Why are so many Britons leaving Australia?


Thousands of Britons emigrate to Australia every year in search of a better life, but now more and more are deciding down under is not for them and returning home. The same trend seems to be happening to Australians deserting the UK. Why?

Despite a fierce sporting rivalry between the British nations - especially England - and Australia, the countries enjoy very close ties. It's a bond cemented by the thousands of Britons and Australians who travel to the other side of the world in search of a new life.

For many, it's a dream come true to visit and eventually settle in a country that's far away but also very familiar. Britons are attracted by the outdoor lifestyle, sunshine and sense of space, while Australians are drawn to the history, the adventure and the UK's proximity to the European mainland.

Many end up settling down in their new country but in recent years, for an increasing number, it's not the one-way trip they had intended.

Despite Australia's booming economy, more than 7,000 British people left the country for good in 2009-10 - the largest emigration recorded in recent memory - according to figures from Australia's immigration department.

UK citizens permanently leaving Australia

Between 2005 and 2010, nearly 107,000 Britons settled in Australia but during the same period more than 30,000 decided to permanently leave. And the feeling appears to be mutual, with fewer Australians arriving in the UK.

The difficult economic situation in the UK goes some way to explain why fewer Australians should be heading there, but it's more surprising that the expat British should be leaving a booming country in exchange for one still struggling to recover from a recession.

Chief among the reasons why the British are leaving include missing friends and family, and lacking a real sense of belonging, says Prof Roger Burrows, a sociologist from the University of York who has studied the phenomenon.

"The people who don't settle have always lived close to their friends and family [in the UK] so any move comes as a shock.

"If they live in a bungalow in the suburbs of Adelaide, it gets lonely. There isn't a culture of going for a drink after work and the TV is terrible."

Start Quote

Jono Coleman

When I was in London in July this year it was much cheaper to eat out than in Sydney and Melbourne”

End Quote Jono Coleman Radio DJ

Some people went to Australia for the heat but ended up hating the warmth, the flies, and having to cover the kids in sun cream all the time, he says.

"It's not about living by the coast in the sun - it's about living in a dull flat in suburbs that don't have any real infrastructure."

For some migrants, moving to Australia can be a source of sorrow and regret for people for the rest of their lives, he says.

Not everyone leaves with bad memories though. Tom Armstrong, a 41-year-old father, moved back to London this year after four happy years in Sydney, because of a new job opportunity at his media company. But a big bonus was being reunited with friends and family in the UK.

"We moved out to Australia because my wife wanted to be closer to her family, and we had four fantastic years there. It was a wonderful lifestyle with friendly people and a very high quality of life.

"If I could get all of my friends and family out there to live, and I had the right job, then living in Australia would be a no-brainer."

Some British people complain about a lack of culture and history, he says, but that depends where you live.

"Sydney and Melbourne are world-class cities with plenty of great things to see and do, but outside the big urban areas life is definitely less colourful and probably more of an acquired taste. The biggest drawbacks for Brits in my opinion is the long distance from friends and family."

Martin Gilbert, 47, will move back to the UK with his English partner next year after 24 years in Australia.

Why one Briton is leaving...

Australia has been good to me. Certainly I've had some good times here but there is something fundamental and soulful missing here for me.

My parents are getting older. I miss seeing my friends' kids growing up but I think it is the small day-to-day things you miss rather than major events.

Australia has become more and more expensive. In fact I think it is more expensive than parts of the UK.

I think life in England is tougher and more competitive but that is a good thing sometimes.

Here I feel like I'm on the outside looking in and don't really understand why.

I think people come to Australia expecting it to be England with sunshine. But nobody is lounging in the sun, day in day out.

"Australia has been good to me. Certainly I've had some good times here but there is something fundamental and soulful missing here for me."

Life in England is tougher and more competitive, he believes, and that's something he has missed. Plus he hasn't been able to shake feeling like an outsider, even after all this time, and Australia has become more expensive in recent years.

It used to be that you could come to Australia from the UK for a cheaper lifestyle, says radio DJ Jono Coleman, but no more.

"All of the basic commodities - bread, fruit, milk - are more expensive. When I was in London in July this year it was much cheaper to eat out than in Sydney and Melbourne.

"The cost of petrol has also risen. A friend of mine recently took his two children to the cinema and it cost $85 - about £40 - just to see a movie.

"Many Brits came here expecting a land of milk and honey. If you had pounds you were like the king of the castle but not anymore. Now they're saying: 'Hang on, it's too expensive here.'"

Coleman falls into the "ping-pong Pom" category - he was born in the UK, raised in Australia and then returned to London to host a radio breakfast show, only to head down under again in 2007 to be near his very frail mother.

...and why Aussies are leaving the UK

While still coming in their droves, there's not much doubt there are fewer Aussies than there used to be working during this time, or staying beyond their temporary visa for employment.

The Australian economy is booming. Using their strong dollar to buy lots of weak pounds, the Aussies no longer have quite so much need to work to pay their way while they're over here and that means fewer travellers take temp jobs such as pulling pints at the local pub.

Some of our readers have told us they wanted to stay in the UK at the end of their two-year visa, but finding work was too difficult at a time of rising unemployment.

Others cite limited career progression or low wages (one even suggested it was a lack of good coffee!) coupled with expensive public transport and rising house prices.

So for some, the lure of a growing economy, good job prospects and a decent salary - not to mention guaranteed sunshine and beautiful beaches - back home is too much to ignore, at least for the moment.

We know that the love affair between the UK and Australia is far from over. It's an ongoing relationship which, like any relationship, has its ups and downs. But we're both in it for the long haul.

Many other Australians have done the same thing as Coleman in the last few years and headed home, but usually for economic reasons, citing fewer job opportunities. More are also staying away - about 14,000 fewer Australians came to the UK last year compared with 2005.

"For young Aussies, it will always be a rite of passage to travel to Britain on a working holiday visa," says Carol Driver, editor of TNT - a free weekly magazine aimed at Antipodeans in the UK. But fewer Australians are following that well-trodden path from the southern hemisphere.

"The lure of a growing economy, good job prospects and a decent salary - not to mention guaranteed sunshine and beautiful beaches - back home is too much to ignore, at least for the moment."

Despite these recent trends, many restless young Britons and Australians will continue to strike out for the other country in the years ahead.

Now in his fourth stint living in one of the two countries, Coleman says it's hard to place one of them above the other. But for him, Australia just shades it.

"If you're broke, where would you rather be? Sitting in a park in the rain in London, or in a park in Sydney looking at the ocean?"

Thanks for your comments.

My husband and I moved to Perth around two years ago for work opportunities and we seem to be settling in pretty well. It's taken time and effort though and I don't think we'll ever stop getting bouts of homesickness from time to time. It's the little everyday activities that you get a real longing for - like the normalcy of popping out for a coffee or a beer with friends you've had for years. Being away from your friends and family certainly makes you appreciate them more. If only we could move everyone out here!

Jo Manning, Perth, Australia

I moved to England from Australia 11 years ago and still love it here. I think that people who say Australia lacks culture must have gone over with closed minds. The culture is there, but it's very different to here. It is much more marked than I'd imagined.

Chris H., Dartford, UK

I grew up in Australia but moved to the UK for 8 years and had a great time there. I would love to move back to the UK but can't due to visa restrictions. The politics, media and total lack of culture here are very hard to live with once you have seen the wider world.

G Lawson, Gold Coast, Australia

We moved to Australia in 2008, and have just moved back to the UK. I regard the lifestyle and kids prospects as far better in Australia, but my partner was determined to return, as our parents are now all in their late 70's. I wouldn't be surprised if the kids move back there when they try and find a decent job - and I'll be going with them!

Graham Allott, Sheffield, UK / Martinsville, Australia

I'm a ping pong Brit, having gone back and forth to live and work many times over 20 years. I find the work culture and work opportunities in my business much better in Oz, but the fantastic countryside, literary culture, and the sense of belonging lured me back. The Australian culture can be quite anti-Brit at times, and the UK culture can be overwhelmingly negative.

Liz Wright, Whitchurch, Herefordshire, UK

We arrived in Australia six months ago. The cost of living is very high here - having climbed a lot in recent years. The quality of life relative to income is probably worse than in the UK as many things are twice as expensive and salaries are perhaps 1.5 times higher. Many people probably move here thinking it'll be like living a holiday, then discover it's not and that it's just like living and working elsewhere, but hotter.

Andrew Inkpin, Melbourne, Australia

I moved to Melbourne in 1999 from Derby, England. I would never move back to the UK. For my young family the lifestyle here is much better and I believe much safer. If I had to confess, the only thing I do miss is the old English pub.

Neal Winter, Melbourne, Australia

I emigrated here in 2004 to be near my son & family. When I came I was getting $3+ to the GBP. My income comes from UK in the form of the State Pension (frozen at the rate you leave). Plus a private pension. Now at to-day's rate I will get $1.59 to the pound sterling. I have deliberated about returning to UK but the thought of the miserable weather, my family here is determining that I stay put.

Mary Edwards, Melville, Australia

I'm an Australian who came to the UK in 1979 "just for a couple of years" but ended up staying on. I would comment on the decrease in Australians coming to the UK and remaining here that educational requirements for obtaining other than a working holiday visa have been toughened up.

Helen E Stephenson, Chislehurst, UK

I moved to Adelaide along with around 25 other British families back in 2005. Most have returned to the UK with only 4 families remaining. The greatest reason was to be close to relatives and the high Australian cost of living. Another common reason was the lack of heritage and soul. This latter reason is one that I can associate strongly with - I certainly laughed more when I was in the UK. Nevertheless, Australia is a country of great opportunity.

James Obrien, Adelaide, Australia

Our kids have much brighter futures in Australia. It's safer, healthier, cheaper, and if they want to we'll be able to send them to university without remortgaging our house.

Michael, Melbourne, Australia

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