Personal Tax Australia vs Taiwan

I've heard many people say the Australia tax rate is much more than that of Taiwan so here are some data. The individual income tax rates for Australia for 2010-2012 are:

  • <= AUD$6K -- 0%
  • ($6K, $37K] -- 15%
  • ($37K, $80K] -- 30%
  • ($80K, $180K] -- 37%
  • > $180K -- 45%

The individual income tax rates for Taiwan for 2010-2011 are:

  • <=NT$500K -- 5%
  • ($500K, $1130K] -- 12%
  • ($1130K, $2260K] -- 20%
  • ($2260K, $4230K] -- 30%
  • > $4230K -- 40%
Assuming 30:1 exchange ratio and no deductions the effective tax rates are charted as above. We see for people earning "good" income (50K~150K) the difference can approach 7% but for high income people of 180K the difference is reduced to 4.7%.

It's noteworthy that Taiwan has various deductions, some of which favors the lower income bracket. One big deduction I miss is home mortgage interest deduction (limit NT$300K) since Australia has a very high mortgage rate (~7% compared to ~2% in Taiwan).

One surprising thing I found is that the fiscal year is different across countries. Taiwan has the simple January-December financial year while Australia's is July-June. It would be much simpler if every country can have the same fiscal year (ideally same as calendar year?), especially for people with income across countries like me.

Since my primary income has moved to Australia but still needs to pay Taiwan tax as citizen, it turns out it's better to earn 4.5% fixed deposit interest in Taiwan than the 6.51% savings interest in Australia as of the next Taiwan fiscal year. Complicated. ^^||


Learning more about the Australia property market

Visited the "Home Buyer & Property Investor Show" in Sydney last week and found it quite worthwhile. The show claims to be the largest of its kind, with professions across the trade there and many good seminars with some great speakers.

I learned a lot from the seminars and the brochures, magazines, and book given out at the show. It's a great way to quickly ramp up on knowledge about (Australia) real estates when you know very little. Here are I note some of my learning and thoughts.

The first is the multitude of  professions in the industry and the values they can bring. Buyer's agent, for example, is quite new to me, but it does seem reasonable that they can potentially save clients' time and money and also reduce risks in buying properties. Their service do seem attractive to busy professionals like me, although I am somewhat concerned on the flat fee it charges. The flat fee is certainly better than charging on percentage of final purchase price (which will reduce the incentive for buyer's agent to negotiate prices), but it also leaves no monetary incentives for a higher quality service. I feel they should consider defining a set of key metrics that can reflect the quality of the property acquisition process and discuss with their clients in their first meetings the expectations and also the "bonuses" for exceeding expectations in the key metrics.

I am surprised by the professional renovators trade. The chapter, "Renovating for profit," by Stephen Tolle and Cherie Barber in Think and Grow Rich Property is quite a good read. It's clear that professional renovators has the potential to bring value, as all of identifying properties suitable for renovation, planning the structural and/or cosmetic renovation, getting development approval, purchasing materials, managing and executing the renovation, etc. are complex tasks that need a lot of knowledge and expertise to yield low cost and quality results. It can be a win-win if the renovator is capable and content, but a greedy renovator can use cheaper stuffs that look shiny on the surface to lure less knowledgeable buyers for a huge profit. To avoid this, buyers should learn to look through the real value of a property and should choose renowned renovators that have years of good reputation.

Looking through the property data of all Australia suburbs is also very worthwhile. It provides a high level overview of the current status of the Australia property market with median prices, recent growths, weekly rentals, and numbers sold for units and houses in each one of the suburbs.

From the numbers it looks like some Sydney suburbs are the most expensive in the whole  country, with median house prices of over $2M in good areas close to beaches such as Bellevue Hill.
The http://www.living-in-sydney.com/ site hosts a map that shows all the suburbs in Sydney (small version on the right). It's only by looking at such maps and the property data do you appreciate the size of the real estate market.

Finally, I would like to express my concern that the many professionals in or entering the property market is making housing more of a means to get rich as opposed to shelter for all (see also an article on ANZ head's views on negative gearing). I would really like people of knowledge and power to work towards helping everyone getting a good, affordable home.


Oaks Goldsbrough Apartments

Before buying a place it's important to do as much research as possible. This is especially important for me as I am totally new to Australia. To learn as much as possible, one strategy is to really live in different places from time to time in target areas to learn everything about the target areas and their neighbourhood (in addition to inspecting properties everywhere where possible whenever you have time of course).

The photos here shows one of the places I've stayed -- Oaks Goldsbrough Apartments in Darling Habour. I likes its
  • location, with a walkway connection that allows you to walk directly to the Convention station;
  • tall ceiling -- much breathable compared to units in Taiwan;
  • furnished w/ everything needed -- laundry, full kitchen; and there's heated pool and gym at 1F;
  • not expensive (consider it's close to Sydney CBD) at <$500 a week rent and selling at ~$300K.

There are several things I don't like though, such as:
  • poor "view" -- especially in my unit where windows either face  the interior building corridors or a narrow firebreak alley -- little privacy;
  • poor noise insulation -- (newer) buildings in Taiwan are doing much better at this

So I'll continue to do my research and inspect / live in different places. Maybe I'll end up signing up for a buyer's agent when I really want to buy a home, but it's still good to know as much as possible.


Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Opera House is really a wonder to look at. It's spectacular in many angles and when coming close one gets to appreciate how large the structure is (and that the roof is covered by more than a million "glossy white- and matte-cream-coloured" tiles).

The (essential) tour is quite worth it IMO with good tour guides explaining the details and history of the Sydney Opera House (and here are some good sites: 1, 2), and also that we get to walk in and sit in the two large halls -- Concert Hall (2,679 seats with the grand organ) and Opera Theatre (1,507 seats).


Taronga Zoo

This Saturday several colleagues and I went to the Taronga Zoo in Sydney. It is just a short ferry ride from Wharf 2 in the Circular Quay. There is a large variety of animals here (but there's only a few for each species), ranging from crocodiles, giraffes, gorillas, kangaroos (are they playing dead in the bottom photo?), koalas, lions, parrots, peacocks, to zebras.

It's alarming to see there are several posters in the airport warning of dangerous animals in Australia, some of which can be lethal to humans. The Taronga Zoo do exhibit some dangerous animals. The largest living lizard, Komodo dragon, seems to be pretty normal, but it has been filmed to be able to take down a big bull. The Komodo dragon bites on the bull's legs and since its bites are venomous, the bull will eventually fall and become a feast to these beasts.

The Fierce Snake seems very scary. It is very restless and agile in the glass tank, and it may seem like if the snake were in the wild it would come fast right at you fearlessly because its venom is so deadly -- the sign says a bite can kill 200,000 mice!! Fortunately reading wikipedia revealed that "fierce" only describes its venom and not its temperament.

And the Tasmanian devil looks like a harmless dog until you read the descriptions on the sign and the associated photos and skeleton of this small beast. Their jaws can open very wide and have power to crush bones -- apparently it "generate the strongest bite per unit body mass of any living mammal."

Novotel Sydney on Darling Harbour Hotel

Room @Novotel Darling Harbour
I'd like to stay in hotels or serviced apartments so I can slowly look for a good place to rent. This time I am staying in Novotel, which has reasonable rooms and facilities but is at a great location -- it's right next to the Convention MLR station and the Darling Harbour Shopping Centre (Harbourside), is close to numerous good restaurants, is close to the office, and has great view to name a few.

I bought a camera -- Fujifilm FinePix F550EXR -- before coming to Australia so I can record my experiences and blog them here. The camera is light and compact but has several features that I liked such as GPS, 360 degrees Panorama, 15x optical zoom, and smart (so I can stupid) EXR. Below are examples of the panorama showing a room in Novotel and the view looking out to the CBD, respectively.


Good food in Sydney

So during my trip to Tokyo my Japanese colleagues had tried to lure me to join the Tokyo office instead of Sydney with the reasoning that the food is great in Tokyo (yes that's true) while the food in Australia is awful. I am happy to report that after trying out various food I had in Sydney I must say they are good! Below are just two examples.

The picture on the left is the "Hot and Cold Platter for 2" at the Nick's Seafood Restaurant at Cockle Bay Wharf. There's a LOT of food for 2 -- cold oyster, mussel, salmon, prawn, and crab; and fried fish, prawn, calamari, and chips. I feel the seafood tastes noticeably sweeter and better than what I get in Taipei, likely because they are fresh and from cleaner sea.

The pictures on the right is the seared scallops entree and chargrilled beef fillet mains at the Sugaroom restaurant. Again they are both very nice. And the prawn stuffed zucchini flower in the mains is especially unique and good.

Thanks much to my new manager for taking us to these great treats! =D~


Tokyo vs Sydney

Tokyo was one of my other choices to move to. It got ruled out naturally with the 3/11 earthquake, but it's good to check if I had made the right choice between Tokyo and Sydney were the earthquake didn't happen.

The Tokyo office of my company is located in the Mori Tower in the Roppongi Hills complex. Since there was a tropical storm (Aere) during my visit there last week, I booked Grand Hyatt that was in the same complex to avoid getting wet. The rooms are big, new, and modern (but expensive!), and it takes just 3 minutes to walk to the office within the complex.

View out of Tokyo office
in Roppongi Hills
I am always impressed by how clean and organized Japan is, even in the world's largest metro, Tokyo (with a mind-blowing 35+ million population). You can easily tell the difference of how clean/organized it is by strolling around or looking out of the window (e.g., compared to the view at Taipei 101 where I currently work in). And Japanese people are always very polite, hard-working, and civilized. Although language is a barrier (most Japanese has relatively poor English), I would probably still prefer Tokyo over Taipei.

It's clear I favor Sydney over Tokyo however after I've visited both. Language is not the biggest issue since learning Japanese may just take months, but there are many other considerations. Timezone definitely matters as the extra 1~2 hours overlap with the U.S. is important -- video conference and other communication technologies may vastly improve within 10 years but the timezone issue will not. I prefer Sydney's environment more as it feels very natural. Also, Tokyo is already so packed I don't want to contribute more -- let's spread out more evenly on Earth? ;)


Telephone numbers in Australia

Here are some of the important information on telephone numbers in Australia vs Taiwan:
Country code61886
Main international prefix0011002
Mobile prefix0409
Capital area code02 (NSW, ACT)02 (Taipei)

It's interesting to note that the telephone numbers around the capital areas for both countries look very similar -- both are of the form 02-1234-5678.

It was also surprising to learn the international dialing access prefix (0011) is so close to the emergency number (000) -- wouldn't this cause some people (such as international visitors) to dial emergency accidentally? ^^||


Airline selection when living in Sydney

Most airlines have frequent flyer programs to encourage customers to choose their airline, offering incentives like lounge access, higher mileage accumulation (which can be used for upgrades or free tickets), check-in and luggage priority, reservation priority, etc. It's thus beneficial to stick to an airline where possible.

My previous airline of choice was Eva Air (based in Taiwan), and I have achieved Gold card status (just after Diamond) where I have enjoyed the airline's quality lounge and priority check-in/luggage services. Unfortunately, the airline does not fly to Sydney but only Brisbane:
  • BR0315 TPE → BNE 3 5 ; 2230~0910
  • BR0316 BNE → TPE 4 6 ; 1025~1725
My most frequent destinations after moving to Sydney is likely Taipei, followed by maybe San Francisco, Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai, Beijing, and Bangalore for work, and maybe other places around Asia and domestic cities and destinations in Australia (e.g., Brisbane, Melbourne) for leisure. Qantas, the flag carrier of Australia, may be the logical choice of airline for most people in Sydney (above image shows its hub/destinations), but unfortunately it doesn't have direct flights to my favorite destinations such as Taipei and San Francisco (last flight 2011/5/6).

In fact, the only direct flight between Taipei and Sydney is by China Airlines:
  • CI0051 TPE → SYD 2 3 5 7 ; 2355~1105
  • CI0052 SYD → TPE 1 3 4 6 ; 2210~0540
And direct flight between Sydney and San Francisco is by United Airlines:
  • UA870 SYD → SFO ; 1445~1101
  • UA863 SFO → SYD ; 2250~0625
Although there's plenty of connecting flights, I would rather forfeit frequent flyer incentives than withstand the extra time and effort (which can easily bump a 9h flight to 14+ hours).

Finally, it's worth pointing out the three global airline alliances:
  1. Star Alliances  -- includes United; Eva Air may become a member;
  2. SKYTEAM -- China Airlines and Virgin Blue may join in the future;
  3. oneworld -- includes Qantas.


Selecting Banking in Sydney

I would like to choose bank accounts that offer good interest rates and convenient services with minimal fees. This can help in saving money to buy a good home later. ;)

Online Savings Account
Ratecity (referred to from ASIC) is a financial comparison website in Australia that makes it easy to find the best choice of bank accounts available. It points out that there are online savings accounts that yield very good interest rates, such as USaver (backed by NAB so should be trustworthy) that yields 6.51% p.a. if you deposit >$200 a month into the account. The interest rates of online accounts are very attractive, but the problem of these accounts is that it doesn't provide the usual conveniences of drawing money from ATMs etc.

Transaction Account
Typically one would need a transaction account that gives you ATM access, EFTPOS, cheque facility, etc. I do not see significant differences between the transaction accounts, so I'll likely just choose one from the big names such as nab Classic Banking. These accounts pay virtually zero interest, so I'll probably set up my payroll to go into the online account directly and then regularly transfer enough money to the transaction accounts (note it takes a business day for the transfer to go through).


Metro Light Rail in Sydney

While "strolling" around Pyrmont using Google Earth/Maps, it occurred to me that the Metro Light Rail (MLR) is not what I initially thought it was. The website deceivingly shows a picture of the train on normal roads, whereas in reality it mostly runs on dedicated tracks, as can be seen from this time-lapsed YouTube video that shows the complete MLR trip (there's also a related video that shows nearby attractions for each stop which can be useful).

Another surprising find is that the Exhibition stop, although right next to the Sydney exhibition halls, does not seem to actually access them. Instead, from evidence of Google Street View and Bing's Bird's eye (image on the right) it seems the stop is accessed via Pyrmont road.

Update (2011/05/31): as the above hypothesis is quite unbelievable I went to check out a real metro light / monorail station (Convention station) -- it's feasible for the station to be accessed on both sides.

Exploring Pyrmont using Google Earth / Maps Street View

The best way to explore a place virtually is likely to use Google Earth and Street View (note the recently released v6 has Street View seamlessly integrated). It would be great if I could get access to Liquid Galaxy -- panorama view using multiple large screens in circular arrangement and navigating using a 3D mouse -- but for now I'll have to settle using my small 24" screen and a normal mouse.

It's worth noting that navigating in Google Earth vs in Google Maps Street View has different pros and cons, such as:
  • It's easy to toggle between the various modes and perspectives in Earth and navigate easily and freely around. Also note mouse scrolling in Earth's Street View will move you physically forward/backwards while Maps will perform a less useful zoom in/out (you could use up/down arrows but it's not as nice).
  • Earth has a lot more data (layers) that can be very useful, such as Wikipedia and Panoramio integrations. 3D buildings are also great, but unfortunately its coverage is low in non-CBD areas.
  • Maps Street View has a better overview map (the small map on the bottom right) than Earth.
  • Maps Street View exposes 3D (activated by typing "qwerty") that works quite okay (though using an anaglyph glass means lost of color information).

Finally, I found that having both Google Earth open (at "aerial view") and navigating using Google Maps Street View at the same time is also a good way to navigate the street details while keeping global perspective. Toggling between the two applications is faster than moving in and out of Street View (which can also lose context).


Considerations of renting in Pyrmont

My first thought is to find a place that's within walking (or biking?) distance to the office (preferably within 20mins). Compared to my current 1.5 hour commute (between Zhubei and Taipei), this will save me more than two hours a day. =D

Public transportation seems quite good around Pyrmont, with seemingly very convenient Light Rail and Monorail, ferries, buses, trains (@Central station), etc., so I should be able to tour various parts of Sydney easily. On the other hand, I could live further away and take public transport to work, but unless there's good reasons I'll stick to my plan of walking to office.

I need only a small unit (maybe a studio), preferably nicely decorated and fully furnished with bed, fridge, laundry, etc. so I don't need to worry about buying furnitures, decorating the place, or cleaning up gardens but instead focus more on adapting to working and living in a new country in the first months/years.

It would be nice if there's swimming pool and gym in the building so I can stay healthy and fit unless there's an aquatic/fitness centre nearby.

Thanks to a colleague that made a "My Map" of local info near the office, it seems living in Pyrmont is quite convenient with all the public transportation stops, groceries, medical center, entertainment, fish market, and more. My next steps is probably to "stroll" around Pyrmont using Google StreetView to learn more of the vicinity, find a few units that matches my criteria on real estate sites, and then physically fly to Sydney to inspect the units and experience the environment for real.


Finding housing near Pyrmont, Sydney

Let's start looking at finding an appropriate housing when working in Sydney. I would want to rent as I am not familiar with Sydney/Australia real estate yet, and also there is perception that housing prices in Australia are overvalued. I'll spend much time in finding a good place to ensure it's comfortable (considering that half of one's time is spent in a house), convenient, and affordable. Also, efforts spent here can help in buying an ideal home later.

The median weekly rent in Sydney seems to be around $450 (1, 2), up from $250 in 2006! It seems the rent near my office (Pyrmont) is even more than that for just a small unit, which is not too surprising as it's next to the city center.

There seems to be several websites that lists places to rent, such as:
  • Domain -- likes its feature selection is easy to use, and can specify if the feature is important or nice to have;
  • *Nestoria -- likes its Ajax UI that allows very intuitive and responsive selections;
  • realestate.com.au -- claims to be the biggest address in property (not sure what that means); though I don't like its selection (such as bedrooms) is only single selection;
  • property.com.au -- claims to be the largest list of properties; the site strangely has the same interface as realestate.com.au;
  • homehound --  seems okay, but there's bug in UI (overlapping text);
  • LJ Hooker -- available units for rent seems sparse near Pyrmont, and photo gallery for each unit also seems sparse; 
  • Real Estate First National Australia -- few units around Pyrmont, search interface hard to use;
  • Just Rent Sydney -- even fewer units near Pyrmont.
Let me focus on the first four sites for the moment, and also come up with my criteria for a good place to rent in the following posts.

*Updated on 4/21 -- thanks to Kat for pointing out the Nestoria (Australia) site.


Learning about Sydney/Australia

Whilst waiting for the visa, let me learn more about living in Sydney. Wikipedia is a good start that gives a high-level overview of everything about Sydney, while Wikitravel is more suitable for traveling to and living there. The official City of Sydney site may eventually be useful but it's harder to swallow at the moment than more casual sites such as http://www.sydney.com/.

The resources available on the web is abundant, but I still prefer reading books to learn on subjects I'm not familiar with to gain a very comprehensive understanding of the topic efficiently. Already bought and read some books but will continue to read more.

It seems there are a lot of nice attractions and things to do in Sydney and in Australia, so I know I won't be bored there! =)

It's interesting to note the different timezones in various states/territories in Australia. It can range from UTC+8, +9.5, +10, +10.5, to +11 (Taipei +0~3h). This is one of the main reason I selected Sydney (UTC+10 standard time and UTC+11 daylight saving time) to work in, since it's only 5~7 hours from the headquarter in the U.S., while Taipei is 8~9 hours away.


Preparing to move and work in Sydney, Australia

I have lived in Taiwan (mostly Hsinchu, Taipei, and Kaohsiung) for 20 years and in South Africa (Johannesburg) for 12 years. It's now time to move to Sydney and turn over a new leaf in life. =)

There's a lot of things to do. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources on the web that can help, such as the site dedicated to "starting a new life in Australia."

Let's work on each item one by one. First, I'll need to get an appropriate visa so I can work in Sydney and make a living. For my case, it'll be the 457 visa -- Temporary Business (Long Stay) - Standard Business Sponsorship thanks to sponsorship from my current employer. Even with help from dedicated migration agents, there's a lot of documents to prepare (such as resume, transcripts, references, etc.) and I will need to perform health checks with designated panel doctors in my home country after the migration agent lodged the visa application.