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Sydney travel tips: Know before you go

Sydney Opera House

U.S. travelers will likely find Sydney relatively stress-free compared with other destinations. After all, there’s no language barrier to worry about and almost everywhere accepts credit cards. Ample Wi-Fi and big-city conveniences such as Uber are readily available. That said, Australia is still a different country with different customs and regulations to make note of. If you’re planning a trip Down Under, check out these Sydney travel tips before you go!

SYDNEY TRAVEL TIPS: KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

1. U.S. CITIZENS NEED A VISA TO ENTER AUSTRALIA

Wait, what?! Yes, you read that right. U.S. citizens can’t enter Australia without a visa. I happened to find this out about two days before my flight. if you’re in the same position, don’t panic. The process for obtaining an Electronic Travel Authority—which allows you to visit Australia as often as you’d like over a 12-month period for up to three months on each entry—is really quick and easy and can be done with an online form. The visa is “free,” but there’s an online processing charge of $20 AUD (which comes out to about $13.75).

After completing the form, I had an email confirming that I was good to go within 24 hours. Weirdly, nobody mentioned the visa at immigration, so I never ended up having to actually produce it for anyone to see. But don’t take that as insinuation that you don’t have to have it; you absolutely do!

Restaurant tables
Chocolate cake

2. YOU CAN USE CREDIT CARDS ALMOST EVERYWHERE, BUT YOU MAY INCUR FEES

Unlike in the U.S., where fees associated with paying by credit card are virtually zero, in Australia you might still find yourself paying a small surcharge to pull out the plastic. Thankfully, in 2016, the country passed a law banning “excessive” surcharges. However, you might run into small fees of around 1% to 3% around Sydney. I’ll also note that on multiple restaurant receipts, I did notice fine print saying that certain places would charge surcharges of up to 15% on holidays. It may be worth checking the public calendar to see if you should take out cash during your stay since that’s a decent chunk of change!

Note that these fees will come from merchants, and they’ll be on top of any foreign transaction fees your credit card company may charge (that is, unless you have a travel credit card that doesn’t come with them! For more info about how to pick the right credit card for you, check out the 52 Cities free resource library).

3. TIPPING ISN’T COMMONPLACE

Another big difference for U.S. visitors when dining out: Tipping isn’t the norm in Australia. That’s not to say you can’t tip if you want to. I actually found it pretty difficult to figure out a way to even do it. When paying by credit card, some restaurants had a tip option that you could select right on the machine, as you’ll often see in Europe. When it wasn’t there, I asked if the server could just plug in a number that included a tip. Some servers told me that was impossible, while others let me do it. I never found an optimal way to leave a tip that worked across establishments, but if you do, please let me know! It would be a great addition to our Sydney travel tips!

Restaurant sign
Outdoor tables

4. EMBRACE THE FERRY

My first couple days in Sydney, I thought taking a ferry sounded like a bit of a chore, but I was completely wrong. The Sydney ferry system could not be easier to navigate and use. It’s a fantastic, affordable way to get around while avoiding long, expensive Ubers or taxis and, of course, traffic. Ferry stops have machines where you can buy your tickets. They also have posted schedules so there’s no confusion around when you can catch a ride back from wherever you’re going. On top of that, ferries are scenic! I took one to Watsons Bay and another to Taronga Zoo. Both rides offered up stunning views of the Opera House, skyline and more.

The ferries become even more clutch when you factor in that the Sydney train system… could be better. Locals told me not to take it so I didn’t bother; all the routes I googled seemed to take much longer on the train than they would using other forms of transportation. 

Sydney travel tips for Bronte beach

5. THERE’S A FREE ICEBERGS ALTERNATIVE

If you’re on Instagram, chances are you’ve come across a picture of the famed Bondi Icebergs at some point. The club’s swimming pool juts out right into the ocean in the most picturesque of ways, and tourists flock to it like moths to a light. Going for a dip won’t break the bank—it’s just $8 AUD to access the pool. If you want to avoid shelling out and potentially avoid some of the crowds, you have another option.

Enter the Bronte Baths, a saltwater rock pool that, like the Icebergs, buts up against the ocean and affords magnificent views. You can find the baths at Bronte Beach in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. If you’re doing the Bondi to Coogee beach walk (highly recommend!), you’ll walk right by it. It’s an informal setting; stash your things at the water’s edge and jump right in, no fee required. 

Sydney travel tips for Koala
Sydney travel tips for Koala

6. YOU CAN’T TOUCH KOALAS

If you’re envisioning cuddling a koala while Down Under, you might want to rethink that plan. A change in regulations from a few years back forbids members of the public from petting koalas. It’s not only in Sydney but in the entire province of New South Wales.

That’s not to say you can’t still have some pretty amazing, up-close encounters with koalas, though. And really, what’s an Australia trip without one? Sydney travel tips: If you’re heading out of Sydney on a day trip, you can check out Calmsley Hill Farm, but for an encounter closer to the city, try the Taronga Zoo (see below!). 

Sydney skyline Sydney travel tips

7. THE ZOO ISN’T JUST FOR KIDS

I know “zoo” doesn’t always come to mind first for adults looking for age-appropriate activities, but Sydney’s Taronga Zoo is not just any zoo. Getting up-close and personal with Australia’s unique wildlife is part of the experience of visiting the country, and the zoo lets you do just that without leaving the confines of the city. We went to a seriously incredible bird show, and the koala encounter is an absolute must (despite the added fee). You have no idea how endearing koalas actually are until you’ve seen them in real life! I’m now a huge fan.

Pro tip: Buy your tickets online and take the skyway to avoid lines. And photographers, take note: The zoo is where you’ll get the best shots of Sydney’s skyline.

Row houses

8. GIANT SPIDERS LIKE THE CITY, TOO

Okay, let me just add the disclaimer that I KNOW this is a totally ridiculous tip to include. But honestly, as an arachnophobic person, I put off going to Australia for literally YEARS because I was terrified of running into a giant spider. I asked every Australian I met what my chances would be of encountering one if I stuck to urban areas, and most said I could probably avoid them—with no guarantees, of course.

Well, if you’re in my boat, I can tell you from first-hand experience that you may, in fact, run into a giant spider on your Australia trip even if you just stay in Sydney. My friend found one in our Airbnb on our last day in town (thankfully right before we were leaving for the airport, so we didn’t have to worry about it getting too close). We were staying in a remodeled older house in the leafy neighborhood of Paddington, which I’m sure, raised the likelihood; I can’t imagine having seen one during our first couple days in the waterfront neighborhood of The Rocks, where we stayed at the Park Hyatt Sydney.

If hotels sound more like your speed for your Sydney trip, jump on an upcoming points and miles masterclass to learn how to book them for free!

Sydney Opera House
Sydney beach

CHECK OUT THESE POSTS FOR MORE ON SYDNEY:

Staying at the Park Hyatt Sydney: Review

Hope these Sydney travel tips help with your trip! What other questions do you have about Sydney? Let me know in the comments! >>

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Sydney travel tips
Sydney travel tips
Sydney travel tips

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