The Best Areas To Live In Sydney As An Expat

Discover the best places to live in Sydney and around plus essential tips on settling down in the New South Wales capital.

The New South Wales Capital oozes sophistication and style. Lounging around the shores of the harbour, it’s become home to more than an unmistakable opera house. 

Making a home in Harbour city means knowing the essentials from the best beachside coffee to the best areas to live in Sydney.  

The best areas to live in Sydney 

1. Newtown

For singles or young couples, Newtown demands attention. Newtown is a reformed character with a twinkle of a racier past. A constantly changing and complex delight. There are edible offerings from every wave of arrivals, from Lebanese and Indian to vegan boundary pushers. 

Expect to see a significant amount of facial hair and vintage-style bicycles among the coffee roasteries and street art. It might not be cheap in Newtown anymore, but it’s certainly cheerful. 

 If you’re keen on a city pad and desperate for a dog, Newtown has one of the few inner city parks where your furry friend can run off the lead. Commutes into the city are incredibly brief, and there is easy access to everything central. 

Newtown is bustling, busy and best for unabashed city mice.

Studio apartment prices start at around AU$670,000 and 3-bedroom townhouses, at around  AU$1.6 million.  Rent starts at AU$430 per week for a studio or from AU$1,100 per week for a townhouse. 

2. Surry Hills

Surry Hills sits next to Newtown. Surry Hills has left the edgy phase behind for a refined bar and restaurant scene. Most Surry Hills residents are young, without children and making the most of their freedom. The nights are late but impeccably dressed.

 Commuting into the city is a breeze, and walkable for most people. In this neighbourhood, there are plenty of the best things in life, but sadly they won’t be free. The median sale price in the area is AU$2 million and the average weekly rent is around AU$900 per week. Don’t miss the artisan market on the first Saturday of every month. 

3. Kirribilli and Cremorne

Anyone who likes independent cinema, quirky boutiques and dining options should head for the inner north shore. Cremorne and Kirribilli are ideal for young professionals on their off hours or as a base to enjoy the city. 

If money is no object, then Kirribilli is a beautiful place to raise a family. Packed with cute cafés and delightful delicatessens and boasting stunning views over the harbour, it’s a gem. Having said that, it is pricey. For that reason, many people opt to move further out to grow their families. The median price of a house in the area is AU$3,821,700 and while there are cheaper properties, they certainly don’t become cheap. 

Best Sydney suburbs 

1. Westmead

Westmead makes its mark, good for young professionals, with a bit more give than a city centre existence. Expect to see traces of hemp clothing, a few beards and a nice mix of different people in Westmead. 

It’s a forgiving 40-minute commute into the city or less to Parramatta. The area has convenient access to a good public school and a large hospital. Westmead isn’t quite as manicured as some suburbs, but it’s one to watch. For small families, who don’t want 100% suburban, but don’t want to raise children in the inner city, Westmead calls. 

A presentable 2 bedroom unit starts at AU$450 per week, but there are also lovely 3 bedroom options with balconies for around AU$500 per week. Occasionally a family home will even sell for below 1.5 million. 

2. Mosman 

For retirees and established families, look to Mosman. It boasts the beautiful balmoral beach, a reasonable commute into the city and a relaxed, affluent atmosphere. It’s leafy, full of attractive villas but also tasteful harbour view apartments. The public schools are of a particularly high standard and so are the options for a macchiato stop with a view. Expect to meet a lot of people in immaculate gym wear.

 Tasteful 2-bedroom units start at AU$1.3 million and freestanding 3-bedroom homes will set you back around AU$3.5 million. Rent costs an average of AU$650 per week for a 2-bedroom apartment or around AU$ 1,400 per week for a 3-bedroom house. 

3. Normanhurst

For families looking for a quieter, more affordable North Shore option, consider Normanhurst or Thornleigh.  Property prices are reasonable, with family homes suitable sometimes coming in under 1.5 million. The public and private school options are solid and the commuting time to Parramatta is short. Even getting into the CBD itself, takes around an hour. Especially useful for those who have hybrid working patterns, but still need to get in a few days a week.  

The only thing the areas lack are developed shopping streets or major centres, but they are hardly isolated. What you lose in casual retail therapy, you gain in green space and leafy streets.

Rental prices run at around AU$480 per week for a 2-bedroom unit or AU$750 for a 3-bedroom house. To buy, a garden apartment can cost from AU$700,000 or a family home from AU$1.3 million upwards. 

4. Baulkham Hills

Baulkham Hills is in the broader Hills district, known for tree-lined streets and a traditional suburban feel. It has plenty of play parks, green spaces and one of the most competitive public schools in the city. There is a metro connection into the city, but by and large, it’s a quiet place to come home to with more breathing space than Sydney usually offers. Prices for a family home start at around AU$1.5 million for a freestanding 3 bedroom with a garden. 

Most people who live in Baulkham hills own their properties but if you rent, expect to pay about AU$600 per week for a 3-bedroom home. 

Living in Sydney FAQ

Is Sydney safe? 

Sydney is the safest city in Australia and boasts lower crime rates than New York, London and Paris. Theft, assault and corruption rates are all low and locals report feeling safe walking in the city at any time of the day, with most even feeling safe wandering at night. No special security measures or watchful eye on your wallet are standard in Sydney. 

Sydney does have the hallmarks of any city. Residents lock their doors at night and when they go out, people don’t leave their keys in the ignition or hang around dark alleyways. Most of the time this only reflects caution, and personal experiences of crime are relatively rare. 

Where not to live in Sydney

Despite being relatively safe, Sydney is still a big city with a few rougher edges. Blacktown, Liverpool and Mount Druitt are all known as deprived areas and have comparatively high crime rates.

Most residents are just going about their business, but visitors should be aware of the increased risk of violence or theft.  

Is Sydney well-connected?

Australia is a fairly large country, but Sydney is a good place to start whether you’re heading overseas or making a domestic journey.

Flying is the quickest way to get around the country or abroad.  The airport in Sydney is a major international terminal and also provides a regular range of domestic flights.

If flying doesn’t appeal, then train journeys are an option. Sydney is connected to most major Australian cities by train including Canberra, Brisbane and Adelaide.

Not every train journey is economical though. For example, the Sydney to Darwin line is a once-in-a-lifetime scenic experience, but it will set you back far more than the petrol. The same goes for heading up into the blue mountains. 

Driving is generally cost-effective and simple on Australia’s extensive and well-maintained road network. Just make sure that your vehicle is in good repair and that you know what to do in case of a remote breakdown. Australia’s sheer size can come as a surprise, especially to British and Irish arrivals. 

Is Sydney expensive? 

Sydney isn’t the most expensive city in the world, but it is hard on your bank balance. It ranks as the most expensive city in Australia and Oceania overall. The cost of accommodation is the main culprit, but here is a breakdown of some common costs. 

 Housing 

 Housing costs vary across the city according to area, views and type of property. As a guideline, the average rent (2022) for a 1-bedroom apartment in the inner city is about AU$2,600 per month or AU$1,900 outside the central areas. For a 3 bedroom, the average in the city is around AU$4,900 or AU$3,100 outside the centre. 

The median sale price for a Sydney property (2022) is around AU$1.3 million. A family property in a central suburb will rarely cost less. A small apartment will start around AU$700,000. 

Public transport

A monthly public transport pass costs just under AUD 220 and a single journey within central zones is AUD 4.50 for buses, trains, light rail and most ferries. Just watch out for where you need to change. Passengers need to swipe at the end of each journey or pay the maximum fare.  

Groceries and dining out

Groceries in Sydney are in line with the Australian average. Supermarkets are standard, although you can sometimes spend less in a world food supermarket or more in a delicatessen.

 Eating out is marginally cheaper than the national average. A budget meal for 2 people might cost AU$40 but fine dining could cost AU$400  with wine. The food in Sydney is incredible and because of the number of options, anyone willing to look can find whatever they’re craving at a comfortable price. 

 Internet and utilities

The average cost of utilities for a Sydney household is AU$190- 270 per month including internet, water, gas, electricity and rubbish/garbage collection. 

 Cars

 Petrol in Sydney costs around AU$1.70, this is refreshingly low for many British and European new arrivals but nothing to write home about for North Americans. Car insurance costs an average of AU$1,440.00 per year in New South Wales.  

Parking in the CBD can be costly and rented weekday spaces begin at AU$400-600 per month. 

 How much money do you need to live comfortably in Sydney?

Your lifestyle makes a difference but to cover necessities and a couple of small luxuries, a family of four will need about AU$8,000 per month. A single person will need about AU$4,000 per month

Is public transport good in Sydney?

Sydney’s public transport system is comprehensive. Hopping on a bus, train, ferry or tram makes most anywhere within the city accessible. Public transport is generally reliable, clean and safe.

Nine ferry routes criss-cross the harbour, making for a scenic way to travel but also a practical commute for many residents. 

Buses cover all city areas and suburbs, and crucially in the summer, they are air-conditioned. Buses also take passengers right to the famous beaches at Bondi and Manly, where trains stop short of the shoreline. 

Trains run out towards Richmond, Emu Plains, Tallawong, Berowra, Cronulla, Macarthur and Waterfall. 

Trains and ferries run until midnight, depending on the route. For anyone wanting to skip a cab, night buses run from the centre to specific suburbs between midnight and 5 am. 

 Paying for public transport is simple, especially for those used to an oyster card. Sydney runs on the Opal system, travellers preload credit onto their card and then tap their card as they begin and end journeys.   

Can you live in Sydney without a car?

Yes, if you live somewhere fairly central and don’t have children or pets you need to transport. Living without a car is viable in the city centre and central suburbs. Especially if you have the option to rent a car for any one-off occasions or longer trips. 

Living in an outer suburb, or with a family in tow, it’s convenient to have a car to get around or head off the beaten track. 

What are the pros of living in Sydney?

1. Beautiful beaches

Golden sand and beautiful people on Bondi beach are world-famous symbols of Sydney. On the world’s best-known beach, no one is disappointed by the warmth, sun or people-watching opportunities.  Bondi lives up to its blonde bombshell reputation, but if you prefer surfing then head to Manly Bay. 

There are too many gorgeous beaches in Sydney to name but many of them come with a special bonus, ocean pools. Netted or partially closed tide pools, perfect for swimming laps in salt water or swimming safely with little ones.  

2. Celebrations

Without celebrations, it wouldn’t be Sydney.

Whatever time of year, new arrivals are swept into a calendar of fun and festivities. Some highlights are the extravagant exhibitions and parades around Chinese New year, the huge Sydney Mardi Gras and the cerebral Writers Festival. Not forgetting the iconic New Year fireworks over the harbour. 

3. Histories old and new

Sydney has history, and it encourages history to develop in its streets. Wander 19th-century Victorian shopping arcades and the Australian Museum to take a look at the past, the indigenous art gallery is an absolute must-see.

Stretch further outside the modern world and watch the timeless, expansive sunset over the Blue Mountains. Count the thousands of new histories being written by the harbour lights.

Sydney has so much ancient and modern history that nobody can learn every story, but it’s fun to try. 

What are the downsides of living in Sydney? 

1. Extreme weather

Weather makes itself known in Sydney. Usually an advantage, but sometimes dramatic. Occasional floods can be disruptive. Areas to the Outer West and North West of the city are typically worst affected. 

2. Wild wildlife

There are a few venomous spiders and snakes. It’s sensible to learn some basic techniques for avoiding poisonous species and teach younger members of the family not to approach snakes and spiders. They don’t appear often, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. 

3. Cost of living

Sydney is expensive. Renting or buying, accommodation in Sydney is likely to feel steep. Sydney is among the top 10% of the world’s priciest cities and that means your pay packet will need to stretch. 

The final thoughts on living in Sydney

Sydney is busy and beautiful and everyone knows they’re lucky to be there. Arrivals and old hands find it easy to love and hard to leave. It is modern Australia at its most distinct, the tiniest bit demanding but completely delightful.

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Hannah Morby
Hannah Morby

Hannah is a freelance writer based in picturesque Carmarthenshire, the UK. After winding her way around the world, living in New Zealand, Yorkshire and the Home Counties, she is now settled closer to her childhood home in Wales.

Having left a career working in higher education, she now enjoys life as a copywriter, mother and chief zookeeper to a small menagerie of cats, dogs and chickens.

You can contact Hannah on LinkedIn: Hannah Morby

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