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.