Australia is not the cheap country it was, but it can still be a good value place to travel around particularly when you take into account the standard of some hostel accommodation. However prices can come as a shock if you’ve arrived here after a couple of months on the road in Asia.

The best way to work out your daily budget is by simply tripling your accommodation cost. Multiply this by the number of days you’re planning on travelling, and add the cost of your airfare and bus/travel passes and you should get a pretty good idea of the costs of travelling around Australia.

You should be able to save some money by cooking all your own meals and not going out drinking, but there are lots of easy ways to blow through a wad of cash such as a few big nights out on the town or adventure activities such as scuba diving, bungee jumping or white water rafting.

ATMs, credit cards & EFTPOS

Plastic is the preferred way to access your cash while you’re on the road and most cards are widely accepted throughout Australia.

There are several types of cards, each with their advantages. Most travellers have at least one credit card, and also a card to draw cash from an ATM (either from an account at home or from an Australian bank account).

Credit cards

Credit cards are great for getting out of trouble and are often tied to a frequent flyer programme. One of the main advantages of credit cards is the favourable currency exchange rate as well the freedom to spend more money than you have. Of course this spending can get out of hand and you’ll end up paying for it later on.

The most useful cards in Australia are MasterCard and Visa, followed by American Express, Diners Club and China UnionPay. In tourist areas you may also find some places that accept JCB and you can sometimes use Discover card at places that accept Diners Club (since Diners and Discover are owned by the same company).

Most credit cards can be replaced quickly if they are lost or stolen, particularly if you have a card from a major brand like American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard or Visa. Although international cards like JCB and China UnionPay can be a little more difficult to replace in Australia.

ATM & EFTPOS cards

ATM cards are a popular way to access your cash, particularly if your card is part of an international network allowing you to use Australian Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs). If the bank that issued your card is part of the Plus, Cirrus or Visa networks you should find plenty of ATMs in Australia where you can withdraw money.

Despite the favourable exchange rate and the ease of drawing your money from a cash dispenser, there are sometimes problems using your cash card abroad. Before leaving home you should check with your bank whether it is possible to use your card in Australia. In some cases you may need to change your PIN or even have a new card issued.

Cards issued by Australian banks are a lot more useful, working in virtually all ATMs and also at EFTPOS terminals in most shops, hotels, service stations and pubs.

Electronic Funds Transfer at Point of Sale (EFTPOS) terminals at cash registers at most Australian shops allow you to use an Australian issued ATM card to pay for things and withdraw cash from your account. The combination of ATMs and EFTPOS terminals everywhere makes getting an Aussie bank account essential if you’re planning on staying in the country for more than a few months.

Australian cards often have multiple accounts linked to them so you’re often asked “cheque, savings or credit” when paying by card. In most instances you simply say “credit”  to pay by MasterCard or Visa, but if you have an Australian card you can choose “savings” to have the funds come directly from your bank account. Shops prefer this as their fees are lower, but you can miss out on earning frequent flyer points by choosing savings rather than credit.

Australian bank accounts

If you’re planning on spending a lot of time in Australia, your own bank account will make things a lot easier, particularly if you’re planning on finding work.

The four biggest banks in Australia are ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, NAB (National Australia Bank) and Westpac. Smaller banks like BankWest, Bank of Melbourne, Bank of Queensland, Bendigo Bank, St George and Suncorp may give you better service and lower fees but you won’t always be able to find a branch when you’re on the road, so you may be charged higher fees to withdraw cash from another bank’s ATM. Of the smaller banks, Bendigo Bank probably has the most extensive branch network (on the east coast at least) and Bendigo Bank customers can withdraw from Bank of Adelaide and Suncorp ATMs without any fees. It is generally best to open an account with a bank that has branches in places where you will be travelling. This generally means one of the big four banks, but you could get away with Bendigo Bank if you’re not travelling in Western Australia.

If you’ve just arrived in Australia you can open an Australian bank account by presenting your passport as identification, but you may be asked for additional identification if you try to open an account after spending more than six weeks in the country.

GST & the Tourist Refund Scheme

Australia has a 10% Goods and Services Tax on most retail purchases, and there is a scheme where travellers can reclaim the GST on some purchases.

The Tourist Refund Scheme (TRS) enables you to claim a refund of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and Wine Equalisation Tax (WET) that you pay on goods you buy in Australia. The refund only applies to goods you take with you as hand luggage or wear onto the plane when you leave the country. It does not apply to services or goods consumed or partly consumed in Australia. Unlike other tourist shopping schemes, such as duty free shopping, you can use the goods before leaving Australia.

To qualify for the scheme you need to:

  • spend $300 or more at a single business (this can comprise multiple transactions);
  • purchase the goods no more than 60 days before leaving Australia;
  • get a tax invoice from the shop you bought the goods from;
  • take the goods with you as carry on luggage (except liquids, which can’t be taken as carry on luggage because of security regulations).

It is essential that you get a tax invoice when you buy the goods you want to claim a refund on and take this with you to the airport. There are TRS booths at the departure areas of Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Cairns, Adelaide, Darwin and Coolangatta airports where you need to show the goods you want to claim the refund on, the tax invoice, your passport and boarding pass. If you’re leaving from an international airport that doesn’t have a TRS booth, such as Broome or Newcastle you will need to contact a Customs office (Brome tel (08) 9193 6999; Newcastle tel (02) 4926 0411) to make a claim before leaving the country.

You can read more about this scheme here.

Tipping & bribery

Bribery in exchange for good service isn’t as widely practised in Australia as in other countries although tipping is starting to catch on, particularly in fancy restaurants in trendy inner-city neighbourhoods.

Fifteen to 20 years ago it would be rare to find an Australian who would regularly tip, but now there are many people who regularly tip 10% in restaurants and who even self-righteously promote this custom. Tipping is most common in the city centres of Melbourne and Sydney as well as the trendier inner-city neighbourhoods like Surry Hills and Glebe in Sydney or Fitzroy, South Yarra and St Kilda in Melbourne. In these places it is common to tip 10%; however tipping is much less common elsewhere in Australia including most suburban areas of Melbourne and Sydney. Even in the centre of Melbourne or Sydney, tipping isn’t always expected as many people dining in restaurants there often live in suburban areas where tipping is less common.

Despite the increasing number of people tipping, the average Aussie doesn’t tip and even in more expensive restaurants it is quite normal to pay the exact change for your meal. You never tip in a pub or bar, which also means that pub meals are tip-free. Because cafés are basically pubs with a different drinks menu and décor, don’t feel you need to tip there either even if the café has a tip jar on the counter.

When paying taxi fares it is commonplace to round up the fare, such as paying $10 for a $9.60 fare; but it is not uncommon for a taxi driver to round a $10.20 fare down to an even $10.

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