Evacuating Australia

With the news that Australia's 100mbit (and potentially gigabit) fibre to the home is to be abolished and replaced with a cheap 25mbps service using Europe's ADSL hand-me-downs (which will be obsolete in 5 years when the deployment is finished), I've had quite a few emails from people asking just how easy it is to move abroad like I did.


The acoustic modem has a nice retro look

Word has got out that I've been spending some time in Switzerland enjoying the world-beating rate of IPv6 deployment. That is not the only reason to leave Australia of course, nor is it the only criteria for people choosing which country will give them a better deal than either of the two non-choices we had in Australia's elections.

A free $20,000 for leaving Australia

The first good news is that any recent graduate with a big bad ugly HECS bill is only obliged to pay this extra tax when they earn a salary from an Australian employer and file an Australian tax return. Australians who live abroad are not automatically obliged to file tax returns and are not slogged with this extra tax for having attended university. If somebody just graduated and has this hanging over their head, or if they've just started working and seen how much is being deducted on the payslip, moving abroad could make a lot of sense financially. If you have any moral qualms about this, just reflect on the fact that the Government gives away enormous amounts of money for things like the redundancy payment to Craig Thomson. Ignoring your HECS balance while abroad is perfectly legal just like tax deductions such as negative gearing that help rich landlords get richer. Many of those sitting in parliament today, increasing university fees every year, went through university themselves at the time when it was completely free.

The easiest route: a second passport

One in four Australians has a parent born abroad. Most of those people qualify for a passport from their parent's country of birth. In some cases this also applies to people with grandparents born abroad.

With the European Union now spanning 28 countries and guaranteeing the rights of any citizen from any EU country to live, work and study in any of the other 27 countries, a passport from any of the EU countries gives a lot of choices, including places where I have lived myself such as the UK, Ireland, France and Switzerland.

Europe's citizen-friendly immigration

In other words, an Australian with an Italian parent can go up to the Italian embassy in Canberra, collect an Italian passport and immediately fly into London and start working there with no bureaucratic delays, invasive and degrading medical checks or other Government interference in their life.


London's nightlife is popular for Australians. The UK started rolling out their high speed 21CN many years before Australia started the NBN.

These basic rights also transfer automatically to all family members (spouse and children) - an Australian with a second passport is not constrained to living in Australia simply because they are married to somebody who does not have a second passport. As long as they arrive together at a European airport, they can simply show a marriage/birth certificate (in any language) and cross the border immediately, enjoy the same rights as a citizen, including work, study, healthcare and better broadband. No paperwork is necessary, no cottage industry for otherwise unemployable immigration agents, these are basic human rights for those living in Europe.


Eiffel tower: potentially part of the wireless network for France's new 4G internet, potentially two to four times the fixed-line speed planned for Australia's crippled broadband

Uncle Sam wants more Australians

Although it is not widely known, the US has a fast lane for immigration from Australia. The regular programs for skilled visas in the US are usually exhausted every year, whereas 10,000 "E3" class visas for Australians are never fully taken in any year.

Surely it's not that easy to go to the US? It is. To qualify, an Australian only needs a university degree and a suitable job offer. Although the visa is for 2 years, it can be renewed and Australians who meet and marry an American often go on to gain full residence rights or citizenship.

Anything is possible, you could even end up becoming a NASA Astronaut.


San Francisco, home to leading technology professionals and innovators from many countries. Some US cities such as Austin and Kansas City have let Google install fibre to the home, San Francisco could follow

Working holiday schemes are not just for Britain

Most Australians know somebody who went to London on a "working holiday" visa. These visas are not just for the UK and Australia has similar reciprocal programs with many other countries too.

The rules for these schemes are rooted in the industrial age concept of workers with punch cards. Participants are typically limited to work 20 hours per week. Of particular interest for those in IT, such rules are hard to quantify for freelancers, web designers or creative people who earn their living charging fees per-project or undertaking management work without specified working hours.

Although the visas are limited to 4 years, I've heard of Australians benefiting from the open borders of mainland Europe, spending 4 years in one country and then obtaining another 4 year visa for an adjacent country and travelling freely back and forth, building up a business and lifestyle of their own design.

Singapore and Hong Kong

Singapore and Hong Kong have become enormously popular destinations for Australians, particularly those with special skills in IT, finance, engineering and international business.


Singapore is respected as one of the cleanest and most orderly cities in Asia while embracing significant diversity in dining, shopping, leisure and lifestyle possibilities. They have recently boosted speeds to help people get a full 100MBit over fibre. A SIM card with high speed broadband charges SGD 7 (about $5) for 1 Gigabyte.

These are destinations that are more suitable for people already established on their career path. They are not necessarily destinations that a graduate can easily move to. People are measured by their salary and the Government simply assumes that anybody earning a high salary is going to make a valuable contribution to society and they are given a visa in 1 or 2 weeks. Usually 3-5 years employment experience is required before making a move to one of these countries. The Not Ordinarily Resident (NOR) scheme gives some hints about the minimum salary level that ex-pats aim for, many earn significantly more with bonuses, stock programs and properly engineered tax-free offshore pension arrangements.

These countries offer particularly low taxes (around 10%) and great technology. They have some rough edges too: like Europe, spouses are automatically given a visa too, but in contrast, their visa does not permit them to work unless they also work in a profession that is highly paid. Visas are issued quickly but they are also canceled very quickly if the job is terminated or the company goes bust. There have been various stories of people paying the typical 2-month deposit on an appartment in Singapore and then finding that it is forfeited when their job and visa are canceled and they have 4 weeks to leave. The bottom line is that people moving to these locations usually have a wide professional network and confidence to change their job quickly if necessary.

Freestyle immigration and the visa run

Not too long ago I was at a house party in Prague, Czech Republic. Somebody introduced me to some Americans who I was told had similar interests in technology.

They were operating an offshore web site and living very well (if you guessed it is either a gambling, dating or porn web site, you are right, it is one of those). They had spent 10 years in Prague living on tourist visas. Authorities seemed quite happy for them to remain as long as they left every 3 months and spent 1 night abroad, a typical visa run. That could be as simple as a train journey to Vienna, Austria and an overnight stay.


Making a visa run in comfort and style with European railways. The Railjet train pictured includes free wifi, a lot cheaper than the $20 billion Tony Abbott plans to spend rolling out yesterday's technology in Australia

When the EU expanded and more of these eastern European countries abolished border controls, this system became much more convoluted for those who depend on the visa run. However, it remains common in many Asian and Latin American countries and ex-pats continue to live like this.

To make this effective, the ex-pats typically need to have an international private health insurance policy (high quality offshore policies can be found quickly with a search engine) and not aspire to work in a normal 9-5 job.

Conclusion

Young Australians might not want to just consider travel, it may even become unavoidable. The reality is, by 2020, one in three Australians will be a retired baby boomer and one way or another, whichever Government is in office will be unable to avoid taxing those of working age to pay for the health care and pension promises made to older generations. Serious expenditure on public infrastructure such as broadband or high speed rail appears to remain a pipe dream.

Moving abroad, however, has always been fun. Look at the way multinational companies make countries compete to attract their new factories and other projects: why should any individual citizen be any less demanding in choosing where they work, play, surf the net and get the best value for whatever taxes they have to pay?

Some people raise questions of patriotism or responsibility to the nation. Think again. The 200,000 Australians who live abroad or travel extensively make a significant contribution to Australia's international profile, engage in new trade initiatives, bring skills back to Australia and generally represent what our country is really about.