After the COE: The Definitive Guide to a Smooth Transition to University in Australia

You open the mail and you’ve just received your Confirmation of Enrolment. Congratulations! You show it to the folks and they’re proud of you and how you’re going to be spending a tidy sum of their savings on a piece of paper. In a couple of months, you’ll be landing in Australia to study, live, work and maybe even travel. You ask yourself, now what?

Here’s a checklist:

  • Flight Tickets.
  • Visa
  • Health Check
  • Health Insurance
  • English Skills Assessment
  • Character Check
  • Academic Records
  • Income Statements
  • Accommodation
  • Packing

Flight Tickets

Perhaps you’ve been overseas before, but I doubt you’ve had to live on our own. There are a couple of things you’ll need to get done before you fly. First off, book flight. The sooner you book one, the cheaper it’ll be. Ticket prices also peak sharply around late January and July when students flock back to Australia. You’ll probably save a small sum with an earlier departure date especially if your folks are flying with you. Look up your University’s Orientation Days and be sure to land at least a couple of days prior to yours. It is advisable to get settled in before you orientation. Once Uni life kicks in, you might become overwhelmed. You should definitely attend your orientation. You’ll get shown around on little tours and get to meet new friends. All administrative matters, student cards, OSHC, enrolment and timetables will also be settled on O-day too.


Unless you’re coming to Australia under really strange circumstances, you’ll be getting a student visa. You’ll be able to apply for everything online. You will need your COE to apply for the visa. Start off here and select the “higher education”. While the process is done entirely online, you will need to prepare several things in advance. Keep in mind, some of these items will take time to complete and you’ll be unable to submit your visa application. Make sure you get on these early, early, early!

Visa Checklist:

  • Confirmation of Enrolment
  • Health Check
  • Health Insurance
  • English Skills Assessment
  • Academic Records
  • Character Check
  • Income Statements
  • Application Fee

The first requirement as mentioned is your COE. Without it, you will not be able to begin applying. You’ll also need to get a medical checkup at a panel doctor that is recognised by the Australian Department of Immigration. You’ll be screened for general health problems and contagious diseases like TB and HIV. You will have more pressing concerns then getting a visa if you fail your medical. You’ll have to take a chest x-ray and give blood and urine samples. These tests will take time to process and until then, your visa application will be left hanging. The first ting you should do after receiving your COE is to get a health check appointment. Your doctor will lodge your medical results directly with the Immigration website saving you the hassle with paperwork.

It is a requirement of your visa that you maintain health insurance while residing in Australia. The Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) is your best choice and will cost you about $382 AUD per annum. OSHC is an insurance that will cover you for most medical and hospital care while in Australia. This includes limited ambulance and pharmaceutical services. Note that you can get OSHC from several different providers and your university might suggest one for you. Worldcare is one example. Click here for more information on OSHC. A useful piece of advice, if you plan to head back to your home country for more than a month during holidays, you can suspend your OSHC coverage for that period. OSHC will not cover you outside of Australia anyway. This time will be then added to the end of your cover, effectively extending the length of your cover.

Since you have your COE, you’ve probably met the English language requirements set out by your university. You’ll need some evidence of this for your visa application. Generally, this refers to your IELTS results however, there are some pre-university courses that offer recognised English subjects that you may use. You’ll also have to submit a copy of your academic history. Make sure you still have the original copy of all your transcripts and school leaving certificates for this purpose.

You will need to show proof that while in Australia, you will be able to pay for  your travel, tuition and living expenses. Ensure you have met the financial requirements. Most students are fully funded students, under a FAM scholarship (Father And Mother). Evidence will range from income statements to scholarship documentation.

Last but not least, there is an application fee for your student visa. It isn’t cheap, but it’s probably dwarfed by your tuition fees anyway. You’ll need a credit card on hand to complete the application with the payment. Once thats submitted you can breathe a sigh of relief and rest your computer-weary eyes.


Welcome to the biggest headache you’re going to tangle with as a student, housing.  While it varies from place to place, this is a general guide. Here are the basic types of housing you can find:

Type Pros Cons
Student Accommodation - Easy to apply offshore.

-  Lots of other International Students

-  Facilities

-  Close to campus

-  Comes furnished

-  Can be costly.

-  May have slow internet.

-  Strict rules.

-  High moving out costs.

-  Old and abused

Private Accommodation -  May be very cheap if you share.

-  Flexibility: no curfew, furniture

-  Options to choose from

-  More locations

-  Quieter for studies

-  House parties!

-  May also be costly

-  Difficult apply for, offshore

-  Loneliness

Residential Colleges -  Great social environment

-  Easy to apply offshore.

-  Meals provided for.

-  Tutoring available.

-  On college work.

-  Close to campus

-  Great chance to mix with locals

-  Activities

-  Very very expensive

-  Strict rules

-  Isolated from the rest of the world.

-  Prepaid meals: obligation to eat in.


Host Family/ Homestay -  Food provided for.

-  Warm family environment (hopefully!)

-  Opportunity to experience local culture first hand.

Cheap Affordable

-  Must observe and respect their rules culture and religion.

-   Fixed meal times.

-  Curfew (maybe)

-  May be poorly located

-  You must be very tidy

Room/Couch Cheap Affordable

-  Meet locals.

-  Easy to apply offshore.


-  Unscrupulous landlord

-  May be poorly located

The safest option for your first place will be either a residential college or student accommodation because they are easy to apply for and secure offshore. If you happen to have a money tree in your backyard, consider opting for being babied with a residential college experience. Don’t expect a Hogwarts, or an American Pie style dorms. Colleges offer a study-life balance and a fantastic opportunity to mix with the local Aussies. If you hate cooking, or can’t be bothered, college even offers meals, tho some may be off questionable quality. If college life is a little too expensive, look into student accommodation offered by the likes of Student Housing Australia (SHA), College Square and Unilodge among others. While such accommodations are much less active in organising social events, you’ll be surprised how many course-mates and friends you find living in your building.

Homestay is a less common but nonetheless a great option to consider. You’ll get to live with a born and bred Aussie family, and experience local culture like nowhere else. Homestay is generally cheaper then other forms of accommodation and meals are provided. In exchange, you’re expected to pull your weight around the house and help with chores and such. If your friends and family consider you to be friendly, helpful, tidy, tolerant and (more importantly) tolerable perhaps you should sign up for a host family. The only downside is fixed mealtimes and perhaps even curfews. Homestays may also be located someways from your campus so be prepared to spend some time and money travelling. Girls will also have a much easier time finding a host family, tough luck guys!

For the daredevils (or financially challenged) out there, you can definitely try sharing a room or renting a living room. It’s out there, it’s dirt cheap and it will keep your life exciting. Many other students or young working Aussies are looking to exchange their privacy and perhaps their couch to help cover rent. You’ll need to look on websites like gumtree. Since this arrangement is casual, you’ll have to be careful of prospective sub-lessors pulling out at the last minute. Make sure you have a backup plan and inform someone of where you are going to stay. If you have the chance, meet up and have a coffee with your potential sofa-landlord to get a feel of them. Keep an eye out for couples who have put baby making on hold, eager to rent out spare rooms.

Finally, private accommodation. In inner Melbourne or Sydney, this is real estate war. While there seems to be an abundant supply of rental properties on the market, don’t be fooled. Demand tends to exceed supply unless you’re looking for a one bedroom apartment on the 37th floor for $400 a week. Here’s the main problems with private rentals:

•  You can’t apply to lease a property unless you have inspected it (requirement by law). You can however get someone to inspect it for you in proxy. Expect twenty to thirty people to show up to inspections.

•  Private rentals only get listed about a month before availability. This makes it difficult to plan for housing anymore than a month in advance. Student accommodation will let you book a place way in advance. Therefore you’ll need to be in Melbourne almost about a month before you want to start renting. Where will you be living at the time being?

•  Leases are for one year. You may well find yourself paying blind rent if you head back home during the long summer break. Worse still, should you choose to move, you may find yourself paying double rent when the leases overlap.

•  You may have to furnish your apartment which is just really difficult to do offshore.

I’d recommend private accommodation for your second year, but not your first rental unless you know someone in Australia who is willing to help you out. You can check you private listings here.


Now that we’ve gotten the hairy bits out of the way we can focus on the fun stuff, shopping! Depending on your flight (you’ve booked it already right?) you’ll have about 25 kilos of check in baggage. Plan your packing accordingly as baggage surcharges can be very costly. Also keep in mind that the maximum weight per piece of luggage is 32 kilos so the baggage handlers don’t pop a spine. You’ll need to pack according to which part of Australia you’ll be studying as the weather varies across Australia. Your pre-departure briefing will have more specific advice on this. Don’t worry too much about bringing food from home as you can probably buy it here for a little bit more. Don’t forget that you’re here to study, not put on a fashion show everyday at Uni, so don’t overpack clothes (unless of course, you’re studying fashion). You might also cave into peer pressure and decide to buy clothes here. Coincidentally, my girlfriends claim the shopping here is better. Try to bring clothes that you can layer when it get colder and don’t forget to pack something waterproof for those rainy days. For the love of feet, please bring some reasonable walking shoes, I’m talking to the girls here. Something useful to bring is a multi-socket extension cord. You’ll only need one adapter for all your chargers, electronics and such.

Check your checklist!

Make sure you’re really ready to fly a few days before your flight. That way you’ll spend your last hours saying your farewells and not last minute packing. When you’ve checked off that last box, you’ve just cleared your first hurdle to student life. Hope you’re ready for the rest of it.

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1 Comment

  1. Jchan says:

    This should be an ongoing series dedicated for overseas students. Very good post

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