The Australian currency
The Australian currency is known as the dollar ($), which is divided into 100 cents (¢). The dollar is called the “Australian dollar” and is usually written “AUD” or A$.
The coins are available in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 1 and the lowercase $2. They are quite similar in size and shape to the coin issues in the United Kingdom. The notes are available in denominations of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 (all in different colours). $100 notes are rare and can sometimes be difficult to use in shops. Australian banknotes are printed on plastic polymer rather than paper. If the total amount of a transaction is not a multiple of 5 cents, the amount will be rounded up to the nearest 5 cents when you pay in cash. If you pay by card, the exact amount will be debited.
The dollar is not pegged to any other currency and is widely traded on the world’s foreign exchange markets, especially by currency speculators. Its exchange rate against other currencies can be quite volatile, and fluctuations of 1 to 2% in a day are fairly regular.
In Australia, money changers operate on an open market and charge a range of fixed commissions, percentage fees, undisclosed fees embedded in the exchange rate, or a combination of all three. You can avoid fraudulent rates by using banks in major centres and avoiding airports and tourist spots. However, the best and worst rates come from small private sellers, and you can certainly save money on banks by shopping around. Always ask for a quote before exchanging money. You usually need to carry photo ID, although you may be exempt if you are only changing a small amount.
Specialist bureaux de change are widely available in major cities, and banks can also exchange most non-restricted currencies. These bureaux de change – especially those at the airport – can charge 10 per cent more than the best exchange rate you get when shopping. Australian banks usually offer an exchange rate of about 2.5 per cent above the current average rate. In addition, a flat fee of $5 to $8 may be charged. Some outlets advertise a commission-free exchange, usually with a less favourable exchange rate. Do not assume that all banks offer the same exchange rate. A simple calculation will show you which is the best offer for the amount you want to exchange. Commission-free exchange vouchers from American Express can be found in the Sydney Airport Tourist Brochure.
Terminals at international airports will be equipped with ATMs that can dispense Australian currency using Cirrus, Maestro, MasterCard or Visa cards.
Opening an Australian bank account is relatively easy and in some cases can be done online. In order for your application to be processed, you will need to provide the bank with proof of identity, such as a passport. The largest retail banks in Australia are National Australia Bank (NAB), Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ), Commonwealth Bank and Westpac.
Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) can be found in almost all Australian cities. Australian ATMs are deregulated and may charge a surcharge on top of the fees charged by your bank or card issuer. Fees can vary from facility to facility and location to location, but are generally in the range of $2. The ATM will display the fee and you will have the option to stop the transaction before you are charged. Check with your bank to see what additional fees they charge for withdrawals in Australia.
|Rapid development of the currency valuation|
|Rapid development of the currency valuation|
The Australian dollar is one of the most dynamic currencies in the world, partly due to its relationship with the prices of commodities such as iron and coal. Over the past 10 years, the Australian dollar has fluctuated between 50 cents and US$1.50, making it either cheap or very expensive depending on where you are. As of August 2016, it is currently at 76 cents against the US dollar.
Australia is generally an expensive country. In some recent surveys, Australia is ranked as the third most expensive country in the world in terms of consumer prices, just behind Norway and Switzerland.
Dormitories in the capital cities cost around $30, but in Cairns or cheaper backpacker centres they can cost as little as $15. A basic motel in the countryside or on the outskirts of the capital would cost around $100 for a double room. In the main cities, accommodation in a city centre hotel costs about $150 for a double room. Formula 1/Motel 6 type hotels (which are not common) can cost around $60-90 for a double room.
Renting a car costs about $65 per day. Public transport tickets cost between $10 and $20 per day, depending on the city.
A meal in a café costs around 10 to 15 dollars, a main course in a restaurant starts at around 17 dollars.
A simple takeaway meal – a hamburger, a fancy sandwich or a couple of slices of pizza – would cost $5 to $10, a Big Mac $4.50 and you can usually get a pie for about $3 or a sausage roll for $2.50. A Pizza Hut takeaway pizza big enough for two people costs about $10.
A middy/jug (285 ml) of home-made beer costs about $4, a glass of home-made wine about $6 at a cheap pub. Takeaway: A case of 24 cans of beer costs about $40, a bottle of wine about $8.
A plane ticket between the neighbouring eastern capitals costs about $120 each way, but can cost up to $60 if you book at the right time, or about $350 to cross the country, provided you are flexible about dates and book in advance. A train ride on the national railway usually costs a little less. A bus ride, a little less still. A train ride on private trains is the most expensive way to travel.
Access to beaches and city parks is usually free. Some popular national parks charge between $10 and $20 per day (per car or per person, depending on the state), while other, more remote national parks are free. Art galleries and some attractions are free. Museums usually charge about $10 per entry. Theme parks cost about $70 per person.
Australia has a 10% Goods and Services Tax (GST) which is levied on all goods and services except unprocessed food, education and medical services. GST is always included in the price of a consumer purchase. Receipts (tax invoices) include the amount of GST.
Refund scheme for tourists
If you buy goods worth more than $300 at one place and time, you can get a refund of GST if you take them out of Australia within 60 days. Make sure you get a tax invoice from the supplier (showing details of the goods, the GST paid and the supplier’s NBA). Pack the items in your hand luggage and present the item(s) and receipt to TRS after immigration and security screening when you leave Australia. Also, allow at least 30 minutes extra time before departure and, if possible, enter the details online before you arrive at the airport. Refunds can be made either by cheque, credit to an Australian bank account or by payment to a credit card. There are no refunds of GST on services. Remember that goods are now considered duty free and you will have to pay GST on these goods if you bring them back to Australia and they exceed your duty free allowance.
Credit cards are widely accepted in Australia. Almost all major retailers such as supermarkets accept cards, as do many small shops. Australian debit cards can also be used through a system called EFTPOS. Any card that carries the Cirrus or Maestro logo can be used at any terminal with these logos. VISA or MasterCard are the most commonly accepted cards, followed by American Express and then Diners Club with other cards never or very rarely accepted. American Express and Diners Club are accepted in larger supermarket chains and department stores.
Smaller shops may have a minimum purchase amount to use a credit or debit card because they have fixed transaction costs. Others may simply discourage the use of cards for small purchases.
All cards issued in Australia use a PIN code for purchases. If you have a foreign-issued card without a PIN, you can still sign for purchases, but merchants who are not used to dealing with foreign-issued cards may not be aware of this. If you can, try to have a PIN on your card if your bank allows it. Otherwise, in places where a PIN is expected, you may have to explain that you have a card from abroad – and wait for them to find a pen.
Credit card surcharges are applied at all car rental agencies, travel agencies, airlines and at some discount stores and petrol stations. Surcharges are much more frequent and higher for American Express and Diners Club (typically 2-4%) than for VISA and MasterCard (typically 1.5%).
UnionPay credit cards are increasingly common in tourist shops and restaurants due to the growing number of Chinese visitors. However, it is difficult to use them in other businesses.
Negotiation is rare in Australian shops, although sellers are usually willing to match or beat an offer or advertised price from a competing retailer. It is also worth asking for a ‘better price’ for higher value goods or for purchases involving multiple items. For example, it is not uncommon to get a 10% discount on a piece of jewellery that has not yet been discounted. The person you are dealing with may have limited authority to sell items at a price other than the stated price.
Tipping is never compulsory and is generally not expected in Australia. Staff are paid a reasonable salary and will certainly not sue you for a tip. It is acceptable to pay only the amount stated on the bill. When Australians do tip, it is often about leaving change from a cash payment (usually for convenience, so the change doesn’t drag on the person – not as a tip), rather than a fixed percentage.
In upscale restaurants, the staff will certainly accept a tip if you choose to leave one, but it is not expected and locals usually leave none. In a more informal café or restaurant, even with table service, and even in tourist places, it is unusual to tip. Sometimes the cashier will have a coin jar marked “tip”, but most of the time customers don’t leave one. Bartenders rarely receive a tip.
Other types of hotel employees, including hotel staff, porters and tour guides, do not expect to receive tips.
Taxis also do not tip, and drivers usually bring change down to the last 5 cents unless you tell them to round up to the nearest dollar (it is not uncommon for passengers to ask the driver to round up to the nearest dollar).
In Australia, it is generally illegal to tip gaming staff in casinos as this is considered corruption. Similarly, tipping government officials is generally construed as bribery and can be considered a criminal offence.
Australian base operating hours are Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. In most cities, shops are open until 9pm on Fridays, and on Thursdays in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. Sunday shopping is common but not available in all rural areas. Opening hours beyond these basic hours vary by shop type, location and state. Check our local guides for more detailed information.
Large supermarket chains in major centres are usually open at least until 9pm (and often until midnight) on weekdays, but usually have reduced opening hours at weekends. Convenience stores like 7/11 are open 24 hours a day in major centres.
Fast food chains are usually open 24 hours a day, or at least very late. Many food courts in city centres usually close at 4pm and are completely closed on weekends when they cater to office workers, but other food courts in shopping centres have longer opening hours.
Petrol stations are open 24 hours a day in the big centres, but often close at 6 pm and on Sundays in the rural towns.
In Australia, the weekend is the Saturday and Sunday of every week. Retail is now almost universal in the major cities on weekends, albeit with slightly reduced opening hours. Again, Western Australia is the exception, with restrictions on department stores opening on Sundays. In small country towns, shops are closed on Sundays and often also on Saturday afternoons.
Cities and tourist shops can stay open longer. Tourist areas within cities, such as Darling Harbour in Sydney, have longer opening hours at night.
Australian banks are only open from 9am to 4pm Monday to Friday and often close at 5pm on Fridays. Money is available 24 hours a day at automated teller machines (ATMs). Exchange offices have extended opening hours and are also open on weekends.