New York vs Sydney – Which is a better city to live and work

New York vs Sydney – Which is a better city to live and work

As always with such comparisons, it really depends on what’s important to you. Sydney and New York are both fantastic places to live and work, but they’re different in style, climate, outlook, size, and many other ways. “Better” for you may not be better for someone else. Your question would be easier to answer if you defined what your version of “better” is.

Qualification: I’m a New Yorker who lived in Sydney for 9 years (2002-2011) and worked in Melbourne.

A couple of up-front comments. Overall, Melbourne and Sydney are more alike than they are different, so unless otherwise noted, assume most of my Sydney comments cover both. Also, on all economic questions, the exchange rate obviously makes a huge difference–it has ranged from less than US$0.50 per Australian dollar up to about $1.10 over the past fifteen years. My gut-feel PPP conversion is about one to one.

Cost of living

Surprisingly, NY is cheaper than Sydney on most measures. Food is between half and two-thirds the price (both in grocery stores and in restaurants), with exceptions for food extensively produced in Australia (lamb, mangoes). Taxis are less than half the cost in NY, and public transport is about 30% cheaper.

Books are half price. Identical goods available in both countries (iPads, Ikea furniture) are consistently 20-40% more expensive in Australia (although this has come back with the decline in currency–as noted above, currency effects are hard to untangle here).

Housing, of course, needs its own discussion. I agree that New York is expensive, but it’s not quite as simple as some might think. Because neither Sydney nor Melbourne has a core that’s as clearly delineated as Manhattan is within New York, and living in the center is less desirable,

New York vs Sydney Which is a better city
New York vs Sydney Which is a better city

New York vs Sydney – Which is a better city to live and work

people often compare rents in (say) Tribeca with rents somewhat further afield in Sydney in suburbs such as (say) Glebe. If you want to rent a house in Queens, it won’t cost you more than a house in Ryde would, and it would probably be cheaper to buy (note that part of the problem is that Australian sale/rent ratios are higher than in New York, especially New York outside Manhattan, making comparisons more difficult as well).

The issue is not necessarily that you pay a lot more in New York, but rather that towards the center you get a lot less. For $6000/mo you can get a nice-ish two or three-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side; for that price, you can get a modern four-bedroom house in Leichhardt.

Some areas in which New York is more expensive include most experiences (if you want to send your kids to gymnastics lessons, brace yourself), and arguably education (private schools in NY are about 20% more expensive–but some would say the gap is greater, as the Sydney and Melbourne public schools are usually very good, while NY can be a little patchier, and thus perhaps private schools are more necessary there).

Quality of life

While it depends on what you value, Sydney dominates New York on most of these measures. It’s cleaner, less crowded, sunnier, and warmer. Both cities (and Melbourne) are quite safe outside of a few pockets.

I find both cities quite friendly, although New Yorkers tend to be more transactional than Sydneysiders. Sydney has the beach right in the city, and you can surf before work. You can own a car and park free most of the time in Sydney. There are fewer rats and less snow.

One point in New York’s favor: Australia has the same alcohol subculture as the UK, with plenty of twenty-something men wandering around drunk on Saturday night being obnoxious. A lot of Sydney pubs have rubber mats on the sidewalks outside to protect men (and it’s almost all men) who fall down drunk as they leave.

How do Melbourne and Sydney, Australia compare to New York City in terms of cost of living, quality of life, and culture?


So…New York is better. It has opera, symphony, and ballet on every night; much more theater, more live music, more art galleries, more starving comedians, more and better museum…more of everything.

Having said that, for 90% of the population, both Sydney and Melbourne have more than enough of whatever it is that you like. Yes, you can only see six operas a year in Sydney, and the singers will be weaker than in New York, but a) how many operas did you attend last year, and b) can you tell the difference? Yes, New York has ten times as many restaurants as Sydney, but how many do you need?

Where I notice the differences in culture, all in favor of New York are:

– Planning ahead–if you want to see a play in Sydney, you’ll need to buy tickets in advance and mark it on your calendar. In New York, you will have your choice of a dozen productions at the last minute.

– Museums. The Met is just better than anything in Australia.
– Anything very specific. If you want to see the Gypsy Kings, they’ll be in New York before they’re in Sydney. If you like Uzbek food, you’ll find more of it in New York.


Things most people don’t think about when comparing the two cities, but they should:

– Pretty much everywhere in New York is accessible by public transportation without a lot of fuss. That’s not the case in Sydney; if you’re far out and not on one of the handfuls of suburban train lines, you’ll need to drive.
– Australia is far away from everywhere, including Asia. Singapore is an eight-hour flight from Sydney. Your vacations will be mostly domestic unless you have a lot of time and money.

– Sydney has better Thai food and a broader sweep of cheap Asian food, but it is far behind on Mexican food
– If you live in Australia, when you call your friends and family back in the US (or vice versa), it will be morning for one of you, and people aren’t nearly as chatty in the morning as they are in the evenings.

New York vs Sydney – Which is a better city to live and work

– American football is live in Australia on their Monday mornings, given the time zone. This can be good or bad, depending on whether you can sneak out at work.

I lived in Sydney for 35 yrs and visited New York for 1 week so I may not have a full perspective. I do think New York is more exciting than Sydney.

Just the variety of things to buy, see and do is greater than Sydney. Also good quality food cheaper, somehow more ‘honest’ and more interesting in New York. Supermarkets better and more interesting in New York. Thus New York better for a single person.

Sydney is basically just a showy tourist destination eg most food is either fairly generic suburban Thai, Indian, pizza, etc or else try hard pretentious (still does taste nice overall, however!). Sydney has a beautiful harbor, and some real culture, but not as deep as New York.

I think I have an interesting perspective to add to this. I grew up in neither city, but moved to Melbourne a few years ago, then moved to New York for work.

Soon after moving to New York I was so disappointed by the standard of living in the US (particularly in NY), that I decided to break contract and come back to Melbourne.

A few of things really stood out to me…

Food – Melbourne has the highest density of restaurants and cafe’s of any city in the world. The standard for produce and food in general is extremely high. In the US, food tends to be a little cheaper, but the quality is WAY lower. Even when you pay more for better food. They just don’t have the same high standards that we benefit from right across Australia.

Poverty – Almost everyone in New York is poor. Like the kind of poor that we rarely see in Australia. While most people in Australia have plenty of disposable income and well paid jobs, right across the US people struggle to make ends meet. New York is specifically bad. Extreme poverty is EVERYWHERE. To me it felt like I was in a third world country when compared to Australian cities.

Taxes – In New York you pay taxes similar to what you would in Australia. But you get pretty much nothing for it. The culture is much more “every person for themselves”, and that seems to extend to services. When you are used to being looked after so well and having ready access to excellent public services and infrastructure, that can be quite shocking.

Those were the main differences I noticed. There were plenty more. In almost all of them Melbourne came out best. Sydney is a great city too. But it reminds me a little more of New York, which makes it seem quite inferior to me.

Suffice to say, I packed my bags and moved back to Melbourne at a great financial cost, now very confident that I prefer high standards to quick money.

New York vs Sydney – Which is a better city to live and work

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