Australia’s stable political system, well-maintained roads, low crime rate and high standard of health care make it a safe and relatively easy country to explore. However it’s important to be aware of potential environmental hazards, such as bushfires, rough surf and extreme desert heat. You’ll need to be thoroughly prepared for outback journeys and long bushwalks or hikes, and take sensible precautions in regards to sharks, crocodiles and poisonous animals. With the following common-sense tips, you can safely enjoy Australia’s unique landscapes – from the vast outback to wild ocean beaches and pristine wilderness tracts.
Australia has a stable political system and low crime rate on a world scale and so Australians experience a safe lifestyle. It is generally a safe destination with tourists enjoying unhindered travel experiences in terms of their personal safety and security. However, as with all travel at home or away, you should observe the same precautions with your personal safety and possessions.
The Australian sun is very strong. Always wear a shirt, hat, sunglasses and SPF 30+ sunscreen lotion, even on cloudy days. If spending the whole day outdoors, reapply sunscreen regularly. Stay out of the sun during the middle of the day when the sun is strongest. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
Bushfires – fires in general
Australians live with the risk of bushfires. The danger period is from late spring to summer and during this time observe some simple safety precautions. Before setting out on a journey, inform yourself of bushfire risks through TV, radio and newspapers reports. When camping, use designated fireplaces and comply with road warning signs and total fire bans. If you must light a fire, always extinguish it completely with water.
Swimming between the flags
Australia’s beautiful beaches can hold hidden dangers in the form of strong currents called rips. Avoid them by always swimming between the red and yellow flags - they mark the safest place to swim on the beach. Lifesavers wearing red and yellow uniforms generally patrol beaches during the warmer months of October to April, but some of the most popular beaches are patrolled all-year round. Never swim alone, at night, under the influence of alcohol or directly after a meal. Always check water depth before diving in and never run and dive into the water from the beach.
Sharks and crocodiles
Shark attacks in Australia are very rare, however may be fatal. Shark netting on Australian beaches deter sharks, but you can further reduce your risk by always swimming between the flags on patrolled beaches and not swimming at dusk or evening. Avoid swimming alone, a long way offshore, at river mouths or along drop-offs to deeper water.
Crocodiles live in rivers and coastal estuaries across northern Australia, often changing habitat via sea. When travelling near crocodile habitats, observe safety signs and don’t swim in rivers, estuaries, tidal rivers, deep pools or mangrove shores. Also seek expert advice about crocodiles before camping, fishing or boating.
The poisonous animals – snakes, spiders, marine stingers
Marine stingers are present in tropical waters from November to April. During this time you can only swim within stinger-resistant enclosures, which are set up on the most popular beaches. You will also need to wear protective clothing when swimming, snorkeling or diving on the outer Great Barrier Reef. Always observe warning signs.
When bushwalking or hiking, you can avoid snake and spider bites by wearing protective footwear and using your common sense. If bitten, seek immediate medical attention. Deaths from snake bites are extremely rare and there have been few deaths from spider bites since anti venoms were made available in 1981.
Travelling in remote Australia
Driving through Australia’s remote and rugged areas requires thorough preparation. Before embarking on a 4WD or outback journey, ensure you have a roadworthy vehicle fitted with GPS and two spare tyres. You’ll also need good maps, extra food, water and fuel and an emergency plan. Plan your route carefully and notify a third party of your expected arrival. Check road conditions before beginning your journey, stay with your vehicle if it breaks down and avoid travelling in extreme heat conditions. If driving a conventional vehicle through remote areas, drive slowly on unsealed, dusty or narrow roads and always check road conditions before turning off major roads. Mobile phones have limited coverage in remote areas, so check your phone provider for coverage.
Bushwalking or hiking in wilderness
When planning a bushwalk or hike, check the length and difficulty of the walk and consider using a local guide for long or challenging walks. If walking without a guide, tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return. Wear protective footwear, a hat, sunscreen and insect repellent and take wet weather gear, a topographic map and plenty of water. When walking, read maps and signs, stay on the track, behind safety barriers and away from cliff edges. Don’t feed or play with native animals, as you might get scratched or bitten. Plan walking in summer months carefully and avoid challenging hikes when the sun is too intense
Depending on what kind of holiday you have planned, you’ll need to sort out your visas. Australia is so big, and so far from many countries, that many travellers choose to spend a large chunk of time here to experience it fully. Find out how if you are eligible to apply for a year-long Working Holiday Visa, and how you can extend your stay by working in regional areas. Plus learn about volunteering and studying in Australia - both great ways to immerse yourself into Australian life and enrich your adventure.
Unless you are an Australian or New Zealand citizen, you will need a visa to enter Australia. New Zealand passport holders can apply for a visa upon arrival in the country. All other passport holders must apply for a visa before leaving home. You can apply for a range of visas, including tourist visas and working holiday visas, at your nearest Australian Consulate. For more detailed information go to the Australian government Visas & Immigration website
If you’re visiting Australia for less than three months and don’t intend to work while you’re here, then you simply need an ETA (Electronic Travel Authority). Your travel agent will issue your ETA along with your airline ticket or if you’re an EU citizen, you can apply online for free. An ETA allows you to holiday in Australia for up to three months. Learn more.
Australian Working Holiday Visas
If you’re aged between 18 and 30 and planning a long-haul Australian adventure, you may be eligible to apply for a Working Holiday Visa so you can work along the way. It’s a straightforward, online application process that must be done before you arrive. Under the visa you can stay in Australia for up to 12 months and work during that time. You can work a maximum of six months with any one employer. The Australian Government Department of Immigration and Citizenship ( DIAC) issues Working Holiday Visas to passport holders from most European countries, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Canada who are between 18 and 30 years of age. Tertiary-educated travellers 18 to 30 years old from Chile, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey or USA may also be eligible for a Work and Holiday Visa. Learn more.
Second Working Holiday Visa & Working in Regional Centres
Wish you had more than a year to work and travel in Australia? Working Holiday Makers who do at least three months of seasonal work in regional Australia are eligible to apply for a Second Working Holiday Visa of 12 months. So your stint plucking grapes or picking cotton could mean another year in the country! The Harvest Trail links travellers with harvest jobs across the country. You could end up pruning grape vines in the Margaret River, gathering apples in the Adelaide Hills or collecting mangoes in Mareeba. The seasons differ in each region, making it easy to work your way around the country at your own pace. You’ll get off the beaten tourist tracks and meet some real Australian characters. Learn more.
Volunteering in Australia
Volunteering is a great chance to get involved with a local community and deepen your Australian experience. WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) places travellers on organic farms, where farmers provide flexible jobs in exchange for accommodation and meals. Expect to work half a day for a full day’s board. This model applies to a huge variety of other volunteer roles, from rescuing turtles in Cape York to organising arts festivals in Arnhem Land. You could also sign up as a Conservation Volunteer and work as part of a team to help preserve precious Australian eco-systems. Your meals, accommodation and travel to and from the project are provided. There are also lots of global organisations offering volunteer research expeditions and volunteer holidays in Australia. Learn more.
Like the idea of studying in Australia? The Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) will grant you a student visa if your course is registered, or part of a registered course, on a full-time basis. For courses of less than three months, you can enrol on a Working Holiday Visa. Under a student visa, you’ll have access to Australia’s subsidised student health cover and can apply for permission to work part-time. Australia offers a whole host of courses and has an international reputation for academic excellence. Learn more.
Many airlines fly to Australia and prices vary considerably, so it pays to shop around for a flight. Consider the length of the flight and any mandatory stopovers. Start by contacting the major airlines or your local Aussie Specialist travel agent.
All of Australia’s international airports have regular public transport such as bus, train and taxi connections and private transfers with the city centres. Shuttle buses are also available and provide transfers to accommodation.
Many international cruise ships visit Australia’s cities, and there are opportunities to take tours and rejoin the ship or stay longer and fly back home. Most cruise ships visit Australian shores during the summer months.
Customs and quarantine
Australia’s customs laws prevent you from bringing drugs, steroids, weapons, firearms and protected wildlife into Australia. Some common items such as fresh or packaged food, fruit, eggs, meat, plants, seeds, skins and feathers are also prohibited. There is no limit on currency but you will need to declare amounts over $10,000. For more detailed information go to the Australian government Customs & Quarantine page
Medicine brought into Australia for personal use is subject to controls and must be declared on your arrival. It is recommended you bring a prescription or letter from your doctor outlining your medical condition and the medicine you are carrying. For more detailed information go to the Medicare Australia website
You don’t require vaccinations unless you have come from, or have visited a yellow fever infected country within six days of your arrival. Read the Australian Government Yellow fever fact sheets
Taking out a travel insurance policy that covers theft, loss, accidents and medical problems is highly recommended. If you plan on doing any adventure sports like scuba diving, bungee jumping, motorcycling, skiing and even bushwalking, check that your policy fully covers you. The Australian Government has reciprocal agreements covering limited subsidised health services for medical treatment with some countries through Medicare. For more detailed information go to the Medicare Australia website
Duty Free shopping
You can go duty free shopping once you’ve purchased your airline ticket. There is a limit on how much you can bring into the country including the quantities of alcohol and cigarettes. You’ll need to declare goods exceeding this limit at Customs. Also be aware of restrictions on the quantity of fluid you can take on board. For more detailed information go to the Australian Customs website
Australia’s climate varies across the continent, from hot and tropical in the far north to cool and even snowy in the south. Our seasons are the opposite to those in the northern hemisphere. Between December and February is summer for most of the country, and the wet season in the tropical north. The Australian winter from June to August is generally mild, but offers snow in the southern mountain regions and dry, sunny days in our northern states. It’s important to protect yourself from the Australian sun with a hat, shirt and SPF30+ sunscreen. For more detailed information go to the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology.
Australia has three time zones: Eastern Standard Time (EST) for the eastern states, Central Standard Time (CST) for the Northern Territory and South Australia and Western Standard Time (WST) for Western Australia. CST is half an hour behind EST and WST is two hours behind EST.
Most Australian states wind their clocks forward an hour during the Daylight Saving period. New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia do this from the beginning of October to the beginning of April. In Western Australia, Daylight Saving lasts from the end of October to end of March. The Northern Territory and Queensland don’t have Daylight Saving.
Australia’s currency is Australian Dollars (AUD) and currency exchange is available at banks, hotels and international airports. The most commonly accepted credit cards are American Express, Bankcard, Diners Club, MasterCard, Visa, JCB and their affiliates. Try this handy currency converter.
Goods and Services Tax
Australia has a Goods and Services Tax (GST) of 10 per cent. You may be able to claim a refund of the GST paid on goods bought here if you have spent AUD$300 or more in one store, no more than 30 days before departing Australia. Tourist Refund Scheme facilities are located in the departure area of international terminals. For more detailed information see Australian government information on the Tourist Refund Scheme.
You’ll find large department stores, arcades, malls, gift and souvenir shops across Australia. Trading hours vary across the country but shops in tourist and city areas are generally open until 6pm, with the exception of late night shopping on either Thursdays or Fridays in different states. In Australia you are covered by Australia's consumer protection laws which require businesses to treat you fairly.
Tipping and bargaining
Hotels and restaurants do not add service charges to your bill. In up market restaurants, it is usual to tip waiters up to ten per cent of the bill for good service. However, tipping is always your choice. It is not custom to bargain in Australia.
The emergency number for police, ambulance and or fire brigade is 000.
Surf and water safety
Australia’s popular beaches are usually patrolled by volunteer lifesavers from October to April and red and yellow flags mark the safest area for swimming. For information about marine stingers and crocodile safety read the Queensland Government website.
Australia’s official language is English. However, being a multicultural nation with a significant migrant population, we also enjoy a tremendous diversity of languages and cultures.
Electrical power points
Our electrical current is 220 – 240 volts, AC 50Hz. The Australian three-pin power outlet is different from some other countries, so you may need an adaptor.
Australia’s country code is 61. Local calls from public pay phones are untimed and charged at AUD$.050. Mobile, long distance and overseas calls are usually timed.Mobile phone network coverage is available across Australia, however coverage may be limited in some remote areas. Internet access is widely available at internet cafes, accommodation and libraries.
Post offices are usually open 9am – 5pm, Monday to Friday, with some city post offices open on Saturday morning. Travellers can arrange to collect mail at post offices throughout Australia.
If you have a disability and are planning to explore Australia, there is a host of services and special deals to meet your needs. Thorough preparation is essential to a successful trip, so speak to your travel agent about your specific requirements. For more information on accessible tourism in Australia go to NICAN or the AustraliaForAll websites.