Australia is a fairly cheap country to travel around, particularly when taking into account the quality of hostel accommodation. However prices can come as a shock if you’ve arrived here after a couple of months on the road in Asia.
Work out your daily budget by tripling your accommodation cost. Multiply this by the number of days you’re planning on travelling, and add the cost of your airfare and bus/travel passes and you should get a pretty good idea of the costs of travelling around Australia.
You should be able to save some money by cooking all your own meals and not drinking alcohol, however there are lots of easy ways to blow through a wad of cash such as a few big nights out on the town or adventure activities such as scuba diving, bungee jumping or white water rafting.
Travellers’ cheques used to be the best way to carry travel money, but they’re not as common now that ATMs and credit cards are so widespread.
It is worthwhile taking some of your money as travellers’ cheques since it is a great backup if you lose your wallet with all your credit cards or if you arrive to discover that your cash card won’t work in the ATM.
The beauty of travellers’ cheques is that they can be replaced if they’re lost or stolen. It helps if you keep a record of your travellers’ cheque numbers in a safe place, preferably a copy with you (but not with your cheques) and another copy at home (or somewhere where someone can fax them to you if you need to make a claim for lost cheques).
Many travellers buy travellers cheques in British pounds, euros or US dollars, which is fine if you’re travelling through lots of different countries. However travellers’ cheques in Australian dollars have the advantage of being able to be used as an alternative to cash as long as you can find someone willing to accept them.
If you bring travellers’ cheques with you, make sure that you sign them when you buy them, but do not countersign them until you are ready to cash them. You may also need to have identification such as your passport with you when you cash your cheques.
The most widely accepted brands of travellers’ cheques are American Express, Thomas Cook and Visa. Don’t travel with anything else as many people will not recognise or accept them.
Plastic is the preferred way to access your cash while you're on the road and most cards are widely accepted throughout Australia.
There are several types of cards, each with their advantages. Most travellers have at least one credit card, and also a card to draw cash from an ATM (either from an account at home or from an Australian bank account).
Credit cards are great for getting out of trouble and are often tied to a frequent flyer programme. One of the main advantages of credit cards is the favourable currency exchange rate as well the freedom to spend more money than you have. Of course this spending can get out of hand and you’ll end up paying for it later on.
The most useful cards in Australia are MasterCard and Visa, followed by American Express and Diners Club. In tourist areas you may find some places that accept JCB and - occasionally - UnionPay cards, but Discover card is not accepted in Australia.
Most credit cards can be replaced quickly if they are lost or stolen. Call one of the following numbers if you need a new card:
Tel 1300 132 639
Tel 1300 360 060
Tel 1800 120 113
Tel 1800 450 346
ATM cards are a popular way to access your cash, particularly if your card is part of an international network allowing you to use Australian Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs). If the bank that issued your card is part of the Plus, Cirrus or Visa networks you should find plenty of ATMs in Australia where you can withdraw money.
Despite the favourable exchange rate and the ease of drawing your money from a cash dispenser, there are sometimes problems using your cash card abroad. Before leaving home you should check with your bank whether it is possible to use your card in Australia. In some cases you may need to change your PIN or even have a new card issued.
Cards issued by Australian banks are a lot more useful, working in virtually all ATMs and also at EFTPOS terminals in most shops, hotels, service stations and pubs.
Electronic Funds Transfer at Point of Sale (EFTPOS) terminals at cash registers at most Australian shops allow you to use an Australian issued ATM card to pay for things and withdraw cash from your account. The combination of ATMs and EFTPOS terminals everywhere makes getting an Aussie bank account essential if you’re planning on staying in the country for more than a few months.
If you’re planning on spending a lot of time in Australia, your own bank account will make things a lot easier, particularly if you’re planning on finding work.
The four biggest banks in Australia are ANZ (website www.anz.com), Commonwealth Bank (website www.commbank.com.au), NAB (National Australia Bank; website www.nab.com.au) and Westpac (website www.westpac.com.au). Smaller banks like BankWest (website www.bankwest.com.au), Bendigo Bank (website www.bendigobank.com.au) and St George (website www.stgeorge.com.au) may give you better service and lower fees but you won’t always be able to find a branch when you’re on the road, so you may be charged higher fees to withdraw cash from another bank’s ATM, which makes it a good idea to open an account with one of the bigger banks as they have branches everywhere.
If you’ve just arrived you can open an Australian bank account by presenting your passport as identification, but you may be asked for additional identification if you try to open an account after spending more than six weeks in the country.
Australia has a 10% Goods and Services Tax on most retail purchases, and there is a scheme where travellers can reclaim the GST on some purchases.
The Tourist Refund Scheme (TRS) enables you to claim a refund of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and Wine Equalisation Tax (WET) that you pay on goods you buy in Australia. The refund only applies to goods you take with you as hand luggage or wear onto the plane when you leave the country. It does not apply to services or goods consumed or partly consumed in Australia. Unlike other tourist shopping schemes, such as duty free shopping, you can use the goods before leaving Australia.
To qualify for the scheme you need to:
spend $300 or more on a single item that you want to claim a refund for;
purchase the goods no more than 30 days before leaving Australia;
get a tax invoice from the shop you bought the goods from;
take the goods with you as carry on luggage (except liquids, which can't be taken as carry on luggage because of security regulations).
It is essential that you get a tax invoice when you buy the goods you want to claim a refund on and take this with you to the airport. There are TRS booths at the departure areas of Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Cairns, Adelaide, Darwin and Coolangatta airports where you need to show the goods you want to claim the refund on, the tax invoice, your passport and boarding pass. If you’re leaving from an international airport that doesn’t have a TRS booth, such as Broome or Newcastle you will need to contact a Customs office (Brome tel (08) 9193 6999; Newcastle tel (02) 4926 0411) to make a claim before leaving the country.
Contact the Customs Service (tel 1300 363 263; website www.customs.gov.au) for more information on the scheme.
Bribery in exchange for good service isn’t as widely practised in Australia as in other countries although tipping is starting to catch on, particularly in fancy restaurants in trendy inner-city neighbourhoods.
Ten or 15 years ago it would be rare to find an Australian who would regularly tip, but now there are many people who regularly tip 10% in restaurants and who even self-righteously promote this custom. However, despite the increasing number of people tipping, the average Aussie doesn’t tip and even in more expensive restaurants it is quite normal to pay the exact change for your meal. You never tip in a pub or bar, which also means that pub meals are tip-free. Because cafés are basically pubs with a different drinks menu and décor, don’t feel you need to tip there either even if the café has a tip jar on the counter.
When paying taxi fares it is commonplace to round up the fare, such as paying $10 for a $9.60 fare; but it is not uncommon for a taxi driver to round a $10.20 fare down to an even $10.