What makes Australia a unique country to travel to?
Australia is a highly developed, stable democracy with a federal-state system. Tourist facilities are widely available.
Although U.S citizens are not specifically targeted for crime, travelers should be aware that robberies, burglaries, assault, and auto theft are common in Australia’s larger cities. Weapons are increasingly used in such crimes, which also may be associated with drug trafficking, gang activities, and drug or alcohol usage. Foreign visitors in popular tourist areas are targets for pickpockets, purse-snatchers, and petty thieves. Be careful when consuming alcohol with unfamiliar people, as drink spiking can occur; appropriate security precautions should be taken, especially at night, to avoid becoming a target of opportunity.
Do not buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
While you are traveling in Australia, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. You may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings, such as inside certain areas of Australian airports, near prisons and at military bases. If you break local laws, your U.S. passport won’t help. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you are going. In Australia, driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. If you violate Australian laws, even unknowingly, you may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States. You can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Australia, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Australia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Please be aware that all objectionable material is subject to declaration and inspection and may be illegal in Australia. Objectionable material includes child pornography, bestiality, explicit sexual violence, and graphic degradation, as well as terrorism-related material and anything providing instruction in or encouraging drug use, crime, or violence. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not wherever you go.
While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Excellent medical care is available in Australia. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Most doctors and hospitals expect immediate cash/credit card payment for health services. We recommend travel insurance.
Safety and Security
Australia has an alert system for possible terrorist attacks. The threat levels range from “low” to “high.” The Australian Attorney General's Office web site has up-to-date information regarding the current terrorism threat level. Depending on the alert, you should maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to increase your security awareness. Travelers may also contact the Australian National Security Hotline at 61-1-800-123-400.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Australia, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning driving in Australia is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Traffic operates on the left side of the road, and all vehicles use right-hand drive. Please use caution when crossing streets and when driving. When crossing roads on foot, make sure you look carefully in all directions. Wearing a seat belt is mandatory, and fines apply for not wearing them. Speed limits and laws regarding driving while intoxicated are rigorously enforced, and random breath testing of a driver's blood alcohol limit is a common occurrence. Roads and streets are frequently narrower and less graded than U.S. highways. Outside major metropolitan areas, most highways are two-lane roads with significant distances between destinations. Speed limits vary throughout Australia and are measured in kilometers, not miles. Be aware that speed cameras are everywhere and you will be ticketed for driving over the speed limit.
When driving in Australia, exercise caution while passing or merging with adjacent traffic. If driving in rural areas, be cautious of free-roaming animals, such as kangaroos, and "road-trains" (several semi-truck trailers connected together). Passing road-trains is dangerous, and you should pull over to allow on-coming road-trains to pass to avoid being sideswiped. A number of fatalities have occurred in the Northern Territory where vehicles driven at high rates of speed have skidded and overturned after hitting loose gravel on the shoulder of the road. If you have no experience with a 4-wheel drive vehicle, you should exercise common-sense when driving in the Australian outback.
Texting or holding your phone while driving is against the law, but you can use a hands-free system to communicate while driving. For specific information concerning Australian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, mandatory insurance, and the rental and operation of motor vehicles in Australia, visit the Australian Tourist Commission web site.
Each state/territory has different rules about using a foreign driver’s license and the conditions under which a visitor might have to get an international driver’s license. In some cases, you can apply for a driver’s license from the state in Australia where you intend to remain for the duration of your stay in Australia.