So theres just under one month to go till we set off. I’m kind of flipping between feeling on top of everything and mild panic! Every day I somehow manage to think of a new job to add to the list.
Overall though I think we’re on track and ready to set off on May 19th. So with one month to go here’s our ever expanding to-do list….
Trip planning and the fun stuff
The way we’ve approached the planning has been to decide a rough route and get an idea of the main things we want to see without getting too concerned over the details. Apart from the first few weeks where we’ve got a pretty good idea of where we’ll be and when it’s going to be a case of playing the rest by ear.
Book Hostel for the first night in Ho Chi Minh
Research Hanoi to Hong Kong Route
Book Broome Accommodation Book flight home from Hong Kong Book flight from Darwin to Vietnam
Tours in Coral Bay
The not so fun stuff
We moved out of our own leased flat a few months ago and so did alot of sorting out then. At the moment we’re just renting a room in our friends house so all we have to pack up is our room. We’ve no intention to come back to Perth after the trip so everything we own will either be chucked, sold or shipped back to the UK. (After travelling we’ll be heading over to Sydney and settling down there for a while). I’ve actually enjoyed sorting through our things and going minimal, I’ve never been a fan of having too much stuff and getting down to the basics of what we will travel with has been quite liberating!
Sort through things and chuck out everything we don’t need Apply for 28 degrees credit card
Open Citibank account
Freeze BUPA Health Insurance
Stock up on medications
Update CV’s for our return
Cancel internet contract Fix Car Get refund on Rolling Stones tickets
Sort through photos & categorize in Google Drive
Create folder of bookings/important documentation and make digital copies
Ship a box back to UK
Sell Netbook Sell Camping Gear Sell Car Sell Digital Box
I’m hoping we can cross most of these things off the list over the next fortnight. We’re keen to spend the last couple of weekends with friends rather than running about doing last minute preparations. But thats probably wishful thinking and i’m sure we’ll end up running about until the very last minute! Either way we are both so excited and can’t believe it’s finally approaching!
The last time we planned any travelling was in June 2012. We intended to fly into Perth then do a road trip around Australia. Considering it’s now May 2014 and we’re still in Perth I think its fair to say that plan never really worked out! We weren’t in Australia very long before we realised we would like to stay here long term. So everything kind of changed, we settled down, leased a flat, got jobs and started working towards our australian residency. The traveling got forgotten about. Two years down the line though we’ve decided that although we love Australia we aren’t entirely sure if Perth is where we’d like to be long term. So we dug up the travel plan and thought we’d head off then return to Australia but to Sydney rather than Perth.
The thing is when you sit on an idea for two years the idea tends to change. In our case the idea has grown legs, multiplied and somehow developed a mind of its own. A three-month road trip around Australia has turned into an 18-month tour spanning potentially 5 continents. I say potentially as neither of us has ever travelled for longer than a few weeks. There’s a fair chance we’ll be back, out of money, in time for the world cup final in July. Nevertheless here it is, our (rather ambitious) travel plan laid bare.
First off is a 38-hour drive up the West Australian coast to Broome. In terms of mileage this is the same as driving from Paris to Moscow! Initially the plan was to take the Bronze Goddess (our 1998 Ford Falcon), camp our way up the coast then sell the car in Broome. But with the noises coming from her these days I think she’d struggle to make it to the coast let alone up it. So we’ve hired a Britz Hi-top Campervan.
First stop will be the Kalbarri National Park. Famous for its dramatic river gorges, rugged coastline and that big rock with the hole in, we’ll kill a few days here before heading north to Shark Bay and Monkey Mia. Shark bay was (very creatively) named after all the sharks that can be seen in and around the bay. Sharks fascinate me, so this is a huge draw and I really hope I get to see one in its natural environment.
Continuing up the coast we’ll head to Coral Bay and Exmouth to spend a few days scuba diving on Ningaloo Reef. The area is also known for being able to swim with Whale Sharks and Manta Rays so hopefully we’ll be able to get some of this in aswel.
After Exmouth we’ll head inland to Karijini National Park for a few days and then up to Broome. In total we have two and a half weeks to get to Broome. We have a pretty good idea of what we want to see but in the end we’ll just see how it goes. We can cut places out or extend other places as we go.
Then in June we are heading on a ten-day 4WD tour from Broome to Darwin through the Kimberley’s. I don’t usually like doing organised tours but I think in this area of the world it’s probably the easiest and safest way to see everything that’s on offer. Pretty sure if Andrew and I headed into the wilderness in a 4WD it would be a one-way trip! The tour looks fantastic, it’s limited to groups of eight and is full of trekking, gorge walking and swimming. It actually mentions on the website you need to be fit and healthy to go – hoping my knee holds up!
Vietnam & Cambodia
From this point we have far less planned except a flight to Ho Chi Minh. We’d like to go to Angkor Watt in Cambodia and then make our way up the Vietnamese coast. We’ve both been to northern Vietnam before and absolutely loved it so we’ve always fancied coming back and doing a coastal trip. Besides, the currency is Dong and that alone will keep us amused for a month or so.
China & Hong Kong
We plan to fly back to the UK from Hong Kong but the Vietnam to Hong Kong route is undecided as yet. It could be the Bus, Train or Plane who knows. After a week or so in Hong Kong we’ll be heading back to the UK.
Back home to Europe
After two years away we’re both so excited to be heading back home for a while. We’ve got 7 weeks in the UK which sounds like a lot but with the amount we’re both trying to fit in it’s going to be a busy few weeks. I’ve got a trip to France to see family, a week in Portugal with a friend, a long weekend in Edinburgh, and a few days sailing to the channel islands with my dad to fit in.
The longest, final and as yet entirely unplanned part of our trip starts at the end of September with a one-way flight to Peru. In South America we want to travel slow and take each day as it comes. If we find somewhere we love we’ll hang around longer, if we end up somewhere we aren’t as keen on we’ll move on quicker. This will be a kind of travel that neither of us has done before and I’m really looking forward to it. Roughly it makes sense to head north from Peru in September and down through Chile to Patagonia for the summer. Then possibly maybe perhaps a cheeky little cruise to Antarctica but that’s very much budget dependent! We don’t want to miss the Rio Festival in February and depending how we go we’ve got our eye on Central America aswel.
So there it is. Our rather ambitious travel plan. Who knows how much of it will happen and how much of it will change as we go. Whatever we do though I’m sure it will be an incredible experience. At the end of the day I have no idea exactly where we will be this time next year but hey that’s half the appeal.
There are so many routes to Australian Residency and I know nothing about the majority of them. The only pathway to Australian residency I’ve any understanding of is Independent Skilled Migration through SkillSelect and that’s what I’ll be talking about here.
Now this might sound easy but unfortunately not. The concept of easy doesn’t really exist in the world of Australian migration. The process can be made a whole lot simpler with a migration agent but these don’t come cheap. Which brings me to the first decision.
To get a migration agent or not?
We looked at getting a migration agent at first but after being quoted $5k just for their advice and assistance we decided to go it alone. Bearing in mind the cost of the visa itself is about $4k so it’s not a cheap process. The thing is the migration agent can’t collect the information for you – you’ll still need to chase references from old jobs, proof of qualifications etc. All they do is tell you what you need to do and then you have to go off and do it. For us a bit of extra effort and online research was an easy way to save the $5k fee. There are some great forums such as pomsinoz.com and expatforum.com where people from all over the world are going through exactly the same process and have the same questions as you will. They were a lifesaver for us and really helped us to get a better understanding of the process.
Check your occupation is on the Skilled Occupation List and apply for the appropriate skills assessment. (SOL)
First off your occupation needs to be on one of the SOL’s. There is an SOL for the whole of Australia and also an SOL for each state. Applications through the nationwide SOL are classified as Subclass 189 and those through a state are Subclass 190. The state visas have a quicker processing time – currently Subclass 190’s are taking around three months whereas 189’s around six. With the state sponsored visa you are expected to stay in that state for 2 years after application. This is what led to us applying for the 189 – Andrews job was on a state list but for South Australia but we wanted to stay in Perth.
You then need to apply to the appropriate body for a skills assessment. This can be the annoying bit and can take even longer than the actual visa application! The skills assessment basically just verifies that you can do what you say you can do. Once completed you get a code that you enter into your application to allow you to apply under that particular occupation. Andrew’s job is in the IT industry so he had to apply through the Australian Computer Society. They wanted every degree certificate with each module broken down and a full reference from every job for the last 10 years. The references had to be in exactly the right format and contain certain information for it to be approved. It was a long and arduous process!!
International English Language Test (IELTS)
If you’re from an English Speaking Country officially you don’t need to take this. However if you can score top marks (very possible but not actually as easy as it sounds!) you get an extra 20 points. So it’s a no brainer. The only thing I would say about this is don’t underestimate it. I’ve heard stories of native english speakers rocking up with no preparation and not getting the highest score and so losing out on points. Andrew was quite apprehensive about it as he didn’t feel that kind of thing was his strength. But he spent quite a few hours with practice papers and luckily scored very well. I think it’s just a case of knowing what to expect to avoid silly mistakes.
Submit an Expression of Interest.
Independent Migration had a process overhaul in June 2012 when the SkillSelect system was born. Now rather than apply directly for the visa you have to submit an Expression of Interest (EOI) and go into a pool of other applicants. The EOI just tells immigration ‘Hey I’m here and I’d kinda like to apply for this visa’. Immigration will then pull applicants from the pool and invite them to apply based on “the economic needs of Australia”. There are certain annual ceilings for each occupation and once that ceiling is reached no more applicants from that occupation will be invited to apply until the following year. Basically it reduces actual visa processing times by ensuring only suitable applicants are invited to apply for the visas.
To submit an EOI you need to have a verified Skills Assessment (as above) and have completed your IELTS (if you are choosing to take it). Apart from that the EOI just states what you intend to claim on your visa. For example we put my name on the EOI as an additional applicant but we didn’t put all the documents to prove our relationship on it. It is very strict though and all evidence must be collected and dated before the date of submission of the EOI. So you can’t claim for work experience, test results or IELTS scores that you intend to get, it has to all be done and completed before you put your EOI in.The Australian Immigration department has a list of tips for submitting an expression of interest.
They send invitations every fortnight and your EOI will remain valid in the pool for up to two years. However if you’ve got a job they want and at least the minimum number of points (60) you can hope to hear well before then. We applied through Andrews job in IT with 70 points and received an invitation to apply for residency within 3 weeks. We then submitted our actual visa application and finally received our Permanent Residency about 3 months later.
Receive an invitation to apply for residency
Have the first celebratory beer! At this point you’ll get access to the visa application page where you can upload all your documents that you previously claimed to have. You’ll also be asked for some further information.
Others that will be included in the application
If you have a partner, spouse or any dependants you will need to add them to your main visa application at this point. This was another really tricky bit for us. Up till this point the whole process had been about Andrew. You don’t have to be married you just need to prove you are in a de-facto relationship which is pretty much “not married but might aswel be”. For younger couples that have only been together a year or so they want a lot of proof that it’s genuine. I think they clamped down on it a couple of years ago after they found out a lot of people just putting their mates name down to get them in the country. Its actually very strange you have to write long statements explaining how you met, the nature of the partnership and what your life plans are. I think the immigration department now know more details of our private life than anyone else! You have to prove you share finances through mortgages, leases, joint accounts etc. In total I think we uploaded about 70 documents to prove our relationship including statements from family, joint health insurance, car ownership, photos, bills, and flight confirmations.
Health and Police checks
Pretty much what it says on the tin. You’ll be asked to complete official health and police checks. These can take up to four weeks.
Submit your application
And wait! For us the waiting only lasted three months before we received the email saying we were now residents. Its actually all a bit underwhelming in the end. After over a year of build up a simple email confirms your new status.
Now as a resident we can come and go from Australia as we please. Provided we are here for three out of the first five years after our visa grant its all good and there shouldn’t be any issues with having it renewed.
The next goal will be applying for our Australian Passport and Citizenship, but thats still a few years down the line so for now we are enjoying not having to worry about anything visa or migration related!
Growing up in England I remember seeing Fiji as one of the most exotic locations in the world. It was this far off land on the other side of the globe that I doubted I would ever get to. Of course as I’ve got older and spent more time in different countries I’ve realised that its all relative. One person’s exotic dream location is another’s weekend getaway. This hit home when I moved to Australia, I would spend alot of time telling people how lucky they were to have had these beaches and weather their whole life, but i’d often be met with the comeback that I didn’t realise how lucky I was having spent my life being able to pop over to Europe whenever I fancied. Fair point. But I’m English, and whilst moaning about the weather and drinking tea I also see anywhere in the pacific ocean to be a long way away, and therefore in my head as somewhere it’d be really cool to go.
But now I’m living in Australia and those elusive pacific islands are tantalisingly close. From the east coast you can fly to Fiji in about 4 hours and a cheap return can be found for around $400. (OK granted I don’t actually live on the east coast and we Perth residents get the extra fun and expense of another 5 hour flight to actually get over there to make the connection but we’ll skim over that).
I found myself in Fiji at the end of last year on a girl’s holiday with my mum. She arrived on a yacht after sailing across the pacific, I arrived on Virgin Atlantic. Mid-fifties and still cooler than me. Anyway underwhelming arrival aside, I was finally there, in the oh-so-exotic pacific islands.
Fiji is actually an archipelago of more than 322 islands. Less than half of these are inhabited and 87% of the population live on the two major islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. We were staying on Nacula Island in the northern Yassawa chain. Unless you’re staying on the mainland you’ll make your way to the resorts either by seaplane or boat. We chose seaplane as we were limited for time and the boat takes the majority of the day. Obviously the boat is the far more budget friendly option but we thought the plane sounded cool so splashed out.
Blue Lagoon Beach Resort
I’ve haven’t stayed in many resorts before. My holidays and travels usually involve a backpack, overnight buses and a hostel without air conditioning. But this was our week to relax and have some fun as it was the first time we’d seen each other in nearly a year.
We chose Blue Lagoon for a couple of reasons, firstly it was in the Yassawa chain which we heard had the best weather. It’s also the furthest away from the mainland so my “it’s far away it must be good” alarm was going off! The resort also had a very social feel to it which i’ll get to later.
We were met off the boat (the plane lands at a nearby island and you get the boat the rest of the way) by the hostel staff rushing to take our bags and give us a fruit cocktail! The resort was beautiful sitting in the sheltered Nacula bay with a lush forest backdrop. I’m not great with my descriptions of landscapes so i’ll let the pictures do the talking!
Theres a local village on the island which its possible to take a trip to at certain times. Blue Lagoon has an arrangement with the village and employs many of its residents. The resort has also set up a scholarship fund to ensure the continuing education of the children in the local village. The presence of the resort on the island seems really positive with a lot of money getting channeled back into the local community. The picture below was some of the local ladies washing up after lunch. My mum asked them where the men were – it appears some things never change no matter where you are in the world!
One of the great things about Blue Lagoon Beach Resort was its varying levels of accommodation. I’ve never known anywhere that has everything from luxury beachside villa’s to communal dorms! We were staying in one of the two bedroom villa’s which were located a bit of way back from the beach around the back of the resort. The Villas were very spacious and beautifully decorated on the inside with traditional Fijan carvings and artwork. I never actually saw the dorms but I heard they were also pretty nice and provided a great way for travellers to visit the islands aswel.
Both my favourite and my least favourite thing about the villas was the open air showers. One on hand getting back at night after a few cocktails in the bar and having a shower under the stars (it’s all private!) was incredible, but on the other hand open air meant open to other creatures to join you. Now I don’t mind a cute little lizard running up the wall but I wasn’t over the moon about the spider the size of my hand that decided our shower was his favourite place to play hide and seek!
Blue Lagoon also has a communal dining setup. This was a huge draw for us as we were happy to mix with other travellers and holiday makers. Generally we found people had chosen the resort for similar reasons which made a very social and fun environment.
Although i think for a lot of people a trip here is made with the intention to do very little but relax there is actually quite alot of options if you do want to keep busy. You can snorkel right off the beach which was great, although we found it got better the further out you went. The snorkelling was fantastic though and some of the best I’ve ever seen, although I’ve only snorkelled a few times before so don’t have a huge basis for comparison! We hired Kayaks one day and went off around the island to find more snorkelling spots. There is also scuba school running daily dives, neither of us had dived before but we did a discover scuba in the sea and went down to 12 metres which was incredible! . I also tried my hand at stand up paddle boarding which was actually far easier than it looks!
We enjoyed seeing some of the local traditions aswel. On friday night the local villagers put on a traditional fijan dance show, they were getting everyone involved and joining in so it was alot of fun.
There was also the daily Cava ceremonies. Cava is a local drink found across the pacific islands but particularly popular in Fiji. I had heard rumours about the strength of Cava and its affects before even setting foot on the island. In reality it does little more than make you a bit more relaxed, a whole bowl might send you to sleep but thats about it. The taste is also an acquired one, for me and many other westerners I spoke to it tastes for like muddy dishwater than anything else! The Cava ceremony however represents a sense of community amoung Fijians, drunk on a near daily basis it was common to see the locals all sat together around a bowl of Cava.
Like all good things our week came to an end and we were flying home. I had a great time in Fiji and would definitely recommend Blue Lagoon Beach Resort for anyone looking for a relaxing week or two away from it all!