Driving and Public Transport for Expats in Australia

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: July 2013


In Australia, people drive on the left side of the road. Australia uses the metric system, so distances are in kilometres and speeds in kilometres per hour (kph).

To drive in Australia, you need a valid driving licence. If your driving licence is in English, or if you have an English transla tion of your licence, you can drive in Australia for three months. If your licence is not in English, you will also need an International Driving Permit from your home country. After three months, you will need a licence from the state you are resident in. Note that licence laws may differ slightly from state to state.

Driving is probably the best way to see Australia’s vast, unique landscape. Driving along a motorway through the more developed areas is pretty much like driving anywhere else in the developed world. In the more rural areas, driving is more hazardous, especially at night, and you should be aware of the danger of running into wild animals.

The blood alcohol limit for drivers varies from state to state, but is typically 0.05%, and at a lower rate or zero for new drivers. Police officers have the power to stop and breathalyse any driver at their discretion. Refusal to allow this carries severe penalties. Seat belts must be worn by the driver and all passengers at all times.

Main roads in Australia and others in developed area are of high quality. Roads in the Outback are likely to be gravel tracks, only suitable for 4-wheel drive vehicles. Speed limits on main roads in Australia vary from state to state. The default urban speed limit is 50 kph (31 mph), and default rural speed limit is 100 kph (62 mph) in most states, but can be 130 kph (81 mph) in Northern Territory.

Toll roads do exist in Australia, on motorways, bridges and tunnels. In some cases, the only method of payment is via an electronic transponder which is fitted inside your car. If you are going to be driving in Australia long-term, it is a good idea to join a breakdown organisation. Each state has its own breakdown organisation, and they all have reciprocal agreements, so you will normally only need to join one of them.


The Australian railway network is extensive and connects all the major and many minor cities. However, Government investment in the railways has been lacking in recent years; instead, road-building has been favoured. Suburban railways are adequate for short journeys. However, Australia has no high-speed trains, and the slow, rather expensive, infrequent services between the major Australian cities are little used.

Two of the world’s great train routes are in Australia. Budget permitting, rather than risk a car journey into the heart of the Outback, you could take a train and travel in comfort all the way. The Indian Pacific line runs from Sydney to Perth, and the Ghan runs from Adelaide to Darwin, via Alice Springs, right through the heart of the continent.


Flying is the standard method of travelling between Australia’s state capitals. Even a comparatively short distance, such as that between Sydney to Melbourne, is around 650 miles by road. Meanwhile, it is 2,418 miles from Sydney to Perth. With these sorts of vast distances involved, flying is far quicker and more convenient than any other means of transport. Websites for the three largest airlines are given below:

www.jetstar.com.au                www.qantas.com.au               www.virginaustralia.com

Buses and Coaches

Like train services, buses have been underfunded and their service is run-down. Though relatively cheap, services can be unreliable. Coaches offer a cheaper long-distance alternative to flying. The two coach companies offering a nationwide service are Greyhound Australia and McCafferty’s:

www.greyhound.com.au       www.mccaffertys.com.au


The main ferry service is the Spirit of Tasmania, which runs between Melbourne and Devonport daily.



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