Travel smart – hints for Australian travellers

Each year millions of Australians travel overseas – and each year the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade provides consular assistance to thousands of Australians in difficulty. Travel Smart provides useful travel information to help you prepare for your trip, and advice on what you should do if you run into problems overseas. We suggest that you keep this booklet with you on your journey.

Before you go

Research your destination

Access the full range of travel information on this website to help you prepare for overseas travel. 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 the level of risk you may face, so that you can make informed decisions about where and when to travel overseas.

Our travel advice is regularly updated. Subscribe to Smartraveller 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.

Following Smartraveller on Twitter and Facebook is another easy way to stay up to date while you're travelling. You can also download the free Smartraveller iPhone app.

You can access more travel information through guide books or travel websites. Talk with family or friends who are familiar with the countries you'll be visiting.

Register before you travel

Make sure you register your travel and contact details online before you travel to make it easier to contact you in an emergency, whether it's a natural disaster, civil disturbance or family issue. The registration information you provide is protected by Australia's privacy laws.

Cover yourself with travel insurance

Organising travel insurance is an essential part of preparing for your overseas trip. If you are uninsured, you (or your family) are personally liable for covering any medical or other costs resulting from unexpected incidents or accidents. If you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel.

You should make sure your travel insurance covers where you plan to go and what you plan to do. It should cover medical expenses for injury or illness, as well as theft of valuables, damage to baggage and cancellations or interruptions to flight plans. You should also check you're covered for your pre-existing medical conditions and any additional activities you plan to undertake, such as skiing or hiring a motorcycle.

Accidents can happen to anyone, including on short trips to familiar locations. Medical costs overseas can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Australian Government won't pay for your medical treatment overseas or medical evacuation to Australia or a third country. Travellers without travel insurance are personally liable for covering any medical and associated costs they incur. Australians have faced financial hardship to cover costs when things go wrong.

Each year more than 1,000 Australians die overseas. It can cost over $20,000 to bring the remains of loved ones home – so make sure your travel insurance covers this before you go.

If you plan to rely on the travel insurance provided by your credit card, before travelling you should obtain written confirmation that you're covered for your personal circumstances, including for all of your destinations, activities and pre-existing conditions.

If you are travelling with family, you may be able to obtain travel insurance for your family under the one policy. However, cover varies from policy to policy so check the fine print. Make sure you confirm all details with your insurance provider and receive written confirmation of your policy.

Be aware that some policies do not offer refunds when the safety and security environment overseas changes. The terms and conditions of your policy will determine whether you are entitled to a refund if DFAT changes the level of the travel advice. It varies from policy to policy, so shop around.

DFAT has teamed up with independent consumer advocate CHOICE to provide a simple travel insurance buying guide to help you choose the right insurance for your trip.

Organise your passports and visas

Your passport is your most important travel document. All Australian citizens must have a valid passport before leaving Australia and maintain a valid passport while overseas. All children travelling overseas, including newborn infants, must have their own passport. Safeguard your passport at all times.

Be aware that countries have different passport validity requirements. Make sure your passport has at least six months validity from your planned date of return. Carry extra passport photos just in case your passport is lost or stolen and you need to replace it while you're away.

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. By law, you are required to report the loss or theft of your passport to the nearest Australian embassy, high commission or consulate, or on the Australian Passport Office website, without delay.

Apart from writing your contact details on the 'Contact details' page in your passport, it is illegal to alter or tamper with your passport in any way.

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 on 131 232 or visit your nearest passport office or Australian overseas mission to check whether your passport is usable for international travel. More information on Australian passports can be found at passports.gov.au.

Find out early which visas you need by contacting the relevant foreign mission (embassy, high commission or consulate) of the countries you intend to visit. Some countries have specific entry and exit requirements, including compulsory vaccinations. Remember to check the visa requirements of countries you might be transiting.

Remember:

  • A visa does not guarantee entry to a foreign country
  • In most cases, a tourist visa does not allow you to work in a foreign country, including voluntary or unpaid activities
  • The conditions and expiry dates of visas and entry permits must be strictly adhered to. In some countries, visa overstay can lead to arrest
  • Visa scams are common. Check the travel advice on Smartraveller for the correct links, or contact the embassy, consulate or high commission of the country you plan to visit
  • DFAT in Australia and Australian missions overseas cannot help you arrange visas or work and residency permits for other countries.

Check if you're a dual national

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 also an Australian citizen. 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.

Some countries may not permit Australian consular assistance to be provided 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, visit the Department of Immigration and Border Protection website or call 131 880. For further infomration see our dual nationals page.

Consult your airlines

If you're concerned the airline may question your fitness to fly, we recommend you obtain a letter from your doctor confirming that you're fit for air travel.

If you have a disability, contact your airline to find out about services such as shuttle services, seating arrangements and special meals.

If you need to carry needles and syringes with you, obtain a letter from your doctor explaining why you need them and seek early advice from your airline on how to comply with airport and air travel security regulations.

Plan your accommodation

If you're travelling independently, it's recommended that you book your accommodation prior to arrival, especially if you're due to arrive at your destination late at night. It is also useful to research how you will travel safely from the airport to your hotel.

Think about your packing

Protect yourself against loss and theft by carrying minimal pieces of luggage. Overloaded, you make yourself more vulnerable to bag snatchers and pickpockets. Secure credit cards and passports in a money belt or under your clothes. Information about what you can and cannot carry in your luggage is available from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and the Australian Government's TravelSECURE website.

If you're travelling to the USA, make sure you familiarise yourself with their specific airline baggage lock requirements. Information is available from the US Government's Transportation Security Administration.

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
  • Never carry anything into or out of another country for someone else
  • Secure your luggage as a sensible precaution against tampering or theft
  • Don't leave your bags unattended in public areas or with a stranger
  • Be wary of offers of new luggage or when using bags that do not belong to you. Illegal drugs have been found in suitcases won as 'prizes' in online competitions. You may not be able to see the drugs at first glance, however security detection systems are likely to find them.

Organise your 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.

If requested by a customs officer or police officer, you must also disclose any promissory notes, traveller's cheques, personal cheques, money orders, postal orders or other bearer negotiable instruments, regardless of value.

For more information, visit AUSTRAC.

Before you go:

  • Find out the currency in common use at your destination and whether ATMs are widely available
  • Organise a variety of ways of accessing your money overseas, such as debit and credit cards, travel money cards, traveller's cheques and cash
  • Register with your bank the period you expect to be travelling
  • Check with your bank whether your ATM card will work overseas.

Centrelink payments

There are rules about how Centrelink payments or concession cards may be affected if you leave Australia. You should check the Department of Human Services website to find out how any absence from Australia could affect your payment.

Copy your documents

It's always good to have a spare copy of your important documents. For the following documents, either scan them and email them to yourself, or make two photocopies, leaving one copy with someone at home and keeping the other with you, separate from the originals:

  • Passport
  • Travel insurance policy
  • Itinerary and tickets
  • Visas
  • Travellers cheques and credit card numbers
  • Driver's licence or international driving permit.

Plan to stay healthy

Read up on the health issues affecting the countries you are travelling to before you go.

Vaccinations

Make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic at least six weeks before you depart and find out if any vaccinations or health checks are required for your destination. Remember that some vaccines require a long period to take effect and more than one dose may be needed.

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 foreign mission. Contact details are available on the DFAT website.

Travelling with medications

Before you leave, check that the medications you plan to take are legal in the country you are visiting. You can get this information by contacting the foreign mission of that country. Make sure you do this in plenty of time to receive a response.

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 this law. For more information on travelling with PBS medicines, visit the Department of Human Services website or call 1800 500 147 within Australia.

If you are taking medicines overseas, you should:

  • Meet any legal requirements imposed by the foreign country
  • Take enough medicine to cover at least the planned length of your trip
  • Carry or enclose a letter from your doctor detailing what the medicine is, how much you will be taking, and stating that the medicine is for your personal use
  • Always leave the medicine in its original packaging so that it is clearly labelled with your name and dosage instructions
  • Separate quantities between your luggage in case a bag goes missing.

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.

Reciprocal health care agreements

Australia has reciprocal health care agreements with several countries, including New Zealand 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 or to another location. You would need to cover these costs yourself if you don't have adequate travel insurance. For more information, and for a full list of countries, visit the Department of Human Services website or call 132 011.

Additional health tips

  • Do not use or get involved with drugs
  • Be aware of the risk of hepatitis and HIV – practise safe sex and avoid ear-piercing, acupuncture, tattooing or dental work while travelling in countries with lower health or hygiene standards
  • Medical tourism, including cosmetic surgery and gender reassignment surgery, is increasing. Be aware that while the range of medical and dental services available may be impressive at first sight, standards can be low, resulting in serious and possibly life-threatening complications
  • Avoid temporary 'black henna' tattoos as they often contain a dye which can cause serious skin reactions
  • If you wear glasses, take along a spare pair and/or a copy of the prescription so that they can be replaced more easily if lost or broken.

To find out more about healthy travel and vaccinations you can visit:

While you're away

Be conscious of your safety and security

Read and subscribe to the travel advice for your destinations for country-specific risks to your safety and security.

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 high crime rate, including violent crime such as armed robbery, sexual assaults, muggings, carjacking and kidnapping, including 'express kidnappings' where victims are abducted and forced to withdraw funds from ATMs before being released.

Be vigilant about your personal security and possessions in public places and take sensible precautions, like keeping money and valuables out of sight and avoiding unnecessary displays of wealth.

ATM and credit card fraud, including skimming, can also occur. Try to 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.

Use only officially licensed and reputable taxis. Be wary if you are approached at the airport by private drivers. In some countries, extortion and robbery can occur in unauthorised taxis. Where possible, travellers are advised to only use official taxi companies that can be booked by phone or at major hotels and from inside airports. It is recommended that you do not share taxis with strangers.

Never leave your drink or food unattended or in the care of a stranger. Drink and food spiking is common around the world.

Civil unrest

You should avoid all demonstrations and protests, as even peaceful protests may turn violent. In periods surrounding elections, unrest and violent protests can occur. Events in one country can also become the catalyst for unrest in another. Demonstrations and strikes may disrupt your travel plans, so monitor local and international media for information about possible new safety or security risks.

Terrorism

Terrorism is an ongoing threat in many countries around the world. The threat in some destinations is very high. The country specific travel advisories detail terrorist threats to specific locations and types of venues.

Research local transport and tours

When organising how to get around overseas, check out the local travel section in the travel advisories and access the road safety and driving, air travel and travelling by boat pages.

Be aware that the safety standards you might expect of transport and tour operators, including adventure activities, are not always met. Sufficient safety equipment may not be provided and recommended maintenance standards and safety precautions may not be observed. Research the company you plan to use and make sure your travel insurance covers you.

Learn about road conditions and traffic culture of the places you plan to visit. If you're renting a car or motorcycle, make sure it's roadworthy and that you have a licence, otherwise your insurance may not cover you for injury or damage arising from accidents. Wear appropriate protective clothing on motorcycles and bicycles.

Before driving overseas, Australians should contact the appropriate foreign mission for information on licence requirements. Many countries require Australians to have an International Driving Permit (IDP) in addition to a valid Australian driving licence to legally drive a car, or ride a motorcycle. You can apply for an IDP through the automobile club or association (such as the NRMA or RACV) in the state or territory where your licence is current.

Aviation safety and security standards in some countries may not be equal to standards in Australia or meet those set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). When staff at Australia's overseas missions are advised not to use particular airlines due to safety concerns, this will be clearly stated in the Smartraveller travel advice for that destination.

Obey 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 the country-specific travel advisories before you go.

Consular services and the law

Whichever country you are visiting, be aware that local laws and penalties do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government cannot get you out of trouble or out of jail. The Consular service charter explains what the Australian Government can and can't do to assist Australians overseas.

Drugs

Do not use, carry or get involved with drugs overseas. Consular assistance cannot override local law, even where local laws appear harsh by Australian standards. Some countries, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, can impose the death penalty or life imprisonment for drug offences.

Extraterritorial laws

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. The 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.

Australians risk prosecution under Australian law if they engage in hostile activity overseas, or if they travel with the intention of engaging in hostile activity overseas.

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. For more information, see the child sex offences page.

Violations of Australia's child sex laws should be reported to the Australian Federal Police by calling 131AFP (131 237) within Australia, or +61 2 6131 5926 outside Australia. You can call the AFP anonymously on 1800 333 000. You can also complete a CST report or write to:

Child Protection Operations Team
Australian Federal Police
GPO Box 401
Canberra ACT 2602
Australia

Respect local customs

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

  • Research the local customs of the country you're travelling to, and if in doubt, seek local advice
  • Dress appropriately. Look at what the locals are wearing and be sensitive to local standards
  • Show respect when visiting cultural, historical and sacred sites. In some countries, inappropriate or indecent behaviour can lead to arrest
  • 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
  • Laws and attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) travellers around the world can be very different from those in Australia, which can create risks for LGBTI travellers. Check the LGBTI travellers page on smartraveller.gov.au and the country-specific advisories for more information.

Family and relationship 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, visit citizenship.gov.au.

Information about adopting a child from overseas and internationl surrogacy is available on our Overseas births, adoptions and surrogacies page.

Relationships

Some countries have legal systems that impose strict limits on women's rights, and while these may be harsh by Australian standards, they will apply to you when you're in the country. Check the country-specific travel advice.

Be wary of relationships initiated over the internet – online dating scams are common and Australians have lost large amounts of money on prospective marriage partners. In some instances, people who have travelled overseas to meet their partner have been kidnapped and held to ransom.

Marriage

If you're planning on getting married overseas, be aware that laws regarding marriage vary from country to country and legal complications can arise. Make sure you check 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.

Keep in touch

Every year, DFAT receives thousands of calls from worried family members and friends who haven't heard from someone who is travelling. Keeping in touch not only saves your friends and family a lot of worry, it can also make it easier to find you in an emergency.

You should:

  • Leave a copy of your itinerary with your family or a friend, and let them know if it changes
  • Register your travel plans
  • Arrange options for staying in touch with family and friends while overseas (mobile phone, prepaid or postpaid international calling card, SMS, social media, email etc.)
  • Give your family and friends an indication of how often they will hear from you, and stick to your word.

Coming home

When you return to Australia, there are a few basic things you can do to make the process quicker and easier:

  • Have the correct documents completed and ready.
  • Make sure you declare any items that may be restricted, prohibited or carry diseases.
  • Know your duty-free allowances.

Returning to Australia

Guide for travellers - know before you go is a brochure for international travellers about Australia's prohibited and restricted goods laws and personal duty-free allowances.

Australian, New Zealand, UK, US and Singaporean ePassport holders aged 16 or over have the option to selfprocess 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.

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 back in Australia, your baggage may be inspected by Biosecurity Australia 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.

When you arrive in Australia, you must declare certain food, plant material and animal products on your Incoming Passenger Card. When you sign the card, you are making a legal declaration. If you fail to declare or dispose of any biosecurity risk items, or make a false declaration, you could be subject to an on the spot fine or be prosecuted.

For more information, visit the travel section of the Biosecurity Australia website or phone +61 2 6272 3933.

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?, available on the Department of the Environment website or by phoning +61 2 6274 1900.

Getting help overseas

Most Australians travel safely overseas, but some experience serious difficulties or emergencies.

Where to start

Depending on the nature of your emergency, your best option may be to contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, bank, tour operator, employer or travel insurance provider in the first instance.

The Smartraveller travel advisories also list emergency contact numbers for your destination. Be aware that enforcement and ethical standards for police and security authorities vary greatly between countries. Always remember to get a police report if you report a crime.

Travel insurance companies often have 24-hour call centres that you can contact from anywhere in the world. If you get sick overseas, are a victim of crime or are involved in an emergency, you should contact your travel insurance provider as soon as possible. Make sure you take your travel insurance policy information and contact numbers with you so you can easily contact your insurer from overseas.

Consular services

If you have exhausted these options and are still facing serious difficulties, the Australian Government may be able to assist you.

Providing efficient and cost effective consular services to Australians facing serious difficulties overseas is part of the work of DFAT. We carry out a range of functions, including:

  • Assisting Australian citizens in difficulty overseas, including in situations involving serious injury, illness or death, and arrest and detention
  • Providing support during crisis situations and international emergencies
  • Delivering information and advice to help Australians help themselves and avoid difficulties overseas
  • Issuing passports and travel documents to Australian citizens
  • Offering a limited range of notarial services, such as witnessing and legalising documents and administering oaths and affirmations (fees apply).

The Consular Services Charter outlines the consular assistance that can be provided to Australians overseas, and a range of tasks that are outside the consular role.

Consular officers are present in Australian diplomatic and consular posts overseas. In some countries, Canadian missions provide assistance to Australians. Up-to-date contact information for Australian overseas missions and relevant Canadian missions is listed on the Department of Foreign affairs and Trade website.

Your privacy

Your personal information is protected by law, including the Privacy Act 1988. Our privacy policy can be accessed at dfat.gov.au/privacy. Personal information may be used by us to provide consular assistance. Information about how we collect, use, disclose and store personal information related to consular cases is contained in our Consular Privacy Collection Statement.

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.

Consular Emergency Centre

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.

Counselling services

Australians in need of counselling services overseas can contact our Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 to be transferred to a Lifeline telephone crisis supporter.

Quick reference guide

If you or a family member is seriously sick and in need of medical care overseas:

  • Call the Consular Emergency Centre (CEC) in Canberra on 1300 555 135 or +61 2 6261 3305 from overseas
  • Call the nearest Australian embassy or consulate and follow the telephone prompts.

If you or a family member has been sexually assaulted or the victim of a serious crime overseas:

  • Call the Consular Emergency Centre (CEC) in Canberra on 1300 555 135 or +61 2 6261 3305 from overseas. The CEC will make contact with the nearest Australian embassy or consulate to provide direct assistance.

If you or a family member has been robbed or need money overseas:

  • In the first instance you should contact family and friends and look to use a commercial money transfer service or a bank to transfer funds. If it is outside normal working hours, call the Consular Emergency Centre(CEC) in Canberra on 1300 555 135 or +61 2 6261 3305 from overseas.

If you or a family member is arrested overseas:

  • Call the Consular Emergency Centre (CEC) in Canberra on 1300 555 135 or +61 2 6261 3305 from overseas. There are limits to what consular staff can do. They cannot get you out of prison/detention or provide legal advice, but they will be able to provide you with a range of information including contact details for local lawyers. We will do what we can to see you are treated in accordance with local laws and process. We will raise any welfare concerns with prison authorities.

If someone is missing overseas:

  • Call their phone, email them and seek to make contact via social media. Call family members and friends and check with their last address, banks travel agents, airlines/tour companies or employers. If this is not successful, and there are reasons for concern, call the Consular Emergency Centre (CEC) in Canberra on 1300 555 135 or +61 2 6261 3305 from overseas or call your local police to report a missing person.