And we’re here! After about 19 hours in the air, and about 6 more waiting in airports, we arrived in Wagga on the afternoon of July 7 and checked in to The Lawson Motor Inn, where we are staying for 10 days courtesy of Lisa’s employer. When we checked in to The Lawson, the extremely perky desk clerk asked us “what’s your home address?” We just look at one another, laugh, and say “This is it!”
After quick showers, we headed out to start knocking a few items off the to-do list.
The first item on the agenda was to go to Commonwealth Bank. We opened an account a few weeks ago (while still in Canada – gotta love the Aussies and their love of online everything!), and deposited some money by wire transfer. But, before we could actually access the account, we had to show up in person and present our passports, visas, etc. We then ordered ATM cards, and applied for a credit card. These cards will be mailed to Lisa’s office, as we don’t have a permanent address yet.
Next stop was a mobile phone shop to get phones. We figured it would be pretty difficult to do anything without being able to call or be called, so this was a top priority. We also wanted a task that wasn’t too challenging, since we were still a bit tired and sluggish from the long journey. Ha! This proved to be a challenge in itself, given that all the things mentioned in the previous paragraph – i.e., ATM cards, credit cards, address – are required to do almost any financial transaction in Australia (except open a bank account).
The Australian government has a 100 points of identification policy to do many things. Different pieces of ID are worth different points: passports are worth the most, drivers licenses are good, credit cards are good, then things like telephone bills and other ‘official’ documents with a name and address are also useful. To do most things, you need to add up to 100 points with a variety of pieces from each category. So a passport, a license, a credit card….present those three things and it should be good, according to the government website. All great in theory, but in practice it isn’t that easy.
For example, the government says a passport is worth 70 points, but most places we have been (such as the mobile store) say this is worth only 30. And the government says non-Australian documents are fine for new arrivals, but the standardized systems of big companies can’t figure out how to handle them, so our Canadian credit cards are worth 0 in reality. And our Alberta drivers licenses aren’t really worth much, especially since they have an address that is obviously not current (or local).
So despite being able to get a bank account (shouldn’t financial crime such as fraud and money laundering be what this system is trying to prevent?), getting telephones turned out to be a serious challenge. Our credit cards did nothing for us, and Dan’s birth certificate was pretty ratty, so the guy in the store wouldn’t take it. Lisa had her birth certificate, and our marriage certificate, and her passport. Those will add up to 100 on the government scale even though the company’s requirements seemed a bit different, and eventually they decided we could have phones (of course, it may have helped that the manager’s mother had the same problem when she moved here from North America; we’re all for playing the sympathy card at this point!). We decide on new iPhones, figure out the packages we want, and the guy starts processing it.
Despite having more liquid assets than ever before in our lives (split between a Canadian bank and an Australian bank) and a stellar credit rating in Canada, we have no credit history here. So, we couldn’t sign up for mobile plans! In the end, we bought the phones outright and went on pay as you go (our Canadian credit cards still love us, so we’ll continue to gather Aeroplan points for trips home; looks like there is a bright side!). In a few months, when we have an Australian banking history, we will be able to go on a monthly plan if we want.
We have to say, however, that the guy helping us in the mobile store was extremely helpful. He did everything he could to facilitate this transaction, trying every possible workaround to get us connected. We couldn’t help but compare this to our experiences with mobile phone shops in Edmonton, where the staff pretty much hang around, texting friends, and have absolutely no idea what customer service is. They probably would have shrugged and mumbled “nothing we can do, eh…”
The next day, we started to tackle the next, and biggest, item on the to-do list: finding a place to live.
Because we have no credit history, we have to rent for a few months until we can get a mortgage. Rental properties are managed through real estate companies here, and we have been scouting these out on the web for the past little while. We went to several agents, saw a few places, made appointments for a few more, and ended up putting in an application for one of the houses we liked. This, again, required coming up with ID (again, their criteria didn’t quite match the numbers on the government’s official list but what we presented seemed to be sufficient), and presenting reference letters from our bank in Canada, Canadian utility companies saying we always pay our bills, copies of our credit reports saying we are good financial citizens, etc. Luckily, Lisa planned ahead for all of this, securing letters from anyone and everyone we’ve dealt with in the past decade. Still, filling in the rental application was a bit of a challenge in places, such as calculating our financial status. They want to know how much we make and how much we spend. Well, Lisa makes a lot of money, Dan makes none. And we have no idea what we will be spending because we don’t know what things cost. In theory, this system is a good one, as it means that people don’t end up in houses they can’t afford. But again, in practice, it doesn’t account for anyone outside of the norm, which we very much are right now. So, paperwork filed, and we wait…
Saturday, we went to look at cars. We did a test drive, and talked to a salesman a bit, but the whole issue of credit and identification never really arose. He did see Dan’s license, and didn’t seem concerned that someone with a Canadian license was going to buy a car. In fact, he’d been to Banff (!); he hadn’t made it to Edmonton on that trip, but he knew all about the “really big mall”.
We’re sure that this will all get a lot easier in the near future, as long as we get the house. As soon as we get an address, we can get new licenses. We will have ATM cards and credit cards. We will be real people, who can get credit, and do things like normal people. Until then, we live in a hotel, drive a rented car, and pay as we go.