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How to get around in Australia

Australia is huge but sparsely populated, and you can sometimes travel many hours before finding the next trace of civilisation, especially once you leave the south-eastern coastal fringe.

Almost all modern Australian maps, including street directories, use the Geocentric Datum of Australia (GDA) as their grid reference, which is for all purposes identical to the WGS84 used by the GPS. You can locate most things on an Australian map or street directory if you just have the "GPS coordinates".

 

Quarantine

There are restrictions on carrying fruit and vegetables (including honey) between states and even between regions of states that are involved in fruit growing. If you are driving long distances or interstate, or flying between states, don't stock up on fruits and vegetables.

By taxi

Larger towns and cities have taxi services, which you will find a rather expensive. Uber is available here (along with the usual controversies), as well as smartphone applications such as GoCatch which can be extremely useful for finding a licensed taxi when none are available on the street.

When travelling alone, it is customary for a passenger to sit in front passenger seat, next to the driver, rather than in the back. If you prefer to sit in the back then it isn't really a problem though.

By car

See also: Driving in Australia
 
Part of the Hume Highway which links Sydney and Melbourne
 
The Great Ocean Road
 
Part of the Stuart Highway in Central Australia

Australia has a generally well-maintained system of roads and highways, and cars are a commonly used method of transport. Most of the state capitals are linked to each other by good quality highways. Some parts are dual carriageway but many sections are one lane each way. Major regional areas have sealed (paved) dual-lane roads, but isolated areas may have poorly maintained dirt roads or even tracks. Distances and speeds are specified in kilometres and fuel is sold by the litre. There are no tolls on roads or bridges outside of the urban areas of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Australia drives on the left. Overseas visitors who are used to driving on the right should take care when they first drive, and again when they are driving on country roads with little traffic.

Generally, overseas licenses are valid for driving in Australia for three months after arrival. If the licence is not in English an International Driving Permit (IDP) is required in addition to your licence. Licensing regulations and road rules vary slightly from state to state.

Australia's low population density and large size makes for long driving times between major centres. Some indicative travel times, not including any rest periods, are:

  • Sydney to Melbourne by car: 9–10 hours (900 km / 560 mi)
  • Brisbane to Sydney: 12–13 hours (1,000 km / 620 mi)
  • Perth to Sydney: 45 hours (4,000 km / 2500 mi)
  • Sydney to Canberra: 3.5 hours (300 km / 185 mi)
  • Adelaide to Melbourne: 8–10 hours (750 km / 465 mi)
  • Brisbane to Melbourne: 19–20 hours (1,700 km / 1056 mi)
  • Melbourne to Perth: 40 hours (3,500 km / 2175 mi)
  • Perth to Adelaide: 32 hours (2,700 km / 1677 mi)
  • Brisbane to Cairns: 22–24 hours (1,700 km / 1,056 mi)

It is almost impossible to predict your travel time just by knowing the distance. Seek local advice for the best route, and how much time to allow. Averaging 100 km/h or more is possible on some relatively minor highways when they are straight and there are few towns. On other national highways that traverse mountain ranges and travel through small towns, even averaging 60 km/h can be a challenge.

While major highways are well serviced, anyone leaving sealed (paved) roads in inland Australia is advised to take advice from local authorities, check weather and road conditions, and carry sufficient spare fuel, spare parts, spare tyres, matches, food and water. Some remote roads might see one car per month or less.

Cellular coverage is non-existent outside of major highways and towns and you should take some precautions in case of emergency. It is a good idea to advise a person you know and trust of your route and advise them to alert authorities if you do not contact them within a reasonable amount of time after your scheduled arrival at your destination. Carrying a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) or satellite phone should be considered when travelling in remote areas, especially where you may not be able to make contact for several days. Police will not automatically start looking for you if you don't report in. Make sure you get one with a GPS built in. These can be borrowed from some local police stations, such as those in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. If you want to hire one, sort it out before you leave a major city, as you won't find hire places in small towns. Expect to pay around $100 to hire for a week, or $700 to buy one. Don't expect an immediate rescue even if you trigger a PLB.

Heat and dehydration at any time of year can kill you. If stranded, stay with your vehicle and do what you can to improve your visibility from the air. Do not take this advice lightly; even local people die out there when their car breaks down and they are not reported missing. If you do have to abandon your car (say you break down and then get a lift), call in quickly to the local police station, to avoid the embarrassment and cost of a search being started for you.

Car rental

Major cities around Australia have multiple outlets providing a wide range of rental vehicles from major international rental companies. In smaller towns car rental can be difficult to find. One-way fees often apply from smaller regional outlets.

Contractual restrictions

Conditions upon the use of rental vehicles usually exist on travelling into or out of Western Australia and the Northern Territory or on the car ferries to Tasmania, Kangaroo Island and Fraser Island. Rental cars in capital cities usually have unlimited mileage. In small towns they usually only include 100 km a day before a surcharge is applied. Some companies allow travel on any gazetted road, while others forbid travel on a gravel/dirt road unless you hire a four-wheel drive. Always ensure you thoroughly check the vehicle for any damage, including all window glass and the roof panels, and document any found in detail with the renter before leaving the depot.

You must have a licence written in English or an International Driving Permit (IDP) from your home country to drive anywhere in Australia. Check the contract conditions carefully if you are under 25 and also check that your licence class matches the vehicle you wish to rent before you book it.

Companies include Redspot, Avis, Hertz, Budget, Europcar, Thrifty, Aries and Bayswater.

Smaller cars you can hire can be manual (stick-shift), whereas anything larger will mostly be automatic.

If you do not hold an Australian driving licence, some rental vehicle companies will require you to take a free driver knowledge test, aimed at tourists, that covers the basic road rules, or will take you on a short drive to assess whether you are competent behind the wheel.

Camper vans

A camper van is a vehicle, usually a minivan, converted into a motorhome (recreational vehicle), most often catering to the vast number of young European and American backpackers traversing the country. The East Coast from Sydney to Cairns is especially abundant with happy, hungover youths travelling around in these vehicles.

Britz and Maui tend to operate at the premium end of the campervan market, while the lower end of the market is fiercely competed: larger operators include Jucy Rentals, Hippie Camper, Spaceships and Wicked Campers. The last of these are instantly recognizable due to their lurid graffiti paint schemes, usually in the worst possible taste.

Camper vans vary widely in fitting and quality, with some featuring showers, toilets, kitchens and more, while others have little more than mattresses in the back. Check the extra charges very carefully and make sure that you are not paying the same or more for a lesser quality vehicle.

Don't assume hiring a camper will be a cheaper way of seeing Australia. The cost of fuel varies greatly depending on where you are. Fuel costs in outback Australia are much higher than urban areas. MotorMouth provides a 7 day rolling average of fuel prices for each city. Add on the cost of hire, etc., can often make travelling and staying in hostels a cheaper and more comfortable option — but the freedom of having your own four wheels may make up for it.

Car purchase

There is a substantial second hand market in cars and campers for backpackers wishing to do extended road trips around Australia. Take common-sense precautions if purchasing a car. Remember the importance of a thorough mechanical checklist, licensing, registration and insurance. State government services are available free of charge to ensure it is unencumbered by a finance arrangement and that it has not been previously written off as a result of an accident.

  • Travellers Auto-Barn
  • Wicked Campers are a camper van hire company that also sell older vans.
  • Gumtree has a backpackers guide to buying camper vans in Australia. It also lists vehicles for private sale and from dealerships.
  • Revs by entering a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), Revs tells you if there has any money owing on a car.
  • Redbook is an Australian car pricing authority. Find out the market price of any vehicle.

By plane

 

 
Qantas and Jetstar aircraft at Melbourne Airport

Due to the large distances involved, flying is a well-patronised form of travel in Australia. Services along the main business travel corridor (Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane) are run almost like a bus service, with flights leaving every 15 minutes during the day.

The best fares are almost always available on the most competitive routes, whereas routes to remote destinations with fewer flights tend to be more expensive. It is worth noting that Qantas actually do often offer competitive prices, so don't ignore that option just because they are the national carrier. There are only a handful of main airlines in Australia, so it won't take long to compare their prices on domestic routes:

  • Qantas, the only nation-wide full service airline, flying to major cities and some larger regional towns;
  • Virgin Australia, a nation-wide airline, flying to major cities and a few larger regional towns;
  • Jetstar, Qantas's discount arm with limited service and assigned seating.
  • Tiger Airways Australia, one of Asia's largest LCC has a hub in Melbourne and flies to Sydney, Gold Coast, Brisbane, Alice Springs, Hobart, Mackay, and Perth, prices are very competitive.

Several airlines service regional destinations. Expect discounts on these airlines to be harder to come by, and for standard airfares to be above what you would pay for the same distance between major centres.

  • Qantaslink, the regional arm of Qantas, covering the smaller cities in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia;
  • Regional Express, covering larger towns & cities on the eastern seaboard as well as country South Australia;
  • Skywest, covering regional Western Australia, Bali and Darwin;
  • Airnorth, covering the Northern Territory;
  • Skytrans Airlines, covering regional Queensland.
  • Sharp Airlines, covering several regional towns in Victoria and South Australia.

Charters

See also: General aviation

Scheduled aviation only flies to handful of the thousands of airports around Australia. There are numerous options to charter aircraft that may take you direct to smaller country towns or even offshore islands. The costs can be comparable to scheduled airlines if there are 3 or more people flying in a group. The Australian Private Pilots Licence permits private pilots to carry passengers and to recover the cost of the plane hire and fuel from passengers, but not to advertise for passengers or fly commercially. That said, if you check the web pages of local flying clubs, there are always private pilots willing to fly on a fine weekend if someone is willing to put in for the cost of the plane and fuel.

By train

 

 
Map of the main inter-city rail lines in Australia

Visitors from countries with well-developed long distance rail systems such as Europe and Japan may be surprised by the lack of high-speed, inter-city rail services in Australia. A historical lack of cooperation between the states, combined with sheer distances and a relatively small population to service, have left Australia with a national rail network that is relatively slow and used mainly for freight. Nevertheless, train travel between cities can be very scenic and present opportunities to see new aspects of the country, as well as being a cost-effective way to get to regional towns and cities, which tend to have more expensive flights than those between the state capitals.

The long-distance rail services that do exist are mainly used to link regional townships with the state capital, such as Bendigo to Melbourne, or Cairns to Brisbane. In Queensland, a high-speed train operates from Brisbane to Rockhampton and Brisbane to Cairns. Queensland also has passenger services to inland centres including Longreach (The Spirit of the Outback), Mount Isa (The Inlander), Charleville (The Westlander) and Forsayth (The Savannahlander). There are also inter-city train services operated by Great Southern Railways on the routes Melbourne-Adelaide (The Overland), Sydney-Adelaide-Perth (Indian Pacific), Adelaide-Alice Springs-Darwin (The Ghan) however as noted above, these are not "high-speed" services, so if you do not enjoy train travel as part of your holiday in its own right then this is probably not for you.

Tasmania has no passenger rail services. The Northern Territory has the rail line linking Darwin to Adelaide through Alice Springs only, and the Australian Capital Territory has a single railway station close to the centre of Canberra.

Long distance train operators

 

 
Indian Pacific
  • Great Southern Railways - A private train operator running tourist train services, The Ghan, The Indian Pacific and The Overland between Sydney, Broken Hill, Adelaide, Alice Springs, Darwin, Perth and Melbourne.
  • NSW Trainlink Regional - Links Sydney to Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra, and regional connections to most New South Wales towns, including Dubbo, Coffs Harbour, and Wagga Wagga.
  • V/Line - Train & coach services in Victoria, including combined Train and Coach services between Melbourne and Adelaide, Melbourne and Canberra.
  • Queensland Rail - Traveltrain - Long distance passenger train services in Queensland
  • The Savannahlander - A Queenstrain service that links Cairns with the outback town of Forsayth, using old heritage trains, and providing overnight accommodation and tours on the way.
  • TransWA - State government run, operating train services to Kalgoorlie and Bunbury. TransWA also operates coach services to much of the state where former rail services operated in the past, especially the South West of the state.

Rail passes

No rail pass includes all train travel throughout Australia. However, if you are a train buff that intends travelling extensively by rail, there are some passes that may save you money. Plan your trip carefully before investing in a rail pass. Country train services are infrequent and can arrive at regional destinations at unsociable hours.

  • Discovery Pass. Use any NSW Trainlink services (trains and coaches). Get anywhere in NSW, as well as north to Brisbane and south to Melbourne.

There are four passes that all include Great Southern Railways (GSR) services and optionally NSW Trainlink and Queensland Rail that are available to overseas travellers only. Remember that NSW Trainlink operate the XPT services from Sydney to Melbourne, so passes that include NSW Trainlink can also be used on that service.

  1. Rail Explorer Pass- GSR only ($450 for 3 months)
  2. Trans Aus - GSR + NSW Countrylink. ($598 for 3 months)
  3. Aus Reef and Outback - GSR + Queensland Rail. ($672 for 3 months)
  4. Ausrail Pass - GSR + NSW Countrylink + Queensland Rail ($722.00 for 3 months, $990.00 for 6 months)

Local public transport

 

 
A suburban train in Sydney
 
Melbourne is well served by an extensive tram network.

Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Wollongong and Newcastle have train and bus services integrated into the city public transport, with trams also running in Melbourne and Adelaide, and ferries in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. The remaining capital cities have bus services only. See those city guides articles for public transport details.

Some regional cities and towns have local bus services, but see the destination guides for service information, as frequency can be poor and weekend and evening services non-existent.

By motorail

Some trains allow you to carry your car with you on special car carriages attached to the back of the train.

The Ghan and the Indian Pacific allow you to transport cars between Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Alice Springs, Perth, and Darwin. You cannot remove your car at any of the intermediate stations.

There are no longer any motorail services in Queensland.

By bus

Bus travel in Australia is cheap and convenient, although the distances involved for interstate connections are daunting. Greyhound has the largest bus route network. Note that there are no bus services from the other capital cities to Perth.

  • Firefly Express 1300 730 740 (local rate), +61 3 8318 0318 (international callers), e-mail: . Firefly Express has services connecting Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney.
  • Greyhound 1300 473 946 (local rate), e-mail: . Greyhound travels to over 1100 destinations in Australia daily every day of the year. It has a variety of ticketing options allow you to travel at your own pace, hopping on and off as many times as your ticket allows.
  • Murrays +61 13 22 51, e-mail: . Murrays has services connecting Canberra with Sydney, the NSW South Coast and snowfields.

By boat

 

 
The Spirit of Tasmania II at Port Melbourne

Many major Australian cities have ferries as part of their public transport system. Some smaller roads in the regional areas still have punts to carry cars across rivers and canals. The islands of the Barrier Reef have some scheduled services, and there are a few cruises that cross the top of Australia as well.

However, large inter city ferry services are not common.

  • The Spirit of Tasmania. The only long distance ferry route connects Tasmania to the mainland and carries cars and passengers on the route across Bass Strait daily between Melbourne and Devonport.
  • Sealink connects Kangaroo Island, Australia's second largest southern island with regular car ferries.
  • Sea Saturday offers a short cut across the Spencer Gulf between Adelaide and the Eyre Peninsula, running daily car ferry services.

By thumb

It is legal to hitch hike in some states in Australia, so long as certain guidelines are followed. However, it is less commonly done than in neighbouring New Zealand. In Australia hitch hiking is often frowned upon by locals and police, especially in metropolitan areas.

Hitch hiking is illegal in Victoria and Queensland. It is also illegal to stand on the verge or walk along freeways (often called "motorways" in New South Wales) in all states (effectively making hitch hiking illegal in many practical places, in all states).

If forced to hitch hike due to an emergency you may find a motorist willing to take you to the nearest town to obtain help. (Many major inter-city highways and freeways have emergency telephone units to request help.)

It is common to see a tourist hitching in rural areas. The best time to hitch hike is early morning. The best location is near, but not on, the main exit from the town you are in.

By bicycle

Cycling the long distances between towns in Australia is not common, and most long distance highways in Australia have poorly developed facilities for cyclists. In some states, former railway lines have been changed into rail trails. Rail Trail Australia website has good material of routes off the main highways that are much safer.

Nevertheless some intrepid travellers do manage to cover the longer distances by bicycle, and have a different experience of Australia. Long distance cyclists can be encountered on the Nullarbor and other isolated highways.

In Western Australia long distance cycle trails have been developed, and are well worth checking out.

Trips and routes need careful planning to ensure the correct supplies are carried.

To cycle between Sydney and Brisbane you would have to allow 2–3 weeks with around 80–100 km per day.

Hiking

Walking through some parts of Australia is the only way to experience some particular landscapes. In Tasmania the Central Highland Overland Track and the South Coast Track are good examples of walking/hiking holiday to do items. The Bicentennial National Trail is one of the longest trails in the world, stretching from Cooktown in Northern Queensland, to Healesville.

 

 

(Thanks to WikiVoyage.org)

Australian currency

Money

The Australian currency is known as the dollar ($) which is divided into 100 cents (¢). The dollar is called 'the Australian dollar' usually written as 'AUD' or A$.

Coins come in denominations of 5¢, 10¢, 20¢, 50¢, $1 and the tiny $2. They are rather similar to the size and shape of coins issues in the United Kingdom. Notes come in denominations of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 (all in distinctive colours). $100 notes are rare and may be occasionally hard to use in shops. Australian notes are printed on plastic polymer rather than paper. If the total of a transaction is not a multiple of 5 cents the amount will be rounded to the nearest five cents if you are paying in cash. The exact amount will be charged if paying by card.

The dollar is not pegged to any other currency, and is highly traded on world foreign exchange markets, particularly by currency speculators. Its exchange value to other currencies can be quite volatile, and 1-2% changes in a day are reasonably regular occurrences.

 

Currency exchange

Money changers in Australia operate in a free market, and charge a range of flat commissions, percentage fees, undisclosed fees built into the exchange rate, or a combination of all three. You can avoid excessive rip-off rates by using banks in major centres, and staying clear of airports and tourist centres. However, both the best and worst rates come from the small private sellers, and you can certainly save money over the banks by shopping around. Always get a quote before changing money. You'll usually need to have photo identification with you, although you may be exempt if only changing a small amount.

Dedicated currency exchange outlets are widely available in major cities, and banks can also exchange most non-restricted currencies. These exchange outlets - especially the ones at the airport - can charge 10% over the best exchange that can be obtained from shopping around. Australian banks usually offer an exchange rate around 2.5% from the current exchange midpoint. A flat commission of $5–8 can be charged on top. Some outlets advertise commission free exchange, usually accompanied by a worse rate of exchange. Don't assume every bank will offer the same exchange. A simple calculation will let you know what offers the best deal for amount you wish to exchange. There are vouchers for commission free exchange at American Express available in the tourist brochure at Sydney Airport.

International airport terminals will have teller machines that can dispense Australian currency with Cirrus, Maestro, MasterCard or Visa cards.

Banking

Opening an Australian bank account is fairly straightforward, and in some cases can be done online. You will need to provide evidence of your identity, such as a passport, to the bank in order for your application to be processed. The largest retail banks in Australia are National Australia Bank (NAB), Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ), Commonwealth Bank and Westpac.

Cash dispensing Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) are available in almost every Australian town. Australian ATMs are deregulated and may impose a surcharge over what is charged by your bank or card issuer. The fees can vary between institutions and between locations, but are usually around $2. The ATM will display the charges and you will have the option to stop the transaction before you are charged. Check with your bank as to what additional fees they apply to withdrawals in Australia.

Costs

Fast changing currency valuations

The Australian dollar is one of the world's more dynamic currencies, partly because of its relation to commodity prices such as iron and coal. Within the past 10 years the 'Aussie' has swung between 50¢ to $1.50 to the United States Dollar, making the cost of visiting reasonable or very expensive depending on exactly when you are there. As of October 2015 it is around 72¢ to the US Dollar, making it relatively affordable for the time being

Australia is generally an expensive place to visit, with some recent surveys having ranked Australia as the third most expensive country in the world in terms of consumer prices, only behind Norway and Switzerland.

Dorm accommodation in a capital city is around $30, but can run as low as $15 in Cairns or cheaper backpacker centres. A basic motel in the country or in the capital city suburbs would cost around $100 for a double. City Centre hotel accommodation in capital cities can be obtained for around $150 upwards for a double. Formule 1/Motel 6 style hotels (which are not common) can be around $60–90 for a double.

Car hire will cost around $65 a day. Public transport day passes from $10–20 per day depending on the city.

A café meal costs around $10–15, and a main course in a restaurant goes from around $17 upwards.

A basic takeaway meal - a burger, fancy sandwich, or couple of slices of pizza would cost $5–10, a Big Mac costs $4.50, and you can usually grab a pie for around $3, or a sausage roll for $2.50. A takeaway pizza from Pizza Hut big enough to feed two costs around $10.

A middy/pot (285mL) of house beer will cost you around $4, and a glass of house wine around $6 in a low end pub. To take away, a case of 24 cans of beer will cost around $40, or a bottle of wine around $8.

An airfare between neighbouring eastern capitals is around $120 each way but can get as low as $60 if you book at the right time, or around $350 to cross the country assuming that you are flexible with dates and book in advance. A train trip on the state run trains will usually cost slightly less. A bus trip, a little less again. A train trip on the private trains will be the most expensive way to travel.

There is usually no admission charge to beaches or city parks. Some popular National Parks charge between $10 and $20 per day (per car, or per person depending on the state) while more out of the way National Parks are free. Art Galleries and some attractions are free. Museums generally charge around $10 per admission. Theme parks charge around $70 per person.

Credit cards

Credit cards are widely accepted in Australia. Almost all large vendors such as supermarkets accept cards, as do many small stores. Australian debit cards can also be used via a system known as EFTPOS. Any card showing the Cirrus or Maestro logos can be used at any terminal displaying those logos. VISA or MasterCard are the most universally accepted cards, then American Express, then Diners Club with other cards either never or very rarely accepted. American Express and Diners Club are accepted at major supermarket and department store chains.

Smaller shops may have a minimum purchase amount to use a credit or debit card, due to the fixed transaction costs they have. Others may simply discourage use of cards for small purchases.

Australia has recently gone through a migration to eliminate signatures and implement PINs for all credit cards. This doesn't effect overseas cards, and if you have an overseas issued card without a PIN you can still use it to sign for purchases in Australia. However, shopkeepers unused to dealing with overseas cards may not be aware of this, and may not be used to accepting signatures for purchases. If you can, try to have a PIN on your card if your bank allows it. If not, you may have to explain that you have an overseas card at places that expect you to have a PIN - and wait while they find a pen.

Credit card surcharges are imposed at all car rental agencies, travel agents, airlines, and at some discount retailers and service stations. Surcharges are far more common and higher for American Express and Diners Club (typically 2%-4%) than they are for VISA and MasterCard (typically 1.5%).

UnionPay credit cards are becoming more common in tourist shops and restaurants due to the the rising number of Chinese visitors. It is difficult to use them in other businesses however.

Haggling

Bargaining is uncommon in Australian stores, though vendors are usually willing to meet or beat a quote or advertised price from a competing retailer. It's also worth asking for a "best price" for high-value goods or purchases involving several items. For example, it would not be unusual to get 10% off an item of jewelry that was not already reduced in price. The person you are dealing with may have limited authority to sell items at anything other than the marked price.

Tipping

Tipping is never compulsory and is usually not expected in Australia. Staff are seen to be paid an appropriate wage and will certainly not chase you down for a tip. It is acceptable to pay the amount stated on the bill. When Australians do tip, it will often be in the form of leaving the change from a cash payment (usually as a convenience so the change does not hang around loose on someone's person - not as a gratuity), rather than a fixed percentage.

In a suburban or country restaurant where table service is offered, they will certainly take a tip of 5–10% should you decide to leave one, but it is almost always not expected, and locals usually do not leave any. In a cafe or more informal restaurant, even with table service, and even in tourist centres, leaving a tip is unusual. Sometimes there is a coin jar by the cashier labelled 'Tips', but more often than not, diners do not leave one. Bartenders are not usually tipped.

Tipping is also not expected in taxis, and drivers will typically return your change to the last 5 cents, unless you indicate that they should round the fare to the nearest dollar (it is not unusual for passengers to instruct the driver to round up to the next whole dollar).

Casinos in Australia generally prohibit tipping of gaming staff, as it is considered bribery. Similarly, tipping government officials will usually be interpreted as bribery as well.

Trading hours

Australia's base trading hours are Monday to Friday, 09:00-17:00. Shops usually have a single night of late night trading, staying open until 21:00 on Fridays in most cities and on Thursdays in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. Sunday trading is common but does not exist in all rural areas. Opening hours beyond these base hours vary by the type of store, by location, and by state. See our localised guides for more local information.

Major supermarket chains in main centres are generally open at least until 21:00. Smaller convenience stores like 7/11 are open 24 hours in major centres. Fast Food restaurant chains are commonly open 24 hours or at least very late.

Fuel/Service stations are open 24 hours in major centres, but often close at 6pm and on Sundays in country towns.

Australia's weekend is on Saturday and Sunday of each week. Retail trading is now almost universal in larger cities on weekends, although with slightly reduced hours. Again, Western Australia is an exception with restrictions on large stores opening on Sundays. In smaller country towns shops are closed on Sundays and often also on Saturday afternoons.

Tourist-oriented towns and shops may stay open longer hours. Tourist areas within cities, such as Darling Harbour in Sydney have longer trading hours every night.

Australian banks are open Monday-Friday 09:00-16:00 only, often closing at 17:00 on Fridays. Cash is available through Automatic Teller Machines (ATM) 24 hours, and currency exchange outlets have extended hours and are open on weekends.

Tax

Australia has a 10% sales tax known as the Goods and Services Tax or GST that applies to all goods and services except unprocessed foods, education and medical services. GST is always included in the price of any item you purchase rather than being added at the time of payment except in rare circumstances where it will state Excludes GST. Receipts (tax invoices) will contain the GST amount, which is one eleventh of the total value of taxable supplies.

Sales tax refunds

If you buy items over $300 at one place at one time you can obtain a refund of the GST if you take the items out of Australia within 30 days. Pack the items in hand luggage, and present the item(s) and the receipt at the TRS, after immigration and security when leaving Australia. Also allow an extra 15 minutes before departure. The refund payment can be made by either cheque, credit to an Australian bank account, or payment to a credit card. There is no refund available for services.

 

(Thanks to WikiVoyage.org)

Languages spoken in Australia

The English language is universally spoken and understood in Australia. Nevertheless, as Australia is a global melting pot, particularly in the major cities, you will encounter cultures and hear languages from all around the world, and you will often find areas and suburbs that predominately reflect the language of their respective immigrant communities. Foreign languages are taught at school, but students rarely progress past the basics.

It is fairly rare to find signs in a second language, except in urban areas with a high population of Asian immigrants and students, where signs and restaurant menus in Vietnamese and Chinese are a common sight; and also around Cairns and the Gold Coast in Queensland where some signs (but not road signs) are written in Japanese, due to the large number of Japanese tourists. Some warning signs at beaches are written in several foreign languages.

Australian slang should not present a problem for tourists except possibly in some isolated outback areas. A few words and euphemisms that are considered offensive elsewhere are common vernacular in Australian speech; therefore, it is worth getting familiar with them in the Australian slang guide. Australians are familiar enough with the differences to know what you mean, although they may still have a laugh at your expense.

Visitors who do not speak basic English will find communicating with Australians difficult, and should do some advance planning. Some tour companies specialise in offering package deals for Australian tours complete with guides who speak particular languages.

Over a hundred Aboriginal languages are still known and spoken by Aboriginal people, particularly those living in rural outback communities, as well as those in the Torres Strait Islands. These languages are all different, so you won't see an "Aboriginal" phrasebook in the travel bookshops. Many Aboriginal place names derive from Aboriginal languages that have been lost, and their meanings remain uncertain. Almost all Aboriginal people speak English as well, although residents of some remote communities may not be fluent in the language.

The standard sign language is Auslan (standing for Australian Sign Language). When a sign interpreter is present for a public event, he or she will use Auslan. Users of British and New Zealand Sign Languages will be able to understand much, though not all, of the language. Auslan and NZSL are largely derived from BSL, and all three languages use the same two-handed manual alphabet. Users of sign languages that have different origins (such as the French Sign Language family, which also includes American and Irish Sign Languages) will not be able to understand Auslan.

 

 

(Thanks to WikiVoyage.org)

What to eat in Australia

Places to eat

 

 
Outdoor barbecues at Jackadder Lake, Woodlands, Western Australia. Similar facilities can be found in many parks across Australia.
 
Centre Place in Melbourne's CBD is lined with cafes
  • Restaurants, Australians eat out frequently, and you will usually find one or two options to eat out even in small towns, with a wider range in larger towns and cities.
  • BYO restaurants, BYO stands for Bring Your Own (alcohol). In many of the urban communities of Australia you will find small low-cost restaurants that are not licensed to serve but allow diners to bring their own bottle of wine purchased elsewhere. This is frequently much cheaper than ordering a bottle of wine in a restaurant. Beer can be taken to some BYO restaurants, others allow only wine. Expect to pay a corkage fee which can vary from $2–15, or may be calculated by head. BYO is not usually permitted in restaurants that are licensed to sell alcohol.
  • Pubs, the counter lunch is the name for a lunch served in the bar of a pub. Traditionally served only at lunchtime in the lounge. Today most pubs provide lunch and dinner and many have a separate bistro or restaurant. Meals of steak, chicken parmigiana, nachos are common.
  • Clubs, clubs, such as bowling clubs, leagues clubs, RSLs are in many towns and cities. They are most common in the states of Queensland and New South Wales. Most allow visitors, and sometimes offer good value meals. Some offer attractive locations, like the water views from the Twin Towns in Tweed Heads.
  • Cafes, most towns and suburbs have a cafe or coffee shop, serving breakfast and light meals and cakes throughout the day. Not unusual for them to close before dinner.
  • Bakeries, usually a good place to buy bread rolls, a pie or a sausage roll. Some, like the Beechworth bakery, or the bakery in historic Gundagai offer an experience as well.
  • Fast food restaurants, McDonalds, Subway and KFC are common. Burger King is known as Hungry Jack's. Red Rooster is an Australian chain, offering barbecued chicken and other mostly chicken-based items.
  • Take-away, milk bars or take-away stores usually sell pies, barbecued (rotisserie) chicken, hamburgers, fish and chips, gyros, and kebabs. Ubiquitous in every town and suburb.
  • Food courts, most shopping centres have a food court, even in country towns.
  • Picnic, the Australian climate is usually amenable to getting whatever food you can, and heading to the nearest park, river, lake or beach.
  • Barbecue, is a popular Australian pastime and many parks in Australia provide free barbecues for public use. Contrary to the stereotype, Australians rarely "Throw a shrimp on the barbie" (also, in Australia a shrimp is more commonly referred to as a prawn). Steaks, chops, sausages, chicken fillets, fish, and kebabs are popularly barbecued.

Native foods

 

 
Kangaroo fillet at a restaurant in Sydney
  • Kangaroo, if you fancy some, it is commonly available from most supermarkets and butchers shops. Head to the nearest park, and barbecue it until medium rare. Best not to overcook as it may become quite tough. It tastes much like beef. It occasionally makes it onto the menu in restaurants, mostly in tourist areas. Kangaroos aren't endangered, and kangaroo grazing does far less damage to the sensitive Australian environment than hoofed animals, and far less carbon emissions too. If you are not ready to go vegetarian, kangaroo is the best environmental statement you can make while barbecuing.
  • Crocodile, meat from farms in the Northern Territory and Queensland is widely available around the top end, and occasionally elsewhere. At Rockhampton, the beef capital of Australia, you can see the ancient reptile on a farm while munching on a croc burger.
  • Emu, yes, you can eat the Australian Coat of Arms. Emu is low in fat, and available in some speciality butchers. Try the Coat of Arms pie in Maleny on the Sunshine Coast.
  • Bush tucker, many tours may give you an opportunity to try some bush tucker, the berries, nuts, roots, ants, and grubs from Australia's native bush. Macadamia nuts are the only native plant to Australia that is grown for food commercially. Taste some of the other bush foods, and you will discover why.

Beyond cuisine

 

 
A pavlova garnished with cream and raspberries

Vegemite, a salty yeast-based spread, best spread thinly on toast. If you aren't up for buying a jar, any coffee shop will serve vegemite on toast at breakfast time. It may not even be on the menu, but the vegemite will be out the back in the jar next to the marmalade. If you do buy a jar, the secret is it to spread it very thin, and don't forget the butter as well. It tastes similar to Marmite or Cenovis. Australians are quite used to the taste, and may spread the Vegemite very thick; but this is not recommended for first-timers.

The Tim-Tam is a chocolate fudge-filled sandwich of two chocolate biscuits, all dipped in chocolate. You can buy a packet (or two) from any supermarket or convenience store. Tim-Tams are required to perform the Tim-Tam Slam manoeuvre. This requires biting off both ends of the Tim-Tam, then using it as a straw to drink your favourite hot beverage, typically coffee. The hot drink melts the fudge centre and creates an experience hard to describe. Finesse is needed to suck the whole biscuit into your mouth in the microseconds between being fully saturated and dissolving. Tim-Tams are sold in packs of 11, so be sure to agree on the sharing arrangements before buying a packet with your travel partner, or onward travel arrangements may be disrupted. During summer, Tim-Tams are often stored in the freezer, and eaten ice cold.

The lamington is a cube of sponge cake covered in chocolate icing and dipped in desiccated coconut. It's named after Lord Lamington, who served as Governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1901. The home-baked form can be found at a local Saturday morning market, or you can buy one from a bakery if you are desperate. Avoid at all costs the plastic wrapped varieties sold in supermarkets.

The pavlova is a meringue cake with a cream topping usually decorated with fresh fruit. Served on special occasions, or after a lunchtime barbecue. Often the source of dispute with New Zealand over the original source of the recipe.

ANZAC biscuits are a mix of coconut, oats, flour, sugar and golden syrup. They were reputedly sent by wives and care organisations to world war I soldiers in care packages, but the story is likely apocryphal. They are available from bakeries, cafes and supermarkets, and are popular in the lead up to ANZAC day (25 April).

Damper is a traditional soda bread that was baked by drovers and stockmen. It has basic ingredients (flour, water and perhaps salt) and usually cooked in the embers of a fire. It is not routinely available in bakeries and only commonly served to tourists on organised tours. Best eaten with butter and jam or golden syrup as it is dry and bland.

A pie floater is a South Australian dish available around Adelaide. It is a pie inverted in a bowl of thick mushy pea soup. Similar pie variations are sometimes available in other regions.

A Chiko roll is a deep-fried snack inspired by the egg roll or the spring roll. Despite the name, it contains no chicken. Its filling is boned mutton, vegetables, rice, barley, and seasonings. Its shell is thicker than an egg roll, meant to survive handling at football matches. Available anywhere you can buy fish and chips.

The Australian Meat Pie is considered to be the national dish by many.

Other cuisines

Cuisines widely available in Australia, often prepared by members of the relevant culture, include:

  • Chinese, synonymous with the term "takeaway" in the past generations. Many Chinese restaurants still cater to takeaway addicts today, mostly of the Australianized Chinese variety, but major cities have small "Chinatowns" or suburbs with a large number of ethnic Chinese residents, that have excellent restaurants serving authentic Chinese food.
  • Thai, especially in Sydney. As above, suburban Thai restaurants of indifferent quality are starting to replace the previous generation of Chinese restaurants of indifferent quality, but Australia also has excellent and authentic Thai restaurants.
  • Italian, the Italian community is one of the largest ethnic communities of non Anglo-Saxon origin in Australia, and they have contributed greatly to the cafe culture that has flourished across the major cities over the past few decades. Restaurants either serve Italian food that has been adapted to suit Australian tastes, or authentic regional Italian food, with the latter tending to be pricier and in more upmarket surrounds. Head to Lygon street in Melbourne if you're a fan.
  • Greek, as above.
  • Lebanese and other Middle Eastern, especially in Sydney.
  • Indian, especially North Indian.
  • Japanese, including bento takeaway shops, udon restaurants and sushi trains. They are often operated by Koreans, whose own cuisine is also well represented in the major cities.
  • Vietnamese, Pho and Cha Gio (spring rolls) are easy to find.
  • Asian fusion, refers generally to Asian-inspired dishes.

Vegetarian

Eating vegetarian is quite common in Australia and many restaurants offer at least one or two vegetarian dishes. Some will have an entire vegetarian menu section. Vegans may have more difficulty but any restaurant with a large vegetarian menu should offer some flexibility. In large cities you will find a number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, as well as in the coastal backpacker-friendly towns along the east coast. The market town of Kuranda or the seaside towns of Byron Bay are a vegetarian's paradise. In other regional areas vegetarians are often poorly catered for, but most towns will have a Chinese restaurant that will provide steamed rice and vegetables. Sydney and Melbourne in particular cater well for vegans and vegetarians with a large number of purely vegetarian restaurants, vegan clothing stores and vegan supermarkets.

Religious diets

People observing kosher or halal will easily be able to find specialist butchers in the capital cities, and will also find a number of restaurants with appropriate menus and cooking styles. Outside the capital cities, it will be much more difficult to find food prepared in a strict religious manner.

Markets

All of the capital cities and many regional towns in Australia host a "farmer's market", which is generally held each week in a designated area on a Saturday or Sunday. These markets mostly sell fresh fruits and vegetables, as hygiene standards in Australia forbid the selling of meat directly from market stalls. Butchers who set up shop at a farmer's market would usually trade their wares from a display cabinet within their boot (trunk). The attraction of markets is the lower prices and freshness of the produce. The attraction for the traveller will be the cheap and excellent fruits on offer - depending on the region and season. In regional areas the market is usually held outside the town itself in an empty paddock or sports field, markets in capital cities are easier to reach but the prices are typically more in line with those you would find in supermarkets. See the destination guides for details.

 

(Thanks to WikiVoyage.org)

Work in Australia

Australian citizens, New Zealand citizens and permanent residents of Australia can work in Australia without any further permits, but others will require a work visa. It is illegal for foreigners to work in Australia on a tourist visa. Foreigners in Australia on a student visa are allowed to work for up to 20 hours a week during term time, and full-time during the school holidays. Working illegally in Australia runs a very real risk of arrest, imprisonment, deportation and being permanently banned from re-entering Australia. All visitors who do not hold Australian permanent residency or citizenship (including New Zealand citizens who aren't also Australian permanent residents or citizens) are not allowed to access Australian social security arrangements for the unemployed, and will have limited, or more usually, no access to the Australian government's health care payment arrangements.

 

Payment and taxes

Most Australian employers pay via direct deposit to Australian bank accounts and therefore you should open a bank account as soon as possible. Some banks allow you to open account from abroad, for example Commonwealth Bank and HSBC.

You should also apply for a Tax File Number (TFN) as soon as possible. You can apply on-line for free at the Australian Tax Office website, though you can generally get it quicker if you just go to one of their offices. You can start working without one, but you are advised to get one as soon as possible as your employer would have to withhold 45% of your salary as tax should you not provide one. Register your TFN number with your bank as soon as possible, otherwise any interest you accrue will be taxed at the highest rate. The Australian financial year runs from 1st July to 30th June, and tax returns for each financial year are due on 30th October, four months after the accounting period ends. Check with Australian tax agents about Australian tax liability and filing an Australian tax return.

Australian employers will make compulsory payments out of your earnings to an Australian superannuation (retirement savings) fund on your behalf. Visitors on temporary working visas who are not citizens of Australia or New Zealand should claim this money when they leave Australia. This payment is known as a Departing Australia Superannuation Payment (DASP) and you can apply online. New Zealand citizens can transfer their superannuation money to their New Zealand KiwiSaver account; contact your provider to arrange this.

Working holidaymaker scheme

Australia has a working holidaymaker program for citizens of certain countries between 18 and 30 years of age. It allows you to stay in Australia for 12 months from the time you first enter. You may work during that time, but only for 6 months at any one employer. The idea is for you to take a holiday subsidised by casual or short-term jobs. If you're interested in a working holiday, some useful skills and experience might be: office skills to be used for temp work; or hospitality skills to be used for bar or restaurant work. An alternative is seasonal work like fruit-picking, although much seasonal work will require that you work outside the major cities. Working for 3 months in seasonal work will allow you to apply for a second 12 month visa.

You can apply online for a working holiday visa, but you must not be in Australia at the time. It takes just a few hours to process usually and it costs about $360 (as of April 2013). On arriving in Australia ask for the working holiday visa to be "evidenced", so you can show your future employer.

Work visas

Work visas in Australia change frequently and sometimes with out any notice, so always check with your local Australian High Commission, Consulate or Embassy and the Immigration Department's website.

The most straightforward way to get a work visa (subclass 457, 186 & 187) is to find an Australian employer who will sponsor you. Your employer will need to demonstrate that they cannot hire anyone with your skills in Australia. Locally advertised jobs are usually explicit in requiring a valid work visa before your application can be considered. Getting the visa might take a couple of months from the beginning of the application process and you will need a medical examination by a doctor approved by the immigration officials before it can be granted (among other things, you will need a chest x-ray to show that you do not have tuberculosis). An employer with a good background and efficient immigration lawyers could get your 457 approved within a week. Note that your work visa will only be valid for the employer who sponsored you and you will have to leave within 30 days of your employment ending.

Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS) visa (subclass 187) is the easiest employer nominated visa to acquire, although you will have to live and work in a designated 'regional' area. These areas are mostly rural and far removed from the larger cities, although Adelaide does count in this scheme.

Skilled independent visas (subclass 189, 190, 489) may be pursued if you have a valuable specialised skill and don't want to be tied to a specific employer.

There is also a temporary graduate visa (subclass 485) which allows graduates of Australian universities to stay on and work in Australia, and is usually valid anywhere from 18 months to 4 years depending on your level of education, and your major field of study. Your major must be from a list of skilled occupations for which there is a labour shortage in Australia. This list is updated every year, and whether or not you qualify for this visa is dependent on the list at the time of your graduation, not at the time you begin your studies.

Immigration

You can apply to immigrate as a skilled person or business person, but this process will take longer than receiving a work visa. You can also apply for permanent residency as the holder of a work or study visa, but your application will not be automatically accepted. If you have a lot of money, there are several investor's visas available which allow you to live in Australia with a view of obtaining permanent residency. After four years of legal residency which must include one year as a permanent resident, you are eligible to apply for Australian citizenship.

Volunteering

There are several volunteer opportunities in Australia. Many worldwide organisations offer extended travel for those wanting to volunteer their time to work with locals on projects such as habitat restoration, wildlife sanctuary maintenance & development, scientific research, & education programs such as Australian Volunteers, World Wildlife Fund, International Student Volunteers Australia, Youth Challenge Australia, Gap 360 and Xtreme Gap Year.

 

(Thanks to WikiVoyage.org)

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