20 tips for visiting Australia for the first time
Visiting Australia for the first time? Learn what you need for a successful trip – from Australian visas, to what to pack, and knowing whether or not to tip. Really, it doesn’t matter if it’s your first time visiting Australia, or you’ve been multiple times before. These tips will help you have a fantastic and stress-free trip.
Visiting Australia for the first time and don’t know where to start with your trip planning?
Don’t worry too much. Australia is a relatively easy country to visit.
It’s generally safe, Aussie culture is relaxed and there’s plenty to explore when you get here.
For most people, the biggest deterrent is the distance. Australia is of course, rather inconveniently nestled right down the bottom of the globe and it can take sometimes over a day to travel to the country.
Fun for all us living here too, when we wish to go pretty much anywhere else that isn’t New Zealand.
Anyway, it helps to be prepared when travelling to to any new place and Oz is no exception.
Whether you’re visiting Australia for the first time, or coming for a return trip, these tips (written from a local’s perspective) should help make your holiday easier and with luck, prepare you for any sort of surprises. We also have tips on what not to do when visiting Australia, which will be helpful.
This guide to visiting Australia for the first time will help you discover the following:
What you need to know when visiting Australia for the first time
What should you know before travelling to Australia? Here are are a few things that you should consider.
1. Don’t travel to Australia without a visa
If you’re visiting Australia for the first time, you need to know that travellers require a visa upon entry.
Only holders of Australian and NZ passports are exempt, as the two countries have an partnership. Brothers/sisters in arms, standing together at the bottom end of the world – you know, that sort of thing.
Luckily, the Australian visa is fairly inexpensive and you can easily apply for it online.
We have several visas to choose from, but the most requested variant is the eVisa, which can be used for both work-related trips, as well as for tourism purposes.
Visas are generally valid for 12 months and you can travel to Australia multiple times on the one visa, although most only allow you to stay for a three month period.
Make sure you find out which visa is right for you before you travel. View more information on applying for an Australia visa.
2. Budget accordingly
Australia has fast become one of the most expensive countries in the world to travel to and live in. It’s very upsetting for everyone, trust me.
Hotels, car rental, petrol, public transport, food. Most things don’t come cheap in Oz.
Our produce is fresh, our food scene very underrated and our country is absolutely beautiful – but you pay a fine price, to either live in, or travel to paradise.
Make sure you budget accordingly and put a little aside for some of the special experiences that Oz offers.
That might be touring some of the stunning natural scenery, a nice dinner in a fancy restaurant, or perhaps staying somewhere that’s a little off the beaten path.
3. Get travel insurance before you go
Make sure you’re covered by travel insurance before visiting Australia for the first time.
While our healthcare is mostly quite affordable for Australian citizens, doctors will often charge non-residents a pretty penny.
An emergency ambulance can cost over a thousand and being airlifted to hospital could ruin a person financially.
Apart from health, travel insurance does of course protect you from things like theft, lost items, flight delays and such.
It’s a good idea to purchase cover in general. I know I never travel without it.
4. Pack for the weather & you should be okay
Packing for Australia is fairly easy. We don’t have any major fashion rules – you can wear what you want (within reason of course).
Just dress for the weather and you should be okay.
I do recommend checking the Bureau of Meteorology for accurate weather temperatures, so you can get some kind of an idea of what to expect.
Forget something? Don’t worry.
Australia is a developed country after all. Anything you need, you can buy when you get here.
If there’s something you’ve forgotten or misplaced, you’ll easily be able to find it.
5. Be aware that we have our own power plugs
Australia has its own plug socket, featuring two flat metal pins shaped like a “V”. Aren’t we special?
Oh, not so much as it turns out that these plugs can also be used in NZ, Taiwan and China.
If you travel a lot, it’s worth investing in a universal travel adapter, which will save you from scrambling through your collection of plugs for each country you visit.
5. Think about which city you want to start in when visiting Australia
There are plenty of choices of cities here. I strongly recommend considering which city you want to start in, when visiting Australia for the first time.
Many head straight to Sydney, which is fair enough. It’s a truly remarkably, beautiful place, with some gorgeous neighbourhoods to explore.
However, I highly recommend flying into Melbourne. It may not have the sights that Sydney has to offer, but it’s a very interesting place, in its own right.
Don’t neglect our smaller cities either. Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Darwin, Hobart and even our capital of Canberra all have something to offer visitors.
6. Get a sim-card with Telstra if you’re travelling in rural areas
Mobile service in Australia can be patchy when you go regional.
Telstra is our national service operator and they’re the best option if you plan to travel to remoter parts of Australia.
Shop around for a plan that’s best for you.
And if you’re visiting Australia for the first time, keep in mind, we call them “mobile phones” here, not cell phones!
7. Sign up for airline sales before heading over
Unfortunately due to its size, air travel is often the best option for getting around Australia, although I’d recommend busing or training where you can.
Jetstar and Virgin Australia are all good options for flights.
Subscribe to their email lists to be notified about sales and keep an eye out for the weekly ‘Happy Hour’ discounts.
8. Check whether you can drive on your foreign licence
Australia is a bit stupid in that we don’t have one licence body for the entire country. Instead, it’s handled by the separate states and territories.
So, driving rules differ state to state. You may need to have an International permit, depending on where you’ll be driving.
So while you’re organising your visa for Australia, it may be a good idea to apply for an International licence as well.
You’ll find information about driving with an overseas licence in Australia on the Government website.
Something also worth mentioning, is that we drive on the left hand side of the road in Australia.
If this is something you don’t feel comfortable with doing… maybe just avoid it!
9. Having a car in Australia is pricey
If you’re staying in Australia for awhile and want to buy your own car to travel around Australia (which many backpackers do), be aware that the whole thing is very pricey.
This is quite annoying when our public transport is, as a rule, quite unimpressive.
Petrol prices can be astonishingly expensive and cars require some kind of insurance.
You can opt for ‘Comprehensive’ insurance where you’re fully covered, or ‘Third Party’ insurance, which will cover the damage to anyone who you may hit.
Shop around for the best option before you make your decision. AAMI, GIO and Allianz are some of the more popular insurance providers.
10. We have stringent rules for drink driving & speeding
It’s important to check out basic road rules when visiting Australia for the first time.
When you are on the roads, don’t speed, as there are always cops about.
We have really strict drink driving laws, where someone on a full licence cannot have a blood alcohol reading of more than 0.05.
Keep to this, as the consequences can be financially and emotionally devastating.
Once again, driving laws change state to state, so read up on what is expected of you before you drive.
11. Join groups on Facebook to save money on travel
Don’t want to drive or can’t fathom the expense?
Never fear. There are many backpacker groups on Facebook who organise trips from capital cities, to see some of the most popular sights.
I regularly see shout-outs for example, for shared bus trips along the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne, something that is otherwise quite expensive to do on your own.
Look for some groups you can join. It’ll be a great way to meet new people on your travels as well.
12. Get used to the Aussie lexicon
Visiting Australia for the first time and can’t decipher what anyone is saying?
You’re not alone.
Australians seem to almost have their own language. Slang is a part of every day life here.
We call it “Straylian” and are proud to be fluent in it.
You’ll pick some up eventually, but it doesn’t hurt to read up on some of our more popular words and phrases before you arrive, so you’re not left scratching your head in confusion.
13. Be sun smart
The Aussie sun has a nasty bite and as such, be careful of how much time you spend in the sun.
Wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen and be sure to stay in the shade as much as possible.
PLEASE buy a brand that is non-toxic and reef safe. I like this one.
The Cancer Council has some tips on avoiding sun damage.
14. Avoid swimming on unattended beaches
If you’re visiting Australia for the first time, you should know just how deadly our beaches are.
Likewise, our beaches are deadly due to the presence of riptide, which are ocean currents that will happily pull you out to sea.
Also, our oceans are teeming with dangerous creatures, from tiny, poisonous jellyfish to giant sharks. Fun!
It’s best to only swim on patrolled beaches, where lifeguards are positioned to keep an eye on proceedings.
Read more about beach safety in Australia.
15. Don’t harass the local wildlife
Our wildlife is special, unique and best left alone.
This is partly because much of Australia’s fauna have inbuilt defence mechanisms and won’t hesitate to strike, if they feel threatened.
Admire them, but leave them to do their own thing and don’t feed them, please.
16. Shake out towels & check your boots
Although some critters do get a little bit enthusiastic when it comes to crawling into your personal items.
It’s best to always check clothes and shoes for spiders and other creepy crawlies.
Shake ’em out and shake ’em off.
17. Drink all the coffee
We looooove our coffee here in Australia and will happily profess to having the best in the world.
I’m not sure if this is true (I’m a tea drinker, myself) but I have it on good authority that it’s certainly up there.
Do your best to sample all the beans whilst you’re here and do your bit for the environment, by bringing your own, resusable coffee cup.
18. Pick up your litter
Australia is quite a clean country in some ways (it’s sadly changed a lot in recent years).
Please don’t litter, rather dispose of your trash thoughtfully in bins provided.
If you’re visiting Australia for the first time (or on subsequent occasions) please remember this.
19. Alcohol is really expensive
Aussies love a drink, but they certainly pay for it. Alcohol in Australia is not cheap – far from it.
There are taxes on alco-pops bought in stores, and the average price of beer is around $10 for a pint, depending on where you are in the country.
Despite this, Australia has a fantastic wine and craft beer scene and you can at least get some quality booze for the prices you’ll find yourself paying.
20. Traditionally, we don’t tip
If you’re visiting Australia for the first time, you may think you need to tip.
We don’t really have a tipping culture in Australia, although this has changed in recent times, I think due to the influx of visitors from countries who do tip and changes to wages (for the worse, of course).
If a meal is good and I have cash on me, I tend to leave a few dollars.
If it’s crap, then I don’t!
It’s quite uncommon for bills to be split when dining in groups, which is lazy and annoying.
Be prepared for this by bringing cash, or accepting that one person will have to foot the bill and be sent everyone else’s contributions via electronic means.
Where to go in Australia for the first time
Wondering where to go if you’re visiting Australia for the first time?
As mentioned previously, I highly recommend flying into Sydney or Melbourne. They’re the two biggest cities and excellent hubs.
There’s an ongoing argument over whether Sydney or Melbourne is better to visit. If you have time, I recommend visiting both, as they offer different experiences. If you don’t, I’d choose Melbourne and spend a week there if you can.
You may consider doing a big road trip, either up or down the coast. Here are some ideas to help with your planning. If you want to get out of the city, there’s some wonderful and easy options for weekend getaways, that are only a short drive.
Queensland is worth going to for destinations like Cairns, the Whitsundays (a collection of islands) and the Great Barrier Reef.
I highly recommend checking out Tasmania. As it’s Australia’s smallest state, you can pack a lot in, during a small amount of time. It’s got some amazing natural scenery, wonderful walks, beautiful beaches, cute towns and delicious food. What more could you ask for?
If you can, I highly recommend setting time aside to go outback, particularly to Uluru. It’s worth the hype.
And if you have a bit of extra time, make a beeline to one of Australia’s regional cities.
When is the best time to visit Australia?
If you’re visiting Australia for the first time, you may not know when is the best time for your trip
I recommend researching when is the best time to visit Australia as part of your planning.
My advice? March and September are the best months to visit Australia. They’re the first months of autumn and spring and things are generally a bit quiet/less expensive.
Don’t shy away from a winter holiday in Australia (from June-August). It’s off-season and some of our most unique places like the outback, Darwin and Far-North Queensland are far more pleasant to visit in winter.
Summer in Australia is expensive and overrated, if you ask me.
How long should you spend in Australia?
And finally, how long should you spend in Australia? Well.
If you’re coming to Australia for the first time, I’d give yourself at least a month to travel around.
Getting here is pricey after all (and if you’re coming from anywhere other than NZ or southeast Asia, takes hours upon hours), so you may as well make it worth your while. And Australia is a massive continent, so it can take awhile to drive or even fly from place to place.
If you can spend five to six weeks in Australia, you’ll be able to see quite a lot. This is my recommendation.
And if you’re planning on backpacking, why not come for a year! Have a working holiday and live in some truly fascinating cities and country towns while you’re here.
Woot! That’s about everything you need to know before visiting Australia. It’s quite a list
Whether you’re travelling to Australia for the first time or are a return visitor, I hope these tips help.
Above all, please make sure you purchase travel insurance, apply for your Australian visa well before you fly and please be respectful of our beautiful country and its unique culture. Keep it clean and be nice to our flora and critters (otherwise they may bite back!).
Please note: This post is written in conjunction with e-Visa.co.uk, however all views remain my own.
Thanks for sharing these awesome tips! We’ll keep this in mind when we visit Australia.
Great post LC! You really hit the spot and these tips would absolutely help first timers visiting Australia. Learning the slang will also help, so that they won’t be surprise if lads ask them to do some shoey 😀