Some important things about Australia that overseas visitors need to know to help them plan a trip to Australia, with advise on ways to help make their visit enjoyable and incident free.
Facts About Australia
Size: The distance from Sydney, on the east coast, to Perth on the west coast is 3 to 4 day’s drive at a distance of 4025 km by road, which is about a four-hour flight, or 3,279km as the crow flies.
Area: 7,682,300 sq. km.
Population: 22 million.
States: Six states and two territories.
International gateways: Sydney, Melbourne, Cairns, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Townsville, Hobart and Darwin. Most major international air carriers fly to Australia.
Flying Times: To Sydney from London or Frankfurt around 22 hrs.; from Singapore around 7 hours; from Los Angeles around 14 hrs. Some international cruise lines offer stopovers in Australia as part of a world cruise.
The climate is generally pleasant without extremes in temperatures. Broadly there are two climatic zones. In the north, above the Tropic of Capricorn, about 40 per cent of Australia is in the tropical zone. The remaining areas lie in the temperate zone.
However, because of Australia’s vast size, there are variations within these zones. The temperate regions have all four seasons, while those in the tropical zone have two (summer “wet” and winter “dry”). Australia’s seasons are the opposite to those of the Northern Hemisphere.
There are three time zones in Australia – Eastern Standard Time (WEST) which operates in New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland; Central Standard Time (CYST) in South Australia and Northern Territory; and Western Standard Time (WAST) in Western Australia. CYST is one half hour behind WEST, while WAST is two hours behind WEST.
All Australian States except Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland have daylight saving during the summer months.
The language spoken in Australia is primarily English, but due to the multicultural flavour of our country, it is also common to find many regions, especially in Sydney and Melbourne where not everyone understands english. As most “Dinki Di” Australians are well known around the world for their friendly helpful nature, if you have trouble understanding us at any time, we are sure the majority of good Aussies will gladly offer assistance should you need it.
In the tropics lightweight (natural fibres) clothing is suitable all year round. In the southern temperate regions, summers (Dec-Deb) are warm to hot and lightweight clothes are suitable for daytime, but keep a jacket or sweater handle as nights may be cool. For the southern winters (Jun-Aug) sweaters and warmer clothes are advisable.
Currency and Banking
Australian currency is decimal with the dollar as the basic unit (100 cents equals one dollar). Coins presently in circulation are 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, $1 and $2. Note are $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100.
Banks are generally open 8:30am-4pm Mon-Thu; 9:30am-5pm Fri. In some states selected banking facilities are available on Saturday morning. ATM cards can be used in Australia at both ATMs (Automatic Teller Machines) and at participating retail locations, so long as they have been enabled for international access. Such cards usually can be identified by having an embedded chip. Travellers should contact their bank at home for information on availability and an service charges which may be applied while using cards overseas.
Exchange facilities are available at all international airports in Australia. Changing foreign currency or travellers checks can be done quickly and efficiently at most banks or at currency change booths in the major retail areas of Australia’s capital cities.
The most commonly accepted credit cards are Diners Club, MasterCard, Visa, American Express and their affiliates. Use may be restricted in smaller towns and country areas and small retail shops.
Australia’s Major Banks
Advance Bank 13 1346
ANZ Bank 1800 033 285
Bankwest 1800 033 285
Citibank 1800 651 888
Colonial State Bank 13 2484
Commonwealth Bank 13 1818
Macquarie Bank 13 2221
Metway Bank 1800 806 301
National Bank 13 2515
St George Bank 13 2265
Westpac Bank 13 2032
Tipping is not a general custom in Australia, and is at your discretion. Restaurants appreciate tips if the service or food is considered exceptional.
Goods and Services Tax
Australia has a Goods and Services Tax (GST) of 10 per cent on most goods and services such as accommodation, day tours, guides, translators, food, transport (including coach, rail and cruise) and other tourism services within Australia. International air fares do not attract GST. In Australia, by law, all prices quoted must include the 10 per cent GST, payable at the time of purchase.
Business Trading Hours
Trading hours vary from state to state and region to region, but generally the following trading hours are observed by most shops and businesses.
Cities and Major Centres
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday: 9am – 5pm
Saturday: 9am – 4pm
Sunday: 10am – 4pm
Note: many shops in Melbourne do not open on weekdays until 10am, but stay open until 6pm. In Adelaide, Perth, Hobart, Darwin and most regional centres, Saturday trading does not always extend to 4pm on Saturdays; Sunday trading is also often restricted to the city centres or tourist districts.
Australians drive on the left hand side of the road. The maximum speed limit in cities and towns is 60km/h (35mph) and on country roads and highways, 100km/h (62mph) – 110 km/h (68 mph) unless signs indicate otherwise. Strict drink-driving laws apply. Seat belts must be worn by drivers and passengers at all times. In Australia, a drivers licence from your home country or another Australian state is sufficient to drive a motor vehicle in all states and territories, as long as it is current, has photo identification and is for the same class of vehicle you intend to drive.
Australia has a network of Public Phones throughout the country. They are easily recognized by the orange and blue Telstra emblem. The cost of local calls is 40 cents (AUD) with most phones accepting coins and prepaid telephone cards. Long distance call charges vary depending on time of day and distance.
Sundays are an excellent day to make interstate or international calls due to all day discount rates.
Contacting Australia From Overseas
To contact Australia, first dial the country code prefix (61) then the area code without the first zero for instance Sydney would be 2 instead of 02, then dial the required number .
Example 61 2 9999 3662
Mobile – Celular Phones
Australia has five main telecommunications companies, Telstra, Optus, Virgin, Vodafone and Three, which provide a digital network that covers the entire country (Telsta has the most comprehensive coverage). Digital mobile phones will operate in Australia if brought with you from overseas. Rates for Mobiles vary considerably, please consult an Optus or Telstra dealer for details.
Australia’s internet coverage is not yet as extensive as its telephone services, due to the vast distances to be covered and the sparse population across much of the country. The five main telephone carriers also offer internet services, including wireless broadband for use by equipment such as laptop computers, Blackberryds and iPhones. USB connecting modems for laptops are available on long and short terms plans including pre-paid. Rates and coverage varies with each carrier.
You can check your mail or chat with friends and family from any internet cafe, found in cities, larger towns and regional centres, or from any local library offering internet access, prices are around $3 to $6 an hour.
An increasing numbers of businesses in towns and cities across Australia provide either free or low-cost Wi-Fi facilities, which permit access to the internet from laptop computers and other mobile communications devices. An increasing number of cafes provide Wi-Fi service for their customers, as do hotels and motels, though additional charges may apply to use these services.
A full range of local and international postal services (standard mail, air mail, parcels, registered etc.) are available through post offices, which are located in the central shopping precincts of all cities and major towns and many smaller towns across Australia. General office hours including Post Offices are 9am-5pm, Mon-Fri; some of them are open on Saturdays too. Stamps are often available at front desks of hotels and motels and at selected retail outlets.
Australia’s mail service has a very good reputation, but because of the vast distances, it can take up to a week for mail to be delivered within the country. An exprtess mail service is available, which guarantees next day delivery between capital cities and two to three days to or from region centres. The international mail system is very efficient, quick and secure, if you are sending something heavy to Europe or Asia the prices are reasonably cheap.
Strict laws prohibit or restrict the entry of drugs, steroids, firearms, protected wildlife and associated products. All animals, animal products, food stuffs, plants and plant products must be declared. There is no limit on the amount of Australian and/or foreign cash that may be brought into or taken out of Australia. However, amounts over A$5,000, or equivalent must be reported. Travellers 18-years and over may bring 1 litre of alcohol and 250 cigarettes or 250 grams of tobacco duty free. There is a duty free allowance of A$400 per person 18-years and over, or A$200 per person under 18-years. Short-term visitors may bring most articles into the country duty free, provided Customs is satisfied that they are for their own personal use.
Importation of fresh or packaged food, fruit, eggs and egg products, vegetables, seeds, cultures, plants and plant products is strictly controlled. There is up to 6-months quarantine for pets and other domestic animals. Anyone carrying any of these items on arrival in Australia, must tick the appropriate box on the Customs, Quarantine and Wildlife statement. This is handed to you before arrival and must be presented with your passport upon arrival.
Prior to landing on Australian soil, you will be given an incoming passenger card to complete, as well as Customs and quarantine forms. Australia has particularly strict quarantine laws you must declare all goods of animal or plant origin, and you re not allowed to bring fresh fruit or vegetables into the country.
If you re unsure about any items, you should declare them. And if you ve been snacking on the flight, place any leftovers in the amnesty quarantine bins in the arrival area or on the way to the luggage collection bay.
Australian customs regulations allow anyone over 18 to import the following goods duty free: $400 AUD worth of goods, not including alcohol or tobacco; 2.25 litres of alcohol; 250 cigarettes, or 250 grams of cigars or tobacco products (other than cigarettes).
If you are carrying $10,000 AUD cash or more (or foreign currency equivalent) into or out of Australia you will need to fill out a Cross-Border Movement Physical Currency (CBM-PC) form. If asked at the border, you must also tell a Customs or police officer, if you are carrying any Bearer Negotiable Instruments (BNIs) also known as promissory notes, travellers cheques, personal cheques, money orders and postal orders.
Even if the BNI has no face value (for example, a blank cheque), it still needs to be disclosed to a Customs or police officer on request. You will be given a form to fill out if required.
Visitors can bring reasonable quantities of prescribed medications. All should be clearly labelled and identifiable. For large quantities, bring a doctor’s certificate to produce to Customs if necessary. Chemists can fill most prescriptions but some may need to be re-issued by an Australian-registered doctor. In the event of illness, your hotel can call a doctor or refer you to one, or you can call your country’s High Commission, Embassy or Consulate General for a list of doctors. US and Canadian visitors are not covered by Australia’s national health insurance scheme. It is recommended that you travel with adequate travel insurance.
Vaccinations are not required unless you have come from or visited a yellow fever infected country or zone within 6 days prior to arrival.
Visa and Passports
If you are not an Australian citizen you will need a valid visa or Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) to enter Australia. With the exception of New Zealand citizens, all foreign nationals must obtain a visa/ETA before travelling to Australia. New Zealand citizens are issued with a visa on arrival in Australia. With an ETA, you don t need a stamp in your passport, as they are confirmed electronically on your arrival.
Standard three-month tourist visas are valid for multiple entries over one year. Six-month visas are also available. If you enter on a three-month visa and want to stay longer, you may be able to extend your visa. Contact the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (Ph. 131 881). Apply at least a month prior to expiration of your visa.
Citizens from Britain, the Republic of Ireland, Canada, the Netherlands, Japan, Korea, Malta, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Hong Kong aged between 18 and 30 and without children can also apply for a 12-month working holiday visa, which allows the holder to work for up to three months with any one employer. Visas must be arranged several months prior to travel to Australia.
How do I apply for a visitor visa?
Application forms can be obtained by contacting your closest Australian Consulate, Embassy or High Commission. You can also apply in person.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Visa?
In person: US and Canadian citizens, for example, can generally receive a short-stay visa while they wait.
By mail: Allow at least 21 working days. Secure and Express Mail (not courier services) are recommended.
Do I Have To Pay A Fee?
If you intend to stay in Australia for three months or less, no application processing fee is payable. However an application to extend your stay after arrival will incur a fee. Processing fees may also be required to accompany an application for a visitor visa where the intended stay in Australia is more than three months. Visas in this category may authorize a stay for up to an additional three months. Any further extension will cost a further fee. Longer stay visas are normally for 3-6 months stay.
How long Can I Stay in Australia?
As a visitor you are expected to apply for a visa which covers the full period of your intended stay. Visitors are generally granted a maximum of six months stay in any one twelve month period. As a visitor you are not allowed to be employed or take formal study in Australia unless you apply for and are granted a working Visa. Conditions apply. Non-formal study may be taken for up to three months (but there are limitations on extensions for study purposes).
Visits of Three Months Ar Less
The Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) allows you to be in Australia more than three months, its like a visa but you won’t have to submit an application in any government office, you can obtain an ETA by internet also, citizens that can obtain an ETA must be from the following countries: Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong SAR, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States Of America and the Vatican City. New Zealanders don’t require a visa for visiting Australia, but the rest of foreigners do. UK, Ireland, the US, Canada, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan and several European and Scandinavian countries citizens who are travelling to Australia for less than three months can also apply for an ETA.
There are two types of ETA, one is the Visitor ETA, valid for 12 months with stays of three months or more in each visit, the other one is the Short Validity Business ETA also valid for 12 months with stays of three months or more in each visit and can be used for one or more entry travel.
How should I lodge my Visa Application?
The application form must be signed by the applicant personally. All persons travelling on their own passport must complete an application form. Each passport holder will be Issued with their own visa. Children under I8 years of age must provide their birth certificate showing both parents. Any parent listed on the birth certificate who is not a visa applicant along with the child, must provide written consent to the child travelling Or evidence that they will accompany the child (travel bookings and written copy Australian or NZ passport or valid visa for Australia.
When applying by mail, include a stamped self-addressed envelope large enough to enable the return of your passport. It is your responsibility to ensure that the envelope you submit bears the necessary postage markings to enable return of your passport by certified registered, express or special-delivery mail.
There are often additional processing requirements non-US and non-Canadian citizens, including evidence of status and, where applicable, right of re-entry to the USA. Please check with your local Consulate and generally allow more time for processing.
Temporary working visas can usually be obtained by people sponsored by companies or an employer in Australia. Permanent entry is generally restricted to those people who pass a rigorous points test, unless you are being sponsored as a spouse or fiancee, or dependent child.
For further details go to Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs contact your closest Australian Consulate, Embassy or High Commission.