Declaring Items at Customs – Australia & New Zealand

Every port of entry has two things, immigrations and customs, both have completely separate functions but utilise the arrival card you frantically fill out while in line to get your passport stamped. In this post, I will cover the customs side of international arrivals, what to declare and what you can avoid in New Zealand and Australia. Figured it was a good time to cover declaring items at customs after a man declared a World War II bomb he found while abroad to customs agents at Auckland International Airport today causing the international part of the airport to shutdown.

The above gallery shows both the Australia and New Zealand arrival cards. (Can you find the odd thing to declare on the Australian arrival card?)

From the examples, you can see that there are quite a few things that one must declare upon arrival. Obviously chances are extremely high in Australia your bags will be searched and/or x-rayed. It is best to declare anything that will show up in either of these situations, such as food. In fact, the best advice I can give is toss any food you have in the bins provided, it just prevents the whole hassle of customs deciding what is safe and what isn’t/ My bags have been once x-rayed in Australia, once searched by hand and once I got a free pass to exit the customs area with no search at all (didn’t have my main bag as it was it decided to take a side trip). The time my bag was search by hand, customs officer Bill found two powerbars which I didn’t even know I had on me (always empty your bags before packing them). I got lucky that time, he just lectured me on the importance of declaring food items, most of the time you get an on the spot fine. My brother Davy didn’t declare his Oreos once, that too resulted in a lecture only to my parents since Davy was underage at the time. I think the more bags you have with you, the higher chances you will encounter an x-ray or bag search. It also depends if you tick yes or no on each box on your arrival card

As for New Zealand, ALL bags are x-rayed before entering the country, there is no chance here, it will happen. New Zealand is even more strict that Australia when it comes to food and dirt items. When I arrived in New Zealand, an individual indicated he had been on a farm the previous day. Needless to say, I saw the customs officer cleaning the fellows shoes which was funny to watch. Best to dump your items in the bins provided before reaching the customs checkpoint.

Illegal drugs are also highly sought after by customs agents and let me clue you, they will find them. Drug sniffing drugs are employed regularly and if you are caught, you risk deportation, jail and a fine. It’s just not worth it so never cross international borders with drugs, even if you think you can get away with it because you won’t and will be caught. Heed my warning, the past two times I’ve been in Australia, I have seen people hauled off for carrying pot on them. In addition to sanctions by the host country, you risk permanently losing your passport as the United States has laws against trafficking illegal drugs as well across international borders, whether it occurs in the United States or not. Just say no to drugs.

There are limits on the amount of tobacco and alcohol you can bring into the country as well. If you exceed the limits, you will be expected to pay a duty. In Australia, they recently changed the amount of cigarettes you can take in (as of September 1, 2012) and I heard stories where people bought a full carton of cigarettes at the duty free shop, the shop didn’t tell them about the new rules and they were forced to pay an additional $100 in duty fees. The cigarettes were still cheaper than buying them inland but still, if you are a smoker and going to Australia, you’ll pay through the nose. Even if you don’t smoke, in some countries it’s worth it to buy a cartoon especially if packs are expensive, resell them for quick cash and quite a turn around on investment (that’s for another article however). As for alcohol, it is very expensive in New Zealand and Australia. Even if you don’t drink much, buy as much hard liquor as permitted, another way to make a quick buck.

Australia also asks about any convictions you may have against you in another country. Contrary to popular belief, the only way another country will find out if you have any convictions is if you are wanted by Interpol (in that case you have bigger problems) or you declare it. If you declare it, be prepared to answer some questions. If you served more than one year in jail/prison, you will be found inadmissible to Australia and will be sent back home on the first flight. As for New Zealand, the same holds true for terms longer than 4 years even though they ask if it was for 12 months or more.

Regardless if you served time or not, don’t bother declaring you have a criminal background as it probably isn’t worth the third degree from some customs agent. Technically, even speeding tickets are supposed to be declared as a criminal conviction and most people don’t tick the box so why should someone with a measly shoplifting conviction? If they really didn’t want to have you in their country, they would partner with your home countries criminal database to figure it out when issuing your visa. One thing to note however, if when applying for your visa you did indicated you had a criminal conviction, YOU MUST declare it on the arrival card as well! Failure to do so will result in a fine and deportation. The country will have this in their immigration computers if you have previously declared it so if you already told the truth, it’s best to just continue with it.

Medicine is usually not a problem in New Zealand or Australia. Don’t bother declaring medicines unless it’s really strong stuff such as morphine as otherwise it’s just another waste of time.  Obviously in some foreign countries, you need to declare all medicines but that is beyond the scope of this specific article. Do keep in mind that if cannabis is legal in your country as medicine, it is not legal in New Zealand or Australia and is considered an illegal drug. Do not travel with it or simply dispose of it in the rubbish bins provided.

Another good one: the age old deportation question, have you ever been deported or removed from a country? Unless you have a deportation stamp, were previously deported from the country you are now trying to enter or declared it on your visa application, tick no. Just another annoying question you should avoid if possible. Again, if they really were interested in keeping you out, they would make an effort to share information with other countries but they don’t.

Finally, what prompted me to write this article in the first place, traveling with dangerous goods, i.e. an unexploded World War II bomb. Although you need to declare it, after all it will show up on x-ray, it probably is NOT a good idea to travel with it in the first place. How this individual got it on a plane in the first place is beyond me but crossing international boundaries with explosives, firearms, ammunition or anything else that goes boom is a strict no no in my book. You usually need permits to get that stuff in and out of countries and without them, you can land yourself in a whole lot of hot water. It’s best to leave that stuff at home or better yet, avoid being around it in the first place. Things that go boom are dangerous and unless you know what you are doing, stay away from them, especially unexploded World War II artillery.

In short, leave the following at home or toss on arrival:

  • Anything that goes boom
  • Illegal drugs
  • Food items (this includes drinks along with water as well)
  • Plants, soil or wood

Declare the following if required:

  • Food (if you still want to try and bring it in for whatever reason)
  • Tobacco if over the concessions
  • Alcohol if over the concessions
  • Criminal history only if the country previously knows about it (you told them upon entering before or in your visa application)
  • Dirt/Plants (some people like to collect beach sand, you should declare this to be on the safe side)

Don’t bother declaring the following:

  • That you’ve been on a farm in the past 48 hours (unless you reek of cow)
  • You have a criminal conviction (only if they don’t know about it)

Follow the above rules and going through customs will be a breeze. However, if you don’t take my advice, it can turn into a costly nightmare and you may end up waiting 2 hours to have your bags manually searched. It’s always best to travel with the bare essentials and take care of restricted items before hand. As always, keep up to date with what you can and cannot bring into Australia at www.customs.gov.au and New Zealand at www.customs.govt.nz. Always check these sites before your trip as laws tend to change at a moments notice.

Surviving Long Haul Flights – Avoiding Airsickness

When it comes to air travel advice, I’ve figured out how to travel well on air planes. In the past 5 months, I have flown 54,000 kilometres, been in 5 different countries spanning 3 continents and survived 13 take off and landing combinations. The majority of the flights were also long haul flights lasting more than 3 hours and some, lasting for over 12 hours. Now, not everyone is accustomed to such long flights but if you plan on seeing the world, you better get comfortable as you have no other choice. In this article, I will cover airsickness and the best ways to avoid it.

Airsickness

Everyone has different needs when it comes to air travel as well. Some of us get sick when turbulence hits, some of us are claustrophobic (like me) and others just need constant entertainment because they can’t sleep. Fortunately, I have found the solution to most common problems you will encounter on your long journeys. What works for one person may not work for you so of course, adjust accordingly.

I love turbulence and anyone who has ever travelled with me knows that I tend to get excited when the plane begins to shake loose. It’s weird, I know, while others are giving their arms rests the death grip, I’m throwing my arms in the air like we’re at Six Flags. Unlike me however, some people tend to get air sick, especially once you get acclimated to smooth flying at 10,000 metres and all of the sudden the plane starts shaking violently. Although there is no way to prevent turbulence, you can prevent airsickness or at least mitigate it.

Most people that get nervous before a flight tend to drink themselves silly at the airport, I have seen this time and time again. Guess who the first ones to reach for the air sick bag are? That’s right, those guys. The number one thing you can do to prevent airsickness is avoid alcohol and drink plenty of water while on the ground and up in the air. Have a full meal about an hour before you start boarding as well, this usually gives your stomach plenty of time to begin the digestive process. If you eat right before boarding, you’re more likely to lose whatever you just ate. Sometimes that isn’t enough as plenty of people get airsick while avoiding alcohol and flying on an empty stomach. The motion of the plane does a lot of people in but that too can be avoided.

It’s no secret when you are a kid that the back of the bus was always the most fun. When the bus driver would hit a bump, you would usually go flying, always an excellent end of the day amusement to see who could touch the roof after each bump. The same holds true for aeroplanes, the back of the plane is the bumpiest (my preferred location of seating for long flights) followed by the front of the plane. If you love flying first class (and who doesn’t?) but get airsick quite easily, you may want to relocate to coach as the best place to sit to prevent airsickness is a window seat right over the wings. It might seem counter intuitive but it’s not. That location is the least likely to move in a way that affects the human body. It moves yes but in a way that is less bumpy and you feel more glued to your seat. So if the motion of the plane really bothers you, sit over the wing on a window seat, you’ll feel much better.

Other tips to keep in mind is you may want to take a anti-airsickness pill that helps prevent airsickness. You can usually buy them at the drug store and even in the airport itself if you forgot to get them ahead of time. While flying, be sure to drink a lot of water and avoid alcohol. When they begin to serve food, eat but don’t eat too fast. If you take your time and turbulence hits, the food will stay in your stomach. Stay buckled in as well with the belt as tight as possible around your waist, that way if turbulence hits, your less likely to bounce around. This holds true for any seat in the aircraft.

Although it is important to walk around on long flights to keep your circulation going, some people get very airsick after walking around on board an aeroplane. If this is the case, I advise you to stay seated as much as possible and get up only if it’s absolutely necessary. Turbulence can hit at any time and usually happens when you least expect it, for me it’s when I’m in the bathroom go figure. However, once the captain turns off the seat belt sign after encountering turbulence, usually you’re in the clear for a while and this is the best time to get up if you want to avoid getting sick while walking about.

There are many tricks to surviving long flights and I will be covering more soon. I felt airsickness was a good place to start since on my last flight, a few people lost their breakfast soon after being served it. As always, I like hearing advice you may have on the subject as well.

Spend Less, Save More. Surviving When You’re Broke

We’ve all been there at one point or another in our life where we are piss broke. It seems to be a common occurrence for me as of lately. If you’re smart about it, you can easily squeak by on $25-$30 a day, that’s what I usually do. How? Well prepare to be slightly hungrier than you usually are and more sober. It’s actually quite easy to spend less and save more, whether you just want to save money or are actually broke.

The first thing you need to do when you realise you are running out of cash is stop consuming anything you do not need and stick with the bare essentials. Staying at a hotel/flat/expensive hostel adds up, ditch the place and find the cheapest hostel you can which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the worst either. Use different websites such as HostelBookers or HostelWorld to find the best deals (use my links too, I get $$$ any time you use their services when clicking from my site, while you’re at it, click an ad or two even if you’re not interested, I get paid per click) these sites have the best selection of Hostels anywhere and their prices are always competitive.

You also need to cut out anything you don’t need to survive. Alcohol, cigarettes, illegal drugs and fast food will burn a hole in your wallet very quickly, especially abroad where anything that is bad for you is taxed to high hell. In Australia, you can drink goon instead of traditional alcohol if you aren’t too broke yet. $10 for 4.4 litres is a good price and can last you up to 3 nights if you go easy on it. Goon is very nasty and requires getting used to. Fizzy water (aka Soda) is also very expensive and should be avoided. Although better for you abroad since it contains real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, real sugar costs more as well in addition to the drink just being taxed. Best to avoid soft drinks all together.

As for fast food, avoid it and buy real food from grocery stores. When I say grocery stores I mean real grocery stores and not convenience stores. You can easily save 50% or more on food by buying from a grocery store rather than a convenience store so walk the extra distance. Local quinsies can also be surprisingly cheaper than fast food as well so just look around. While I was staying in Kings Cross in Sydney, there was this little place used by the pimps for their meetings in the red light district. It was shady but you could get a full breakfast 24/7 for a flat $5, pretty good considering you couldn’t even just get a big mac for that price. Plus, unlike in America, there are no such things as free refills on fizzy water, stick to regular water.

Food from the grocery store, it might be a little more expansive than you are used to back home (if you’re an American at least) but it gives you the chance to experience something new too that you might otherwise avoid. Fruits and vegetables are rather expensive in the states compared to abroad so eat a lot of those. They are good not only for your wallet but your body too. If you shop towards the end of the evening, say 7 or 8 pm, that’s when a lot of food that is about to expire or go past its sell date go on sale. Shop then and save. Most foods are good for an additional 10 days beyond their sell day and 3 beyond their expiration date so keep that in mind when looking at discounted food. Never buy anything you think might be mouldy or are too unsure of. Refrigeration will also help push back the date on foods that you might not otherwise refrigerate. Freeze if possible but most hostels do not have freezers.

Always keep your eye out for deals. Some places will have discount days between certain hours where you can get half off a pizza (Domino’s in Kings Cross for example has $4.95 pizza Tuesdays and in New Zealand, they have $5 pizzas everyday).. Getting a full pizza can easily last you two days if you don’t scarf it down in one sitting. Chat with people whom have been at the hostel a while, they always know where to find a good deal.

Finally, if you are really poor, figure out when the hostel cleans out the refrigerators and cupboards. Any food that is unlabelled gets tossed usually and if you are there when they begin the cleaning, you can usually stand around and have them give you anything you might want they would otherwise toss. Some days can be better than others. For example, since arriving at my current hostel, I have only gone to the grocery store once in the 17 days I’ve been here. The bulk of my food comes from people leaving behind what they don’t want or can’t travel with. Instant savings right there and it’s been good food too, nothing crappy or expired. People just forget about their food when they leave I guess. Don’t forget to check the “Free Food” area as well frequently as sometimes people aren’t lazy and will put their food there instead.

Although you may be tempted to steal other peoples food when you are broke, do not do it. The most important rule of backpacking is never steal from other backpackers, they are just as broke as you. Karma is real and it will come from you, I have seen it happen. In addition to Karma, most hostels have gotten wise and placed security cameras in the food storage area. When someone complains their food went missing, it’s not that hard to pull up the video footage of who stole it. At best you will get a scolding and have to pay the person back, at worse, you’ll be evicted without a refund and possibly, the police could be called. Just don’t do it. Begging on the street is better than stealing from your fellow backpackers.

I hope you found this article useful on saving money when you are broke. I know a lot of the stuff is obvious but some of it isn’t. If you have any good ways on saving money, please share in the comment section! The key to surviving when you’re broke is simply to spend less.

Working Abroad (Illegally)

You scrounged and saved every last penny and decided to take an extra long trip. Unfortunately for you, the exchange rates weren’t that great but you decided to go anyway and now, you are running low on funds. What’s a person to do? You could always apply for a working holiday visa but that costs money too. The solution? Work illegally. Yes it’s against your current visa conditions but a person has to do what they gotta do to survive. In this post, I’ll cover the basics, how to find a job that pays cash in hand (under the table for my American readers), avoiding being detected by immigrations and of course where to store your cash.

If you are gushing cash, my next article will cover how to save money (some ways are obvious, some not so much).

Cash in Hand Jobs – Least Risky
Surprisingly, the best place to find a job is to start at the hostel you are staying at (if you aren’t already at a hostel, see my next article). Most hostels will have a job board or people at reception that know where you can find a quick day job that pays immediately, cash in hand, but be prepared to work your ass off. Try the local Craigslist equivalent, Gum Tree which covers most Commonwealth nations, unfortunately if you are outside the Commonwealth Realm, you will have to use Google to find one. GumTree will usually have a list of people looking for day labourers, au pairs (nanny/housekeeper) and other odd ended jobs. The job will possibly suck and you might be working for less than the countries minimum wage but at least it’s money. Other places to look include restaurants, bars and other businesses the primarily are paid by cash (they are more inclined to pay you cash in hand as a result).

Keep in mind that when you are going around handing out your CV (curriculum vitae, a more detailed version of a resume) to actual businesses, you may need to add a few jobs that you never have held before depending on what you are applying for. In today’s competitive world, it can be difficult to secure a job unless you already have experience in that field. So if you are applying to be a waiter, put down that you have been a waiter before, use an existing restaurant from your home country in case they Google it. It is highly unlikely they will try and contact them as it’s just a waste of time. Padding your CV with jobs that you have never held may seem unethical but keep in mind, you’re already breaking the law by trying to work in the first place, plus it’s not that hard to wait tables or be a bartender. NEVER apply for jobs that require a tax number or do not pay cash in hand, that will send up red flags immediately.

A Real Job – More Risky
You don’t want to make minimum or below minimum wage huh? Ok that’s understandable but things get riskier if you plan on getting a real job. Most real jobs will require a bank account and a tax number. The bank account isn’t a problem as most countries (the US being one of few exceptions) do not require a tax number to open up a bank account. However, in order to get a tax number, you usually need to have a valid work permit of some sorts. Do NOT apply for a tax number if you do not have this permit, all countries immigration and taxation departments work closely together and instead of a tax number in the mail, you’ll get an immigration officer in person instead. Not good.

All hope is not lost, instead if you are applying for a real job, just don’t supply a tax number. Most companies don’t bother checking to see if you have a work permit anyway (Australia being an exception but even then, you can slip through the cracks. Be forewarned, this is one of few countries I would not try to work in a real job without a work permit as they can check online very easily). Without a tax number though, you will be taxed at that countries highest tax rate with no way to recover that money so say good bye to 50-60% of your pay. The other solution is to use a fellow travellers tax number but you can only use it until they leave. This too is risky as if they detect it (low chance) you both get the boot or if your friend denies it and says you stole it, you could be facing criminal charges. This is why, it is just best to find a cash in hand job.

Don’t Be Taken Advantage of
A lot of people will use your inability to work legally to their advantage and will try and exploit you. Don’t let this happen. Always ask what the pay is before you start working, even before a trial shift. If the pay is more than $3 below the countries minimum wage then it’s best to keep looking. Ask how frequently you will be paid, in Commonwealth countries, it is standard to be paid weekly, as a day labourer, daily. If you are just working for the day, be sure you get paid that day, do not let them tell you they will send you a cheque in the mail as it won’t show.

If a company ever tries to tell you they aren’t paying you for work you have already done, threaten to report them. In most cases, they will pay you immediately. If they still don’t, actually report them. Many countries take exploitation of migrants seriously and employers know this. You may think you will be getting in trouble but if you throw them completely under the bus (say something like, “They told me they had a special permit from immigration allowing them to employ tourists for short periods.”) you can usually escape trouble pinning it all on them (A friend of mine used this in Brisbane once and it actually worked). Don’t feel bad for the company, they were trying to screw you anyway.

Also ask fellow backpackers, chances are some of them are working illegally too. They can give you advice on who to contact regarding work and who to avoid.

Storing Your Money
Obviously if you are being paid cash in hand, eventually you are going to have a lot of cash on hand which is good but not safe. The best place to store all this money is at an actual bank. As I mentioned before, you can open up a bank account in a lot of countries without a tax number. If they ask any questions, just tell them you are on a working holiday but haven’t received your tax number yet. Do not try that though in countries that do not have working holidays as they will be on you quick. Again, most of the time you will be fine, all you need is a passport and proof of address (ask your hostel to print something out saying you are staying there or bring in a letter you received at their address).

If you don’t want to go the bank route, place the money on a prepaid credit card. You can pick one of these up at a grocery store or post office, usually there is a one time cost but it is minimal. When selecting a prepaid card, find one that suits your needs with the lowest fees. Prepaid cards are great if you are super paranoid, anyone can buy them and you don’t need to register them (although I strongly advise you do register it because if you lose it, you lost all the money on it as well) nor do they require contact information. Most countries don’t bother keeping a central list of who has one anyway, it’s just not worth the time and effort.

Never keep a lot of cash on you or any of your stuff that is stored at the hostel. There is always a snake among us and they will steal from you the second you turn your back. That is why it is critical to keeping your money in a more secure place, a bank or prepaid credit card.

Consequences
The consequences of working illegally are pretty simple, you’ll be given deportation orders and/or deported but only if you are caught. If you are smart about it, you can work illegally and immigration won’t be the wiser.

I hope this post has given you a few pointers and if you have any questions, please post them in the comment section. If there is anything super critical I missed, I will append it to the article and make it obvious as always.

Duct Tape – Never Leave Home w/o It

This post is in regards to a tape that can sometimes be overlooked even by the most experienced of travelers, duct tape. This little wonder of a tape is can be used for anything, from making wallets to patching a hole in you luggage. Not to mention it is quite useful for pranking your fellow backpackers or duct taping their mouth shut when they won’t shut up after a long game of goon pong. In this article, I will cover a few things that this modern marvel is useful for when traveling and why it is an essential to your backpack must have list.

At home, we use duct tape for a variety of purposes, usually beyond what it was originally intended for, patching duct work. However, when  you travel, things tend to break, need to be held down or suddenly begin to move when they shouldn’t, if you have ever had something break on you, duct tape is the answer.

Back in June before my travels even began, my laptop fell off my desk onto the concrete floor of the garage. Granted I didn’t think much of it at the time as a worthless piece of plastic fell off. I tossed the piece of plastic, checked the machine, everything worked and I didn’t think twice about it. However, 3 months later, the power connector that was on that side began to shake lose. I was too lazy to fix it but then one day, the whole thing broke off, there was no way to charge my laptop. So I opened the thing up, cut the connector out and spliced in the power adapter directly to the motherboard. Without my duct tape, this wouldn’t have been possible. I used it to re-insulate the wires and permanently attach the power adapter to my computer. It’s not the prettiest of sights but it works and that’s what matters to me.

Without the duct tape, I may have well have been screwed but luckily, I always keep a roll with me as should you. Besides fixing my laptop with it, my backpacking bag took an unfortunate side trip and when it returned to me, one of the seams came undone. Not good. I am not one for sewing, in fact I usually make matters worse by trying to sew things back together. I also knew that if I did nothing, it would get worse. Duct tape to the rescue, I patched the seam and the breakage has not spread since,

That’s one of the more common problems you will run into as a backpacker. No matter how much you spend on your backpack, not matter how good care you take care of it, something will eventually break and usually at the worst of times. Use duct tape to solve the issues whether it be a broken strap, a seam coming lose, a gaping hole or even a zipper that lost it’s pull cord. You can fix almost anything with duct tape. Not to mention if you need to attach something to your bag because you over packed, you can wrap the duct tape around the bag and the extra one and it will be secure. However, I do not recommend flying with your bag like this but only when traveling by foot or vehicle.

In addition, duct tape can make all kinds of nifty things, from wallets to bum packs. The possibilities are endless and if you are short on case and need something useful, use your trusty duct tape to make it. Use your imagination! A friend getting rowdy? Use that duct tape to tie him to the wall until he stops his rampage, he may thank you if you stopped him from destroying the local hostel.

In America, duct tape is dirt cheap so be sure to stock up one a roll or two before departing. It is also better quality, never settle for some cheap brand, always go with “Duck Tape”. You’ll thank yourself later. If you have an interesting story of how you used your duct tape while traveling, post it in the comment section, it’s always fun to hear the creativity when it comes to duct tape use!