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Having been on a short adventure in Australia for a few days now, I figured I’d share one of the last-minute items I had to make sure I completed: applying for an Australian electronic travel authority (ETA) “visa”.I knew in advance that I would need one of these, but forgot to apply until just two days before I was leaving. Luckily, and Australian ETA via is very easy to obtain.

Visitors on holiday in Australia or those traveling for short term business activities (not for work – this is not a work visa) are required to obtain an ETA prior to arrival. The process is easy and the ETA is automatically linked to your passport number. There really isn’t anything you need to do beyond applying for the visa.

Applying for an Australian ETA visa

First, I should mention that “visa” probably ought to be in quotes. Some places call it a visa, others just call it an ETA. It is a travel approval that lets you enter, leave, reenter, and remain in the country, so it essentially functions like a visa. But the process is so easy that I think it is more or less Australia’s way of getting some money out of everyone visiting their country. Maybe I shouldn’t be so cynical…

I applied for an Australian ETA visa through the Australian government website. It is where I was directed from the U.S. State Department website. The Australian government site gives you all the details you need, including eligibility requirements for an ETA (make sure you check them!). To apply for an ETA through the government website, you must hold a passport from one of the following countries:

  • United States
  • Brunei
  • Canada
  • Hong Kong (SAR PRC)
  • Japan
  • Malaysia
  • Singapore
  • South Korea

If you do not hold a passport from one of those countries, you may still be eligible for an ETA, but you cannot apply through the government site. There are other sites that do allow a greater range of passport holders to apply electronically.

eta details

The required information on the ETA application was basic and straightforward. You were required to confirm that you are traveling for tourism or short-term business, and then you had to fill in all your personal info, including passport number.

eta passport details

The application also asks for your offshore address (i.e. home address, not where you plan to be in Australia).

eta address details

The final steps were some confirmations and payment. It took me less than 5 minutes to fill out the entire application and pay the $20 AUD.

After applying, I quickly received an email stating that my application was successful and I had a valid ETA. It seemed so easy I began to question if that was all I really needed to do.

Australian ETA visa email

Issues at Seoul with my Australian ETA visa

Due to a woman going into labor(!) on my flight from San Francisco to Seoul, instead of having a leisurely 4 hours to make my connection, I found myself running to my gate. I arrived to the gate during business class boarding, dripping sweat and completely out of breath. Presenting my boarding pass to the gate agent, I expected her to simply scan it and let me on the plane. Instead, she directed me to a customer service counter to confirm my ETA! I tried to show her my clear email confirmation, but it was no use.

The service was about 3-4 gates down (and gates can be pretty far apart at Seoul Incheon). I handed the first available agent my phone with my confirmation email displayed (so thankful I took screenshots), and she proceeded to issue me a paper Asiana ticket.

What she actually confirmed in the system is still a mystery, but everything seemed to be in order. The service rep hardly said two words to me after I explained the situation. I made it back to the gate during economy boarding, but still with plenty of time to get settled before take off.

Could I have done it more cheaply?

When I applied for an Australian ETA visa, I simply went from the U.S. State Department website to the Australian government website. I never bothered to check Google first to see that I was getting the cheapest price. Because I was using a government site, I naively assumed that the price shown would be the cheapest available.

However, I later realized I could have paid only $9 AUD instead of the $20 AUD (~ $15 USD) I was charged. There are other services that offer Australian ETAs, and some are oddly cheaper than the government site. I also found one that supposedly offers a refund if your application is refused.

Using another service may or may not be the best way to go. As far as I could tell with the government site, the Australian ETA visa processed almost immediately. It didn’t appear there was anything else I needed to do. With only 2 days until I flew out, I am glad I chose that route.

Header image courtesy of Hai Linh Truong under CC 2.0 license.

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