So I wanted to write this post after my mom got stuck in Singapore on her way to New Zealand as she was connecting thru Australia and did NOT have a Australian transit visa. We were meeting my mom in Auckland, New Zealand to celebrate her birthday last year.
My mom had 2 connecting flights – one in Singapore, and another in Brisbane on her way to New Zealand. She had a tourist visa for New Zealand but wasn’t aware that she needed a “transit” visa (similar to Canada) to connect thru Brisbane as she wasn’t clearing immigration. She got on the flight from her home country to Singapore just fine without any indication of the transit visa requirement to pass thru Brisbane. But when she got to Singapore, they wouldn’t allow her to get on the plane to Brisbane. So I got a frantic call from her at around 1AM New Zealand time (we’d just reached Auckland an hour prior and had just gone to bed) that they weren’t letting her get on the plane to Brisbane and told her she needed to go back home! We were supposed pick up my mom from Auckland airport at 3PM the following day and we were all flying together first thing to the South Island the day after. But now she was stuck in Singapore and no amount of pleading ignorance would get her on that original flight. Poor thing was so tired and sad and was prepared to go back home when she called. I really wanted her in New Zealand as this was her birthday trip after all!
So there I was, jet-lagged from more than 48hrs of travel from SF to Sydney and them onto Auckland, frantically searching for a Direct flight from Singapore to New Zealand on my tiny phone screen (first time we leave the iPad at home on an international trip and this happens!). An hour and $2k later, I found a round-trip flight via Air New Zealand that would bring her to Auckland at midnight the following day with about 5hrs to spare to get on that South Island flight, phew! Sure, we’ve had our share of flight cancellations and re-routing, but in all our years of traveling, this was our first true travel nightmare!
So she was able to get on the Singapore-to-Auckland plane without any problems and we met her the following night and got on with the rest of our trip to the South Island. However, the story doesn’t end here. While we were on Day 3 of our trip, somewhere in the South Island, it dawned on me that now mom had a return flight from Auckland to Singapore (the new frantic ticket I booked from my phone) and since she hadn’t completed the rest of the legs on her original ticket, she wouldn’t be allowed to fly back home from Singapore on her original ticket! Her original itinerary on the airline website still showed the return flight as valid however, from my extensive trip planning experience, I knew that if you skipped a leg on your flight reservation, chances were that the rest of the legs would be cancelled by the airline. I even called the airline to explain the situation about the transit visa debacle to see if they would let her fly the last leg back home in her original ticket – the answer was NO. So I was back on the phone to look for another flight that would take her home from Singapore. After I booked yet another flight, I realized that she had a checked bag with her in addition to her carry-on which meant she would have to clear immigration in Singapore to retrieve her luggage – important thing is she needed a visa to visit Singapore and she had none! Since we had free baggage allowance, we decided to taker her bag with us and have her travel only with a carry-on. Since she was staying an extra day in Auckland on our way out, to ensure she had a smoother return journey, I also made sure she carried a print out of her Original-but-now-cancelled-ticket, New tickets on different airlines from Auckland-to-Singapore, and Singapore-back home, Singapore Visa Waiver (if the airline staff gave her grief), as well as instructions on how to obtain a Singapore transit visa on arrival (if needed) while also making sure she explained the whole situation to the airline staff in Auckland and again in Singapore if needed. So lesson learned the hard way, hopefully this post will help you avoid this sorta travel nightmare.
Things to know if you’re flying thru Australia
The Australian Government Department of Home Affairs website is confusing to navigate so I’ll try to lay out the details to the best of my knowledge.
- If you’re NOT from a transit visa-exempt country, you will need a Australia transit visa even if you don’t plan on exiting the airport and only have a connecting flight thru Australia. You CANNOT get this transit visa on arrival in Australia and hence needs to be obtained prior to travel. If your “transit” time is 72 hours or less, you can apply for a FREE Subclass 771 transit visa from your home country BEFORE you travel.
- With the Subclass 771 visa, you can actually clear Australian immigration and checkout whatever city you’re in if your connecting flight is within 72hrs.
- If you hold a passport from some countries, you don’t need a transit visa to fly thru Australia. However, if you plan to clear immigration and spend a few hours or days there, you might need to obtain an ETA (Electronic Travel Authority) Subclass 601 before you travel. This visa is FREE if you apply by mail/fax. If you apply online, it costs AUD20 (as of November 2019). Use the interactive “Visa Finder” tool to see which type of visa you may need a before you book your tickets.
How to apply for a FREE Australia transit visa
- Visit the Australian Department of Home Affairs website and check if you need one and are eligible for the Subclass 771 transit visa.
- You can apply online (as of November 2019).
- Submit documents listed on the website including:
- A Notarized copy (preferably color) of your passport bio and address pages.
- Travel itinerary (with Dates you’ll be in Australia, arrival and departure flights and times, plus accommodation details if you spend a few days there).
- Copy of your travel ticket (inbound and onward).
- Copy of your visa to the destination country (if you need one).
- You may also need a digital recent passport sized photograph of your head and shoulders against a plain background.
- Note: Non-English documents and English translations need to be Notarized/Certified before submission.
- If you’re granted a visa, instead of a physical Visa stamp in your passport, it’ll be recorded in Australian Immigration records. Make sure you carry a print out of the latest Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO) which typically has your visa grant number, the date your visa starts, and your visa conditions (if applicable) before you get on your flight in case someone asks for proof.
Happy and Safe travels!