The language is the same (almost!) but travelers to Australia should know about a few differences.
Plan ahead for your visit to Australia. Here's information about currencies, weather, tipping, and more.
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In addition to a valid passport, a visa is required for entry into Australia. For visits of up to three months, most U.S. citizens can easily get a visa, at no charge. This is often done by the airline on which you're flying; just be sure it's done!
The unit of the currency is the Australian dollar. At the time of this writing (Sept. 2000) the rate of exchange was U.S. $1.00 equaled Aust. $1.67, and it has been relatively stable. In addition to cash, traveler's checks and major credit cards (i.e., VISA, Master Card, American Express) are widely accepted. Find out before you go whether your credit card charges a fee for overseas use. Some charge 1% to 3%; if you'll be spending several thousand dollars, that adds up.
Tipping is not as compulsory as in the US; however, a tip of approximately 10% is expected in more upscale restaurants. The actual percentage can vary depending on the quality of service rendered. Tips are not expected in a cab, but you might round up if you're so inclined.
CLIMATE & CLOTHES
The weather in summer can be quite hot with temperatures climbing into the high 90's in the Sydney area. Despite the heat waves, it's advisable to bring a sweater or jacket for cooler days. Preparation for rainfall is also quite advisable. Due to the hole in the ozone layer over Australia, items such as sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses are also necessary. For walking in the bush, sturdy yet comfortable boots are a must.
Stores are generally open from 9 to 5 from Monday through Friday. Some stay open until 9 PM on Thursday nights. Many shops are open all day on Saturday, yet most are closed on Sunday.
Postal services in Australia are reliable yet expensive. Stamps can be purchased at newsstands, as well as at the post office.
Voltage is 220-240 AC, the same as in Europe. Plugs are flat and three pronged but are not the same as the British type. Converters can be purchased in hardware stores and in some pharmacies.
In normal conditions, vaccinations are not required to enter Australia. If you're traveling from a country where yellow fever is endemic, a vaccine may be required. (People with HIV are often advised against getting this vaccine, and the requirement is often waived in such cases. Get up-to-date regulations if you're in this situation.)
Smoking is forbidden in many restaurants and hotels, as well as on all public transportation.
Australia has some of the world's best beaches, including many right around Sydney. These are one of the country's top attractions, but the currents can be dangerous. Understand, and obey, the flags used to warn of hazardous conditions.
Forget the dingoes, wombats, and sharks. The most dangerous creatures in Australia are the cars, buses, and trucks -- because they drive on the left. More Americans are smooshed because they look to the left, then step off the curb, than from any other natural cause.
We advise caution before renting a car in Australia. Most American drivers quickly adjust to staying on the left while on a single road. But sooner or later -- probably sooner -- you'll reach one of Australia's many traffic circles, and suddenly realize you're pointing in the wrong direction. True, you'll probably survive it. But if you can find other ways to get around, why not postpone the onset of those grey hairs?
Travel in Australia with a small, friendly gay and lesbian group.