|Still current at: 07 January 2011
Updated: 20 December 2010
This advice has been reviewed and reissued with amendments to the Travel Summary and Natural Disasters – Flooding section (floods in northern Western Australia); the Safety & Security - Crime section (bags in internet cafes, pubs or clubs; ATM security; lottery and other online scams); and the Safety & Security – Beach safety section (minor textual revisions). The overall level of the advice has not changed; there are no travel restrictions in place in Australia.
(see travel advice legal disclaimer)
Safety and Security - Terrorism
There is a general threat from terrorism in Australia. Attacks could be indiscriminate including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.
In February 2010, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd launched Australia’s latest white paper on Counter-Terrorism. He described the threat to Australia as persistent and permanent, and outlined the government’s response. See the full text of the white paper at http://www.dpmc.gov.au/publication/counterterrorism/index.cfm
See our Terrorism Abroad page.
On 4 August 2009, the Victorian and Australian Federal Police co-ordinated searches of 19 properties in Victoria and made four arrests in connection with counter-terrorism operations. Those arrested were charged with the preparation or planning of a terrorist act, and they will stand trial in 2010.
In November 2005, the Australian police arrested 16 people in Sydney and Melbourne in a counter-terrorism operation designed to disrupt preparations for a terrorist attack. Three more were arrested on terrorism charges in Melbourne in March 2006. The trial against those arrested in Melbourne concluded on 15 September 2008 with six convictions and four acquittals. The case against those from Sydney concluded on 16 October 2009 with five convictions.
Safety and Security - Crime
Before you travel, make a copy of your passport personal details page. Take one copy with you, store it separately from the original, and leave one copy with friends or family at home (or upload it onto a secure online data storage site); this will help a speedier turnaround if your passport is lost or stolen.
Safety and Security - Beach safety
Rip currents are the leading surf hazard for all beach users. They can occur at any beach, and can sweep even the strongest swimmer out to sea. Rip currents are directly responsible for 20 coastal drowning deaths and over 15,000 rescues in Australia each year (source: Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA)). There are more British victims than any other foreign nationality, with as many as 400 British nationals rescued and up to four drownings each year.
To enjoy Australia’s beaches safely, take the following simple precautions:
Safety and Security - Local Travel - Swimming Safety
Be aware of your own limitations in terms of your physical health and your swimming ability in the given conditions.
Take care when swimming in, or crossing, rivers and pools as these can be subject to sudden flash flooding as a result of heavy rain elsewhere in the area. There have also been cases of British nationals being injured by diving into water, which was too shallow. Make sure that there is sufficient depth of water before diving, and always follow warning signs if present.
See our river and sea safety page.
Safety and Security - Local Travel - Road Travel
Like the UK, Australia drives on the left. However, as with any foreign country, driving laws are different to the UK's, and you should familiarise yourself with these.
In 2009 there were 1,504 road deaths in Australia (source: DfT). This equates to 6.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population compared to the UK average of 3.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2009 (DfT).
As a visitor, you may drive in Australia on a valid UK driving licence, which covers the class of vehicle you use. You must carry your licence when driving, in addition to a valid passport. An international driving permit is not sufficient and must be accompanied by a separate valid driving licence. There is an on-the-spot fine for not having your licence with you. You should also ensure that you are adequately covered for insurance purposes, including if you borrow a car from a friend or relative.
If you intend to stay in Australia and you hold a permanent visa, you are no longer considered a visitor. You are allowed to drive on a current overseas licence for a maximum of three months, after which you must apply for a local licence. The local authorities will only accept your UK driving licence if the names match exactly those in your passport; if they do not, you should obtain a replacement licence from the DVLA before applying for a local licence. If you plan on driving in Western Australia, or are applying to do so, and you suffer from a permanent or long term injury or illness that is likely to impair your ability to drive a motor vehicle, you are required by law to report this to the Western Australia Department of Transport. For information on what you need to report, and how, see the Western Australia Department of Transport website. Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is illegal. The penalties can be severe.
Seat belts must be worn at all times while driving in Australia. Weather hazards can seriously impair driving as road conditions can change rapidly. Sudden storms and strong winds can make driving difficult. Take particular care when driving on unmetalled roads, 4WD tracks and desert/beach roads. In July 2010, Northern Territory Police issued a warning for tourists to stay off unsealed tracks in remote areas of Central Australia following several reports of stranded motorists.
Following two deaths (one of whom was British) and 18 injuries (seven of them British) in two 4WD accidents, from 1 July 2010 all vehicles on Fraser Island must observe a maximum speed of 80km/h on beaches and 30km/h in towns. All 4WD vehicles must carry no more than eight occupants (including the driver) and all luggage must be carried inside the vehicle. Drivers should avoid driving at night and be aware of beach hazards such as ditches created by the surf. Fraser Island is unique but remote, and emergency services can take many hours to reach someone who is injured. Visitors should carry a well-stocked first-aid kit and personal medication as there is no pharmacy on the island. For further advice, and current driving conditions, visit www.derm.qld.gov.au/fraser.
See our Driving Abroad page.
Safety and Security - Local Travel - Air Travel
The revised EU-wide security measures that came into effect for all passengers departing from UK airports in November 2006 have also been implemented in Australia. For more details about this please see DfT Airline Security.
Safety and Security - Political Situation
Australia Country Profile
The Australian authorities will take action against anyone who imports or is found to be trafficking illegal substances. Prosecution can lead to a lengthy jail sentence and non-Australian nationals are usually deported at the end of their sentence. Deportation may lead to a ban on returning to Australia for several years. Laws, and the penalties for breaking them, can differ from State to State.
Australia has an established tradition of tolerance towards homosexuality, however there are still isolated incidents of homophobic related crimes. Gay and lesbian travellers should be aware of local sensitivities particularly when visiting rural communities.
Travellers spending a gap year in Australia (or elsewhere) may like to view www.gogapyear.com.
Local Laws and Customs - Quarantine Procedures
Australian authorities are rigorous in their efforts to keep out any pests and diseases that could affect plant, animal and human health. All luggage is x-rayed on arrival, whether arriving by plane with visitors or by mail. Any items of quarantine concern are further inspected, treated and, if necessary, confiscated and destroyed.
Before landing you will be given an incoming passenger card on the plane, on which you must declare any food or goods of plant or animal origin. These goods include nuts, dried fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices, biscuits, cakes and confectionery, teas, coffees and milk-based drinks and sporting equipment (including camping gear), amongst others. A full list of items which must be declared, as well as prohibited goods, can be found on the Australian Quarantine & Inspection Service website. Breaches of quarantine regulations can result in large fines.
You must also declare on the passenger card if you have 'visited a rural area, or been in contact with, or near, farm animals outside Australia in the past 30 days'. As a result of these quarantine procedures, you should expect some delay on arrival. See our Your Trip page.
Entry Requirements - Visas
Visas are required for all travel to Australia. British citizens can obtain the following types of electronic visitor visa:
Entry Requirements - Passport Validity
Australia does not have a minimum passport validity requirement for incoming passengers. But if you intend onward travel to other countries in the region, please note you are advised that entry into some countries may be refused, and airlines may not carry you, if your passport has less than six months validity. This also affects passengers transiting some countries en route to/from Australia (i.e. if they pass through immigration and enter the transit country), such as Singapore. See the Travel Advice for Singapore. For further information on entry requirements you should check with the Embassy or High Commission in London of the country you intend to visit/transit.
Entry Requirements - Staying in, and leaving, Australia
Ensure that you hold sufficient funds for the whole of your stay in Australia, and have access to emergency funds in case you do run out of money. Ensure that you have a return or onward air ticket (this is in any case mandatory for certain Australian visa categories). Do not rely on obtaining money from sources such as tax refunds to fund a return flight.
Beware of scam adverts offering to sell information claiming to help you extend a working holiday visa. Second year working holiday visas are available if you have worked in a rural area (e.g. fruit-picking) for three months during the first year of your working holiday. Some British (and other foreign) nationals have falsely claimed to have worked on farms using information/documents bought from scam advertisers. As a result, they have had their visas cancelled and been excluded from returning to Australia for three years.
There have been confirmed human cases of the H1N1 virus (Swine Flu) in Australia. You can check for updates on the situation in Australia by calling Australia’s Swine Flu Hotline on 1802 007, or by visiting the Australian Government’s Health Emergency website.
Australia is a huge country. Take regular rest breaks when driving long distances - there are many rest stops provided. There are extremely remote outback areas, which can present unexpected hazards. If you intend travelling to such areas plan your trip with care and seek and follow local advice on what precautions to take. In addition, when travelling to remote tourist areas of the outback, it is essential to leave your route details and expected time of return with the relevant local tourist authorities or police, your hotel/hostel, or with friends and relatives. Ensure that you also notify them if your travel plans change and when you finally return. Many tourists are reported missing, only to be found safe and well at their next destination. If you are hiring a car immediately on arrival, be extra careful - you will likely be jetlagged and tired from your flight.
Reciprocal healthcare arrangements exist between Australia and the UK. Under these, British citizens resident in the UK and travelling on a British passport are entitled to limited subsidised health services from Medicare Australia for medically necessary treatment while visiting Australia. This does not cover pre-existing conditions, or treatment that does not require prompt attention. These provisions do not apply to non-visitors, for example those who are studying in Australia. You should check Medicare Australia for further details.
Other exclusions under the reciprocal agreement include pharmaceuticals when not a hospital in-patient, use of ambulance services and medical evacuations. The latter, in particular, are very expensive - with reported cases exceeding £100,000 for medical evacuations to the UK. You should take out comprehensive medical insurance before you travel to Australia as, if you are not covered under the reciprocal arrangements, costs for treatment can be high. See the General - Insurance section of this advice for more details in insurance
Dengue, Murray Valley Encephalitis (MVE) and Ross River Fever occur periodically in northern parts of Australia (the Northern Territory, North Queensland and northern Western Australia). All three viruses are transmitted by mosquitoes. There is no vaccination against them, but there are preventative measures that you can take, as advised on the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) website. A man died from MVE in Darwin in 2009. The dengue season officially begins each February. An outbreak in northern Queensland in 2009 led to over 900 confirmed cases in and around Cairns and Townsville. One elderly lady in Cairns died from dengue-related complications. A further 629 dengue cases were reported in Australia from January-October 2010. 34 cases of local transmission have been reported in and around Cairns and Townsville since July 2010, but the Queensland Government advises that as dengue-carrying mosquitoes usually breed in urban areas, the usual tourist activities in North Queensland - such as reef and rainforest trips - carry a low risk.
There were 77 confirmed cases of Whitmore disease (melioidosis) in the Northern Territory in mid-2010, mainly in greater Darwin, but with cases reported in the Katherine and East Arnhem regions too. One case occurred as far south as Tennant Creek. Heavy rains increase the risk of a melioidosis outbreak, as the bacteria that cause it are found in surface water and mud, and may become airborne. Those most at risk are those with underlying conditions that impair the immune system such as diabetes. Please visit the NT Department of Health and Families website – http://www.health.nt.gov.au - for more information.
In 2009 much of Australia experienced the worst whooping cough (pertussis) outbreak in many years. Babies are the main victims of the potentially fatal and highly infectious disease, because they are too young to be (fully) immunized. South Australia experienced its worst outbreak on record, with almost 3,500 cases in 2009, compared with 859 in 2008 and 318 in 2007. A four-week old NSW baby who died in March 2009 was the first fatality from the disease in a decade.
For more information, see the NSW Health website at: http://www.health.nsw.gov.au. It was reported that two other children died in 2009.
There was also a higher than normal incidence of cryptosporidiosis, a diarrhoeal disease caused by a parasitic infection of the intestine, in New South Wales in 2009. NSW Health reported 201 cases in February 2009, compared to 106 cases in January and 45 cases in December 2008. The highest rates of infections were in children under five. For more information, visit the NSW Health website, as above.
In the 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic the UNAIDS/WHO Working Group estimated that around 18,000 adults aged 15 or over in Australia were living with HIV; the prevalence rate was estimated at around 0.2% of the adult population. This compares to the prevalence rate in adults in the UK of around 0.2%. You should exercise normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS. See our HIV and AIDS page.
Seek medical advice before travelling to Australia and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up-to-date. For further information on vaccination requirements, health outbreaks and general disease protection and prevention you should visit the websites of the National Travel Heath Network and Centre NaTHNaC or NHS Scotland’s Fit for Travel or call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47.
Natural Disasters – Flooding
Depending on the season flash flooding of large areas can occur suddenly. December has seen heavy rain and flooding throughout Australia. In eastern Australia, four people have died, and several States and Territories are on high alert. More than 100 people have been rescued from floods in Carnarvon in northern Western Australia, and several others have been stranded following several days of torrential rainfall. Some areas have suffered their worst flooding for 50 years, and have been declared natural disaster zones. The situation changes daily; please listen for and follow local advice on what precautions to take. Further information is available from the State Emergency Service in each State/Territory.
Natural Disasters - Tropical Cyclones
Tropical Cyclones occur in some parts of Australia, mainly Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia. The Cyclone season normally runs from November to April. Monitor local and international weather updates from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). You can also access the Australian Bureau of Meteorology website for updates. For further information see Tropical Cyclones.
Natural Disasters - Dust Storms
Dust storms occur regularly in Australia, but usually only in outback areas.
Natural Disasters - Bushfires
Be aware of the risk of bushfires, especially at the height of the Australian summer (November to February), but they can happen unexpectedly at any time of year if there are (unseasonable) high temperatures and strong winds. In early February 2009, Victoria suffered its worst ever bushfire outbreak, with 173 people confirmed dead, up to 500 injured, and nearly 2000 homes destroyed. You should check with local State authorities for current bushfire information: Victoria; South Australia and New South Wales.
General - Insurance
You should take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling. You are advised to consider taking out separate medical insurance for the whole of your overseas visit, including any time spent in Australia. It is also advisable to have cover for unexpected losses such as cancelled flights, stolen cash, cards, passport or luggage. You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for all the activities you want to undertake. See our Travel Insurance page.
If things do go wrong when you are overseas then see our When Things Go Wrong page.
General - Mobile phones
The mobile phone network generally works well in cities and large towns but coverage on the edge of built-up and rural areas can be very limited or non-existent. You can use your UK mobile phone in Australia if global roaming has been activated, but making and receiving calls can be expensive. Many visitors prefer to buy an Australian SIM card on arrival. Australian SIM cards are available at some Australian airports, and at convenience stores and supermarkets.
General - Consular Registration
Register with our LOCATE service to tell us when and where you are travelling abroad or where you live abroad so our consular and crisis staff can provide better assistance to you in an emergency.
General - Consular Assistance Statistics
Over 664,000 British nationals visit Australia every year (Source: Tourism Australia). Most visits to Australia are trouble–free. 378 British nationals required consular assistance in Australia in the period 01 April 2009 – 31 March 2010 for the following types of incident: 77 deaths; 42 hospitalisations; and 124 arrests, for a variety of offence. During this period lost or stolen passports were by far the most frequent problem encountered by British nationals in Australia (980 cases).