The complete guide to moving to Cairns

Updated: May 4, 2018

Taking its name from the State Governor of the day Sir William Cairns, the city of Cairns was officially founded in 1876 as a frontier town to support the gold rush. Since then however, it has transitioned into a city which offers so much more.

Located in North Queensland, Cairns is a tropical city and is considered the gateway to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef; a natural wonder which generates much of the tourism the area is known for. In Cairns you’ll find Australia’s infamous coffee culture in an abundance of cafes, bustling markets or if you prefer to soak up the sun - there’s beautiful beaches and the Esplanade Lagoon.

Setting up home

With Ellis Beach to the North and the Johnstone Shire boundary in the South, Cairns lays in the coastal strip between the Great Dividing Range and the Coral Sea. The Cairns region is where reef meets rainforest, and as a result it has the perfect climate; balmy yet still somewhat warm. The temperate combined with Cairn’s laid-back atmosphere, stunning scenery and friendly locals means that Cairns is a place that both domestic and international visitors choose to make their home.

To rent or buy

Buying a property whether as a home or an investment is a big decision, so finding the area that’s right for you is just as important as the property itself. If it’s your first time in Cairns we recommend that you either rent, or stay in a hotel for a short period of time. This will enable you to explore the local areas and see which neighbourhood you are most drawn to.

Rental properties in Cairns typically hover around the $400pw mark and are mostly managed by agents, rather than private landlords. If you’re looking to rent a property in Cairns then it’s vital that you have the necessary paperwork ready. It’s typical behaviour in Australia for landlords to vet potential tenants so don’t be surprised if they ask you to fill out an application form. In addition to this you should also have a reference from a previous landlord together with a form of identification and a character reference. You can save time with rental application forms by filling out your details on 1form;​​an online rental and tenancy application designed for applying for multiple properties.

It’s important to remember that rental properties in Australia vary and come in one of three states: furnished, unfurnished and partially furnished. You’ll need to check with the letting agent to see what’s included with each tenancy, but as a rule of thumb; white goods generally aren’t included as standard. Some newer builds often have laundry facilities but this isn’t always guaranteed.

Tips:​When you’re looking to sign a lease be sure to do an inspection of the property first. This will give you the opportunity to check that everything is in working condition, and if anything is broken you can make a note of it prior to your moving in so that you are not held accountable for something which you did not do.

If you know that your move to Cairns is for the long term and you’re looking to buy a property, now is a good time to do so. For the past few years house prices in Cairns have moved sideways however, this is expected to change during 2018 amid employment figures and sustained tourism growth. The latest City Watch report shows that the median house price is around $450,000 but the region remains generally affordable.

If you haven’t yet stepped foot on the property ladder, now could be a beneficial time to do so - not just because of the stability in terms of property prices, but because you may be eligible for Australia’s help to buy scheme, otherwise known as the First Home Owner Grant (FHOG). The FHOG is applicable to those whom haven’t owned property before and it’s a viable option if you’re looking to purchase a newly built or newly modelled property. Youcan find the latest information on the FHOG here.​

If it’s not your first time buying property and you already know that Cairns is the area for you, it’s as simple as picking a suburb. You can purchase property through private sellers, auctions, agents or by purchasing off-plan but your best bet is to settle down with a glass of wine and peruse​or​to see how much house you can get for your money.


Moving house requires a lot of work—not just with the initial setup that’s involved with choosing where to live, but with the paperwork that’s involved once you’ve chosen your property. Sorting out your utility company is one of those things which is often forgotten about until the last minute, but the best time to change/connect your utilities is actually a few days prior to moving in.

Setting up your energy suppliers before you move in will provide you with time to speak to different providers and compare prices prior to your move-in date. When it comes to Electricity, Gas and Water you have a great deal of freedom in choosing your suppliers however, with so many viable options it can sometimes be difficult to narrow down which supplier to proceed with. Setting up your utility changes prior to moving in means that you can settle in with ease and truly take the necessary time to find the supplier which is right for you, rather than rushing into it last minute.

Some of the key energy providers in Cairn include; Energy Australia, AGL and Origin Energy however, there are also many smaller companies available. Having so many options can be overwhelming at times, but there are comparison sites, such as that can help you to make an informed decision by comparing energy prices/tariffs directly. As with any contract, before signing, you should always ensure that you have read and checked the small print to ensure that there are no hidden costs involved.

Getting around

The regional council in Cairns has provided over 450 km of off road paths, bike lanes and wide shoulders to ensure that the city is suitable for cycling around. On the days where you’re not looking to walk or ride however, the following options are available:


Buses run all over cairns from the southern suburbs to the northern beaches. There is a well connected bus transit network within Cairns city with two hubs; the Cairns Central Railway Station precinct and the Cairns City Bus Station. The public transport link is managed throughout the city by Translink and most parts of the city are covered by the transit system, from Palm Cove (North), to Gordonvale (South) and Redlynch (West). In addition to this there is also a smaller service called Jon’s Kuranda Bus, which is a shuttle bus service running between Kuranda and Cairns.


Train services in Cairns are operated by Queensland Rail which offers regular services between Brisbane and Cairns. The trains on offer include the Sunlander and the high-speed Tilt train, with the former being chosen as one of the world’s top 25 rail journeys by the Society of International Railway Travellers!

Sea Port

Located on Trinity Inlet, Ports North is the closest port to the Great Barrier Reef and has become increasingly popular. The port is small and multipurpose but has become a rest and recuperation destination for visiting naval and international cruise ships, as well as tourist and private crafts.

Getting a driving licence

Within three months of moving to Cairns, you’ll need to transfer your current licence and apply for a Queensland driving licence. You can apply for a Queensland licence for the same class as your existing foreign or interstate licence.

In order to do so you will need to:

  • Complete an application form

  • Provide proof of identification with evidence​ of your identity documents,​ including proof that you live in Queensland.

  • Provide a medical certificate which states that you are deemed medically fit to drive.

  • Pay the licence​ fee​- the cost will vary depending on how long you are looking to have a Queensland license for.

Please note that depending on the licence you are transferring from, you’ll need to bring the following with you:

  • Transferring From A Foreign Licence

You’ll need to bring your foreign licence together with an English translation from a recognised translation service.

  • Transferring From An Interstate Licence

if you are transferring from an interstate licence you’ll need to bring your interstate licence with you as you will be required to hand it in in order to obtain your Queensland licence.

It’s important to know that any and all documents that you provide must be originals—certified copies or photocopies are not acceptable. Please note that the department may need to verify your documents with the issuing agency and therefore may need to keep a copy of your evidence of identity documents, or information about your documents, in order to do so.

Registering your car

Whilst you’re at the Transport and Main Roads customer service centre it makes sense to register your car at the same time. Unlike with your driving licence, the grace period for registering your vehicle is much shorter - as you have to register your car within 14 days of moving. To register your car you’ll need the following paperwork:

The fees for this will vary but to give you an idea of what to expect, you can get an online quotation from:

School Options

Dotted around the suburbs of Cairns there are a number of great public and private primary and secondary schools available locally. Cairns state schools offer an accessible high-quality education with a curriculum which covers a broad range of subjects. The Queensland school system begins at Prep stage and runs until Year 12, with four terms a year. Once a student reaches the end of year 12, they are faced with a choice, where they can decide to go into work placement, study at university or sign up for a higher learning institution.


Voting in Australia is compulsory at all levels - whether state or federal and so, if you’re an Australian citizen and over the age of 18, you are legally obligated to vote. To exercise your right to vote you’ll need to ensure that you have enrolled, which you can do by filling out this online form from the Australian Electoral Commission:​ Alternatively, you can complete a paper form which you can obtain from the Electoral Commission office or an Australian Post Office.

Everyday Life

Recreational activities

With its close proximity to the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns has become an international hub for water activities—scuba diving, whitewater rafting, kitesurfing and snorkelling to mention just a few. But the gorgeous landscapes means that skydivers and hang gliders are attracted to the area also.

Come night time Cairns’ atmosphere develops a different vibe, with the laid back beach culture transforming into that of a strong party. Bars, pubs and clubs open until the early hours of the morning and provide residents and visitors alike with a chance to meet new people.


In Cairns, Health Care and Social Assistance is amongst the largest employers per industry, making up 15.3% of total employment. In addition to this, due to its enviable location, travel and tourism has bought a boost to the local economy and created a vast increase in employment opportunities—not just in retail or hospitality, but with a significant boost to the construction industry, causing construction jobs to be at their highest level since May 2013.