrived in Australia – you’ll need to bring your passport, letter of acceptance from your university and proof of address.


Australia is a huge country, with most major urban areas concentrated on its eastern seaboard (Perth is on the west coast). This means that there are some pretty huge distances involved in travelling between cities (it takes around 10 hours to drive between Sydney and Melbourne, which are relatively close by Australian standards!).

Rail travel

Australia’s rail network services its major cities well, despite the massive distances between them. Travelling between Melbourne and Sydney takes around 10 hours (similar to a car journey), while Sydney to Brisbane takes around 15 hours.

Air travel

Domestic flights are the quickest (if not the most eco-friendly) way to travel between cities in Australia. Reasonably priced flights allow students to travel between Sydney and Melbourne in an hour and a half. Flights between Sydney and Perth take between four and five hours.

Inner-city travel

Australian cities have decent public transport options, with Melbourne in particular home to the world’s largest tram network! Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth all have light rail. Public buses are also a reliable way of getting around.

Find a PhD in Australia

Ready to start browsing some current PhD opportunities in Australia? Alternatively, you can look at our other guides to PhD study abroad.

PhD Funding in Australia – A Guide for 2023

Our guide to PhD funding in Australia has information on PhD scholarships, as well as other funding options for international students

Read more

Last Updated: 06 December 2022