The complete guide to moving to Canberra

Updated: Apr 4, 2018

Australia’s capital is a planned city – meaning every bit of manicured garden, waterfront dining and shopping centre was planned to give residents the best possible lifestyle. The city prides itself on being the ’20 minute city’ and that no matter where you are, you can be at work, lunch or the museum within 20 minutes. Thanks to the many universities here, Canberra maintains a youthful air with a very cosmopolitan feel. Plus, with nature reserves and parks surrounding the city, you can be out of the city and exploring the wilderness in under 30 minutes.

Setting up home

Canberra has been cleverly designed to resemble small communities with lots of green space in between, to create suburbs surrounding the central business district. This also means that wherever you live, you’ll be within commuting distance – and there’s plenty on your doorstep too.

Canberra is split in to eight major districts, with smaller suburbs making them up. North Canberra is one of the oldest districts, so much so, some of the houses here are heritage listed. It’s also the district closest to Civic – the retail, entertaining and dining hub of the city. There is a variety of housing options from hip apartments to bigger houses. As with the other districts, you’ll find shopping centres, cafes, schools, libraries and parks.

South Canberra also has some historical features, with the Old Parliament House and the National Gallery of Australia housed here. The suburb of Kingston has undergone a huge redevelopment in recent years, and it’s now home to a number of waterfront properties, plus dining and shopping areas. Although Weston Creek is the smallest district in Canberra, each of the suburbs here has its own shopping centre. It does tend to attract an older population though, so if you’re looking for nightlife this might not be the ideal spot. Picturesque Tuggeranong might be more attractive – and not simply because it’s surrounded by the Brindabella Mountains. There’s plenty to do here to relax outside of work and the Southquay waterfront development promises even more.

To rent or buy

Given that there is so much choice, you might consider renting before committing to buying. Most of the rentals on offer will be through agents. As with most of Australia, the majority of homes will have open viewings and you’ll need to be quick if you see something you like. Spend some time looking through sites like to give you a good idea of how much you’ll be paying out. Rent will be the biggest expense you have and so you want to make sure you can afford your dream home. You’ll need to fill out an application form for many agents, too, so that the landlord can also vet potential tenants. It’s uncommon for rental properties to come with white goods, so depending on where you’re moving from it might be wise to bring those things with you. Check on floor plans to see if they will fit first, of course.  Some of the newer condos will have laundry facilities, meaning you won’t have to worry about where to find room for your washer.

Before signing over a lease for a property, it’s normal for the landlord or agency to request that you take an inspection of the place first. This is important, as it gives you the opportunity to check with the agents that everything is in order. This is especially important as you’re usually required to give up to two months’ worth of rent up-front. If you’re currently renting, you’ll also usually need references from your current landlord – and character references. To speed up the process, think about getting these in writing before you start your house search.

If you know your move is going to be more permanent, buying a house in Canberra is another option. Of course house prices will vary depending on the area. Average house prices are around $675,000 with apartments coming in around $200,000 cheaper.

If you’ve never bought before, you could be eligible for the FHOG – the First Home Owner Grant. It aims to encourage buying through offering financial assistance. However, there have been some changes to how this works and only new-build or substantially renovated properties fall under this scheme. For more of the details, site down and read through for all the latest information.

The ACT also has other financial incentives to help those who have a lower income or deposit to afford to buy. You’ve got three main options when it comes to buying: public auction, private sale or through the tender process. If you’re looking at auctions, you may get a good deal but remember the house will not be sold unless the seller’s reserve price is met. The tender process can also be somewhat stressful, as your potential home will come with a price range and you’ll submit what you’re willing to pay for it – kind of like a sealed auction. The highest or best bid is then the owner of the house.

TIP: Before putting down a rental deposit, or an offer on a house, explore the area. Does it fit with the kind of lifestyle you lead – good schools, great restaurants, close to local transport or the office?


The deregulation of the energy market here in the ACT means that you can seek out the best deal for you from a range of providers. That being said, the market is actually small with only three providers:


Energy Australia


Prices themselves are regulated – so there is a maximum price providers can charge you, which actually increases the competition. Check each of the provider’s websites, but to save on time you might want to look at a comparison website, such as Energy Made Easy to ensure you get the best deal.

There’s less choice with water – it’s supplied only by Icon Water. Your home will already be connected to the water supply, unless you’re building your own home or moving to a new build. Your conveyancer should have informed them of the change of ownership. Billing begins the day you take over the property.

Getting around

Public Transport


Surprisingly for a capital city, Canberra doesn’t have a metro rail service. This means that buses are the main form of public transport. Busses are operated by ACTION, and have an extensive network across the city and in to the suburbs. A single trip will cost $4.90, and a daily ticket is $9.40.

If you’re going to be using public transport frequently, it’s worth investing in a MyWay smartcard. Purchase you card from a local convenience store and then load credit as and when you need. Fares will also be cheaper than if you pay by cash – and it will automatically calculate the cheapest fare for you. Simply tap on and off as you get on and off.

To help you get your bearings, or to help work out if your new home is close to a bus route, the Transport Canberra website is very useful:

Light Rail

Although currently not in operation, the light rail network between the city and Gungahlin should be fully open by the end of 2018, with another planned line connecting the city with Woden.


Taxis are often used as a bit of a treat – as you’d expect from a capital city, they’re not cheap. A five km trip will cost around the $25 mark. There are however plenty of Ubers which are often a better option.

TIP: Invest in a MyWay travel card and sign-up online for automatic top-ups. That way you won’t have to worry about running out of credit or trying to find change for your fare unexpectedly.

Getting a driving licence

Within three months of moving to Canberra, you’ll need to apply for your ACT driving licence. Your interstate licence can be exchanged free of charge at any Access Canberra Service Centre. Your nearest one can be found here:

You’ll need to take proof of identity, plus proof of residency and your existing licence. The range of documents that can be accepted is lengthy, so you shouldn’t have an issue providing the necessary documentation. Sign up to renew online as they will issue reminders when it comes to renewal time. This is ideal because the ACT request renewal on every birthday that’s divisible by 5. You could alternatively opt to pay the $340 fee for a 10-year licence.

Again, Canberra is a surprising capital city in that there is very little congestion on the roads, making it easy – and quick to get around. There are no toll roads either – but there are plenty of roundabouts.

TIP: You’ve got 90 days to swap your licence – do it as soon as you can. If you leave it too late you’ll have to sit your test again.

Registering your car

In addition to getting a new licence, you need to transfer your vehicle registration within three months of moving to Canberra. It will be subject to an inspection to check that it’s roadworthy. You can book this is at an authorised inspection station:

Once your vehicle has passed the test, you’ll need to go to an Access Canberra Service Centre and provide the inspection report, proof of identity and residency, plus the appropriate fees:

It’s worth noting you will also need to provide the registration certificate or your receipt for the purchase of the vehicle. You will also need to surrender your plates when you transfer registration and not every office has a spare screwdriver.

School Options

There are a range of school options for your kids, with Canberra having a good reputation for the education system and the results pupils achieve. There are over 80 public schools run by the local ACT government, with around 50 independent schools, some of which are run by the Catholic church.

All children from age 5 are required to attend primary school, with every child being offered a place at a public school. They’ll stay there until age 12 when they’ll move on to high school. It’s common for students to stay in the same high school until the age of 18, however, there are a number of ‘secondary colleges’ that only take on students who are preparing for the Year 12 Certificate. This allows students to really focus on their end of school qualification, surrounded by students of a similar age and with teachers who can focus their attention on the demands of years 11 and 12.

If you’re thinking of putting your child through a Catholic or independent school, it’s worth knowing that they don’t have to follow the same curriculum as public schools do, so it’s a good idea to have a chat with the staff to work out if this pathway suits the needs of your child. Each school will also have its own fee structure.

The government’s Education Directorate website has a full list of all schools, from preschool to secondary colleges

For younger children, preschool is a popular way to prepare little ones for school life, with a mix of education and play. Every child is offered one year of preschool, usually from the age of four. Canberra also has an initiative called Early Childhood School, which takes children from as young as three to aged eight. This education model puts families at the heart of learning, with a big emphasis on involvement and support from parents or caregivers.


As voting is compulsory for all those eligible to vote, it is important you keep your details up to date and register as soon as practical. It’s also important to actually vote, too, particularly with the current plans to fine no-shows $75.

Provided you’re already on the Commonwealth electoral roll, you’ll simply need to update your details in order to be able to vote in the Legislative Assembly elections. If you need to enrol to vote, or change your details, do so online at the Australian Electoral Commission next Legislative Assembly election will take place in 2020.

Full information on forthcoming elections can be found at Elections ACT:


If you’re looking to keep your four-legged best friends in Canberra, there are a few things you’ll need to know. Any dog over 8 weeks old must be registered. You can do this easily online via Registration costs $54.00, which doesn’t have to be renewed as it is for a lifetime registration. At six months on, your dog will need to be neutered and microchipped. Both of these services can be done by a local vet, the RSPCA or Domestic Animal Services.

There are no banned breeds in Canberra, instead each dog is assessed on behaviour and history. They must be kept on a leash in public places. Designated dog parks allow for your dog to run fee off-lead. You can find your nearest one here:

If you own – or are looking to own – four or more dogs, in addition to the above regulations, you’ll also need to apply for a licence from Domestic Animal Services. You’ll need to fit the criteria for any dog, plus you’ll need to supply a map and photos of your property. A Ranger from Domestic Animal Services will conduct an inspection of your property and consult with neighbours before granting a licence.

If you’re more of a cat person, your female will also need to be de-sexed, this time at three months old. Again, they must also be microchipped in addition to wearing an identification collar and tag containing your contact number or address. If you’re also keeping four or more cats, you’ll need to follow the same dog licencing rules from Domestic Animal Services.

TIP: Check the local suburb rules around microchipping and pet registration, as not all follow the state rule and you don’t want to be given a nasty fine – or worse.

Everyday Life

Recreational activities

Unlike many of the big cities in Australia, Canberra is quite compact. It’s also not near the coast, so surfing and sandcastle building are out. However, there are so many parks and green spaces here, not to mention Lake Burley Griffin which cuts through the city. As such, outdoor activities such as hiking and mountain biking are extremely popular. The plethora of galleries and museums in the city will provide some shelter from the summer sun and a big culture injection at the same time.

The city is also known for its food flare, and eating out whether in restaurants or at pop-up markets like The Hamlet in Braddon, eating is a popular pastime for residents. This extends to grabbing a coffee in one of the local hipster coffee haunts.


As the Australian capital, you’d expect to find big businesses and government employers play a big role in the employment market. The Commonwealth Government is the biggest employer within Canberra with roles in administration, finance, and public affairs. Yet over half of the employers here are private businesses – and they come in all shapes and sizes.

Competition is fierce – employers can afford to be picky. Yet, surprisingly the unemployment rate is low compared to other big cities in Australia. Plus, the rate of pay is among the best in the country, too.

Major industries include public service – including the Royal Military College and Department of Defence. These kinds of roles are often only available to Australian citizens. Other forms of public service include medicine and teaching. The ACT takes great pride in the education standards, and as such is eager to employ outstanding educators. ICT is another big sector, partly due to the administration hub that is Canberra, but also as the city prides itself on being forward-thinking and leading the way with technology.