You should open an Australian bank account if you’re planning on doing anything more than a bit of travelling Down Under, especially if that includes working.
Most Australian banks charge for using their competitors’ ATMs, so it makes sense to go with one of the big four, who have the most machines.
They are Westpac, Commonwealth, ANZ and National Australia Bank (NAB).
Some banks require you to deposit money when you open the account, so make sure you’ve got a couple of extra bucks up your sleeve just in case.
Also take note that many Australian current accounts come with a monthly charge of a few dollars.
It’s also worth applying for a MasterCard debit card with whoever you open an account with.
This will allow you to pay for things online with your Aussie earnings, rather than having to rely on your credit card from home.
Australia’s currency is decimal and based on the dollar ($), which is made up of 100 cents (c).
Notes come in $100, $50, $20, $10 and $5 denominations.
Coins used are 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, $1 and $2. Exchange facilities are available at international airports.
Foreign currency and traveller’s cheques can be changed at most bank branches.
Make sure you bring ID with you such as a driver’s licence, as this and your passport are the only acceptable forms of ID in many places, including pubs – which are very strict on ID in Australia.
The dialling code for Australia is +61 (then delete the 0 at the start of the area code).
Dialing out of Australia it’s: 00 11 before a country code (as well as deleting the fi rst 0).
There are many different phone cards which offer a variety of very cheap international calls so shop around for the one that suits you best.
Basic information numbers include:
Directory enquiries: 1223
Reverse charges: 1800 738 3773
Overseas operator: 1225
Note: These numbers are correct from Telstra telephones at time of going to press.
All the major communication companies (Vodafone, Optus, Telstra and Virgin) have pre-paid mobile packages, saving you the hassle of signing up for lengthy contracts.
The choice of phones is pretty good, and many allow you to bring your own handset from home and just purchase the Australian SIM card so make sure you check the card is compatible with your mobile.
There are loads of internet cafés across Australia, so you’ll have no problem keeping in touch with friends and family. Prices range from $2-6 per hour.
Many hostels also offer free internet as part of their service.
Free wifi hotspots are also becoming increasingly common in Aussie cities, for example in many McDonalds.
Australia Post shops are open 9am-5pm Monday-Friday and some major post offi ces are open on Saturday mornings as well.
Poste Restante can be sent to any post offi ce in Australia and collected within a month by producing suitable identification.
Most credit cards are accepted in Australia.
You may find some diffi culty using them in country areas and small retail shops.
Cards generally accepted are MasterCard (Access), Visa, American Express, Bankcard and Diners Club. MasterCard and Visa are the most widely used.
Allowance: Visitors aged over 18 are allowed to bring 250g of tobacco products (ie. 250 cigarettes) and 2,250ml of alcohol into Australia.
General goods, such as perfume, to the value of $900 may be included in your duty free allowance. If you’re under 18 the limit is $450.
Quarantine laws: Australia has very strict quarantine laws which prohibit people from bringingin fruit, veg, egg products, seeds, fresh and packaged food, animal and some natural products.
The laws are intended to keep Australia free of diseases such as foot and mouth and rabies.
Bins in customs halls allow you to dump anything which may contravene the law. You’re also required to declare any goods at customs.
If you’re not sure (souvenirs from Asia, for example, may well be made of prohibited substances) ask, because if you’re caught bringing in something dodgy it will be confi scated and you could be slapped with a large fine.
Worse yet, you could make it onto one of those customs TV shows! Bags are scanned at customs for organic material, making it easier to detect forbidden substances.
Australia’s busiest international airports are Sydney and Melbourne, but it is also possible to fly into Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Darwin or Perth.
A number of carriers offer fl ights to Australia, so it’s worth shopping around for the best deals.
There is a departure tax from Australia which is usually included in your ticket price, but check with your travel agent or online just to make sure.
Australia is constantly improving its facilities for disabled people. Make sure you give advance notice to airlines, hotels and transport offi ces so they can make any special arrangements. Information on facilities is available from Nican (nican.com.au).
Australia uses two or three-pin power plugs and sockets which are different from those used in other countries, so you will need to bring an adaptor if you want to use any electrical items from home, such as a mobile charger.
Australia has very similar drug laws to most Western countries. Most recreational drugs are illegal, and if you get caught bringing any amount of drugs into the country you could face serious federal charges.
Cannabis has not been decriminalised here, and although you may get away with a caution if you are caught in possession of a small amount, larger amounts and harder drugs will result in much tougher punishment.
There aren’t too many health hazards in Australia, but if you do become sick or injured, it is not difficult to get medical help.
Having said that, it is important to make sure you have travel insurance and that your policy will cover your whole trip.
Hygiene standards are high. It is safe to drink tap water, other than in exceptional circumstances such as floods or severe drought.
Medicare: If you hail from the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Italy, Malta or Belgium, then you’re in luck, as reciprocal agreements means that Australia’s healthcare system looks after you best.
Beware that different nationalities get cover for different amounts of time, not necessarily your whole stay Down Under.
Head to a Medicare offi ce once you arrive and you can apply for a Medicare card.
This means that for the duration of your stay in Oz, you get free emergency treatment at public hospitals, subsidised prescriptions, and necessary medical care from your local doctor.
The card doesn’t get you everything though.
You will still have to pay for elective surgery, dental, optical, chiropractic, treatment in a private hospital, and, most importantly, it doesn’t cover ambulance transport.
Go to medicareaustralia.gov.au for more info.
Travellers from Ireland and New Zealand aren’t quite so lucky, although those countries do still have reciprocal agreements with Australia.
This means that despite not getting a Medicare card, you do still get free emergency treatment, subsidised prescriptions and necessary medical care.
If you are visiting Australia on a student visa you are not covered by Medicare and will need to take out Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC).
Medication: Visitors are permitted to bring in reasonable quantities of prescribed medication.
With large quantities, it is advisable to carry a doctor’s certifi cate. Local chemists can fill most prescriptions, but keep in mind that these mustbe written by an Australian-registered doctor.
Vaccinations: These are not required unless you have come from or visited a yellow fever-infected country or zone within six days prior to arrival.
HIV/AIDS is as big a problem in Australia as anywhere in the world, so all the safe sex rules apply.
Recent research has shown backpackers are more likely to contract an STI than the average person, so don’t be a moron.
Skin cancer: This is the medical condition Australia is best known for, and one which visitors should take very seriously.
Australia’s rate of skin cancer is the highest in the world as a result of an outdoor lifestyle and strong UV rays.
Make sure you are always well protected, even if you’re not going to the beach.
A slogan you will hear often is “Slip, Slop, Slap”, which is short for slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat.
Skin cancer should be taken seriously so avoid sunbathing between 11am-3pm and make sure you use a sunscreen with a high protection factor.
Ask at airports, trains and bus stations about luggage storage. Many independent travel specialists also offer luggage storage facilities.
Regulations vary from state to state. General pub opening hours are 10am-12am Monday-Saturday, Sunday hours vary (usually 12pm-10pm).
However, in big cities you will find that many pubs have rather, erm, flexible opening hours. Many don’t close until
4am and some are open 24 hours.
We like those ones. The minimum legal drinking age is 18.
Many restaurants are licenced, but many do not sell alcohol and welcome you to bring your own.
A Bring Your Own (BYO) restaurant can make for a cheap(ish) night out, although you may have to pay a small corkage charge.
Drink driving: There is a national 0.05 blood alcohol limit (which is a half-pint less than the UK’s 0.08 limit), and random breath testing is widespread, especially in summer.
If you hit something or someone while driving in NSW, Victoria, South Australia or the Northern Territory and end up at the hospital, you’ll face a compulsory blood test.
If you fail the test you risk having your driver’s license removed right before your eyes, be slapped with a fi ne and you may also face further legal action. Basically, don’t be stupid by drink driving.
Australia has some of the world’s toughest antismoking laws.
Sparking up was banned in all pubs and clubs in 2007, although many pubs have beer gardens and outdoor smoking areas.
Smoking is also banned in offi ces, restaurants, cafés, cinemas and on public transport.
If you want to work while you’re in Australia, make sure you get yourself a Tax File Number (TFN).
If you don’t get one, the government will take a staggering 47 per cent of your earnings in tax.
So apply online at the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) website ato.gov.au as soon as you arrive.
Australia is divided into three time zones. Eastern Standard Time (EST) covers Queensland, New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and Tasmania, and is nine hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
Central Standard Time (CST)
operates in South Australia and the Northern Territory and is nine-and-a-half hours ahead of GMT.
Western Standard Time (WST) operates in Western Australia and is eight hours ahead of GMT, two hours behind EST and one-and-a-half hours behind CST.
In summer it becomes really confusing, because not all states operate daylight saving (summer time).
In Queensland, WA and the NT, they don’t ‘do’ daylight saving. The other states advance their clocks by one hour from October to March each year.
Unfortunately, they don’t all change at the same time. And don’t forget British Summer time is one hour AHEAD of GMT from April-October. But if we were you, ignore all this and ask someone the time when you get off the plane.
Australia is well serviced by public transport.
Distances are often huge so planning is essential.
Getting your own transport or buying a jump-on, jump-off bus ticket is a good way of travelling, as you can explore stop-overs along your route.
Cycling: Bicycle helmets are compulsory in Australia.
Taxis: Metered cabs can be found in most towns or cities, and ranks can be found around CBDs.
Weights and measures
Australia uses the metric system. Distances and speed are both measured in kilometres (km).
Weight and volume in kilograms (kg) and litres (L).
Temperature in degrees Celsius (ºC).
With the Aussie dollar soaring high and the economy still doing relatively well, there’s no denying that Oz can now seem quite a pricey place, especially when it comes to things like alcohol.
Australian cities, especially Sydney, are more expensive than rural
However, as anywhere, it is still possible to do things and see places on the cheap.
Cooking for yourself is clearly going to be far kinder to your wallet than eating out every night, so if your hostel has a kitchen, use it!
The major supermarkets are Coles and Woolworths.
Drinking beer by the glass in pubs can be expensive depending on the pub, although happy hours will save you money. You can also buy jugs of beer in many pubs, which can be more economical in the long-run.
The cheapest way to buy beer tends to be in big 750ml bottles (“long-necks”).
The cheapest wine comes in two and four-litre casks (nicknamed “goon”) and vary in price, depending on (usually pretty low) quality.
Spirits are often more expensive by the bottle compared to Europe.
Photos: Getty, TNT, Thinkstock