Our travel blog to Australia for informed travel.
The Australian currency is known as the dollar ($) which is divided into 100 cents (¢). The dollar is called 'the Australian dollar' usually written as 'AUD' or A$.
Coins come in denominations of 5¢, 10¢, 20¢, 50¢, $1 and the tiny $2. They are rather similar to the size and shape of coins issues in the United Kingdom. Notes come in denominations of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 (all in distinctive colours). $100 notes are rare and may be occasionally hard to use in shops. Australian notes are printed on plastic polymer rather than paper. If the total of a transaction is not a multiple of 5 cents the amount will be rounded to the nearest five cents if you are paying in cash. The exact amount will be charged if paying by card.
The dollar is not pegged to any other currency, and is highly traded on world foreign exchange markets, particularly by currency speculators. Its exchange value to other currencies can be quite volatile, and 1-2% changes in a day are reasonably regular occurrences.
Money changers in Australia operate in a free market, and charge a range of flat commissions, percentage fees, undisclosed fees built into the exchange rate, or a combination of all three. You can avoid excessive rip-off rates by using banks in major centres, and staying clear of airports and tourist centres. However, both the best and worst rates come from the small private sellers, and you can certainly save money over the banks by shopping around. Always get a quote before changing money. You'll usually need to have photo identification with you, although you may be exempt if only changing a small amount.
Dedicated currency exchange outlets are widely available in major cities, and banks can also exchange most non-restricted currencies. These exchange outlets - especially the ones at the airport - can charge 10% over the best exchange that can be obtained from shopping around. Australian banks usually offer an exchange rate around 2.5% from the current exchange midpoint. A flat commission of $5–8 can be charged on top. Some outlets advertise commission free exchange, usually accompanied by a worse rate of exchange. Don't assume every bank will offer the same exchange. A simple calculation will let you know what offers the best deal for amount you wish to exchange. There are vouchers for commission free exchange at American Express available in the tourist brochure at Sydney Airport.
International airport terminals will have teller machines that can dispense Australian currency with Cirrus, Maestro, MasterCard or Visa cards.
Opening an Australian bank account is fairly straightforward, and in some cases can be done online. You will need to provide evidence of your identity, such as a passport, to the bank in order for your application to be processed. The largest retail banks in Australia are National Australia Bank (NAB), Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ), Commonwealth Bank and Westpac.
Cash dispensing Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) are available in almost every Australian town. Australian ATMs are deregulated and may impose a surcharge over what is charged by your bank or card issuer. The fees can vary between institutions and between locations, but are usually around $2. The ATM will display the charges and you will have the option to stop the transaction before you are charged. Check with your bank as to what additional fees they apply to withdrawals in Australia.
Fast changing currency valuations
The Australian dollar is one of the world's more dynamic currencies, partly because of its relation to commodity prices such as iron and coal. Within the past 10 years the 'Aussie' has swung between 50¢ to $1.50 to the United States Dollar, making the cost of visiting reasonable or very expensive depending on exactly when you are there. As of October 2015 it is around 72¢ to the US Dollar, making it relatively affordable for the time being
Australia is generally an expensive place to visit, with some recent surveys having ranked Australia as the third most expensive country in the world in terms of consumer prices, only behind Norway and Switzerland.
Dorm accommodation in a capital city is around $30, but can run as low as $15 in Cairns or cheaper backpacker centres. A basic motel in the country or in the capital city suburbs would cost around $100 for a double. City Centre hotel accommodation in capital cities can be obtained for around $150 upwards for a double. Formule 1/Motel 6 style hotels (which are not common) can be around $60–90 for a double.
Car hire will cost around $65 a day. Public transport day passes from $10–20 per day depending on the city.
A café meal costs around $10–15, and a main course in a restaurant goes from around $17 upwards.
A basic takeaway meal - a burger, fancy sandwich, or couple of slices of pizza would cost $5–10, a Big Mac costs $4.50, and you can usually grab a pie for around $3, or a sausage roll for $2.50. A takeaway pizza from Pizza Hut big enough to feed two costs around $10.
A middy/pot (285mL) of house beer will cost you around $4, and a glass of house wine around $6 in a low end pub. To take away, a case of 24 cans of beer will cost around $40, or a bottle of wine around $8.
An airfare between neighbouring eastern capitals is around $120 each way but can get as low as $60 if you book at the right time, or around $350 to cross the country assuming that you are flexible with dates and book in advance. A train trip on the state run trains will usually cost slightly less. A bus trip, a little less again. A train trip on the private trains will be the most expensive way to travel.
There is usually no admission charge to beaches or city parks. Some popular National Parks charge between $10 and $20 per day (per car, or per person depending on the state) while more out of the way National Parks are free. Art Galleries and some attractions are free. Museums generally charge around $10 per admission. Theme parks charge around $70 per person.
Credit cards are widely accepted in Australia. Almost all large vendors such as supermarkets accept cards, as do many small stores. Australian debit cards can also be used via a system known as EFTPOS. Any card showing the Cirrus or Maestro logos can be used at any terminal displaying those logos. VISA or MasterCard are the most universally accepted cards, then American Express, then Diners Club with other cards either never or very rarely accepted. American Express and Diners Club are accepted at major supermarket and department store chains.
Smaller shops may have a minimum purchase amount to use a credit or debit card, due to the fixed transaction costs they have. Others may simply discourage use of cards for small purchases.
Australia has recently gone through a migration to eliminate signatures and implement PINs for all credit cards. This doesn't effect overseas cards, and if you have an overseas issued card without a PIN you can still use it to sign for purchases in Australia. However, shopkeepers unused to dealing with overseas cards may not be aware of this, and may not be used to accepting signatures for purchases. If you can, try to have a PIN on your card if your bank allows it. If not, you may have to explain that you have an overseas card at places that expect you to have a PIN - and wait while they find a pen.
Credit card surcharges are imposed at all car rental agencies, travel agents, airlines, and at some discount retailers and service stations. Surcharges are far more common and higher for American Express and Diners Club (typically 2%-4%) than they are for VISA and MasterCard (typically 1.5%).
UnionPay credit cards are becoming more common in tourist shops and restaurants due to the the rising number of Chinese visitors. It is difficult to use them in other businesses however.
Bargaining is uncommon in Australian stores, though vendors are usually willing to meet or beat a quote or advertised price from a competing retailer. It's also worth asking for a "best price" for high-value goods or purchases involving several items. For example, it would not be unusual to get 10% off an item of jewelry that was not already reduced in price. The person you are dealing with may have limited authority to sell items at anything other than the marked price.
Tipping is never compulsory and is usually not expected in Australia. Staff are seen to be paid an appropriate wage and will certainly not chase you down for a tip. It is acceptable to pay the amount stated on the bill. When Australians do tip, it will often be in the form of leaving the change from a cash payment (usually as a convenience so the change does not hang around loose on someone's person - not as a gratuity), rather than a fixed percentage.
In a suburban or country restaurant where table service is offered, they will certainly take a tip of 5–10% should you decide to leave one, but it is almost always not expected, and locals usually do not leave any. In a cafe or more informal restaurant, even with table service, and even in tourist centres, leaving a tip is unusual. Sometimes there is a coin jar by the cashier labelled 'Tips', but more often than not, diners do not leave one. Bartenders are not usually tipped.
Tipping is also not expected in taxis, and drivers will typically return your change to the last 5 cents, unless you indicate that they should round the fare to the nearest dollar (it is not unusual for passengers to instruct the driver to round up to the next whole dollar).
Casinos in Australia generally prohibit tipping of gaming staff, as it is considered bribery. Similarly, tipping government officials will usually be interpreted as bribery as well.
Australia's base trading hours are Monday to Friday, 09:00-17:00. Shops usually have a single night of late night trading, staying open until 21:00 on Fridays in most cities and on Thursdays in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. Sunday trading is common but does not exist in all rural areas. Opening hours beyond these base hours vary by the type of store, by location, and by state. See our localised guides for more local information.
Major supermarket chains in main centres are generally open at least until 21:00. Smaller convenience stores like 7/11 are open 24 hours in major centres. Fast Food restaurant chains are commonly open 24 hours or at least very late.
Fuel/Service stations are open 24 hours in major centres, but often close at 6pm and on Sundays in country towns.
Australia's weekend is on Saturday and Sunday of each week. Retail trading is now almost universal in larger cities on weekends, although with slightly reduced hours. Again, Western Australia is an exception with restrictions on large stores opening on Sundays. In smaller country towns shops are closed on Sundays and often also on Saturday afternoons.
Tourist-oriented towns and shops may stay open longer hours. Tourist areas within cities, such as Darling Harbour in Sydney have longer trading hours every night.
Australian banks are open Monday-Friday 09:00-16:00 only, often closing at 17:00 on Fridays. Cash is available through Automatic Teller Machines (ATM) 24 hours, and currency exchange outlets have extended hours and are open on weekends.
Australia has a 10% sales tax known as the Goods and Services Tax or GST that applies to all goods and services except unprocessed foods, education and medical services. GST is always included in the price of any item you purchase rather than being added at the time of payment except in rare circumstances where it will state Excludes GST. Receipts (tax invoices) will contain the GST amount, which is one eleventh of the total value of taxable supplies.
Sales tax refunds
If you buy items over $300 at one place at one time you can obtain a refund of the GST if you take the items out of Australia within 30 days. Pack the items in hand luggage, and present the item(s) and the receipt at the TRS, after immigration and security when leaving Australia. Also allow an extra 15 minutes before departure. The refund payment can be made by either cheque, credit to an Australian bank account, or payment to a credit card. There is no refund available for services.
(Thanks to WikiVoyage.org)