Australia has a sales tax known as the Goods and Services Tax or GST that applies to all goods and services except unprocessed foods, education and medical services. GST is always included in the price of any item you purchase rather than being added at the time of payment.
Receipts tax invoices will contain the GST amount, which is one eleventh of the total value of taxable supplies.
If you buy items over $300 at one place within 60 days of departing the country, you can obtain a refund of the GST upon leaving Australia. As of April 2013 the items can be purchased in separate transactions, as long as the total comes to over $300 and they are all from the same store. Pack the items in hand luggage, and present the items and the receipt at the TRS, after immigration and security when leaving Australia. Also allow an extra 15 minutes before departure. The refund payment can be made by either cheque, credit to an Australian bank account, or payment to a credit card. There is no refund available for services. You also cannot get a refund if you are too close to your flight departure time. A flight departure screen assists agents and they will refuse your transaction if your flight is on it. Check for current regulations about buffer time for flights if you want a GST refund.
Bargaining is uncommon in Australian stores, though vendors are usually willing to meet or beat a quote or advertised price from a competing retailer. It's also worth asking for a "best price" for high-value goods or purchases involving several items. For example, it would not be unusual to get 10% off an item of jewelry that was not already reduced in price. The person you are dealing with may have limited authority to sell items at anything other than the marked price.
Tipping is never compulsory and is usually not expected in Australia. Staff are seen to be paid an appropriate wage and will certainly not chase you down for a tip. It is acceptable to pay the amount stated on the bill. When Australians do tip, it will often be in the form of leaving the change from a cash payment usually as a convenience so the change does not hang around loose on someone's person - not as a gratuity, rather than a fixed percentage.
In a suburban or country restaurant where table service is offered, they will certainly take a tip of 5%-10% should you decide to leave one, but it is almost always not expected, and locals usually do not leave any. In a cafe or more informal restaurant, even with table service, and even in tourist centres, leaving a tip is unusual. Sometimes there is a coin jar by the cashier labelled 'Tips', but more often than not, diners do not leave one.
Tipping is also not expected in taxis, and drivers will typically return your change to the last 5 cents, unless you indicate that they should round the fare to the nearest dollar it is not unusual for passengers to instruct the driver to round up to the next whole dollar.
Cash dispensing Automatic Teller Machines ATMs are available in almost every Australian town. Australian ATMs are deregulated and may impose a surcharge over what is charged by your bank or card issuer. The fees can vary between institutions and between locations, but are usually around $2. The ATM will display the charges and you will have the option to stop the transaction before you are charged. Check with your bank as to what additional fees they apply to withdrawals in Australia.
Dedicated currency exchange outlets are widely available in major cities, and banks can also exchange most non-restricted currencies. These exchange outlets - especially the ones at the airport - can charge 10% over the best exchange that can be obtained from shopping around. Australian banks usually offer an exchange rate around 2.5% from the current exchange midpoint. A flat commission of $5-8 can be charged on top. Some outlets advertise commission free exchange, usually accompanied by a worse rate of exchange. Don't assume every bank will offer the same exchange. A simple calculation will let you know what offers the best deal for amount you wish to exchange. There are vouchers for commission free exchange at American Express available in the tourist brochure at Sydney Airport.
There is also no need to arrive in Australia with cash if you have a Cirrus, Maestro, MasterCard or Visa card: international airport terminals will have multiple teller machines that can dispense Australian currency with just the fees imposed by your bank plus the ATM fee.
Credit cards are widely accepted in Australia. Almost all large vendors such as supermarkets accept cards, as do many, but not all, small stores. Australian debit cards can also be used via a system known as EFTPOS. Any card showing the Cirrus or Maestro logos can be used at any terminal displaying those logos. The use of credit or debit cards for transactions under about $5.00 is generally discouraged, and some stores may even have a minimum purchase amount to use a credit or debit card.
VISA or MasterCard are commonly accepted and are both accepted everywhere credit cards are accepted. American Express and Diners Club are accepted at major supermarket and department store chains and many tourist destinations. JCB is only accepted at very limited tourist destinations. Discover is never accepted.
Travelex sells prepaid Australian dollars credit/debit cards at airport locations with a 1% commission off what you load onto it. The big advantage here is you can bring Australian cash acquired at home through proper exchange channels and turn it into plastic with no exchange fees and minimal service charges without need for exchanging currency at the airport or carrying large amounts of cash everywhere. Excellent for security and you can get two cards with different numbers drawing from the same loaded money, allowing any two people to share a card on the same account. Other prepaid Australian dollar stored value cards bearing MasterCard or Visa emblems are available at larger post offices or grocery stores. Read terms and conditions closely, some can refund unused balances but only to an Australian bank account. Others you just have to spend it all in Australia or abroad. Travelex will refund unused balances for cash at airport locations for a $10.00 fee. Be careful using these cards for car hire. Agencies generally accept only cards with raised print for car hires and the name of the renter on it prepaids do not have this. Even if you hire the car with a foreign card but settle the bill on return with a prepaid they often will not accept it, even with the other card as a backup. You will have to settle using the foreign card most of the time. Sometimes they don't pay attention and you get away with it but don't plan on it. Elsewhere these cards work everywhere MasterCard/Visa are accepted without incident.
Credit card surcharges are imposed at all car rental agencies, travel agents, airlines, and at some discount retailers and service stations. Surcharges are far more common for American Express and Diners Club typically 2%-4% than they are for VISA and Mastercard typically 1.5%.
Australia uses the Australian dollar AUD and the currency is symbolised locally as "$". There are 100 cents in every dollar.
No other currency is officially accepted for transactions in Australia. Although it was not unusual to find some of the older New Zealand coins in your change from time to time, it is now practically unheard of since New Zealand completely overhauled and resized its coinage. It no longer matches the size of Australian coins.
The coin denominations are 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, $1 and $2. The Australian coins are large and heavy relative to their value. For example, the Australian ten cent coin is the size of a US 25 cent coin and the Australian fifty cent coin is among the largest circulating coins anywhere in the world by size. The note denominations are $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100. Australian notes are produced in plastic polymer rather than paper. If the total of a transaction is not a multiple of 5 cents the amount will be rounded to the nearest five cents if you are paying in cash. The exact amount will be charged if paying by card. Old paper notes or bronze 1c and 2c coins will be exchanged at a bank but will be difficult at shops.
The dollar is not pegged to any other currency, and is highly traded on world foreign exchange markets, particularly by currency speculators. Its exchange value to other currencies can be quite volatile, and 1-2% changes in a day are a reasonably common occurrences.
Money changers in Australia operate in a free market, and charge a range of flat commissions, percentage fees, undisclosed fees built into the exchange rate, and a combination of all three. Generally the best bet is to avoid airports and tourist centres when changing money, and use banks in major centres. Expect fees to vary considerably between institutions. Always get a quote before changing money.
When arriving in Australia with more than AUD$10,000 in any currency you must declare it to customs on the arrival card and complete paperwork you will be provided.
Australia's base trading hours are Monday-Friday 9AM-5PM. Shops usually have a single night of late night trading, staying open until 9PM on Fridays in most cities and on Thursdays in Brisbane and Sydney. Sunday trading is common but does not exist in all rural areas. Opening hours beyond these base hours vary by the type of store, by location, and by state. See the guides for more local information.
Major supermarket chains such as Coles and Woolworths and department stores like K-Mart and Target in main centres are generally open at least until 9pm. Smaller convenience stores like 7/11 are open 24 hours in major centres. Fast Food restaurant chains are commonly open 24 hours or at least very late.
Fuel/Service stations are open 24 hours in major centres, but often close at 6pm and on Sundays in country towns. Even in cities with populations exceeding 50,000 finding a 24 hour petrol station can be difficult, or at least should not be assumed to be easily found. Make sure to locate one in advance if you have an early morning flight with a rental car to return.
Australia's weekend is on Saturday and Sunday of each week. Retail trading is now almost universal in larger cities on weekends, although with slightly reduced hours. Again, Western Australia is an exception with restrictions on large stores opening on Sundays. In smaller country towns shops are closed on Sundays and often also on Saturday afternoons.
Tourist-oriented towns and shops may stay open longer hours. Tourist areas within cities, such as Darling Harbour in Sydney has longer trading hours every night.
Australian banks are open Monday-Friday 09:00-16:00 only, often closing at 17:00 on Fridays. Cash is available through Automatic Teller Machines ATM 24 hours, and currency exchange outlets have extended hours and are open on weekends.
Dorm accommodation in a capital city is around $30, but can run as low as $15 in Cairns or cheaper backpacker centres. A basic motel in the country or in the capital city suburbs would cost around $100 for a double. City Centre hotel accommodation in capital cities can be obtained for around $150 upwards for a double. Formule 1/Motel 6 style hotels which are not common can be around $60-$90 for a double.
Car hire will cost around $65 a day. Public transport day passes from $10-20 per day depending on the city. Petrol is approximately 33% more expensive than the US, 10% more than Canada, and about 40% cheaper than Europe.... but can be even more expensive in remote areas where choices are few and the vendors more than a little enterprising to reflect additional delivery costs.
A cafe meal costs around $10-$15, and a main course in a restaurant goes from around $17 upwards.
A basic takeaway meal - a burger, fancy sandwich, or couple of slices of pizza would cost $5-10, a Big Mac costs $5.50, and you can usually grab a pie for around $4.50, or a sausage roll for $3.50. A takeaway pizza from Pizza Hut big enough to feed two costs around $10.
A middy/pot 285mL of house beer will cost you around $6, and a glass of house wine around $6 in a low end pub. To take away, a case of 24 cans of beer will cost around $40, or a bottle of wine around $8.
A standard 500ml bottle of soft drinks, such as Coca-Cola or Pepsi will cost around $3.00 in a large grocery store, $4.20 at a corner convenience store called milk bars or $5.20 or more at outback roadhouses. Cans run around $1.00 or more if bought in the 24 pack at grocery store. Bottled water isn't much cheaper. You can make yourself feel better about it by buying brands that are not available in foreign countries, such as the delicious Kirk's Dry Ginger Ale. Some American brands are not available. Ordinary coffee takeaway such as from a petrol station will run around $4.00 but usually comes with a biscuit too.
An airfare between neighbouring eastern capitals is around $120 each way but can get as low as $60 if you book at the right time, or around $350 to cross the country assuming that you are flexible with dates and book in advance. A train trip on the state run trains will usually cost slightly less. A bus trip, a little less again. A train trip on the private trains will be the most expensive way to travel.
There is usually no admission charge to beaches or city parks. Some popular National Parks charge between $10-20 per day per car, or per person depending on the state while more out of the way National Parks are free. Art Galleries and some attractions are free. Museums generally charge around $10 per admission. Theme parks charge around $70 per person.
Because of Australia's high wages by comparison to other countries such the USA, you will find prices of things involving service such as restaurants especially high by comparison. A rule of thumb is the restaurants will cost close to double what you would expect of the same thing in the USA, and that holds for beverages also.