Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and Fun Facts about Australia

Business Hours — Banks are typically open Monday through Friday from 9:30am to 4:00pm or 5:00pm. Some banks are open for short periods on Saturday.

General business and shopping hours are usually 8:30am to 5:00pm weekdays and certain shops open at various times over the weekend. Most major department stores and shops in tourist precincts are open 7 days and also operate late night trading to 9:00pm on Thursday nights.

Dates — Australians write their dates day/month/year; so February 15, 1982, is 15/02/1982.

Driving — Australian’s drive on the left hand side of the road. Speed limits are enforced and penalties can be significant if you decide to breach these. Generally if you hold an English based license, you can drive in Australia, however if you plan to drive, it is recommended to enquire with your local licensing authority before traveling.

Drugstores — These are called “chemists” or “pharmacies.” Australian pharmacists are permitted to fill only prescriptions written by Australian doctors.

Electricity — The current is 240 volts AC, 50 hertz. Sockets take two or three flat angled, not rounded or parallel, pins. Many powerpacks these days are universal 110-240 volts, 50-60 hertz, however it is important to check this before connecting anything to a power point. It is recommended that North Americans and Europeans buy an outlet adaptor and/or convertor before they leave home (don’t wait until you get to Australia, because often Australian stores are likely to stock only adapters for Aussie appliances to fit American and European outlets). Some large hotels have 110V outlets for electric shavers (or dual voltage), and some will lend outlet adaptors and/or converters, but don’t count on it in smaller, less expensive hotels, motels, or B&Bs.

Emergency Services — Dial tel. 000 anywhere in Australia for police, ambulance, or the fire department. This is a free call from public and private telephones and needs no coins.

Hungry Jacks — This is the same company as Burger King. Do not stress, they have not stolen the burgers and taste just as good.

Internet Access — Internet access is available just about everywhere, including some of the smallest Outback towns, which generally have at least one cyber cafe, coin-operated machines, or both. Coin-op terminals are also available at larger airports. Major tourist towns such as Darwin and Cairns sometimes have whole streets full of cyber cafes.

Liquor Laws — Hours vary from pub to pub, but most are open daily from around 10am or noon, to 10pm or midnight. The minimum drinking age is 18. Drinking whilst driving is illegal. Random breath tests to catch drunk drivers are common, and drunk-driving laws are strictly enforced. Getting caught drunk behind the wheel will mean a court appearance, not just a fine. The maximum permitted blood alcohol level is 0.05%. Alcohol is sold in liquor stores and not in the general supermarket. It is illegal to drink in public, outdoor functions which are on private property is OK.

Maps — If Google isn’t available, news agencies, auto clubs, and bookstores are your best sources for maps.

Night Sky — Australia’s southern skies are often very clear and easy to see many constellations that are not visible in the North. Be sure to keep an eye out for one of the most famous groupings, the Southern Cross.

Pets — Leave ’em at home. You will be back home planning your next vacation before your pet clears quarantine in Australia.

Safety — Violent crime is uncommon, and the political situation is stable. Guns are strictly controlled. Pick-pockets/Purse-snatchers are the same threat they are all over the world.

Smoking — Smoking in most public areas, such as museums, cinemas, and theaters, is restricted or prohibited. Smoking in restaurants and pubs is typically prohibited altogether, with designated areas away from where food is available or consumed. As with many international airports and flights, smoking is not permitted in Australian airports and on flights.

Taxes — Australia applies a 10% Goods and Services Tax (GST) on most products and services. Unless otherwise specified, all retailers, restaurants and service providers etc. display their prices inclusive of GST. Your international airline tickets to Australia are not taxed, nor are domestic airline tickets for travel within Australia if you bought them outside Australia. If you buy Australian airline tickets once you arrive in Australia, you will pay GST on them.

Through the Tourist Refund Scheme (TRS), Australians and international visitors can claim a refund of the GST (and of a 14.5% wine tax called Wine Equalisation Tax, or WET) paid on a purchase of more than A$300 from a single outlet, within the last 30 days before you leave. Do this as you leave by presenting your receipt or “tax invoice” to the Australian Customs Service’s TRS booths, located beyond passport control in the International Terminal departure areas at most airports.

Items bought in duty-free stores will not be charged GST. Nor will items you export — such as an Aboriginal painting that you buy in a gallery in Alice Springs and have shipped straight to your home outside Australia. Basic groceries are not GST-taxed, but restaurant meals are.

Telephones — The primary telecommunication networks in Australia are Telstra and Optus, with other carriers also available. If you plan to use your mobile (cell) phone in Australia, check with your provider the applicable charges and if your phone is setup and capable of international roaming.

To call Australia: If you’re calling Australia from the United States:

1. Dial the international access code 011. This can be replaced on most mobiles these days simply by using the + symbol.

2. Dial the country code 61.

3. Dial the city code (drop the 0 from any area code given in this guide) and then the number. So, if you’re calling Australian Rocketry in Brisbane, the whole number you’d dial would be 011-61-7-3333-1655 or +61-7-3333-1655.

To make international calls: To make international calls from Australia, first dial 0011 or + and then the country code (U.S. or Canada 1, U.K. 44, Ireland 353, New Zealand 64). Next dial the area code and number. For example, if you wanted to call Australian Rocketry Pty Ltd, you would dial 0011-1-321-549-5957 or +1-321-549-5957. For other country codes, call tel. 1222 or look in the back of the Australian White Pages.

For directory assistance: Dial tel. 12455 if you’re looking for a number inside Australia, or tel. 1225 for numbers to all other countries.

For operator assistance: If you need operator assistance in making a call, dial tel. 1234. To make a collect call, dial tel. 12550. To find a number, call Directory Assistance at tel. 1223 for numbers in Australia and tel. 1225 for international numbers.

Toll-free numbers: Numbers beginning with 1800 in Australia are toll-free, but calling a U.S. 1-800 (or 1-888, 1-877, or 1-866) number from Australia is not toll-free; it costs the same as an overseas call.

Other numbers: Numbers starting with 13 or 1300 in Australia are charged at the local fee of A25¢ anywhere in Australia. Numbers beginning with 1900 (or 1901 or 1902 and so on) are pay-for-service lines, and you will be charged as much as A$5 a minute.

Time Zone — Eastern Standard Time (EST, sometimes also written as AEST) covers Queensland, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, and Tasmania. Central Standard Time (CST) is used in the Northern Territory and South Australia, and Western Standard Time (WST) is the standard in Western Australia. When it’s noon in New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria, Queensland, and Tasmania, it’s 11:30am in South Australia and the Northern Territory, and 10am in Western Australia. All states except Queensland, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia observe daylight saving time, usually from the last Sunday in October (the first Sun in Oct in Tasmania) to the last Sunday in March. However, not all states switch over to daylight saving on the same day or in the same week.

The east coast of Australia is GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) plus 10 hours. When it is noon on the east coast, it is 2am in London that morning, and 6pm in Los Angeles and 9pm in New York the previous night. These times are based on standard time, so allow for daylight saving in the Australian summer, or in the country you are calling. New Zealand is 2 hours ahead of the east coast of Australia, except during daylight saving, when it is 3 hours ahead of Queensland.

Tipping — Tipping is not expected in Australia. Some passengers round up to the nearest dollar in a taxi (cab), but it’s okay to insist on every bit of change back. Tipping bellboys and porters is sometimes done, but no one tips bar staff, barbers, or hairdressers.

Although it is not expected and not required, feel free to tip if you believe you have received good service.

Toilets and Drains — It is in fact true that toilets flush in the opposite direction with water spinning counter-clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.

Water — Water is fine to drink everywhere. In the Outback, the taps may carry warm brackish water from underground, called “bore water,” for showers and laundry, while drinking water is collected in rainwater tanks.

Wildlife — Whether it’s on the land or in the ocean, Australia has some magnificent wildlife of which can be seen both in the wild and in zoo’s. Koalas (which are NOT bears) and kangaroos can be seen in the wild, typically away from major cities. Although they look cute and cuddly, unless you are with someone who knows what they are doing or in a zoo, it is not recommended to try and cuddle either of these.

Snakes and spiders are common and can be dangerous, however they are more scared of you than you are of them.

Some of the most beautiful marine life exists along the coast lines of Australia which makes for great diving and snorkeling.