A few days before the flight
About jet lag
Jet lag is the collective name for the unpleasant symptoms that occur when you move between multiple time zones for a short period of time and then try to work “normally” in the new time zone. After a long trip, say from Scandinavia/northern Europe to Australia, most people experience sleep issues and sometimes symptoms such as nausea, headache, mild depression and difficulties concentrating. Some people find it easy to adapt to a new time zone, but for others as for me, having jet lag is like being sick with the flu (but without fever). After a long trip it usually takes me about a week before I am myself again.
You can reduce the jet lag symptoms by preparing yourself a few days before the trip by trying to adjust to the time zone you’re travelling to. Then your body will experience less of a dramatic change after the arrival to Australia. Drink plenty of water and minimal amounts of alcohol on the plane.
If you are travelling non-stop from Scandinavia or northern Europe, you will most likely feel a bit “beaten up” for a couple of days after landing (but at the same time be wide awake in the middle of the night). Your body clock is opposite and if you are like me, you will wake up in the middle of the night and be hungry. (Prepare with a light night-meal so you have something to eat when you wake up hungry in the middle of the night.)
Planning your luggage and shipping the excess
Most economy tickets allow you to bring 20 kg of luggage + hand luggage (check what your ticket allows before packing too much resulting in having to pay an excess luggage fee). If you need to bring more luggage than allowed, you can always send or ship your items between your home country and Australia. Small things you can post to yourself (your future address in Australia). If you only have a few extra things you want to bring, it may be worthwhile either to buy extra luggage weight beforehand from your airline, or to post it to yourself in one package. Price examples:
- According to Qantas website (com/au/en/travel-info/baggage.html) (October 2018) the cost for 5 kg pre-purchased additional luggage when travelling between Australia and Europe, is around AUD $280. You can read more about prices and procedures online on most airlines’ websites once you know who you are travelling with.
- You can post things to yourself by c/o your name to the hotel you are staying at in Australia or use poste restante to the post office located in the city you are going to. Talk to your local post office or check at their webpage for prices. But as an example, sending via post from as far as Sweden does according to Postnord’s website (se/skicka-forsandelser/priser-och-villkor/portotabeller/paket-utrikes-utanfor-europa) cost approximately 2,000 SEK (about AUD $300) for a 20 kg package under max circumference = (width + height) × 2.
- If you want to send things from Australia to your hometown (for example when you go back home or when sending presents to relatives back home) you can use Australia Post if you manage to keep the parcel under maximum allowed circumference (140 cm). A 20 kg package all the way to Scandinavia would cost around AUD $210 by airmail and around AUD $185 by boat (about 3 months delivery time, prices from October 2018). To find the accurate price to your preferred destination, go to Australia Post’s website for more info (com.au/business/shipping/international-shipping).
If you have some boxes with extra stuff, air freight is a good option (but not if it is hundreds of kilos or bulky goods). When I moved to Australia in 2008, I used a local company (from my hometown) to send six boxes of stuff (with a total weight of 100 kg) to Australia. One week after I dropped off the boxes at the freight terminal, I was able to pick them up at the airport in Sydney. Everything arrived in good condition even if the crates had some marks. (Instead of using boxes made from hardboard, use boxes made from a more durable material like hard plastic).
If you are moving and want to bring furniture and lots of goods, air freight is too expensive, and instead you should investigate in the costs of shipping things by boat in a container or freight crates. Shipping usually takes around 3 months if as far away as from/to Scandinavia.
Choosing your flight seats and checking in online
When travelling by aeroplane it is a big difference in comfort between different seats even within a certain class. Of course, it is nicer to fly business than economy, but even in economy class, some places in the plane are much better than others. For example, you may not want to sit near the toilets where all passengers will walk past and accidentally bump you while you are trying to sleep. You also don’t want to sit with your back against a wall and not being able to fold down the backrest all the way, and if you sit closest to the aisle you won’t have to climb over your neighbour when you want to go to the bathroom. The secret behind knowing where you want to sit and where you don’t want to sit is; Knowing the plane’s seat map (the map of all the chairs on the plane), to check in as early as possible (preferably online the day before) and in connection with your check-in ask to sit in the seat with best comfort (that is available of course).
To check in online in order to get a good seat, do the following:
- From your booking confirmation you will find the info about your flight number and what airline you are flying with. Sometimes you can also see what kind of aircraft you are going to fly with (for example, the A380, which stands for an Airbus plane, model 380).
- Using this information, find the seat map for your specific flight at Seat Guru (com). There you will find which seats on the plane that are considered to be the best, these are the ones you want to try to get.
- Print the seat map or have it open in a browser window so that you can check the details when you check in on your flight.
- Between 24-48 hours before your flight departs, the airline will start planning which passengers will be seated where. From then on, they allow passengers to check in online, this is when you must be as quick as possible to get the best seat. Instead of waiting until you are at the airport (and must queue with hundreds of other passengers) you go to your airline’s website and do their online check-in.
The process is different for different airlines, but basically it works like this to check in online:
- You log in by entering your last name and booking number.
- You will be presented with a summary of your travel itinerary.
- You click that you want to check in on your flight. (Each separate flight requires its own check-in and boarding pass, that is, a trip from Gothenburg to Sydney via Frankfurt and Singapore consists of 3 flights (GOT-FRA, FRA-SIN, SIN-SYD) and you get boarding pass and choose seat for each one of these.
- When you confirm that you will be travelling with a specific flight, you are given the opportunity to choose your seat. When you select your location, compare it to the location map from step 3 above.
- You acknowledge that you have understood the safety instructions and indicate whether you will check in any baggage or not at the airport.
- At the end of the process, you will receive a boarding pass that is generated for you with your name, seat and travel details. Print this out and bring to the airport. As a safety precaution, also save a copy (for example, as a pdf file that you email to yourself).
Before leaving for to the airport
Travelling to Australia is simple once you know how to, but if it’s your first time going on a long trip on your own, it can be a bit jittering and confusing. Prepare yourself to get a smooth journey without hassle.
- The day before your departure date, finish packing your bags and make sure they are not too heavy, e.g. risking having to pay an excess luggage fee. If you plan to bring a knife or any kind of multitool, remember to pack this in your checked-in luggage and not in your hand luggage.
- Print a paper copy of each of the following documents and put them all in a plastic sleeve to avoid breaking them. These, together with your passport, are to be carried in your hand luggage, not in your suitcase.
a) A copy of your booking confirmation for the flight ticket. On this, you will find your booking number and all your trip details (including the details of your return trip if it is a roundtrip ticket).
b) A copy of your boarding pass or check-in confirmation if you received one when you checked in online the night before. If you have not checked in online, you must check in at the airport (but it will take extra time due to queues, take this into account when planning what time to be at the airport).
c) A copy of your booking confirmation for the hotel or the hostel where you will stay the first nights when arriving to Australia.
d) Directions, address and/or map so you can navigate to your accommodation when arriving.
e) A copy of the email you received when getting your Australian visa granted, including the ID number of your specific visa.
f) A copy of any prescription or certificate from your doctor if you have large quantities of prescription medications that may otherwise be seized in customs (e.g. controlled medicines).
- You must be at the airport well in advance of your departure. If you have followed my recommendations above, you have already checked in online. Make sure to be at the airport 1.5-2 hours before departure so you have plenty of time to drop-off your luggage at the baggage-drop, get to the flight and have a margin for any delays (long queues or unexpected events). If you have not checked in online, you should be there 2-3 hours before departure.
- If you have not checked in online, you must check in at the airport instead. Go to the check-in desk for your flight (there are large information signs that tell which desk is taking care of your flight).
a) Show your passport and your booking confirmation.
b) If you have any special requests about where you want to sit (see the section above about sites like seatguru.com) then it is time to say it now. You’ll probably be asked if you want to sit in the window seat or the aisle seat.
c) The person in the check-in desk now prints one or more boarding passes for your trip. You will receive one card for each flight you have booked. Keep these boarding passes in your hand luggage, they are to be used when you walk through the security check and when boarding the plane.
d) Next step is that the personnel will take care of your luggage. Read more about his in the section below.
- If you have already checked in online, go to the desk for those who have already checked in online. This is often a check-in desk next to the other check-in desks, with a sign that says: “baggage drop” or “online check-in only”. Show your boarding pass (which you printed after checking in online) and passport.
a) You may receive a new boarding pass and be asked to discard your paper copy. This procedure differs between different airlines, some accept your printout as a “proper” boarding pass.
b) You will be asked about how many bags you have with you and if you packed them yourself. Put your bags (but not the hand baggage) on the luggage conveyor belt and the bags are weighed. (If they weigh too much, you’ll pay an excess fee.) On each bag, a label with an ID number and a text indicating the destination and that it belongs to you will be placed. As a receipt, you get a sticker with the same ID number and name.
c) The seasoned (and paranoid) traveller now immediately do the following; Make sure you got the right label on the bag, that is, that it is your name and correct destination (not your stopover, but the destination where you should pick up the bag) that is printed. (To me, it once happened that I got another passenger’s label on my bag and it was sent to the wrong destination. Place the receipt-sticker somewhere where you do not lose it, for example on the outside of your passport or in your wallet). If your bag gets lost, this receipt is very valuable when tracking the bag.
- Almost done! Now you are checked in on the flight. Your bag is about to be loaded on the plane. You have your passport and boarding pass in your hand, and your hand luggage over your shoulder. Next step is the security check and then you go onboard. In the security check, your hand luggage is X-rayed, and you get to go through a metal detector. You might also be asked to show your boarding pass.
- At some airports, flights to destinations outside the EU/International flights depart from a specific terminal. Again, you might be asked to show your passport and boarding pass (to be allowed to move on to this non-EU country/International terminal).
- After the security checkpoint and any additional passport controls, you can go to your plane’s gate. There are lots of signs that say which flight departs from which gate (and how much time you have left until departure). Go to the correct gate (it can take a long time to walk through a large terminal), show your boarding pass to the staff at your gate and board the plane. Done!
In the air
Here are some packing tips for your hand luggage. Obviously, you are carrying your passport, boarding pass and wallet in an inner pocket or in your hand luggage, but here are some other things that might be worth taking.
- In my larger cabin bag, I usually pack a small handbag that fits on my lap or in my seat’s newspaper pocket. Thanks to this, I don’t have to get things out of the luggage storage (above the seats) in the middle of the night, but instead I have all my most important things with me in the seat.
- Compression stockings. After 14 hours of sitting down being up in the air, the feet and legs could easily swell up.
- Good noise-cancelling headphones of model earbud. Do not just take any headphones, most headphones and earbuds are not near enough noise-cancelling. My favourite model is those you stick into the ears which then completely shuts out all the cabin noise. As they sit inside the ears, they are easy to sleep with.
- Again, it is extremely noisy on the plane and being able to shut out noise is fantastic. Buy some really good rubber ones at a pharmacy.
- Headphone adapter so you can use your own headphones while watching movies on the plane. Don’t ask me why, but for some reason, all headphone jacks on board are made for headphones with two connectors instead of one.
- Ballpoint pen and a small notepad.
If you fly non-stop to Australia from a country far north, you will have a stopover at least once while the aircraft is being refuelled, cleaned and the new crew comes aboard. If this is the case, it may be worth to in your hand luggage having packed another pair of socks and underwear to freshen up for the next trip. You will at least have to wait 1-2 hours before you get back on, and during that time you can take a meal at the cafés and restaurants at your gate and go to the bathroom.
Arrival and Departure cards
If you intend to stay somewhere along the way (not just get off the plane when it is refuelled, but go through the border control and into the country) then you must, when you depart the plane outside EU:s Schengen regulations (that is, if you started the trip in an EU country), fill out a card with your passenger information. When you get to the border control at the airport, you hand over the card. In some countries (Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, for example) you get to keep a piece of the card to store together with your passport to use for when leaving the country (e.g. this is your departure card). Make sure you keep it with your passport during the time you are in these countries.
The card has different names in different countries: Arrival card, incoming passenger card, landing card or disembarkation card. 1-2 hours before landing, the cabin crew usually hand out these arrival cards to the passengers who will get off the plane.
If you lose the copy that the cabin crew gave you, you can get a new blank card at security check at the terminal. The cards’ format varies from country to country, but you will be sure to fill out the following:
- Your ID details (name, date of birth, passport number).
- Which flight number you arrived via, and the previous and next airports (for example, London and Sydney if your stopover is in Singapore and you travelled all the way from Sweden).
- You also have to fill out the purpose of your stay (for example, tourism), how long you intend to stay in the country and where you will be staying (here you can enter the address of the hotel/hostel you booked, or any friends you live with).
- In some cases, you also must answer some other questions, for example if you are bringing in food or (as in Singapore) if you have understood that it is associated with a death penalty to smuggle drugs into the country.
An interesting detail is the warning on the back of Singapore’s cards: “Warning: Death for Drug Traffickers under Singapore Law”. This text is not a joke; Every year several foreigners are executed after trying to smuggle drugs into or via Singapore. You don’t want to get caught carrying drugs in Singapore.
Fortunately, you are not a drug smuggler, so we move on. In the same way you also must fill out a departure card (also known as outgoing passenger card) when you leave the country. For example, in Thailand and Singapore, your departure card is the remaining part of the stripped of arrival card (which you filled in when you entered the country and then kept together with your passport while visiting the country) and all you have to do is return it as you walk through the passport control when leaving the country. In other countries (for example, Australia), you must fill out a new card.
Arriving to Australia
Passport control – Immigration
After (perhaps) many hours of flying, you are finally arriving to Australia, but you are not quite there yet… First, you must be let in at the border control (abf.gov.au). This is where they check that you have a valid passport and an Australian visa, and then decide whether to let you into the country or not. If you have bad luck, the border guard will get suspicious and take you to the side to ask control questions – you will not be cleared for immigration just because you have a passport and a visa with you.
Every year, thousands of people are trying to bluff their way into the country. The border control is rather strict to those who are not thought to live up to the requirements of being let into the country. It has happened that people have gone all the way to Australia, just to be sent home on first available plane because they messed up in front of the border controllers.
Here are some tips to avoid problems.
- Make sure your passport has enough validity for your planned stay in Australia + 6 months. If necessary, get a new one before travel.
- Make sure that your passport has no major visible damage (for example, the old Swedish passports had problems with the photo page which could come off). Get a new passport before your trip if yours is damaged.
- Make sure you have a visa issued against your passport (either a passport sticker or an online visa). Also, make sure that the machine-readable name and passport number in your passport matches the name and passport number of the visa.
- Make sure you can explain what to do in Australia and that you can show that you can take care of yourself.
- For example, if you are going to study, be clear about which subjects you should read, at which school and for how long. Be ready to explain why you want to study right there and those specific subjects. If you appear unclear and uncertain when asked, it’s easy to believe that you have just made up a story (and that your intention is to work and stay illegally in Australia). For example, you can show a copy of the admission letter from the school if they want to see proof that you really are a student.
- You might get questions about where to stay in Australia. If you have a copy of the booking confirmation from your hotel or hostel in your hand baggage, you can show that you have accommodation arranged.
- If you have a friend that you are going to stay at, it is good to have his or hers address and phone number. They might call your friend and ask control questions, so make sure you have the same picture of who you are and what you are planning to do in Australia.
- If you are arriving on a tourist visa or a working holiday, you may be asked if you really can afford to tourist in the country (the risk of this will of course increase if you are sloppy dressed or look unkempt). The Australian Immigration proposes as a rule of thumb that you for a 12-month stay should have at least AUD $5,000 available as well as a flight ticket out of the country (or additional money to be able to buy one). You do not have to have the money in cash with you, but it is enough if you can point to your debit/credit card and bank statements (print a few pages from your internet bank).
- You can also get questions about when you intend to leave the country. If you have a booking confirmation for your return ticket, you can show this. If your plan is to buy a one-way ticket on a specific date, they can ask to see proof that you may be able to buy a ticket home.
- The border control is above all looking to find those who they believe will violate the terms of your visa. For example, it is less clever to:
- Enter the country on only a 3-month tourist visa but having the bag full of photos of your family (giving the impression that you are planning to be in the country for longer than 3 months).
- Enter the country on a tourist visa but at the same time be bringing personal belongings that give the impression that you have planned to move to Australia to stay with your Australian boy/girlfriend for good (to stay longer than the visa validity term is called “overstay your visa”).
- Enter the country on a long tourist visa but bringing things in your bag (such as certificates, letters and personal things, job advertisements, copies of grades and finished job applications) that give the impression that you in fact are there to work illegally.
If you are not allowed in, this is called refused entry and your visa will be withdrawn (cancelled).
After you have come through the border control, it is time to pick up your luggage and then proceed to the quarantine check. When you stand with your bags in the queue to the quarantine control, controllers may let a dog (sniffer dog) smell at you and your luggage in the search for drugs and smuggled foods.
Customs and quarantine control
Australia is free from many diseases, parasites and pests that are found in other parts of the world and the country is determined to keep these uninvited diseases and insects out. Therefore, after the border control, there is a quarantine check (australia.gov.au/information-and-services/passports-and-travel/customs-and-quarantine) to prevent passengers from bringing in food and other organic materials that may be a quarantine hazard.
You will get some questions about your stay in Australia and if the controller wants, they can x-ray your luggage and ask to check your hand luggage. As always; Be nice, honest and friendly and everything will go well.
When you filled out your arrival card, you had to answer approximately ten quarantine questions, and it is in the quarantine control that they check your answers. If you are unsure about something, please do not hesitate to ask for help or ask questions. For example, if you have a package of Swedish candy in your hand luggage (which you want to bring into the country), tick “yes” on the question where they ask if you have any food with you.
Unopened candy in the original packaging is usually OK to bring into the country, but if you are caught carrying food or other goods in your luggage without declare this on your incoming passenger card, you might have to pay a fine. If you are not sure; Tick yes and ask the custom controller for help. “Declare or Beware!” If you want to get rid of anything before the quarantine control, there are large trash cans before the border control where you throw away your leftover food from the plane. At the Australian Government’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources’ website, they have a list of food and products one must declare.
You don’t need to declare your laptop or camera since they are your personal possessions that you have with you for personal use, and you are planning to take them with you out of the country again when you leave Australia.
Here are some common mistakes that make people get caught in quarantine control:
- You forget that you have a lot of soil on hiking shoes and boots in your luggage.
- You are carrying fruit, sweets and drinks from the plane in your pockets.
- You are bringing milk substitute for your baby but forgot to declare it.
- You have home-cooked food from your home country in your luggage.
- You are bringing some form of supplements that in your home country are sold over the counter, but that cannot be brought into Australia. For a list of what you can’t take with you, please visit the Department of Agriculture’s site (gov.au/import/goods/food/information-for-consumers/therapeutic-foods-dietary).
- You are bringing in fabric packaged food (for example, Swedish coffee) but forget to declare it for inspection.
- You have with you too much tobacco without declaring it. Since 1 July 2017, you may only carry 25 g of tobacco products for personal use, but if you have more than that you must declare it (and pay the tax on entry). You can read more about the entry rules on the Australian Customs website (gov.au/entering-and-leaving-australia/duty-free).
Of course, you do not bring drugs, weapons or anything else illegal into the country. If you are caught, this is an effective way to directly be sent home after a period of imprisonment. You can also get a note against your name that will not allow you to be granted Australian visas in the future.
When you have been let through both passport control and the quarantine, you go to the arrival hall – you are finally in Australia!
Rules for tobacco
It is allowed to bring 25 g of tobacco without paying any taxes, but for quantities from 25 g and up to 1.5 kg, you must pay an import tax when you pass the customs (you can’t bring in more than 1.5 kg of tobacco without special permission). For information about what you may and may not take with you, please read more at the Australian Border Force (abf.gov.au/entering-and-leaving-australia/can-you-bring-it-in/list-of-items). For information on how much the tax on tobacco is, read more at ATO (ato.gov.au/Business/Excise-and-excise-equivalent-goods/Tobacco-excise/Excise-rates-for-tobacco). In 2019, the import tax per kg of tobacco is $1,076! So, unless you have a unique brand that can’t be purchased in Australia or online, you’ll be better off buying your tobacco once you are in Australia.
Withdrawing money and getting to your accommodation
After a perhaps long journey you have now finally arrived. Your next step is to get some local cash, which you can get already at the airport. There are several ATMs in the arrival hall. Insert your debit card with Visa or Mastercard function, choose language, type in your code and withdraw money.
- At Melbourne Airport, you will find the nearest ATM right in front of customs exit, next to the tourist information.
- At Sydney Airport, you will find the nearest ATM at exit A and B in the arrival hall, and at the train station (to the right when you enter the arrival hall).
- In Brisbane, there are two ATMs outside customs, next to the escalators.
Time to get to your accommodation.
Leaving Sydney airport
Taxi from Sydney airport cost from $30 to central Sydney, but for those who want to know the exact price of a specific trip, the Uber service is available in Australia. If you take the train from the airport, you must use Opal which means you also must pay an Airport station access fee on $14.30, plus normal travel rate, price depending on time and day. Some hotels have minibuses used for picking up their guests, check with your accommodation if they arrange pick-up. There are also a range of private shuttle bus companies and if you book this online you can get a rebated trip. Some of the largest minibus operators are Airport Connect (airportconnect.com.au) and Sydney Airport Shuttle (sydneyairportshuttle.com).
Leaving Melbourne airport (the large airport Tullamarine)
Taxi from Tullamarine to central Melbourne cost around $70. There are no trains from the airport, but instead many buses and the largest bus company is SkyBus (skybus.com.au). A one-way ticket with an airport bus costs around $20. Some hotels have minibuses for their guests. Minibuses are run by companies such as Star Bus (starbusshuttle.com.au) and Jet Bus (jetbus.com.au).
Leaving Brisbane airport.
Taxi from Brisbane airport to city costs at least $40. The train (airtrain.com.au) costs around $15 to the city and to the Gold Coast from $30. Buses are run by Con-X-Ion (con-x-ion.com) with prices from $15 to the city.