Expat Life

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. Here’s a list of things you need before you go.

Your passport

It should go without saying that you need a passport and preferably one that doesn’t expire within six months.

Australian visas

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 surprised. Yes, dear would-be-travellers, 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, travelling 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 Travellers (IAMAT), which is free to join (though a donation is nice) and can help you find quality care from doctors committed to assisting travellers 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 traveller’s checks may be enough 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, and it takes time. I recommend an international bank such as Citibank. With centres 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  and 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 favourite 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.

Absentee ballot

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.

Staying connected

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. Facebook Messenger is a great option if you’ve got wifi.

Security and 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. Also, check the baggage requirements for the airlines you’re travelling on.

Leave an itinerary

I leave a copy of my itinerary as well as contact information and copies of other documents with my mother, sister, and partner. 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 travellers?



  • Warn your bank you are going abroad! Otherwise you will get your card blocked due to “suspicious fraudulent activity” and then have to call them to get it unblocked.

    • That is a great tip! It’s also a good idea to warn any credit cards you want to use abroad.

      • yeah I made sure to warn all my card companies for how long I was going abroad. Just a few weeks ago I was trying to buy a train ticket using the French SNCF website and my attempts got blocked. Minutes later my dad in the States was inundated with phone calls from all my banks saying there was suspicious activity reported. He had to reassure them it was me being an idiot and trying to figure out the stupid website. I realized I forgot to tell my companies last summer I was planning on staying in Spain a second year. Oops!

        • I would expand on this to say bring at least two different cards with you (credit cards or prepaid cards being better than debit cards). I warn my bank EVERY TIME and they STILL shut down my card without fail. Having a second card to use is a necessity for me, since it sometimes takes a couple of days to contact the bank and get them to reactivate the card.

  • julesdownunder

    Great information here. And good luck!

  • Wow, I wish I would’ve had this list before I up and moved to New Zealand last year, so helpful! Also, don’t forget outlet adaptors, and if you’re abroad for longer than a few weeks, consider buying more than one.

    • Adapters, yes! That’s a good one. Thanks for your comments!

  • Serene

    Fair warning, Australians HATE that you can use an international license here and he allowed to drive. Our laws are very strict, and we hold others to them too. If you cannot drive as well as we can, we will let you know and not usually in a very polite fashion. Hopefully this ridiculous loophole will close soon and tourists and migrants will have to have a driving test before they can drive here.

    • I haven’t encountered any problems surrounding my license, but then there’s no way to know what kind of license a driver holds unless it’s shown. Compared to Miami, one of the rudest driving cities in the U.S., I’ve found Aussie drivers to be more polite, though not necessarily better drivers, but I appreciate that most learners and poor drivers come with warning signs in the form of L and P plates. I do agree that it’s far too easy for migrants to obtain a local driver’s license since we’re not required to take any tests. It’s important to know the laws and it does take some getting used to the different driving habits. Thanks for your comments!

  • Serene, the “ridiculous loophole” you speak of is enjoyed by many Australians abroad and, for what it’s worth, it’s not a loophole, it’s the law.