How to be a good host - and stay sane
Living in Australia, it's not really surprising how popular we have become with family and friends regularly descending on us. Over the years I have learned how to deal with guests from abroad and I thought I’d share. Here are my top 10 tips:
1. Ensure the timing of a visit suits both parties – if your guests arrive when your husband is travelling or its busy term time with loads of after-school activities, it won’t benefit anybody. Remember, even to family, you are allowed to say ‘no’.
2. Make sure you know exactly what your guests want from their visit: is it purely sun and relaxation, shopping, sight-seeing, partying or spending as much time with you and your family? Send them as many details about their destination as possible so they can do their research and figure out what they want to see and do. This way your guests get the most out of their visit and you are not trying to force things on them they are not interested in - or indeed make them miss out.
3. Organize a map with your house and important landmarks highlighted, have a spare key cut, get the contacts of a reliable taxi driver, or even hire a car for your more adventurous guests and set them free. Most people are quite happy to potter around town on their own, and it gives you valuable 'me-time' without having to worry about constantly entertaining your guests.
4. Find out what is happening in your city and surroundings during the stay, and plan in some activities. It may sound regimented but a daily planner is a good idea – even a week-to-view, depending of the length of the stay. List your routine family events and fit in guest activities and stick the planner up on the fridge.
5. Obviously we all try and bend over backwards to ensure our guests’ happiness, but if your visitors party all night whilst you have to get up early for work, it is only a matter of time before it results in an argument or at least some serious sulking. Make sure that soon after the arrival of your guests you take them through the house, explain the no-go areas and ask them to respect your personal schedule, i.e. to tone it down after 10pm, and leave the shower free for you at 7am.
6. If you are lucky enough to have a spare guest room and bath, great, but even if you are just clearing out a corner of the study – prepare the space to make it comfortable for your guests. People like their own space, be it a free drawer, a few hangers in the wardrobe or simply a place to spread the suitcase. Add little extras such as a guide book or magazine, a bottle of water, a box of tissues, a spare beach bag and some flip-flops, and small toiletries including sun-screen. Not only do these small touches make people feel welcome, but they also stop them helping themselves to your stuff.
7. Some people are easy to please, but nowadays you are more likely to have someone with a food intolerance or strong dislike staying over. Find out in advance if there are vegetarians, vegans, diabetics, or simply people trying to watch their weight among your guests and stock up on some foods suitable for all. Organize regular trips to restaurants to let visitors experience the local cuisine – depending on the length of their stay and your budget, you may want to limit time spent in the kitchen preparing complicated meals.
8. Whether you have kids or the guests are bringing some of their own, there is no more serious threat to a happy visit than a bunch of narky kids. If your children are giving up their bedroom or are having to share, make sure you acknowledge their sacrifice. To save your kids having to share their favourite possessions, buy some cheap suitable toys and books for the young visitors – it will give them ‘their own things’ in a strange house. For outings try the ‘one for you, one for us’ approach: the water park one day and an adult day-trip the next, and at malls – drop them off at the designated fun-places whilst you enjoy a quiet coffee. If your kids have their own scheduled activities, take your guests – it will make them feel more involved with your life out here if they sit through a game of football with you.
9. Communication is the most important aspect of being a good host. Listen to what your visitors want, but equally tell them if they are doing something that irritates you to within an inch of an ulcer. Keep it light and humorous though. If you are having an assertiveness problem with one of your guests, send your kids or husband to do the dirty work for you: “Mum will have a complete fit if she sees you leaving your shoes on in the house” gets around the problem quite smoothly.
10. There is much truth in the saying that family and fish start to stink after three days. They might have come a long way, but it is not as if we are living in Jane Austen-type mansions where months-long houseguests go virtually unnoticed. Discuss return dates openly before the tickets are booked, or, if there are no signs of anybody packing their suitcase, either feign an upcoming business trip, the annual visit of the pest control man or the occurrence of mumps going around school to hurry things along.
How long is an expat an expat for? I know, by definition, as long as you live outside your country of origin, you’re an expat, but I have friends who lived in Dubai for more than 40 years, 30 years, coming on 20 years – they don’t intend to move on, they have grown desert roots. Whilst it was home for me too, for a long time, actually a nearly record-breaking six years, we eventually moved onto Australia, and have been living down under for two years now. It is home for now. Until we move on. I am certainly not ready to grow roots quite yet.
Obviously where you live has a lot to do with where the work is, unless you are extremely lucky and either have independent means or a very flexible job, but as a whole, we expats are guided by work and income. The GCC, of which I have lived in three countries over the previous twelve years before Australia called, have the distinct advantage of being tax-free and offer a very good life style. Yes, daily life is expensive, but you get a lot of fun in return. So, a lot of people get stuck here. Equally people tend to move to Australia and stay. Not because of the money so much, but because of the ife style. I am forever getting strange looks when I suggest that we are not even contemplating applying for permanent residency, and that we are quite happy to move on when the visas run out.
Both the husband and I, independently and together, used to have a record of moving every two years on average, that’s anything from house and student digs to countries and continents – now we have been in Australia for the alloted two years... Hm, that can’t be good. But then, why rock the boat, break something that’s working, change a good thing?
Must we always listen to itchy feet? We could just have a little scratch, a good holiday somewhere different, and put some cream on that itch. Maybe it will settle down.
But eventually, just when you think you can cope for a little longer, an opportunity comes knocking. And those itchy feet are flaring up again… It's an expat thing. So much world out there, so many countries to potentially live in, how can you possibly sit still for too long. What are we going to do?
We’ll see. Watch this space.
Have an itch to move to Australia? Read my book: "Living Abroad in Australia", available here.
Moving to Australia with Pets
Moving homes? Obviously you want to bring the dog. Or the cat. After all, they belong to the family. But, this being Australia, it is not as simply as sticking kitty in the pet carrier and putting her on a flight. Australian animals have no resistance to the dreaded rabies virus, so the import laws are extremely tight and strict with kitty and the pooch having to jump through numerous hoops and then some before being allowed to accompany you.
Eligibility and Vet Checks
And not all pets are allowed to come. Basically, you can bring cats and dogs, as long as they are older than six months and not of a restricted breed, such as a Pit Bull or other fighting dog variant. Smaller critters such as hamsters, goldfish, turtles and guinea pig will have to stay behind. If you are moving to Australia from New Zealand, you will be allowed to import certain exotic birds and even rabbits. Horses are allowed to be brought in from a number of qualifying countries, not from all.
All pets must be micro-chipped as a means of identification and it needs to be a microchip that can be read by an Avid, Trovan, Destron or other ISO compatible readers. The microchip must be implanted before any further health and rabies testing takes place. Once the chip is in place, it’s back to the vets, this time for rabies testing. The animal will have to have an up to date rabies vaccination, carried out within 12 months of moving to Australia, and the vet needs to be a government approved one to then carry out and complete the Rabies Neutralising Antibody Titre Test (RNAT) Declaration of the application form for an Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) import permit, between 60 days to 12 months prior to your move. According to AQIS 180 days must elapse from the date that the blood is sampled for the RNAT test (with a satisfactory result) before the animal can be released from quarantine in Australia.
Applying for a Permit to Import
Then, your animal needs a Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) import permit. You can obtain and complete the permit online at www.daff.gov.au/aqis/cat-dogs/application, making sure you attach the following documentation: the RNAT test Declaration signed and stamped by an Official Government Veterinarian; the RNAT test Laboratory Report; and a Private Veterinary Attendance and Treatment Declaration – completed by the person listed as the importer on the application form. You must provide Australian contact details (physical street address and telephone number. An address using a Post Office (PO) Box, 'to be advised', or 'care of the animal quarantine station' is not accepted) and a handwritten signature on this form. Furthermore, animals with ongoing medical conditions require a detailed medical letter from the veterinarian, plus full payment via the credit card payment form or check if not applying for the import permit through the eLodge system. This can be quite a lengthy and involved process, but either the experienced vet is able to help with all the documentation, or you could enlist the help of a professional animal export person, who will see you through the entire process complete with vet visits, form-filling and lodging, to getting the correct crate and airline tickets. This is what we did for our dog, and the peace of mind that all the correct steps were taken at the correct time, at a time which was already fraught with all sorts of moving-related upheaval, was well worth the nominal fee.
Once all the forms are submitted and you have the permit to import your animal into Australia, and further last-minute health checks have been passed successfully, the animal is fitted with the right crate and has set off to the airport, the next worry on most peoples’ mind is the quarantine. First of all, if you are moving from an officially rabies-free country, the at least the quarantine is a lot shorter than it used to be, a month most likely, and they seem to sail through it without too much upset.
There are three official quarantine stations in Australia: in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. Obviously if you are moving to any of those cities, being close and able to visit will make things easier, but even if your animal is not in the same city as you, the handlers are so used to the processes that another short flight will not be too much of a worry. Do book your place as soon as you have the official import permit though to ensure you get a place in the city of your choice. The length of quarantine depends on your export country, but in most cases, especially if you are coming from a rabies-free country, it would be between one or three months.
Visas and Immigration to Australia
Unless you are from New Zealand, everybody needs a visa to get into Australia. If you are just coming over temporarily to have a look, it’s easy. You can get an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) online if you hold an US or European passport via www.eta.immi.gov.au/, it takes a few minutes and is valid for 12 months, allowing you to stay in Australia for up to three months once you have entered.
If you want to migrate longer term to work and you already have a job offer, or you have professional skills much sought after in Australia such as doctor, nurse or engineer, then it’s relatively easy, too, with either your employer sponsoring you and your family, and/or you qualifying under the General Skilled Migration Program, the Employer Nomination Scheme, the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme or the SC457 Long Term Temporary Business Visa. (see box for further information)
If you have the skills and funding and the intention of buying or starting up your own business, your options are the Business Innovation and Investor Visa and/or the Business Talent Visa.
If you are coming to Australia in order to further your study and are going to join school, university or a post-graduate research facility, you can apply for the Student Visa Program which has several subsections covering the higher education sector, English Language Intensive courses, primary or secondary school, vocational training. You may also, depending on the type of study intended be allowed in under the Visitor or Tourist Visa.
Under the Visitor Visa umbrella you find the Working Holiday Visa, which allows, for example, students on a gap year to spend up to six months in the country doing light labor; the Investor Retirement Visa, and the Medical Treatment Visa.
And if you are accompanying family, or you already have relatives in Australia who are willing to sponsor you, there are the Partner Visa and the Family Visa.
If you would like to set up home permanently in Australia and would like a Residency Visa, that can be achieved once you are in the country on a Long Term Business Visa and have worked for a couple of years in a Specified Regional Area. The process of obtaining permanent residency is very drawn out, and can take months or even years; it is best done in situ.
All Australian visa applicants must satisfy health and character requirements. The points table has recently been relaxed, but basically scores you higher points for younger age, better English language skills, higher professional experience and academic achievements.
Visa fees vary greatly and range from a mere $20 for a Visitor ETA to several hundred dollars for a long-term visa for the entire family. The charges change regularly, but up-to-date fees can be confirmed online at www.immi.gov.au/allforms/990i/visa-charges.htm.
What I love about Australia
• The heady mix of imposing Eucalyptus trees, tall palms, and majestic evergreen trees, such as the Moreton Bay Fig. Australia is very opulently green.
• Koalas, platypuses, kangaroos and wild cockatoos – for an animal lover this is like a trip to the zoo, only without the upsetting fences.
• Even a single ray of sunshine is excuse enough for the Aussies to sit outside at cafés and linger over breakfast and the daily newspaper.
• The atmosphere in the Melbourne Cricket Ground when up to 70,000 people cheer on their respective Australian Rules Football teams is simply electric.
• Coffee is a culture. Just when you thought Starbucks has a good selection, think again.
• The continent is so manifold that weekend trips will never get boring.
• Pan-fried barramundi with local seasonal vegetables.
• That it is like a reflex to shout “oi, oi, oi” after someone started with “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie?!”
• There is not just ‘a local wine’, but nearly 2,000 vineyards. And they deliver.
• Did I mention the koalas?
• School uniforms take out at least some of the kids’ peer pressure and ensure a quicker turnaround time in the mornings.
• Arriving at the Sydney Opera House for a performance makes you feel like you are treading the red carpet simply because the setting is so stunning.
• Cherry blossom in September.
• Even in the prettiest of parks you will not find a sign telling you to keep off the grass.