Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!

by Eszter Hargittai on July 21, 2006

…, …, …!

I’m going to Australia in about two months. I’ve been interested in visiting ever since I read Jill Ker Conway‘s Road from Coorain, which was almost 15 years ago.

The reason I’m particularly excited about all this today is because I just received my tourist visa. Via email. Cool. Yes, talk about a good use of IT by government services. I had submitted my application just four days ago. (Anyone want to tear into this regarding security concerns?)

I got very anxious earlier this week when I realized I needed a visa to go to Australia. I feel like I’ve done my fair share of standing in lines for visas at 5am. Luckily, after a bit of browsing I realized that citizens of certain countries could apply for visitor visas online.

I HATE getting tourist visas. I don’t like the process involved in getting student/work visas either, but tourist visas bother me more. I don’t see why Australia needs to know so much about my various medical conditions just to allow me to visit for a week. In any case, being able to fill out the form in my living room without having to run around for x copies of y dimension passport photos made a big difference.

My most frustrating visa experience to date was at the Canadian embassy in NYC a few years ago. It was unbelievable how they treated people. They also sent people home, one after another – after the requisite five hours of standing in the freezing cold, of course – for paperwork that they never stated was required. I decided not to return to Canada until I could go without having to obtain a visa.



foolishmortal 07.21.06 at 3:11 pm

um… Oi! Oi! Oi!
Ok I feel better now.


Stuart 07.21.06 at 3:17 pm

I decided not to return to Canada until I could go without having to obtain a visa.

Maybe send a letter to the White House pointing out Canada has lots of oil and no nukes, and I am sure they will get right on it.


Henry 07.21.06 at 3:28 pm

Although is their “exemption”: for “United Kingdom: British Citizens” a subtle class of a dig???


Stuart 07.21.06 at 3:49 pm

I imagine the countries listed that are allowed online visa applications are ones which have some sort of agreement with the Australian government to share sufficient information on any applicant for a visa (relevant criminal records and the like) to save them the trouble of doing it themselves. And of course that the Australian government trust to give an generally accurate account in that shared information.


John Quiggin 07.21.06 at 3:52 pm

I suspect the UK-Brit category reflects the fact that, at one time, all “British subjects” could get UK passports.


Mary 07.21.06 at 4:32 pm

Stuart: It’s largely for countries that want to do the “we do visa free for you, you do it for us” diplomatic thing. The online visa thing is the closest thing we can do to visa free travel for some constitutional reason I can’t track down now.

Up until the mid-1990s or so when we started these give-away tourist visas (by the way, your travel agent if you have one can usually organise them for you, and that tends to be fee-free) Australians could hardly go anywhere without a tourist visa ourselves.


Andrew 07.21.06 at 5:05 pm

When I went to North Korea I had a rough time getting the visa. Before I could even get a visa, I had to get a Chinese tourist visa and go to Beijing. When I was in the North Korean embassy, they were confused how I could have entered China without a Chinese tourist visa, because the Chinese tourist visa was in my US passport and I was using my UK passport to get into NK. It took a lot of talking and a lot of bribing to through that.


Robert Love 07.21.06 at 6:17 pm

Actually, they were asking about medical conditions because health care is much cheaper in Australia than in the US. An Australian friend living in LA got a quote for some dental work. In the end it was cheaper to fly home, take a holiday, and get the work done by her family dentist in Melbourne. In fact, much cheaper. Since this is partly state subsidised the government is trying to see if you are coming to freeload. This may be mean, but it is not pointless.

Please enjoy your stay in our lovely yet prudent country


Kenny Easwaran 07.21.06 at 7:15 pm

When I first went to Australia last year, I didn’t even know that I needed a visa – I had assumed it was like visiting western Europe, where Americans don’t need a visa for less than 90 days or something. When I arrived at the airport, the person at the ticket counter asked where my visa was, which shocked me, but fortunately he was just able to go to a back room and get one for me in about 10 minutes – I don’t remember if I even had to pay! This year I planned ahead, and basically just had to spend $10 online.


nick s 07.21.06 at 11:43 pm

I suspect the UK-Brit category reflects the fact that, at one time, all “British subjects” could get UK passports.

More or less: it’s just recognising the various classifications put into place by the 1981 British Nationality Act.

What I dislike about tourist visas is their erratic pricing in diplomatic spats. During the 90s, I remember that the Indian visa would go from £20 to £200 and back in the blink of an eye in response to some bit of jobsworthery by a Heathrow official towards Indian visitors. Still, reciprocity has its amusing moments: I believe that Americans, and Americans alone, are photographed and fingerprinted when the arrive in Brazil.


no one 07.22.06 at 1:58 am

I hate to sound like one of those annoying people who constantly have to up the ante, usually beginning with ‘that’s nothing….’, but honestly. My girlfriend’s mainland chinese and the trouble she has to go through to get a visa to virtually anywhere is ridiculous. eg., Germany: she has to ring a number at one pound a minute (this is the number specified by the german embassy) to make an appointment to get a visa (this takes 10 minutes–because you have to listen to a set of instructions); she has to provide evidence that she has a. a flight booked; b. accommodation; c. health insurance. and then she has to pay the tourist visa fee (can’t remember, but it wasn’t cheap). There are other means of getting tourist visas, but these involve getting guarantees from someone inside germany, which is equally frustrating.

and don’t get me started on student visas.

To be honest, after seeing what she’s been through I have to say, Europeans, those from North America and the antipodes have it easy.


abb1 07.22.06 at 9:15 am

…she has to provide evidence that she has a. a flight booked; b. accommodation; c. health insurance.

That’s nothing, if you want to visit US from Russia and Eastern Europe you have to provide evidence that you have enough incentive to return back home.


Matt 07.22.06 at 10:14 am

To build on abb1’s post, things like, say, having a family in Russia or having one year (of 5) left of college left before graduation and having a letter from the university saying you are enrolled, a top student, and expected to return, and having a job might well not be enough to get a visa to go to the US from Russia if you are 1) fairly young (under 35, say) and 2) female. Or, if you are older and want to visit your kids who already live in the US, despite the fact that you own an appartment, have a job, and will get a pension soon. Truly the consulary section of the US embassy in Moscow is made up of some of the more amazing morons and dicks I’ve ever had the chance to meet. At least they don’t make people stand outside any more, but the other stupid rules are just as bad, and they too have the super-expensive phone line for which you need a credit card (owned by almost no Russians) to get any info.


greensmile 07.22.06 at 10:31 am

A yank, just trying to get 30 miles into Ontario and back, now faces “identification” obstacles, mild by comparison to the stories of preceding comments, for which their parochial perspective has not equipped them. [and, fittingly, obstacles for which they unwittingly clamored]

When does your US citizenship come through Eszter? If you can just answer “United States” to the question “What is your citizenship?” and do it with a straight face, you’re in. We go to Montreal and to Ontario’s wine peninsula yearly with no visa and no hassle [if we remember the passports, the missus was born in Baghdad and THAT will get you a long conversation with authorities now days] Most US citizens ALSO lack a passport.

Of course, that passport will get you lynched in a few places these days.

And its bad for business, if you ask the shop keepers in Ontario.

Oz: The navives are friendly but many resent the way their govmint sucks up to the US.

It seems so ironic that I have driven from Kaiserslautern to Strasbourg just to buy cheese and wine, without swapping currency or even slowing down much at the border yet thousands in uniforms died trying to cover that same route in two wars of the past century…and more if you go back farther. The europeans seem to be going forward. What are the north americans doing?


abb1 07.22.06 at 10:33 am

Don’t they also charge something like $40 for just entering the embassy, no matter whether you’re approved or not in the end?


Matt 07.22.06 at 11:17 am

Yes- there is a non-refundable fee for applying for a US visa, but that’s true of many places, so I don’t think that is _especially_ bad. Making everyone come in for a personal interview, no matter how far away you live from Moscow, is pretty bad, though, and they do do that.


Eszter 07.22.06 at 11:55 am

I have students from China and so I am familiar with what they have to go through, not pretty at all. I certainly wasn’t suggesting that my nationality is the only one that comes with annoyances when one tries to travel. I know full well that many others have it much more complicated.

Abb1 is right, there’s also the component of having to prove that you’ll return. I know of people from Hungary (reminder: now an EU country) who have really great jobs, plenty of money, but who will still get denied a visa to the US b/c they’re not married and have no kids and that must mean that they will stay in the U.S. and become a drain on the system (or some such thing, I guess). It’s embarrassing.

As for dentist work, I try to get that done in Hungary where I suspect it’s even cheaper than in Australia and the quality can be very good (it is where I go).


Tom T. 07.22.06 at 12:06 pm

Re: #12. You stole that from Yakov Smirnoff, right?


abb1 07.22.06 at 12:12 pm

I heard from a St. Gallen Swiss guy I know that they have a charter bus service to Hungary specifically for dental work. And this is the best testimonial for the optimal cost/quality I can imagine…


lalala 07.22.06 at 2:01 pm

Oddly, my friend’s Bosnian cousin just got a 2-year, multiple-entry visa for the US, seemingly because she’s still in high school and they figure she’ll go home to finish. Meanwhile, same friend’s mother can only get visas for 6 months at a time. Which is probably not actually a bad thing for various reasons, but anyway.


Ajax 07.22.06 at 3:41 pm

My most frustrating visa experience to date was at the Canadian embassy in NYC a few years ago. It was unbelievable how they treated people.”

So unlike, of course, the courteous treatment which non-Americans unfailingly receive from US consular officials.


Anon 07.23.06 at 3:16 am

Ajax, is this the mirror version of the “Well, the terrorists are worse!” thing that seems to come up so much in discussions of Abu Ghraib and such?


Eszter 07.23.06 at 7:09 am

As a non-American myself, I’ve had experiences at three US consular offices: in Budapest, Bern and Toronto. When I commented on my experience with the Canadian office, I was comparing it to those. It was much worse than those other experiences I have had. Setting aside for a moment the inconvenience of having to stand in line early (and the very stupid rule in Toronto about having the fees paid at a bank that opens just when you are scheduled to have your appointment at the consulate), the most pleasant (least unpleasant) experience I have had was in Toronto. The woman even said something to me in Hungarian (and she didn’t seem to be Hungarian), which I thought was friendly.


Nicholas Gruen 07.23.06 at 7:40 am


Where are you going in Australia, and will you have time for an evening with some CT readers – and writers on Oz blogs – our shout!


Nicholas Gruen 07.23.06 at 7:42 am

PS, don’t take your descriptions of Oz from the resentment of relics from a bygone age – Australia’s crop of sad expats.


Eszter 07.23.06 at 7:44 am

Nicholas – I will be in Melbourne and Brisbane and would be delighted to meet up with some CT readers. I will be there in late September – early October.


Doug 07.23.06 at 12:42 pm

That’s nothing, if you want to visit US from Russia and Eastern Europe you have to provide evidence that you have enough incentive to return back home.

Yeah, well, I got this same line of questioning at Heathrow. The guard wanted to know why I didn’t have an onward ticket to Washington, DC (I was coming in from Finland). That London was, at the time, the budget travel capital of the world was not interesting to him. There was quite a bit more, too.

So the UK ranks below East Germany for me in terms of annoying border experiences.


Francis Xavier Holden 07.23.06 at 10:55 pm

robert love – with very few exceptions for low income people dentistry here in oz is not subsidised by the government. Most medical and surgical care is (close to)free but if you are from O/S and haven’t got a Medicare Card (only available to citizens iirc) you pay. Or more usually you skip the country and leave an unpaid bill.

That said it might still be cheaper to fly here from USA and then pay in our private system. After all some (stupid) Australians fly to places like Thailand for cheaper medical and dental treatment.


Nabakov 07.24.06 at 5:29 am

Um Ezther, I’d be wary of accepting any invitations from Nick Gruen, David Tiley or FX Holden. From my experience of them, they’d just be looking for a quickie marriage to a visiting Yank so they can score a green card.


Laura 07.24.06 at 7:34 am

A fine advertisement for honour among Melburnians you are Nabokov.


Michael 07.24.06 at 3:49 pm

Mostly I travel in Europe to EU countries. I just carry my national ID card which is the size of a credit card. It’s rarely given more than a quick glance.

So far I’ve been to the US twice, both before the US Visit, once before and once after 9/11. Luckily, the Netherlands is in the visa waiver program so I only needed to fill in a form with my home address and hotel. The immigration officials still seem somewhat suspicious “So you’re just going to visit some Museums?” but I guess it’s in their nature.


Megami 07.24.06 at 8:51 pm

The system used to be (five years ago) that if you wanted a business visa to visit Papua New Guinea you had to submit police check, X-rays proving you don’t have TB and proof that you don’t have HIV/AIDS. If you wanted a 90 day tourist visa, you could apply and pay at Port Moresby airport, no questions asked (this is for Australians).So businessmen are potential crooks and disease-spreaders, but tourists…
As an Australian, I have never really had problems with Visas – even with Turkey, we just bought it at the airport (and this was post 9/11). Though I am yet to travel to the US, and don’t have a biometric passport…


Francis Xavier Holden 07.25.06 at 12:22 am

It’s true I’d be keen on a quickie marriage to get a green card, however I must warn you against nabakov, he’d only be after a quickie.

Comments on this entry are closed.