Toxic Custard Workshop FilesGuide to Australia

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Visiting - Jump straight to 10 Things You Need To Know

I was wondering is the customs agents in Austrialia realy that stick I wanted to bring in some jellies to my boyfriend's mom? - Janelle, probably USA


On entering Australia, the authorities are reasonably strict about importing food, but fortunately for you, not very strict about good spelling. In actual fact the body in question is called the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS), not Customs.

What you'll find it that that would very much like to know if you are entering the country with food, but if it is processed food, they are very likely to not be at all concerned with it, especially if it's from a western country and you wipe off most of the maggots before you arrive. 

The bottom line is: declare all food when you arrive. They'll check it out, and in the case of your jellies, more than likely wave you straight through. 

I am taking my summer vacation in Australia and i was wondering if there are laws against Drugs If so then what drugs are illegal - Anonymous, probably USA
National Drugs Strategy

Alcohol and Drugs Council of Australia

Sometimes I get the feeling that some people think Australia is some little outpost where we don't have electricity or telephones or dentists. A kind of wild west type scenario where you can go sheep rustling, be a bushranger, whatever you want. And of course you can just waltz into the place with drugs in your suitcase (don't even bother stuffing them up your bum), and use and abuse them as much as you want, and nobody will mind a bit.

The reality is not quite like that. You'll find that if you come from an industrialised modern western country that pretty much all the drugs that are illegal at home are also illegal here. You won't get a warm reception if you arrive with them about your person, no matter which orifice it's stuffed into. And while small amounts of marijuana might not attract a criminal conviction, they can still get you into trouble.

We're going to be in Australia, and the one question that our travel agent hasn't been able to answer with any degree of accuracy, is: How much spending money will we need, considering our accommodation and airfare has been paid for. - Sam, South Africa

Cost of living in Australia (Department of Immigration)

Lonely Planet Australia: Money and costs

It all depends on how you're planning to spend your days. If you're planning on living the high life, getting the best tickets to shows, being delivered there by limousine, then afterwards heading for the casino, and doing the Kerry Packer thing - blowing the equivalent of several minor third world countries' GDP in the space of an evening - then obviously the sky's the limit when it comes to spending money.

If on the other hand you're planning just to potter around, doing all the touristy things, looking at towns, cities, national parks, museums, galleries and so on, eating out a couple of times a day, using public transport and the occasional taxi... well, it still varies of course, but some very very rough figures for this kind of thing might be (per day, in Australian pesos dollars):

  • public transport $5-10
  • museum/gallery entry $5-10
  • lunch $5-15
  • dinner $8-30
  • drinks $2+
  • taxi... umm err, well, that depends how far you go, doesn't it

And of course if you're planning to sleep on park benches, eat at soup kitchens and dodge public transport fares (hey, when in Rome... whoops, no I don't really mean that), your expenses may well be closer to zero.

What things would be considered rude or wrong in Australia that are ok to do anywhere else? For example, chewing gum in Singapore is illegal, not taking your shoes off when entering someone's home in Canada is rude (at least that's what I've heard)...I don't know, things a foreigner would have no idea about until he finds himself in that situation. - May, Mexico 
  That explains the dirty looks from those people in Vancouver, Canada, the time I wiped my dirty boots all over their nice new livingroom carpet.

I can't really think of very many off the top of my head:

  • If the above is true, I might point out to any Canadians visiting that taking your shoes off without being asked to, would be considered rude. Likewise, not taking your shoes off if you are asked to.
  • Tipping all the service staff who merely come within a metre of you. Tipping is not very common in Australia, and Australians tend to get caught out on this when overseas.
  • Climbing into the back seat of a taxi when you are alone (you're excused if you're female and the driver is male)
  • Not joining in the office footy tipping competition if given the chance. Doesn't matter if you know nothing about footy, join in anyway - you stand a very real chance of winning.

This looks like a nice time for some more reader participation. E-mail in your suggestions to 

When I come over there will people pass immediate judgement on me b/c I am from the States? I am coming over for school and if you guys hate Americans I might think twice. - Anonymous, USA


Obviously I can't speak for all Australians, just me. But I can tell you what's typical:

Some people here bitch about America. They bitch about how American culture is taking over the world, how McDonalds are everywhere, all that kind of stuff. But for all the bitching and the moaning, fact is that stuff is successful here because most people accept it, buy it, and even like it.

To get to your question, the vast majority of people don't care where on the planet you are from. How people will treat you is a direct result of how you treat them.

I have heard that if a tourist, coming to Australia, lives in a rural ( sheep-herding) community, they are required to dispose of, or vigorously clean their shoes before leaving the airport. Is this true? If so, how is it enforced? Do they just target the obvious encrusted footwear? Is this just an urban myth? - Absinthe, location unknown

Australian National Parks

Australian Quarantine & Inspection Service

It's funny how facts can get muddled up through time. Little things change with each retelling, and eventually that tadpole you caught by accident is being told as the killer whale that somebody's uncle's friend's brother's cousin caught after a 10 hour battle from a row boat somewhere out in the ocean.

According to a well-renowned and trustworthy source (okay, actually a couple of visitors I had a drink with last week), when leaving (or was it entering) certain areas, you are requested to clean your shoes, to make sure that no little bits of wildlife are hitching a ride to somewhere they shouldn't. This request comes not in the form of a threatening looking cop with a truncheon the size of a tree trunk, but a sign simply requesting it.

Of course, you could be a pig and ignore the advice, but that wouldn't be such a nice thing to do, would it. After all, when it all comes down to it, none of us really want to spread disease and pests around the country and cause major ecological disasters, do we? No, we don't.

Postscript: Feedback from a few people has informed me that the Quarantine people will sometimes request shoes to be washed, if they suspect any nasties might have hitched a ride on them from a faraway place.

When are beginning Olympic Plays in Australia because I arrive in 26th August 2000 for few months from France. And how is the weather in Sept October and November in Australia and how hot? - Elodie, France

Sydney 2000 Olympics

Bureau of Meteorology - Climate averages

The Games Committee

The Sydney Olympic Committee would have you believe that the 2000 Olympics start on the 15th of September. This doesn't quite explain why there are events such as Olympic Football (Soccer) games happening as early as the 13th, two days before the so-called opening

If you actually plan to be in Sydney over this period... well, I hope you've either got some accommodation arranged already, or have reserved a park bench, because the city is likely to be pretty full and chaotic - even more so than it is normally.

But not to worry. Provided nobody gets knocked unconscious or killed by giant hailstones, or drowns in rain storms, the spring time weather in Sydney and most of the rest of Australia should be gorgeous - see the Climate Averages link for details.

I am going to be moving to Sydney the first part of January. But in looking at apartment rentals I have noticed that they are all charging by the week. Is that how things are done down under. Or is it just for the Olympics? Also do you know of a listing where I may find home or apartment rentals by the month. - Michael, USA

Domain property rentals

No, this is the usual thing. For some reason that I've never quite figured out, advertisements for rental properties always list the rents as a weekly figure, but payments are made monthly. It calls from some reasonably complicated maths (well okay, so it's just some kind of calculation that I don't know the details of, though I could make an educated guess) to work out the monthly figure, but maybe that's why real estate agents are so well paid?

Actually now that I think about it for a few milliseconds, it's probably listed as a weekly figure so it sounds lower, and paid monthly so it's less work for everybody concerned.

In any case, for most rental properties you'll typically sign a six month or twelve month lease.

I'm trying to get to Australia to (temporarily) work as an sysadmin or something like that. Just one year. What are my chances of being allowed into the country and getting a job permit? - Bas, The Netherlands

Dept of Immigration: Temporary Residence

There are three ways of doing it. The first is to just not tell them you're going to work. A bit risky, since they might not believe you, and even if they do, you'll probably find it quite difficult to get work without the proper paperwork - a Tax File Number and so on. Heck, even if you managed it, it would be a pain to be looking over your shoulder constantly, wondering if you were going to get deported, wouldn't it?

A better way is by applying for a Working Holiday Visa. The Netherlands is one of the countries with which Australia has a reciprocal arrangement for this (as well as the UK, Canada, Ireland, Japan, Korea and Malta) which may make things even easier for you.

Strictly speaking it's meant to be "incidental" employment, and there are some restrictions, such as not being with one employer longer than three months. This could make things a little tricky, though the short-term computer contracting market is reasonably healthy at the moment.

Finally, if you happen to do something that Australians are absolutely hopeless at, you may be able to get a less restrictive (well, in some ways) visa by finding a job first and getting the company employing you to sponsor you for a temporary stay.

i am thinking about traveling to australia, and i was wondering, most countries see us americans as assholes, and for the most part they're right, except the french, and i was wondering how you guys think about us for the most part and what we do, if so, to piss you i can avoid doing it? - Steve, USA
  From my observations, it's probably true that Americans abroad have a certain reputation. I don't think this is entirely deserved, but is caused by the loudest most obnoxious, and hence most noticeable, minority. These people are also highly unlikely to realise that they have these annoying traits.

So, my advice for anyone going overseas (and this probably applies anywhere - not just to Australia):

  • Don't be loud. Take a moment to listen. If everyone else is talking quieter than you, you're being loud.
  • Try not to look too much like a tourist. Don't wear a shiny tracksuit if you're not on your way to training. Keep your camera tucked away. Don't even think about wearing a bumbag.
  • Don't complain about things being different from at home. That's the whole point of going away.
  • Even if you don't learn all the local lingo, at least learn how to pronounce the place names properly.
  • Hang with the locals, don't stick to the tourist traps. You'll probably have a better time, and you'll certainly get a better taste of the place.
  • But don't patronise the locals. Don't call anything "quaint" unless it really is.
  • Leave a good impression. Make up for your obnoxious countrymen.

Most Australians are very friendly to tourists. If you're polite, people are sure to make you feel welcome.

Ten things you need to know when visiting Australia (not actually a question - more a kind of special feature)
Related sites:

Australian Quarantine And Inspection Service

1. Getting in - Customs - plants, animals

From most countries, you'll need a visa to get into Australia. We don't let just anybody in, you know! Apart from New Zealanders, that is. All that paperwork and pen-pushing will hopefully be sorted out by your travel agent or at your local friendly Australian embassy.

When you travel, it's not a good idea to try and smuggle anything in. Apart from the usual stuff like firearms, narcotics and Barry Manilow records, plants and animals are also a no-no. The Australian Customs and Quarantine services are the guys who are in charge of making sure no weird and dangerous diseases or pests get into the country, to ensure that nothing gets in the way of the cane toads taking over. Act suspicious, and you'll end up on the slab with your pants around your ankles for sure!

2. Getting your mitts on cold, hard, cash

Thanks to the marvels of ATMs, there's no need to queue up inside a bank to convert your currency or cash your travellers cheques. Instead you can queue up on the street for an ATM, and get cash direct from your regular old ATM card from home, if it's attached to the Cirrus or Plus networks. Amazing what the power of the microchip can do, isn't it? Ask before you leave home though, because your bank may charge you an arm, leg, or other limb, for the privilege - but hopefully it's not more than a few dollars per transaction.

3. The currency - Notes

When you finally get your hands on cold hard Australian cash, the first thing you might notice is that the notes are plastic. Don't worry, someone hasn't slipped you toy money as a trick - it's all part of a scheme to make money last longer and be less susceptible to forgery. At least, that's the theory.

Plastic money, along with self-adhesive stamps, are two of the things we keep getting told are a world first. It's either because we're so in front of the rest of the world with this technology - or because it's a stupid idea that nobody else wanted to do.

4. The currency - Coins

The other thing you'll notice is that there's no 1 or 2 cent coins. These days, cash prices are all rounded to the nearest 5 cents. So you won't have so much fiddly small change in your pocket. Or if you do, it'll be worth more than you realise - especially when you discover the $1 and $2 coins!

The exchange rate, by the way, is about US$0.75 to the A$1, or about UK 0.48 to the A$1. Canadians are lucky, it's worth about the same. Everyone else is out of luck - I'm not going to do the whole list here. There's plenty of sites out on the Web that do, though.

5. GST

When you come to actually spend your money, depending on where you come from, you might find it easier to hand the dosh over. While there is a Goods & Services Tax applied to most... err... goods and services, unlike in some parts of the world, the price on the price sticker is what you end up paying - it's not added as an after thought at the register. Which means you can spend all the time you want examining the currency and figuring out exactly what you'll hand over to the shop assistant before you even get to the counter.

6. Tipping

Generally waiters, taxi drivers etc, get paid enough above slave labour wages that they don't expect a tip. Not that they'll resist it if you do happen to feel generous, but they won't drop a soggy sponge on your lap or drive off with your luggage if you don't.

I confess I'm not so sure about hotel doormen, porters and other blokes in big hats and bright suits. Can't say I've ever availed myself of their services.

7. Dangerous creatures - crocodiles, snakes, spiders

Indoors or outdoors, there's a load of lethal fauna just waiting to get its fangs into your flesh. Some of the things to watch out for include snakes, spiders, alligators, and documentary film crews.

If a snake or spider bites you, scream for medical help immediately. Something like "Oh Jesus Christ, I just got bitten by a snake/spider the size of a bus!!" should do the trick. If a crocodile bites you and there's enough of you left to seek medical help, then by all means, also seek medical help.

Documentary film crews are generally harmless as long as you stay in focus and don't go too near the camera.

And if you do need emergency help, the number to call from any phone is 000. Just think "oooh, I need help!"*

8. Sunscreen

The hole in the ozone layer may be getting slightly smaller these days, but it's still there. And even if it wasn't, the sun packs enough of a punch to make picking up skin cancer easier in Australia than just about anywhere else in the world. So if you'll be in the sunshine for more than 4.5 milliseconds, especially in the summer, make sure you slop on a generous dollop of sunscreen, and even better, a shirt and hat will help too.

9. Driving on the left

Unless you come from Great Britain or Japan or one of those other countries where cars drive on the left of the street, this may confuse you for a few days. You'll find yourself getting into the wrong side of the car, or if you're attempting to drive, maybe even driving on the wrong side.

You might also find yourself looking the wrong way before you cross the street, and don't be too surprised if occasional outbursts like "hey, that dog's driving a car!" pass your lips*. But you'll get used to it. Just remember: Right is wrong, and left is right.

10. Electricity

Electricity in Australia is 240 volts. What this means is that if you come from a country where the electricity is a wimpy 110 volts, and you try to plug something in, all sorts of fun stuff might happen.

Thankfully for international jetsetters such as yourselves, most shavers, camcorders and other travel necessities are equipped with incredibly sophisticated electronics to enable them to work with different voltages. You'll still need a power point adapter to cope with the weird and arcane arrangement of pins - these are easily obtainable for about $8-9 from shops selling travellers' paraphernalia.

*Thanks to Lori for these bits.

I would like to know the postage rate of mailing postcards from Australia to USA. Also, is it possible to get prepaid (from Australia to USA) postcards mailed to me prior to my trip so I'll have them on hand when I travel to Austrialia? - Brett, USA

Australia Post

Australia Post, who unlike their US counterparts, are not known for having ex-employees return to the workforce with a grudge, a firearm and more rounds of ammunition than is healthy, will deliver a postcard across the pond for 95 Australian cents.

In US dollars, given the pathetic performance of the Aussie dollar right now, this is something like USD$0.57. The postcards themselves normally cost somewhere between AUD$0.50 and AUD$1.20, depending on size and grooviness.

And as for prepaid postcards... uhhh... let me get this straight: You want to get some postcards sent from Australia to the USA, so you can carry them back to Australia, where you can then mail them to the USA? Think of how confused the poor postcard is going to be.

Furthermore, wouldn't you prefer to make the choices of which postcards of the enormous range available you'd like to buy, by seeing them in person? Preferably after you've seen some of the things in the postcard? Did you want to write the postcards before you got here, too? "I reckon Australia's going to be a great place. I'll wish you were there."

Or is this some kind of plot to pretend to people you've been to Australia when actually you're saving thousands of dollars and going to Disneyworld instead?

Is radar commonly used to catch speeders in Australia? If in some states only, do you know which? Is the use of radar detectors illegal? Would customs be likely to confiscate a radar detector found in a tourist's baggage? - Austin

VicRoads: Speeding

TAC (makers of the gory ads)

Royal Automobile Club of Victoria

NRMA: "Lower Speeds, Safer Streets"

Australian Customs Service

NSW Police: Speed cameras

Why do I get the feeling from your questions that you're planning to visit and drive very fast? Why do you want to do that, exactly? If you drive a bit more slowly - or at least within the speed limit, not only are you more likely to see some of the country you'll have paid enormous amounts in airfares to get to, but you're less likely to be in an accident. And let's face it, a car accident put a dampener on anybody's holiday.

I'm sure I speak for most Australians when I say that if you really want to just drive around breaking speed limits, we'd prefer you stayed at home. Perhaps you don't have the equivalent of our graphic TAC road accident commercials. Perhaps you should.

Anyway, the answers to your questions are: Yes, radar is used extensively. To my knowledge, all the states use them. Yes, detectors are illegal. I don't know if one would be confiscated, but Customs don't normally take kindly to the importation of illegal devices.

The speed limit is generally 50-60Km/h in built-up areas, or 100Km/h on freeways and in the country.

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Toxic Custard Workshop Files Toxic Custard Guide to Australia

Copyrightę1996-2001 Daniel Bowen. Questions remain the property of their authors.