Australia is truly a country like no other. Known across the globe as the home of the world’s rarest animals, the world’s largest natural reef, the world’s best beaches, and the world’s most laid back population – I’ve really never heard any negative description of the country-island-continent hybrid. Except maybe for its origin as a penal colony for Britain’s convicts – but I like to think that just adds character.
As the sixth largest country in the world, visitors can never truly experience all Australia has to offer in a short trip. From deserts and bush to rainforests and beaches, Australia’s geography alone is enough to keep explorers busy for their entire trip. So once you incorporate cities, any of Australia’s 19 World Heritage Sites, or music festivals into your stay, you’re sure to have a jam-packed, and fun-filled, time.
Australia has a long tradition of having open arms for immigrants, especially from the Middle East and Asia, and this multicultural population is evident everywhere from the diverse cultural practices to the cuisine. Yet, despite some fears to the contrary, these influences have had no adverse affect on the truly Aussie attitude and culture that makes its inhabitants, from the coastal cities to the rural outback, so enviable.
Photo by Tim Phillips
- What do I need to know about money?
- Do I need a Visa?
- How do I get to Australia? How do I get around once I'm there?
- What is the climate like?
- What are business hours?
- What are some laws that I should be aware of?
- What are some local customs that I should be aware of?
- Anything else I need to know?
What do I need to know about money?
The official currency of Australia is the Australian, or Aussie, Dollar (AUD). Foreign currencies can be easily exchanged to the AUD at banks, hotels, and airports. Australia has a flat 10% tax called the Goods and Services Tax (GST) that applies to accommodation, restaurants, transport, some groceries, alcohol, and goods you would buy while out shopping. This tax is included in all stated prices, in other words, what you see on the tag is what you pay at the cash register. Some GST-free items include basic foods and international travel both to and from Australia, as well as domestic flights if booked internationally, so try to have all flights booked before arriving in Australia if you want to save some extra cash.
Although a tip of up to 10% of the bill is often left for waiters for good service, you should never feel pressured to do so. Tipping in Australia is not a common practice, and neither is bargaining while shopping. Travelers cheques, while easily exchanged as long as you have a passport for identification, are not as necessary as one might find in other countries. International credit cards are commonly accepted, the most frequently of these being American Express, MasterCard, Visa, Diners Club, and Bankcard.
Do I need a Visa?
In order to enter Australia, you must have a valid passport as well as a visa issued before you arrive, except if you are a citizen of New Zealand. If you are only planning on visiting Australia for a short period of time, you can opt to apply for a Visitor ETA (Electronic Travel Authority). This is an electronic visa that permits its holders to visit Australia for up to 3 months at a time within a 1-year period. You can apply online for a small fee or have a travel agent do it for you when you book your ticket to Australia. Alternative visa options for tourists include an eVisitors, Tourist Visa, and the Sponsored Family Visa.
How do I get to Australia? How do I get around once I'm there?
Since Australia is an island, the only options to get to the country are by plane or by boat. Many cruise ships make stops in Australian cities during the summer months and, if this is your preferred mode of arriving in Australia, you can look into the opportunities provided by cruises to either depart the boat in Australia and rejoin later or fly home from there.
Although a cruise is a nice option for short-term trips and relaxing vacations, the most common way to get to Australia is by plane. Australia has large international airports in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Darwin, Cairns, and Adelaide from which domestic connections are readily available to both major cities and regional areas. Myriad airlines fly to and within Australia, providing travelers with multiple options of time, length, and price when shopping for flights.
Many make the mistake of underestimating the distances between the major cities and the many popular tourist destinations within the country. However, there are many options made available to international travelers when it comes to domestic transportation. Airlines often provide discounts on domestic flights for international tourists and Qantas offers an Aussie AirPass, which is a smart investment if flying to many locations within the country.
Trains are also great options for traveling within a particular city and its surrounding suburbs as well as between cities. Rail Australia has compiled a lot of the long distance routes between states, faraway cities, and cross-country. But for train travel on a smaller scale within specific cities and surrounding suburbs, try CityRail for Sydney and NSW, Transwa for Perth and Western Australia, TransLink for Brisbane and Queensland, V/Line for Melbourne and Victoria, Adelaide Metro for Adelaide and South Australia, NT Transport for Northern Territory, and TasRail for Tasmania.
As far as buses go, Greyhound Australia and OzExperience are your best bets for long distance travel.
What is the climate like?
The climate varies immensely across Australia, as is to be expected in a country of its size. Also keep in mind the seasons are opposite to those found in the Northern Hemisphere, including Europe and the United States. Thus it is imperative that the time of year the the location within Australia are both taken into account when considering the climate for your trip. The Northern part of the country, including the Northern Territory and northern Queensland, are considered tropical and thus have hot, humid, and wet summers with dry winters. The rest of Queensland, Western Australia, and New South Wales are classified as subtropical with hot summers and moderately cool winters. The Southern coastal regions, as well as Tasmania, have mid-warm summers and cold winters. Australia's Bureau of Meteorology provides a map of Australian Climatic Zones to see where your destination falls as far as climate goes.
What are business hours?
Store hours depend on which state you are in. New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania have deregulated laws, allowing their stores to decide on their own trading hours. Supermarkets in these states usually operate between 6am and midnight. South Australia and Queensland still have government regulated shopping hours, which sets supermarket trading hours as 8am-9pm Monday through Friday, 8am-5:30pm on Saturdays, and 9am-6pm on Sundays. Shopping centers (malls) are required to close at 5pm every day except for Thursdays, which is called 'late night shopping.' Local governments generally determine store hours in Western Australia as well but Perth, the state's capital, is an exception and follows similar guidelines to Southern Australia.
Bank hours are more uniform across the country. They are generally open 9am-4pm Mondays through Thursdays and 9am-5pm on Fridays. Although usually closed on the weekends, some remain open until 12pm on Saturdays.
What are some laws that I should be aware of?
The drinking age in Australia is 18 and while this is music to the ears of Americans who have to wait until their 21st birthday, it has lead to stricter laws on IDs and drunk driving. Random breath tests are common and, if caught by an RBT vehicle with a blood-alcohol level of .05% or above, a court appearance is mandatory in addition to a fine. If you are not from Australia it may be smart to bring your passport with you to bars, clubs, and bottle shops (liquor stores), instead of relying on a foreign drivers license - especially during holiday seasons.
What are some local customs that I should be aware of?
Australians drive on the left side of the road, but it really isn't too difficult to adjust to the opposite side if you choose to rent a car here - however there are a few differences to keep in mind. Since you can turn right on a red light in the US, you would assume the same would apply in Australia for left turns, but this is not the case. Left turns on red lights are prohibited unless a special merging lane is present and signed.
Anything else I need to know?
While slang words and phrases are present in regions and cities across the globe, Australians take slang to a whole new level. Aussies of all ages often utilize abbreviations and slang terms in settings that may seem inappropriate or unusual in other countries. Even signs, stores, restaurants, and commercials incorporate slang no matter their professional status. Here are a few that may come in handy while traveling and attending music festivals - just keep in mind there are not only a lot more than this but they can vary depending on the region as well.
Arty cred: Something indie or hipster
Bathers (togs): Swimsuit
Bevvy: Beverage (alcoholic)
Bogan: An unsophisticated person of a lower class background (like trailer trash (U.S.) or chav (U.K.)
Bottle O: liquor store
Daggy: Unfashionably or sloppily dressed, but comfortably so
Dodgy (sketchy, iffy): suspicious
Exy: Expensive, pricy
Maccas: Mc Donalds
Maggot: Drunk or wasted
No worries: You're welcome, not a problem
Outback: interior Australia
Pokies: Slot machines
Salvos (op shop): Thrift stores
Thongs: Flip flops
Uni: University (American College)