Travel smart – hints for Australian travellers

Each year over seven million Australians travel overseas – and each year the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade provides consular assistance to more than 20,000 Australians in difficulty.

Travel smart provides useful travel information and advice to help you have an enjoyable, hassle-free travel experience.

Top 10 travel tips

Visit our top ten travel tips page for our ten most important travel tips.

Travel advice

The travel advice on smartraveller.gov.au contains important destination-specific information that you need to know when planning an overseas trip. There's 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 at a glance the level of risk in travelling to a particular destination. However, it's a good idea to also consider the other travel information on smartraveller.gov.au before you go. Remember that the security situation can change quickly, so check the travel advice regularly while you're away or subscribe to get free email updates.

Accessing travel advice

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.

Online registration

Register your travel details online, or at the nearest Australian embassy, high commission or consulate once you arrive, so that we can try to contact you in case of an emergency, such as a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue. All registration information 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.

Travel insurance

If you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel.

That might sound a bit harsh, but organising insurance is an essential part of preparing for your overseas trip. If you're uninsured you (or your family) are personally liable for covering any medical or other costs resulting from unexpected incidents or accidents.

Comprehensive travel insurance

Comprehensive travel insurance should cover all medical expenses for injury or illness, as well as theft of your valuables and cancellations or interruptions to your flight plans, baggage damage and more. It also saves you the worry and financial burden if you have an accident or illness overseas – medical costs can reach tens of thousands of dollars.

Shop around, including online, 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.
  • Be aware that some policies do not cover refunds for changes in safety and security environments overseas.

Whether you are entitled to a refund when DFAT changes travel advice levels will depend on the terms and conditions of your policy – it varies from policy to policy. Always read the fine print!

For more tips and information on insurance and how to choose the right policy for you, visit our travel insurance page.

Official documents

You might just want to jump on a plane and get moving, but it's important that all your documentation is in order before you leave. Find out what you need in advance as some documents can take a while to organise.

Passport

Your passport is your most important travel document. You need it to leave and enter Australia and other countries, obtain visas and cash travellers cheques – and in some countries you must carry it at all times as a form of identification.

  • Check that your passport has at least six months' validity from your planned date of return to Australia.
  • Safeguard your passport at all times. 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 online at passports.gov.au, without delay. This is required by law.
  • 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.
  • Write your contact details on the Notice page in your passport (in pencil, so that you can make changes if you need to). Apart from this, it is illegal to alter or tamper with your passport in any way.
  • Always carry your passport separately from other forms of identification. This will ensure you will have other 'proof of identity' documents if your passport is lost or stolen.

More information on passports can be found at passports.gov.au or by calling APIS on 131 232 (in Australia). If you're out of the country and need passport information, contact the nearest Australian embassy, high commission or consulate.

Visas

Find out early which visas you need by contacting the nearest embassy, high commission or consulate of the country you plan to visit. You can find their contact details in the White pages or online at dfat.gov.au/embassies.html.

Your travel agent might also be able to provide advice on visa requirements.

A visa does not necessarily guarantee entry to a country, particularly if authorities suspect you might breach the conditions upon which the visa was issued.

Entry permits

When you enter some countries, you receive an entry permit that tells you the date when you must leave. If you want to stay longer you must apply for an extension. Be aware that visa-free schemes may not permit extensions and if you overstay you could be fined or jailed.

Driver's licence

Don't assume you can use your Australian licence overseas – in many countries you'll need an international driving permit to rent a car. You can get an international driving permit from the automobile club or association in the state or territory where your licence is current. See our page about road safety and driving for more information.

Personal information

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
  • insurance policy.

Dual nationality

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 or read our information for dual nationals.

Travel health

Read up on the health issues affecting the country you are travelling to on smartraveller.gov.au before you go. See a doctor well in advance of your trip to discuss travel health issues, even if you're well at the moment.

Standards of medical care overseas may be very different from those in Australia. Medical treatment in other countries can be very expensive and you might have to pay in advance. In some cases medical evacuation may be necessary, costing many thousands of dollars.

Organising comprehensive travel insurance before you leave can save you the worry of unexpected medical costs.

In some countries, HIV/AIDS is a significant risk. You should take appropriate precautions if you're doing things that expose you to risk of infection.

You can find more information about taking care of your health overseas:

If you need medical treatment while overseas, the local Australian embassy, high commission or consulate will be able to supply you with a list of English-speaking doctors.

Vaccinations

Visit a doctor well in advance of your trip to allow time for any vaccinations or other medical treatment or tests required for your trip. Remember that some vaccines require a long period to take effect and more than one dose may be needed.

It is important to get advice that is tailored to your health needs and the places you plan to visit.

You may need to update immunisations such as measles, whooping cough and tetanus, which can occur regularly in many parts of the world, including developed countries.

In discussing your travel needs with your doctor you should consider vaccinations against diseases that are a risk to travellers, such as hepatitis A and influenza. Depending on your travel plans, your doctor may recommend additional vaccines, such as for encephalitis or typhoid.

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 embassy, consulate or high commission in Australia.

If you are travelling to a country where yellow fever occurs, you may be asked to provide proof of vaccination when returning to Australia. For more information about yellow fever vaccinations, visit health.gov.au.

Medications

Before you leave, check that the medications you plan to take are legal in the country you are visiting. You can do this by contacting the country's embassy, consulate or high commission located in Australia.

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 the length of your trip
  • carry or enclose a letter from your doctor detailing what the medicine is, how much you will be taking or sending, and stating that the medicine is for your personal use.
  • always leave the medicine in its original packaging.

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 medicines, visit the Department of Human Services website or call 1800 500 147.

Reciprocal health care agreements

Australia has reciprocal health care agreements with Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden 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. You would need to cover these costs yourself if you don't have adequate travel insurance.

For more information visit Department of Human Services website or call 132 011.

Influenza

Since 2003 there have been outbreaks of various strains of influenza (including H5N1 and H1N1) in a number of countries around the world.

Information, including precautionary advice for travellers, during these types of outbreaks is generally available from the Department of Health and the World Health Organization.

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 and Border Protection officer or police officer.

For more information, visit the AUSTRAC website.

Packing tips

Packing tips and information on items that can be included in carry-on and checked luggage are available through your airline and at CASA website.

If you're unsure about what you can take with you overseas, download the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service's brochure Guide for travellers − know before you go, or call Australian Customs and Border Protection on 1300 363 263 from within Australia or +61 2 9313 3010 from overseas.

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.

Tourist Refund Scheme

You can claim a refund for the goods and services tax (GST) and wine equalisation tax (WET) that you pay on goods you buy in Australia. The refund only applies to goods you take with you as hand luggage or wear on the aircraft or ship when you leave the country. Visit the Customs website for more information.

Keeping in touch

Every year, DFAT's consular service receives thousands of calls from worried family members and friends who haven't heard from someone who is travelling. Follow these tips so that your friends and family can also have a worry-free time:

  • Leave a copy of your itinerary with your family or a friend.
  • Register your travel plans at smartraveller.gov.au or do it in person at any Australian embassy, high commission or consulate.
  • Arrange options for staying in touch with family and friends while overseas (mobile phone, prepaid or postpaid international calling card, SMS, email etc.).
  • Give your family and friends an indication of how often they will hear from you, and stick to your word.

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 our country-specific travel advisories.

Drugs

Don't use, carry or get involved with drugs overseas. Every year, the Australian Government provides consular assistance to Australians arrested or jailed overseas for drug offences. 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.

Child sex crime

Australia has introduced laws with lengthy jail terms for Australian citizens and residents who engage in sexual activity with children in foreign countries – see the child sex offences page for more information. Violations of Australia's child sex laws should be reported to the Australian Federal Police by calling 131AFP (131237) within Australia and completing the CST report, or writing to the Australian Federal Police Operations Coordination Centre, GPO Box 401, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.

Consular services and the law

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Our 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.

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

Local customs

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

  • Be aware of the customs of the country you're travelling to.
  • Dress appropriately. Look at what the locals are wearing and be sensitive to local standards, particularly in those countries with strong Islamic customs.
  • Be respectful of places of worship, such as churches, mosques or temples.
  • 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.

Family 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.

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 out 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.

Death

Each year more than 1,000 Australians die overseas. It can cost between $10,000 and $20,000 to bring the remains of loved ones home – make sure your travel insurance covers this before you go. For more information, visit our page about death overseas.

Publications

DFAT publishes a range of brochures with travel hints for specific travel groups, and information about how to cope with unexpected events. You can download or order printed copies of our brochures.

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 guide for international travellers about Australia's prohibited and restricted goods laws and personal duty-free allowances.

Some Australian and New Zealand ePassport holders now 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. You can use SmartGate if you have an Australian or New Zealand ePassport and are aged 16 years or over. To see how SmartGate works or for more information visit australia.gov.au/smartgate.

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 Australia, your baggage may be inspected by Department of Agriculture's Biosecurity 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.

You must declare all food, plant or 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, read the Department of Agriculture's Biosecurity brochure What can't I take into Australia?. 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?.

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.

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.

See our Consular Services Charter for more information.

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.

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.