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How and When to Get a Visa to Visit Australia

July 21, 2019
7 min read
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US citizens can travel to many countries visa-free, but Australia isn't one of them. If you're thinking about traveling to Australia, you'll need to plan ahead and obtain valid travel documentation. Here's what you need to know before traveling to Australia as a US citizen with a US passport.

What Visa Do I Need?

The Australian government makes it easy to determine the visa you need with its Visa Finder website. This website asks three questions, the first of which is about the purpose of your trip (think: vacation, visiting relations, attending an event, doing business and seeking medical treatment, among others):

The next question asks the country of your passport:

And the final question asks how long you'd like to stay in Australia — either less than or more than three months.

Most travelers from the US will likely be eligible for an Electronic Travel Authority (Subclass 601) — also called an ETA — as I was for my most recent month-long trip.

Visas I was eligible for on my recent trip to Australia.

This is because an ETA is available to US citizens visiting Australia for three months for reasons that fit into the following categories:

  • Holiday or vacation
  • Cruise
  • Visit to see friends or family
  • Select business activities such as general business or employment inquiries; investigate, negotiate, sign or review a business contract; or attend a conference, trade fair or seminar

Since most US citizens traveling to Australia will be traveling for one of these reasons (and, as a result, are eligible to apply for an ETA) I'll focus on ETAs available to US citizens with a US passport.

What Are the Requirements?

To apply for an ETA, you must:

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  • Have a valid passport from an eligible country (including the US).
  • Apply while outside Australia.
  • Wish to stay no longer than three months at a time (you must not study for more than three months, for example).
  • Be free from tuberculosis.
  • Not have any criminal convictions for which you have been sentenced for a total combined period of 12 months or more, whether or not you served the sentence(s).
  • Have paid back any debt — of either yourself or your family — or arranged to pay back any debt to the Australian government.

How Much Does It Cost to Apply Online?

The ETA is free, but there is an online application service charge of 20 Australian dollars (about $14) per applicant. As US passport holders -- along with seven other nationalities -- must apply online, there's no escaping the online application service charge. The fees for my recent ETA applications coded as "Bills and Utilities" on my Chase Sapphire Reserve statement, so don't expect the fee to code as "Travel."

How Long Does It Take?

The Australian government says "processing time for this visa is not available" and that the visa may take longer to process if:

  • You don't fill it out correctly
  • It takes the Australian government additional time to verify your information

Most ETA applications are approved immediately, and those that need additional processing are usually handled within 24 hours. This being said, the Australian government recommends travelers get an approved ETA before booking any nonrefundable travel. Once an ETA is granted, it is valid for one year and allows multiple entries up to three months each.

How Do I Apply?

The online ETA application takes about five minutes to complete. To start an application, click "Apply for an ETA."

Step 1: Select whether you need a Tourist ETA or a Business Visitor ETA, and certify that you are currently located outside Australia.

Step 2: Enter your personal details, whether you have an alias, answer a question about your criminal record and enter your passport information.

Step 3: Enter your address, phone number and email. Select whether you wish to receive communications by SMS and declare whether you hold any passports issued by other countries.

Step 4: Confirm your information.

Step 5: Pay the online service charge of 20 Australian dollars (about $14) using a credit card.

How Do I Check My Status?

Once you have submitted an online ETA application, you'll receive a response. The response may:

  • Notify you that your ETA has been granted.
  • Advise you that your application has been referred for further assessment. You can then check the status of your application after 12 hours by logging back into the ETA system and selecting the option "Check an ETA."
  • Advise you to contact the nearest Australian visa office to make a new application.

My response came immediately in an email titled, "ETA Application for Australia [CLIENT-IN-CONFIDENCE] (PROD)" that confirmed my application had "been successful," my payment had been received, that I was now the proud holder of a "valid ETA for Australia" and that my ETA had been linked to my passport, so no additional documents would be required during the travel process.

What Do I Need to Print Before Travel?

Nothing. When your ETA is linked to your passport, it becomes available to both airline representatives as well as Australian immigration authorities. So, there's no need to print your confirmation once your ETA has been granted.

Other Questions

If you have other questions about ETAs, or other types of Australian visas, take a look at the Australian government's Visa Finder website. Questions such as how to combine multiple visa types if the purpose of your trip changes and what to do if you get a new passport are covered on the website.

Traveling to Australia soon? Here are some TPG articles that might be helpful:

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.