Travel smart – hints for Australian travellers

Each year over eight million Australians travel overseas – and each year the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade provides consular assistance to more than 10,000 Australians in difficulty.

Before you go

The better prepared you are, the safer and more enjoyable your travel will be.

Research your destination

Our destination-specific travel advice contains important information that you need to know when planning an overseas trip. It includes useful advice on local laws, entry and exit requirements and health issues, and an indicative rating of the security situation in particular countries. Our aim is to help you determine the level of risk you may face.

Our travel advice is regularly updated, so it's a good idea to subscribe to receive free email notifications when the information for your destinations changes. You can:

  • choose which destinations, issues and events you'd like to receive notifications for
  • set an expiry date for receiving notifications, for example, the date you return to Australia
  • unsubscribe any time.

You can access more travel information through guide books or travel websites. Talk with family or friends who are familiar with the countries you'll be visiting. You could also consult the country briefs on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's website to learn more about your destinations.

Register before you travel

Make sure you register your travel and contact details online before you travel. This will make it easier to contact you in an emergency, whether it's a natural disaster, civil disturbance or family issue. The registration information you provide is protected by Australia's strict privacy laws. If you're travelling in a large group, call 1300 555 135 before you go to obtain a group registration form.

Cover yourself with travel insurance

Organising travel insurance is an essential part of preparing for your overseas trip. If you are uninsured, you (or your family) are personally liable for covering any medical or other costs resulting from unexpected incidents or accidents. If you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel.

You should make sure your travel insurance covers all medical expenses for injury or illness, as well as theft of valuables, damage to baggage and cancellations or interruptions to flight plans. Medical costs overseas can be in the tens of thousands of dollars and many people have been burdened financially in paying these costs when things go wrong.

The Australian Government won't pay for your medical treatment overseas or medical evacuation to Australia or a third country. Travellers without travel insurance are personally liable for covering any medical and associated costs they incur.

Each year more than 1,000 Australians die overseas. It can cost over $20,000 to bring the remains of loved ones home – make sure your travel insurance covers this before you go.

If you plan to rely on the travel insurance provided by your credit card, before travelling you should obtain written confirmation that you're covered and ensure that you have the details of the policy clearly outlined in writing.

If you are travelling with family, you may be able to obtain travel insurance for your family under the one policy. However, cover varies from policy to policy so check the fine print. Make sure you confirm all details with your insurance provider and receive written confirmation of your policy.

Shop around to find the policy that best suits your individual needs:

  • Check the policy's exclusions, including how it deals with pre-existing illnesses
  • Make sure your insurance covers you for all of your activities for the entire length of your trip, noting the policy's requirements for adventure sports and hiring vehicles such as motorcycles
  • Be aware that some policies do not offer refunds when the safety and security environment overseas changes. The terms and conditions of your policy will determine whether you are entitled to a refund if DFAT changes the level of the travel advice. It varies from policy to policy, so shop around.

Organise your passports and visas

Your passport is your most important travel document. All Australian citizens must have a valid passport before leaving Australia and maintain a valid passport while overseas. All children travelling overseas, including newborn infants, must have their own passport.

Be aware that countries have different passport validity requirements. Make sure your passport has at least six months validity from your planned date of return. Carry extra passport photos just in case your passport is lost or stolen and you need to replace it while you're away.

Safeguard your passport at all times. Always carry separately from other forms of identification, to ensure you have other 'proof of identity' documents should your passport be lost or stolen.

Aside from the inconvenience and time taken to replace a lost, stolen or damaged passport, an additional fee will apply to get a replacement. A replacement passport may also have limited validity. Report the loss or theft of your passport to the nearest Australian embassy, high commission or consulate, or on the Australian Passport Office website, without delay. This is required by law.

Apart from writing your contact details on the 'Contact details' page in your passport, it is illegal to alter or tamper with your passport in any way.

If your passport has been damaged in any way (including any problems with the electronic chip), before your next trip phone the Australian Passport Information Service (APIS) on 131 232 or visit your nearest passport office or Australian overseas mission to check whether your passport is usable for international travel.

Find out early what visas you need by contacting the relevant foreign mission (embassy, high commission or consulate) of the countries you intend to visit. Some countries have specific entry and exit requirements, including compulsory vaccinations. Remember to check the visa requirements of countries you might be transiting. Contact details for foreign missions can be found on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's website.

Remember:

  • The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in Australia and Australian missions overseas cannot help you arrange visas or work and residency permits for other countries.
  • A visa does not guarantee entry to a foreign country.
  • In most cases, a tourist visa does not allow you to work in a foreign country, including voluntary or unpaid activities.
  • The conditions and expiry dates of visas and entry permits must be strictly adhered to. In some countries, visa overstay can lead to arrest.

Check if you're a dual national

If you or your parents were born in another country, you may be considered a citizen or national of that country, even though you are an Australian citizen and even if you've never travelled outside Australia.

Some countries offer citizenship to people who marry their citizens, or to people whose grandparents were born in that country. Before you leave, it's important to know about the implications of local laws for dual nationals – for example, you may be liable for military service in the country of your other nationality.

A country may not permit Australian consular assistance to be given to Australian citizens who, according to its laws, are considered to be its own nationals. Some countries may not recognise your Australian citizenship unless you are travelling on an Australian passport.

You must use your Australian passport to leave and return to Australia.

If you hold another country's passport, seek advice about using it from the country's embassy before you leave. To find out more about what dual nationality and Australian citizenship mean, call the Department of Immigration and Border Protection's information line on 131 880. For further infomration see our dual nationals page.

Consult your airlines

If you're concerned the airline may question your fitness to fly, we recommend you obtain a letter from your doctor confirming that you're fit for air travel.

If you have a disability, contact your airline to find out about services such as shuttle services, seating arrangements and special meals.

If you need to carry needles and syringes with you, obtain a letter from your doctor explaining why you need them and seek early advice from your airline on how to comply with airport and air travel security regulations.

Book your accommodation

If you're travelling independently, it's recommended that you book your accommodation prior to arrival, especially if you're due to arrive at your destination late at night.

Think about your packing

Protect yourself against loss and theft by carrying minimal pieces of luggage. Overloaded, you make yourself more vulnerable to bag snatchers and pickpockets. Secure credit cards and passports in a money belt or under your clothes. Information about what you can and cannot carry in your luggage is available from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and the Australian Government's TravelSECURE website.

If you're travelling to the USA, make sure you familiarise yourself with their specific airline baggage lock requirements. Information is available from the US Government's Transportation Security Administration.

When travelling, always remember:

  • Obey the law – don't purchase, use or travel with illegal drugs.
  • Pack your luggage yourself – tales of tourists having drugs planted are not uncommon.
  • Secure your luggage as a sensible precaution against tampering or theft.
  • Don't leave your bags unattended in public areas or with a stranger.
  • Never carry anything into or out of another country for someone else unless you are sure of its contents.

Organise your travel money

There is no limit to the amount of currency you can bring in or take out of Australia. However, you must declare amounts of $10,000 or more in Australian currency or foreign equivalent.

You must also disclose any promissory notes, traveller's cheques, personal cheques, money orders, postal orders or other bearer negotiable instruments, regardless of value, if requested by a customs officer or police officer.

For more information, visit AUSTRAC.

Before you go:

  • Organise a variety of ways of accessing your money overseas, such as debit and credit cards, traveller's cheques and cash
  • Register with your bank the period you expect to be travelling
  • Check with your bank whether your ATM card will work overseas.

Centrelink payments

If you receive a pension or government payments, you should contact Centrelink at least six weeks before you leave Australia to confirm how any short-term absence from Australia may affect your payment. For more information on Centrelink payments and overseas travel, visit the Department of Human Services website, call 13 16 73 or visit your nearest Centrelink Customer Service Centre.

Copy your documents

Make two photocopies of the following documents and leave one copy at home with your family or a friend and the other in a safe place while you're travelling, separate from the originals:

  • passport
  • itinerary and tickets
  • visas
  • travellers cheques and credit card numbers
  • driver's licence or international driving permit
  • travel insurance policy.

Plan to stay healthy

Read up on the health issues affecting the countries you are travelling to before you go.

Vaccinations

Make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic checkup at least six to eight weeks before you depart and find out if any vaccinations or health checks are required for your destination. Remember that some vaccines require a long period to take effect and more than one dose may be needed.

It is strongly recommended that before you leave you check the vaccination entry and exit requirements of all countries on your itinerary. You can get this information from the relevant foreign mission. Contact details are available on the DFAT website.

Travelling with medications

Before you leave, check that the medications you plan to take are legal in the country you are visiting. You can get this information by contacting the relevant foreign mission. Make sure you do this in plenty of time to receive a response.

It's an offence to carry or send Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) medicine overseas unless it is for your own personal use, or for the use of someone travelling with you. You could be fined $5,000 and spend two years in prison if you break the law.

If you are taking medicines overseas:

  • take enough medicine to cover at least the planned length of your trip
  • carry or enclose a letter from your doctor detailing what the medicine is, how much you will be taking, and stating that the medicine is for your personal use
  • always leave the medicine in its original packaging so that it is clearly labelled with your name and dosage instructions
  • separate quantities between your luggage in case a bag goes missing.

If you have to inject your medication, it may be preferable to carry your own needles and syringes, if it is allowed in the countries you are visiting. If you have to buy needles or syringes overseas, make sure they are sealed and sterile.

For more information on travelling with PBS medicines, visit the Department of Human Services website or call 1800 500 147 within Australia.

Reciprocal health care agreements

Australia has reciprocal health care agreements with several countries, including New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Under these agreements, Australians can be provided with urgent or emergency medical treatment overseas. But be aware that you can only access general medical services when the need for treatment arises during the visit and it would be unreasonable to delay treatment until you return to Australia.

These agreements are not a substitute for travel insurance. They won't cover you if a doctor recommends you should be evacuated back to Australia or to another location. You would need to cover these costs yourself if you don't have adequate travel insurance.

For more information, and for a full list of countries, visit the Department of Human Services website or call 132 011.

Additional health tips

  • Do not use or get involved with drugs.
  • Be aware of the risk of hepatitis and HIV - Practise safe sex and avoid ear-piercing, acupuncture, tattooing or dental work while travelling in countries with lower health or hygiene standards.
  • Avoid temporary 'black henna' tattoos as they often contain a dye which can cause serious skin reactions. For further information see the Australasian College of Dermatologists website at dermcoll.asn.au.
  • Medical tourism, including cosmetic surgery and gender reassignment surgery, is increasing. Be aware that while the range of medical and dental services available may be impressive at first sight, standards can be low, resulting in serious and possibly life-threatening complications.
  • If you wear glasses, take along a spare pair and/or a copy of the prescription so that they can be replaced more easily if lost or broken.

To find out more about healthy travel and vaccinations you can visit:

While you're away

Australians love to travel, and as a nation we're doing it more and more. Nothing beats the excitement of jumping on a plane to explore a new place or to rediscover an old one. While you're away there are some things you should know to make your journey safe and worry-free.

Be conscious of your safety and security

Read and subscribe to the travel advice for your destinations for country-specific risks to your safety and security.

Crime

Violent and petty crime occurs in many countries. The majority of crime is minor or opportunistic such as pickpockets or bag snatching. Many countries have a very high crime rate, including violent crime such as armed robbery, sexual assaults, muggings, carjacking and kidnapping (including so-called 'express kidnappings' where victims are abducted and forced to withdraw funds from ATMs before being released). Be vigilant about your personal security and possessions in public places.

To protect yourself against theft, you should keep money and valuables out of sight and avoid unnecessary displays of wealth.

ATM and credit card fraud, including skimming, can also occur. You should always keep your credit card in sight to ensure your details are not copied. Avoid using ATMs that open onto the street and instead use ATMs in controlled areas such as banks, shops and shopping centres.

Use only officially licensed and reputable taxis. Be wary if you are approached at the airport by private drivers. In some countries, extortion and robbery can occur in unauthorised taxis. Where possible, travellers are advised to only use official taxi companies that can be booked by phone or at major hotels and from inside airports. It is recommended that you do not share taxis with strangers.

Never leave your drink or food unattended or in the care of a stranger. Drink and food spiking is common around the world.

Civil unrest

You should avoid all demonstrations and protests as even peaceful protests may turn violent. In periods surrounding elections, unrest and violent protests can occur. Demonstrations and strikes may also disrupt your travel plans. Monitor local media for information about possible new safety or security risks.

Terrorism

Terrorism is an ongoing threat in many countries around the world. The threat in some destinations is very high. The country specific travel advisories detail terrorist threats to specific locations and types of venues.

Research local transport and tours

When organising how to get around overseas, check out the local travel section in the travel advisories and take a look at the road safety and driving, air travel and travelling by boat pages.

Be aware that the safety standards you might expect of transport and tour operators, including adventure activities, are not always met.

Sufficient safety equipment may not be provided and recommended maintenance standards and safety precautions may not be observed.

Learn about road conditions and traffic culture of the places you plan to visit. If you're renting a car, make sure it's roadworthy.

Before driving overseas, Australians should contact the appropriate foreign mission for information on drivers licence requirements. Many countries require Australians to have an International Driving Permit (IDP) in addition to a valid Australian driving licence to legally drive a car, or ride a motorcycle. You can apply for an IDP through the automobile club or association (such as the NRMA or RACV) in the state of territory where your licence is current.

Aviation safety and security standards in some countries may not be equal to standards in Australia or meet those set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). When staff at Australia's overseas missions are advised not to use particular airlines due to safety concerns, this will be clearly stated in the travel advice for that destination.

Obey the law

When it comes to the law, pleading ignorance is no defence. Always obey the laws of the country you are visiting, even if they are different from those in Australia. In some cases you may be bound by Australian laws as well. Check out the Laws section in the country-specific travel advisories.

Consular services and the law

Whichever country you are visiting, be aware that local laws and penalties do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government cannot get you out of trouble or out of jail. See the Consular service charter for more information on what the Australian Government can and cannot do for you.

Drugs

Do not use, carry or get involved with drugs overseas. Consular assistance cannot override local law, even where local laws appear harsh by Australian standards. Some countries, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, may impose the death penalty or life imprisonment for drug offences.

Extraterritorial laws

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. The provision of consular assistance to Australians does not extend to protecting you from the consequences of actions that are prohibited under Australian law or the laws of the country you are visiting. Consular officials have to report serious criminal misconduct of this kind to the Australian Federal Police.

Australians risk prosecution under Australian law if they fight in other countries.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years' imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia. For more information, see the child sex offences page.

Violations of Australia's child sex laws should be reported to the Australian Federal Police by calling 131AFP (131 237) within Australia, or +61 2 6131 5926 outside Australia. You can call the AFP anonymously on 1800 333 000. You can also complete the CST report or write to:

Child Protection Operations Team
Australian Federal Police
GPO Box 401
Canberra ACT 2602
Australia

Respect local customs

It's important to respect local cultures and customs when travelling. Here are a few tips to assist you:

  • Research the local customs of the country you're travelling to, and if in doubt, seek local advice.
  • Dress appropriately. Look at what the locals are wearing and be sensitive to local standards.
  • Show respect when visiting cultural, historical and sacred sites. In some countries, inappropriate or indecent behaviour can lead to arrest.
  • Always ask permission before taking photos of people and respect their wishes if they decline. In some countries, it's illegal to take photos of certain places, such as government buildings, airports and ports or anything that may be police or military property.
  • In some countries it's not acceptable for couples to be very affectionate in public, so be discreet.
  • Laws and attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) travellers around the world can be very different from those in Australia, which can create risks for LGBTI travellers. Check the LGBTI travellers page and the country-specific advisories for more information.

Family and relationship matters

Birth

If you want a child born to you overseas to be recognised as an Australian citizen and travel on an Australian passport you must register them as a citizen by descent. For information on registering a child by descent go to citizenship.gov.au.

Relationships

Be aware that an apparent strong relationship pursued on the internet could be a planned fraudulent internet dating scam. You could be asked by a prospective marriage partner to send money for them to travel to Australia. Some Australians have lost large sums of money this way. Any chance of recovering lost funds is highly unlikely. In some instances, people who have travelled overseas to meet their prospective marriage partner have been kidnapped and held to ransom.

Marriage

Many Australians choose to get married overseas. If you're planning on doing this be aware that laws regarding marriage vary from country to country and legal complications can arise. Make sure you check the legal, cultural and religious implications for yourself, your partner and any current or future children. Australians intending to marry overseas should contact either a legal practitioner or the embassy or consulate of the country they would like to marry in for details on the requirements they must meet.

Some countries impose strict limits on women's rights, with possible restrictions on:

  • establishing a relationship with a foreigner
  • property entitlements, inheritance, divorce, alimony, child support and custody
  • leaving the country without their husband's permission.

Keep in touch

Every year, DFAT receives thousands of calls from worried family members and friends who haven't heard from someone who is travelling. Keeping in touch not only saves your friends and family a lot of worry, it can also make it easier to find you in an emergency.

You should:

  • Leave a copy of your itinerary with your family or a friend
  • Register your travel plans
  • Arrange options for staying in touch with family and friends while overseas (mobile phone, prepaid or postpaid international calling card, SMS, social media, email etc.)
  • Give your family and friends an indication of how often they will hear from you, and stick to your word.

Coming home

When you return to Australia, there are a few basic things you can do to make the process quicker and easier:

  • Have the correct documents completed and ready.
  • Make sure you declare any items that may be restricted, prohibited or carry diseases.
  • Know your duty-free allowances.

Returning to Australia

Depending on the type of trip you've had, coming home can either be a relief or have you already planning your next adventure.

Guide for travellers - know before you go is a brochure for international travellers about Australia's prohibited and restricted goods laws and personal duty-free allowances.

Australian, New Zealand and UK ePassport holders aged 16 or over have the option to self-process through passport control using SmartGate. This is a simple way to go through the customs and immigration checks usually done by a Customs and Border Protection officer.

Biosecurity risk items

Australia has strict quarantine laws in place to help minimise the risk of exotic pests and diseases entering the country.

When you arrive in back Australia, your baggage may be inspected by Biosecurity Australia officers, x-rayed or checked by a detector dog team.

You should be aware of current quarantine import restrictions so that you avoid bringing back items of quarantine concern, such as fresh fruit, plant cuttings, seeds and nuts, and anything made from wood, plant or animal material – this includes meat and poultry products.

When you arrive in Australia, you must declare certain food, plant material and animal products on your Incoming Passenger Card. When you sign the card, you are making a legal declaration. If you don't read and truthfully answer all questions there can be serious consequences.

For more information, visit the travel section of the Biosecurity Australia website or phone +61 2 6272 3933.

For information about wildlife products or souvenirs, importing or exporting wildlife and obtaining necessary permits, read the brochure If in doubt, check it out – does your luggage break wildlife laws?, available on the Department of the Environment website or by phoning +61 2 6274 1900.

Getting help overseas

If you find yourself in trouble overseas, contact the nearest Australian overseas mission. In some countries, Canadian missions provide consular assistance to Australians.

Contact information for Australian overseas missions and relevant Canadian missions is listed on the DFAT website at dfat.gov.au/embassies.html. Other key emergency contacts are listed on the back page of this booklet.

Consular services

The Australian Government will do its best to help Australians in difficulty overseas, but it pays to be realistic in your expectations of what we can do. When you travel you should be aware that you're leaving behind Australia's support systems, emergency service capabilities and medical facilities. There are limits on the level of consular service that we can provide in other countries.

We can help with:

  • providing assistance during crises such as civil unrest and natural disasters
  • providing advice and support in the case of an accident, serious illness or death, or if an Australian is a victim of a serious crime, and arranging for nominated contacts to be informed
  • visiting or contacting Australians who are arrested and arranging for their family to be informed (if they wish)
  • contacting relatives and friends on an Australian's behalf and asking them to assist with money or tickets
  • providing access to a repayable loan (up to a maximum of $150) in real emergencies to cover the cost of a replacement travel document
  • providing information on possible government financial assistance for eligible Australians to help with legal costs overseas
  • providing a list of doctors, lawyers and, if available, interpreters
  • issuing passports, including emergency passports.

We cannot help with:

  • giving legal advice, investigating crimes overseas or intervening in court proceedings
  • getting Australians out of prison or obtaining special treatment for Australians in prison
  • providing medical services or medication
  • arranging visas, work or residence permits for other countries or helping Australians obtain them
  • paying or guaranteeing payment of hotel, medical or other bills
  • acting as a travel agent, bank or post office, or storing luggage
  • providing translation, interpreter, telephone or photocopy services
  • becoming involved in commercial disputes or taking complaints about local purchases.

Your privacy

If you need help from consular officials while overseas, you should be aware that your rights to privacy are protected by the Privacy Act 1988. Information about you can't be disclosed without your consent – even to your immediate family or friends – except in certain limited circumstances. Further information about how we collect, use, disclose and store personal information related to consular cases is contained in our Consular Privacy Collection Statement.

Fees

By law the consular service must charge fees for notarial and certain other services. These fees are determined by an Act of Parliament and do not reflect the full cost of providing these services.

Emergency services

DFAT's Consular Emergency Centre provides urgent consular assistance around the clock to Australians in distress overseas. The centre's staff are highly experienced officers who can be contacted on 1300 555 135 from within Australia or on +61 2 6261 3305 from overseas.

This service is provided where the problem is serious and requires emergency assistance, and you can't contact the closest Australian embassy, high commission or consulate.

Counselling services

Australians in need of counselling services overseas can contact our Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 to be transferred to a Lifeline telephone crisis supporter.

Travel insurance providers

Travel insurance companies often have 24-hour call centres that you can contact from anywhere in the world. If you get sick overseas or are involved in a medical emergency, you should contact your travel insurance provider as soon as possible. Make sure you take your travel insurance policy information and contact numbers with you so you can easily contact your insurer from overseas.