COVID-19 advice from an international student

05 Jun 2020

This article has been kindly contributed by Charlie Wong, an international student living in Sydney, Australia. Charlie is a final year MBA student at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and shares with us her real-life tips for surviving COVID-19.

Self care isn’t selfish!

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had a profound impact on our day-to-day lives, and we are all experiencing heightened anxiety, confusion and isolation. It’s completely fine to be not fine! Which is why it is important for every one of us to stay alert and connected. There are a number of international students who have decided to remain in Australia, myself included. How can international students get help and support from the Australian government or any other organisations during these trying times? I attempt to answer this question and provide you with some information and useful resources in my blog below.


It’s very crucial that international students stay in touch with our education providers during this time for any updates and information on accessing online classes. Many universities have already taken their classes online via Zoom and MS Teams or have paused them altogether while making arrangements to move them online. This includes lectures available via email or canvas and blackboard or through the university website.  Some are even being live-streamed to create a virtual classroom experience, especially for those practical lab workshops. Here is a list of education providers detailing their COVID-19 responses as well as the Australian Government advice for international students - Study Australia website.

Accommodation and Food

For international students who have any concerns about your accommodation, you should contact your accommodation provider. If you currently hold a lease, the usual rights and responsibilities apply.  Rights and responsibilities are different based on which you live in, please refer to your current state’s Consumer Affairs website. Different charities and institutions have come to the aid of international students struggling to survive. Many international students have mentioned that  a large portion of their money goes to the rent,  hence less is spent on meals and food. National food rescue charity Oz Harvest has delivered more than 300 kilograms of food to the students in the past two weeks.

The Australian Government has introduced a 6-month moratorium on evictions on rental arrears if you are experiencing financial hardship or disadvantage due to COVID-19, which means if you are unable to pay rent because of loss of job during this time, you will not be evicted for at least 6 months.  You can try to negotiate with your landlord but should be cautious about agreeing to rent deferrals where you have to pay back the rent later – this may place additional stress on your finances in teh future. Find out more information about renting during COVID-19 here. Many institutions have launched an international student financial hardship grant in order to support international students with their daily expenses and housing subsidy.


Many businesses in the retail and hospitality industry have been severely impacted and some may have even closed down, putting many international students out of work. The Australian Government has relaxed restrictions on international students who are employed in certain sectors, including those enrolled in nursing and aged care, allowing employers to offer more hours to international students. For more information on working in Australia, visit the Department of Home Affairs website

If you are without work and now find yourself in the position of needing additional funds, you should try to contact your university or education provider’s financial office to see what they can do to help you with your current situation. Or try looking for any financial hardship grants or loans on your education provider’s website.

Health and Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC)

Whether you are feeling unwell or not, it is important to know and understand what your OSHC policy covers. This includes being aware that COVID-19 does not change any of the benefits associated with OSHC cover. For more information on the specific cover relating to each health provider and the policies they offer, refer to your health cover provider’s website.

If students are feeling physically unwell or think they may have contracted COVID-19, health information and advice is available in English and multiple languages, on the Australian Government Department of Health website

CBHS International Health also offers great resources to help identify symptoms and advice on what to do if a student suspects they might be ill. Check it out here.  

Hacks for COVID-19 times

The circumstances we find ourselves in today is very different to what we were used to, and for international students who are in a foreign city away from our family and friends, this can be a time of stress and anxiety. It’s so important that we stay in touch with our friends and family by phone, email or social media to maintain our mental health. Video chats can help with the feeling of being isolated and lonely, with apps such as Zoom and Google Hangouts offering great free video calls. Other apps, such as Houseparty adds another dimension with friends, allowing online gameplay. 

During the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong in 2008 (in which I experienced firsthand), we learnt the importance of social connections through epidemics. The residents in Hong Kong experienced increased social connectedness during those difficult times, which offset the negative mental health impacts of the pandemic. As connections are important during these uncertain times, here are some tips on staying connected. Remember – we are all in this together.

If there is someone you think may struggle through social isolation, it is important to reach out to them and let them know you care:

  • Call them to check on their welfare
  • Send them a text message
  • Leave a note under their door
  • Here are some ways to stay connected if self-isolating:
  • Set up a gratitude tree – where every member posts a message or sends a text to other members to share something they are grateful for.
  • Find a buddy, or group of, to set daily challenges with. These could include a healthy habit, a mindful practice, a creative pursuit. Be sure to encourage and check in daily to stay motivated.
  • Set dates and times to watch the same TV shows/movies with someone and message each other your thoughts along the way

Lastly, Where to go for support? 

It is extremely crucial to seek out help if you feel you need it. These are some organisations I found helpful for everyone who needs help:

  • 13 11 14 operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Lifeline Text 0477 13 11 14 operates from 6pm – midnight (AEDT), 7 nights a week
  • Lifeline webchat operates from 7pm – midnight (AEDT), 7 nights a week
  • Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636 or click here

We hope these tips help you through these tough times, and we are always here to help if you need more information.

Hang in there and take care of yourselves!