General Advice to Australian Travellers

Latest update

This Bulletin was last issued on Tuesday, 11 February 2014.  

Summary

  • Terrorism is an ongoing threat in many countries around the world. The threat in some destinations is very high. We continue to receive reports that terrorists are actively planning attacks. See Safety and Security: Terrorism (below) and our country specific travel advisories for details of terrorist threats to specific locations and types of venues.
  • Violent and petty crime occurs in many countries. You should familiarise yourself with the types of crime that may occur and locations where you may be particularly at risk.
  • You should avoid demonstrations and protests as they may turn violent. In periods surrounding elections, unrest and violent protests can occur.
  • When you are overseas, local laws apply to you and penalties, particularly for drug-related offences, can be severe and may include the death penalty. The Australian Government can't get you out of jail.
  • Transport safety standards vary widely. You should understand the risks and plan your travel accordingly.
  • Be aware that in some locations there is a risk to travellers from water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases, as well as malaria and other insect-borne diseases. See your doctor or travel clinic for information on preventive measures, immunisations and disease outbreaks overseas. Our Health page has information on staying well overseas.
  • Many Australians are affected by natural disasters and health emergencies overseas each year. You should monitor the media, be aware of emerging risks and take appropriate precautions.
  • Travel insurance policies may not provide cover if an incident occurred while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Advice for young travellers (including Schoolies, gap year travellers and volunteers)and for business travellers is available.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:

Entry and Exit Requirements

You should ensure you have the correct visa for the countries you are visiting or transiting. Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, vaccination records, and customs and quarantine regulations, including the legality of medications) change regularly. Contact the nearest embassy or consulate of the country you are travelling to for the most up-to-date information.

You may be required to present a valid yellow fever vaccination certificate to be allowed entry into your country of destination, particularly if you are arriving from a country where yellow fever is endemic.

If you have visited certain yellow fever declared countries in the last six days prior to your date of return to Australia, Australian Customs officials will ask you to present a valid yellow fever vaccination certificate upon entry into Australia. See the Australian Department of Health's fact sheet on yellow fever for further details.

Make sure your passport has at least six months validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

Safety and Security

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. Attacks can happen without warning any time and in any place in the world. Statements by international terrorist groups have called for attacks against Western interest in various regions around the world. We continue to receive reports that terrorists are planning attacks, including against places frequented by foreigners.

In many cases the purpose of terrorist attacks is to create panic, hinder normal social, political and economic activities, and disrupt everyday life. Terrorists may attack official or civilian targets depending on their particular objectives at the time. Terrorist attacks have targeted and killed many innocent people, including Australians, in countries throughout the world. See our country specific travel advisories for details.

Terrorist operations include: kidnappings; hijackings; bombings; suicide operations or other acts of violence, such as drive-by assassinations. Terrorist groups have also demonstrated a capacity to pursue other types of operations against Western interests including attacks against maritime targets. See our piracy travel bulletin for more information.

Airports and aircraft are a continuing potential terrorist target around the world. Airport and airline security procedures have been strengthened in many countries. See our air travel page for more information.

In planning your activities, consider the kind of places known to be terrorist targets and the level of security provided. These include places frequented by foreigners such as shopping malls, expatriate housing complexes, hotels, hostels, guest houses, bars, clubs, restaurants, movie theatres, schools, places of worship, tourist areas, markets, shopping centres, banks, car parks, airports and aircraft, and outdoor recreation and major sporting events.

Symbols and infrastructure associated with government, military or Western interests, such as embassies, public transport, oil and gas infrastructure, government buildings and premises of transnational and multinational companies, are also potential terrorist targets. Significant dates and anniversaries are also symbolic and terrorists have used such occasions to mount attacks.

Security conditions can change rapidly in different regions and countries and you should monitor carefully our destination-specific travel advice. Australians can be caught up in terrorist attacks directed at others. Pay attention to your personal security and be vigilant at all times and monitor the local media for information about possible new safety and security risks.

The Australian Government's longstanding policy is that it does not make payments or concessions to kidnappers. The Australian Government considers that paying a ransom increases the risk of further kidnappings, including of other Australians. If you do decide to travel to an area where there is a particular threat of kidnapping, you should ensure you have personal security measures in place, seek professional security advice and take out kidnapping insurance. See our kidnapping threat worldwide travel bulletin for more information.

Civil Unrest/Political Tension

You should find out whether your destination is safe for tourism and business before you leave. There are ongoing conflicts and social unrest in many countries around the world. You should identify which areas are unsafe and stay away from them. If you live and work in these areas, you should consider leaving if it is safe to do so. In such circumstances, situations can deteriorate rapidly and without warning and the Australian Government's ability to provide consular support may be severely limited.

Demonstrations and large public gatherings have the potential to turn violent. Demonstrations are often held in the period surrounding elections, days of national or local significance or in response to local, national or international events. Demonstrations and strikes may also disrupt your travel plans. Events in one country can also become the catalyst for demonstrations, violence, civil unrest or anti-Western sentiment in another.

You should avoid any such events and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.

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). Firearms can be widely available and readily used. You should put measures in place to protect your personal security and familiarise yourself with the types of crimes that occur and locations where you may be particularly at risk. If in doubt, seek local advice.

You should keep valuables out of sight and avoid unnecessary displays of wealth. Be vigilant to your personal security and possessions in public places. You should keep the doors locked and the windows up when travelling by car in some destinations.

You should take particular care when travelling after dark, especially if you are alone. You should avoid places known for criminal activity and avoid deserted areas.

Foreigners can be particularly vulnerable to scams. You should check the travel advice for your destination to familiarise yourself with common tactics. You should also read our International Scams travel bulletin.

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.

There are high levels of piracy in the coastal areas of many regions around the world. They include: the Horn of Africa including the Gulf of Aden and Yemen; up to 1,000 nautical miles (1,850 km) from the coast of Somalia; East Africa, particularly Tanzania and Kenya; West Africa, particularly Nigeria where kidnapping for ransom occurs; parts of South East Asia; in waters around India and Bangladesh; the Caribbean and Central America; and South America, particularly Peru and Brazil.

Attacks by pirates against all forms of shipping in and around the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden are increasing in frequency. You should seek local advice and see the piracy bulletin for more information. The International Maritime Bureau issues piracy reports on its website.

In some destinations, women travelling on their own may be physically and verbally harassed, assaulted or intimidated. For more safety information, see our Travelling Women page.

Travellers have been assaulted and robbed after accepting spiked food or drink. For information on sexual assault, see our sexual assault page.

Due to the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in many countries around the world, victims of violent crime, especially rape, are strongly encouraged to seek immediate medical assistance.

Enforcement and ethical standards for police and security authorities vary greatly between countries.

Money and Valuables

Before you go, organise a variety of ways to access your money overseas, such as credit cards, travellers' cheques, cash, debit cards or cash cards. Australian currency and travellers' cheques are not accepted in many countries. Consult with your bank to find out which the most appropriate currency to carry is and whether your ATM card will work overseas.

Make two photocopies of valuable documents such as your passport, tickets, visas, travellers' cheques, credit card numbers, insurance policy, itinerary and phone card details. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home.

While travelling, don't carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewellery, cameras and electronic items may be tempting targets for thieves.

As a sensible precaution against luggage tampering, including theft, lock your luggage. Information on luggage safety is available from Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.

You are required to pay an additional fee to have a lost or stolen passport replaced. Passports can be issued at extra cost using the priority processing service. In some cases, the Government may also restrict the length of validity or type of replacement passports. For more information, see the passports webpage.

Local Travel

Driving conditions vary around the world. The safety and maintenance standards of vehicles and roads and adherence to road rules may not match those in Australia. The road toll in some countries is many times greater than in Australia. For further advice, see our road travel page.

Don't assume you can use your Australian licence overseas. You can get an international driving permit from the auto club or association in the state where your licence is valid.

The safety standards maintained by tour and adventure activity operators may not be as high as those in Australia, especially for sports such as parasailing, scuba diving and white water rafting. Sufficient life jackets and adequate safety equipment may not be provided. Recommended maintenance standards and safety precautions may not be observed. You should carefully check the operator's credentials beforehand and ensure that your insurance policy covers you for all activities that you undertake.

Standards maintained by search and rescue services may not be comparable to those in Australia. These services may not be available in some destinations and locations.

Inter-island ferries and river craft can be overloaded, poorly maintained or lack necessary life-saving equipment, increasing the safety risk. Hundreds of people die every year in maritime accidents.

Strong coastal currents, including rip tides, can make swimming dangerous. Local authorities can provide advice regarding conditions.

Airline Safety

Please refer to our air travel page for information on aviation safety and security.

Wildlife

Australians are advised to respect wildlife laws and to maintain a safe and legal distance when observing wildlife, including marine animals and birds. You should only use reputable and professional guides or tour operators and closely follow park regulations and wardens' advice.

Advice for young travellers

Young Australians travelling overseas should see the information on our young travellers page. It contains essential information on partying, schoolies, volunteering, backpacking, living and working overseas and what to do if things go wrong.

Advice for business travellers

Information for business travellers is available on putting in place risk management and contingency planning arrangements to address a range of issues confronting short term business travel and longer-term deployments overseas. The business travel advice provides information on mitigating a range of risks confronting business travellers including terrorism, political tensions, civil unrest, fraud, severe weather, natural disasters and security of corporate information.

Travelling with children

For general information and tips on travelling with children see our Travelling with Children page.

Any adult travelling with children may be required to show evidence of parental, custodial and/or access rights, particularly in the case of dual nationals.

If you are planning on placing your children in schools or childcare facilities overseas we encourage you to research the standards of security, care and staff training within those establishments. You should exercise the same precautions you would take before placing children into schools or childcare facilities in Australia.

Ideas on how to select childcare providers are available from the smartraveller children page, Child Wise and the National Childcare Accreditation Council.

Local Laws

When you are overseas, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. Learn as much as you can about the laws of the countries you will visit. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail. See our arrested or in jail page.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.

Australians who might engage in activities that involve local legal matters, particularly with regard to family law (divorce, child custody and child support) or purchasing property, are strongly advised to seek professional advice and ensure they are aware of their rights and responsibilities. The Australian Government can't provide you with legal advice or legal assistance.

Penalties for drug offences in some countries, including for small amounts of 'soft drugs', may include the death penalty or lengthy imprisonment.

Corporal punishment, including the death penalty, is a mandatory sentence for specific offences in some countries. The death penalty has been carried out against Australians overseas.

Sharia (Islamic) Law is enforced in some Islamic countries.

Medication available over-the-counter or by prescription may be illegal in some countries. Check with the embassy or consulate of your planned destination whether your medication is legal. You should also carry your medication in its original packaging and take a letter from your doctor explaining your need to take the drug.

In most countries, taking photographs of military installations and other sites deemed to be sensitive to domestic security, such as police stations, is prohibited and may result in arrest or detention. Photographing local people, particularly women and children, is also illegal in some countries.

In some destinations it is illegal to buy, sell or wear camouflage-style clothing.

Severe penalties may be imposed in some countries for attempting to export antiquities or culturally significant items.

Homosexual acts are illegal in some countries. Penalties can include the death penalty, corporal punishment and long prison sentences. See our LGBTI travellers page.

Preaching and importing religious material is illegal in some countries.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australian overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

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.

Local Customs

There are strong codes of conservative dress and behaviour in some destinations. Public displays of affection may cause offence, while unmarried couples may not be permitted to share accommodation.

Special behavioural restrictions and regulations can apply during significant religious times.

You should familiarise yourself with the local customs of your chosen destination and take care not to offend. If in doubt, seek local advice.

Information for Dual Nationals

Some countries do not recognise dual nationality. This may limit the ability of the Australian Government to provide consular assistance to dual nationals who are arrested or detained. Australians should contact the nearest embassy or consulate of their destination for information on whether dual nationality is recognised.

Dual nationals may be required to fulfil military or civil service obligations. You should ensure you are informed of the regulations that apply to you.

Our Dual nationals page provides further information for dual nationals.

Health Issues

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.

Your doctor or travel clinic is the best source of information about preventive measures, immunisations (including booster doses of childhood vaccinations) and disease outbreaks overseas. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our Health page also provides useful tips for travelling with medicines and staying healthy while overseas. Further travel health information can be found at the Australian Department of Health Website.

The standard of medical facilities and medical care in many countries is significantly lower than those in Australia. There can be shortages of medical equipment and medicines and hygiene can be poor. Upfront payment is required in some countries before treatment will begin. In the event of a serious illness or accident, medical evacuation to a destination with appropriate facilities may be necessary. The costs for medical evacuations can exceed $100,000.

The quality and safety of drugs purchased outside of Australia cannot be guaranteed. If you need to purchase medication at your destination be careful not to buy imitation or counterfeit medications. Always check the strength of a prescription medication with a doctor. Be aware that even if the packaging and labelling are similar to those available in Australia, the strength and active ingredients can vary from country to country.

Australians who have had too much to drink or taken drugs have been assaulted, injured, arrested, imprisoned and even killed. For simple precautions while overseas see our Partying Overseas page. Travel insurance policies may not provide cover if an incident occurred while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The rate of HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis infection in some countries can be very high. You should exercise appropriate precautions if engaging in activities that expose you to risk of infection such as unsafe sex, use of contaminated needles and syringes, or the use of non-sterile tattooing equipment. Further information on HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis infection can be found at the Australian Department of Health website.

Malaria and other insect-borne diseases are common in many regions. We encourage you to take prophylaxis against malaria, and take measures to avoid insect bites such as using insect repellent, wearing long, loose-fitting, light coloured clothing and ensuring your accommodation is mosquito proof.

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases are prevalent around the world with major outbreaks occurring from time to time. If you are in doubt about the quality of the water in any country, we recommend you boil all drinking water or drink bottled water, and avoid ice cubes. You should also avoid raw and undercooked food. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

Bear in mind that standards of food handling and preparation may be different from those in Australia. Illness caused by poor food handling is common in some locations. You should ensure that food is fresh and make enquiries of relevant staff about food handling standards. Naturally occurring seafood toxins such as ciguatera (which can affect reef fish in tropical locations), as well as scombroid (histamine fish poisoning) and toxins in shellfish can also be a hazard. Seek urgent medical attention if you suspect poisoning. For more information, including on symptoms and treatment, see Queensland Health's fact sheet.

Alcoholic drinks can be mixed with harmful substances, particularly methanol, which can cause serious illness, blindness, brain injury or death. If you suspect that you or a companion may have been poisoned, you need to act quickly and get urgent medical attention. Symptoms of methanol poisoning can include fatigue, headaches and nausea, similar to the effects as excessive drinking, but with pronounced vision problems that may include blurred or snowfield vision, flashes of light, tunnel vision, changes in colour perception, dilated pupils, difficulty looking at bright lights, or blindness. If you suspect that you, or anyone you are travelling with, have been affected by methanol or other poisoning, it is imperative that you seek immediate medical attention, which could be vital in avoiding permanent disability or death. All suspected cases of methanol poisoning should be reported to local police.

Travellers who ascend to altitudes greater than 2,500 metres, particularly if the ascent is rapid, or who make further rapid ascents at higher altitudes, are at risk of developing altitude sickness. Altitude sickness can be life threatening and can affect anyone, even people who are physically fit. Those more at risk include people who have had altitude sickness before, who exercise or drink alcohol before adjusting (acclimatising) to the altitude, or who have health problems that affect breathing. If you plan to travel to altitude, you should see your doctor prior to travel and get advice specific to you and your situation.

Decompression chambers are often located near popular diving locations. Divers should check the location of decompression chambers in the relevant travel advisory.

Influenza: Influenza is a viral infection that affects mainly the nose, throat, bronchi and, occasionally, lungs. The virus is transmitted easily from person to person via droplets and small particles produced when infected people cough or sneeze. Occasionally the virus can also be transmitted from animals to humans. Annual epidemics of influenza usually occur during the winter months in temperate regions.
Most infected people recover within one to two weeks without requiring medical treatment. However, severe disease is more likely to occur in children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions.
The viruses that cause influenza generally undergo frequent changes in their composition. There are three general categories of influenza to be aware of: seasonal, animal-origin (avian and swine) and pandemic. You should familiarise yourself with the advice regarding personal protective and infection-control measures provided on the Australian Department of Health's Influenza website. For more information see our health page for tips on staying healthy.

Where to get help

If you are travelling overseas, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency - whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.

You should also keep in contact with friends and family and leave a copy of your itinerary with them so they know where you are.

For consular assistance you can contact the relevant Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. Contact details are available at www.dfat.gov.au/missions/index.html. In a consular emergency you can also obtain consular assistance by telephoning the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on 1 300 555 135 (if calling from within Australia) or (61 2) 6261 3305 (if calling from overseas).

In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra may be contacted on (02) 6261 3305.

More information for Australians travelling overseas can be found at our travel tips webpage.

Natural Disasters, Severe Weather and Climate

If you are travelling to an area which has recently experienced a natural disaster, you should contact your tour operator to check whether tourist services have been affected.

All oceanic regions of the world can experience tsunamis, but in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, there is a more frequent occurrence of large, destructive tsunamis because of the many large earthquakes along major tectonic plate boundaries and ocean trenches. See the Tsunami Awareness brochure.

Cyclones, typhoons and hurricanes occur in many places around the world resulting in flooding, landslides and disruptions to essential services, including transport and communications, in affected areas. If you are travelling during cyclone season, you should contact your tour operator to check whether tourist services at your planned destination have been affected. For further information, see our severe weather page.

Severe weather such as snows storms and heavy rains can cause disruptions to essential services, such as transport and communications.

There are active volcanos around the globe. Most countries with active volcanos closely monitor volcanic activity and provide the latest information on official websites and in the local media.

If a natural disaster occurs, you should monitor the media closely for up-to-date information and follow the advice of local authorities.

Information on natural disasters can be obtained from the Humanitarian Early Warning Service. You should also check the travel advice for your destination.



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.