Before You Go
I depart for Australia in about a week. I think everything is in order. There are so many things to consider when planning a trip especially a long one.
It should go without saying that you need a passport and preferably one that doesn’t expire within six months.
When I approached the airline counter in Los Angeles just a couple of hours before my flight to Melbourne last February and handed my passport to the friendly agent, he asked if I’d obtained my ETA; I had. He smiled and nodded in approval adding that many people don’t realize they need a visa to travel to Australia. I was rather astonished. Yes, dear would-be-travelers, you need a visa to enter Australia. Tourists have a few options and there are others if you’re going to Australia for employment or studies. Visit the Department of Immigration and Citizenship for more information. If you’re an American with a clean record, traveling for tourism, and don’t intend to stay in Oz for more than three months, the Electronic Travel Visa is your best bet. You can apply online for about $20 and, if memory serves, it takes minutes for approval (but don’t actually wait until the last minute to apply for it).
I recommend obtaining travel and health insurance. I book all my flights through Orbitz and purchase insurance through them. I also joined the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT), which is free to join (though a donation is nice) and can help you find quality care from doctors committed to assisting travelers abroad. Women may also be interested in Sexual Health & Family Planning Australia, a member association of Planned Parenthood. Australia has a fine public health care system so medical care shouldn’t be a problem.
Your Driver’s License
Take your driver’s license. Aside from serving as another form of ID, you are able to drive in Australia with a valid overseas license as long as it’s in English for up to three months after arrival.
Credit cards, currency, and traveler’s checks may be sufficient if your trip is short. If yours is an extended trip, you might want to consider opening a bank account in the Australia. If your bank doesn’t have a branch down under, you could be looking at some hefty fees each time you want to wire money from your American bank to your Australian bank. For this reason, I recommend an international bank such as Citibank. With centers and ATMs in both the U.S. and Australia, there are no extra fees for money transfers. If you prefer to travel with a big load of cash, be prepared to declare upon arrival if it’s more than $10k.
Medications & Toiletries
Don’t forget to take enough of your prescription medications to get you through your trip and be prepared to declare them upon arrival. As for non-prescriptions meds and toiletries, you can get just about anything in Australia though I did find anti-histamines and sleeping pills harder to find so you might want to bring them if you suffer from allergies and insomnia. If you’re a woman with specific tastes in feminine hygiene products, I strongly recommend bringing a stash of your favorite products.
Smart Traveler Enrollment Program
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service provided by the U.S. Government to U.S. citizens who are traveling or living abroad. It allows the State Department to get in contact with you in case of an emergency and also provides routine information from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. It’s free to register and only takes a few minutes.
It’s an election year in the U.S. and if you’re going to be in Australia during November, you can sign up to receive your ballot by email, fax, or internet download.
Consider how you’ll stay connected while you’re abroad. Will you need a phone to make local calls? Will you need a way to stay in touch with family and friends back home? International rates on mobiles can be astronomical so it’s worth exploring other options such as a local phone, Skype, and Google Talk.
Security & Customs
I strongly recommend reviewing the TSA and the Australian Customs and Border Patrol Protection Services websites. Be clear about the items you can and can’t travel with.
Leave an Itinerary
I leave a copy of my itinerary as well as contact information and other documents with my mother and sister. It makes them feel better if they know where I am and how to reach me. It makes me feel better to know they have backups of all my paperwork.
Did I miss anything? Do you have any before you go tips and ideas for travelers?