Once you arrive in Australia, driving can make getting around a lot easier, especially if you live in a non-metropolitan area where public transport might not be as frequent. You may also find that driving gives you more freedom and a greater sense of safety, allowing you to stay late at friends’ houses without worrying about how you will get home, work evening shifts or organise road trips to explore different parts of Australia.
You must have a valid drivers licence to drive in Australia and carry it with you at all times while driving. International students are regarded as temporary residents, which means that you are able to drive in Australia using your licence from your home country as long as it is current and valid. If your licence is not written in English, you must also carry a certified translation in English or apply for an International Driving Permit from your home country. If you don’t have an overseas licence and want to apply for a licence in Australia, you will need to apply through your state or territory motor registry (see the list below) and undergo a series of tests. If you gain Permanent Residency in Australia, you will need to apply for an Australian licence within three months.
Learn the road rules in Australia
If you’re planning to drive a car, it is very important to learn the road rules, which may be different to what you have experienced in your home country (such as driving on the left side of the road). The rules also differ in each state and territory, so ensure you learn the rules that apply to your location. Some of the key laws relate to speed limits, the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving and wearing a seatbelt. In all parts of Australia, it is also illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content that is over 0.05 or while under the influence of illicit drugs. If you are found to be committing an offence, you may need to pay a fine. In more serious cases, you could lose your licence or face criminal charges.
Consider the costs of buying a car
It can be expensive to run a car in Australia, and a car may not be necessary if you live in a metropolitan area. Before you buy a car, you should consider the costs involved and whether this can be justified by the benefits of being able to drive. Not only will you need to pay for the car itself, but you will also need to pay for registration and insurance (see below), petrol, servicing, repairs and use of tollways. The Australian Government estimates that, after purchase, it can cost between AUD$150 and $250 per week to run and maintain a car. International students are not eligible for financial loans and need to have access to adequate funds to purchase the car in full. To save money, you might like to consider cheaper options such as a bicycle or motorised scooter. You could also rent a car on occasions when you need to drive (if you want to go on a road trip or need to move house, for example).
Selecting a car
One of the key considerations when buying a car is whether you will purchase a new or second-hand car. If you can afford it, it is often preferable to buy a new car because they often come with a warranty. If you are buying a used car, you should check the car’s full documentation, ask for its service history, check the general condition of the car, ensure that you are given a registration transfer form and check the roadworthy certificate. It is against the law to drive a car that is deemed unfit for the road, so it is important to check that the car is considered roadworthy in your state or territory. To ensure peace of mind, you may wish to organise a vehicle inspection by an insurance agency or other party. Whether you are buying a new car or a second-hand car, it is important to do your research beforehand, shop around to get the best deal, take each car you are considering for a test-drive and ask a trustworthy source for a second opinion.
Every car must be registered with the appropriate state or territory motor registry. Registration is included in the purchase price of new cars and is valid for one year from the date of purchase. When purchasing a second-hand car, the seller needs to provide a car registration transfer form, which you will need to lodge with the motor registry in your state or territory to show that you are the new owner of the vehicle. Registration must be renewed annually by paying a registration fee, which varies depending on the type of vehicle you drive and where you live. Registration requirements differ in each state and territory. For more information, visit the website of your state or territory’s motor registry (see below).
To drive in Australia, you are required to gain compulsory third party insurance that insures you and others against personal injury caused by your driving. In many states and territories, compulsory third party insurance is included in your registration fees. There are two other types of car insurance that are optional: third party insurance (which is different to compulsory third party insurance) and comprehensive insurance. Third party insurance covers damage you may cause to someone else’s vehicle, while comprehensive insurance covers damage to your vehicle as well as others. Comprehensive insurance is more expensive, but ensures maximum peace of mind. You should also consider purchasing roadside assistance, which will drive to you to provide assistance if your car ever breaks down. There are many insurance companies in Australia to choose from; you should research your options to ensure you get the highest level of cover for the lowest cost.
Motor vehicle registries in Australia
- Australian Capital Territory — Road Transport Authority
- New South Wales — Roads and Maritime Services
- Northern Territory — Department of Transport
- Queensland — Department of Transport and Main Roads
- South Australia — Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure
- Tasmania — Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources
- Victoria — VicRoads
- Western Australia — Department of Transport