Australia offers same-day, on-line free visas for stays up to 90 days. We wanted to stay for six months, and found the 600 visa, for stays up to a year. This takes longer and costs a minimum of $140. We decided to go for it. The complication seemed minor, your passport must be valid for six months after the end of your planned stay. Jonathan’s passport was set to expire in February 2019, so he needed a new one before we could begin the visa application process, but he did not arrive in the US until Oct. 1.
On Oct. 2, he ordered a new passport with expedited delivery. I waited to file our visa paperwork until the new passport arrived on the 13th. I needed his new passport number. Since each application asks about your traveling companions, it seemed impractical to apply before we were both ready. Here’s what we did for the first step.
A 600 visa allows you to visit Australia for 6 to 12 months continuously. You may not work at all, or study for more than three months on this visa.
What you need:
You must get a (free to set up) Australian ImmiAccount https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/trav/visa/immi
You can only apply for the Australian visa valid for six to twelve months from the ImmiAccount site.
Your US passport must be valid for at least six months after you plan to leave Australia, and you need a digital copy of your passport.
You must show income sufficient to support yourself.
You may not be planning a hospital stay or medical treatment.
A list of all countries outside your home base where you have spent more than three months continuously during the past five years.
There are other questions about whether you have applied for or hold a visa for Australia.
The on-line form is long but not difficult, and the questions are basic. How is your health, what are your finances, when do you plan to arrive and leave? It took a us a few minutes to fill in the page that asks you to name countries where you have spent more than three consecutive months annually going back five years, because we have traveled a lot, but the only place we’ve stayed more than three months continuously is Peru. I had to upload a photo of each of our passports. It was relatively painless apart from the $140 per person, though the fee can be higher. The immigration web page suggest that 80% of applications for this visa are processed within 20 days. I submitted the forms on Oct. 15 and late on Oct. 19, we each received a note requiring us to have a physical exam and chest xray because we have spent more than three months a year in Peru, a country with high risk of tuberculosis.
Really? The odds of either of us getting TB in Peru is around zero, as we don’t live in a rural area, or around animals, or where it is damp, or where our neighbors have TB. This was a bit of a setback because of the fine print. The exam must be done by a doctor that is empaneled by the Australian authority, a group called Emed. There are three offices in California, and a call to LA got us appointments at 11 am on Oct. 23. After the exam, the office uploads the results directly to the Australian immigration authority. We thought that would do it. The physical exam was cursory in the extreme and the chest xray was unnecessary. I’d asked the price and was told $125 a person. We got to the end of the process and were charged $325 each. The receptionist apologized for the “confusion,” and couldn’t think why we were misquoted the cost.
Still reeling a bit from sticker shock, we hoped that the process would move quickly, and sure enough, I received my visa four days later, via email. Jonathan did not. We waited over the weekend, and he finally received an email the following Monday, but the news was terrible! His chest xray showed some streaks of abnormality and he was required to see a specialist to have his xray assessed. Now we had two dilemmas, one worse than the next. Did Jonathan have a previously undiagnosed lung ailment? He does cough and has asthma. Next was the fact that we might not get visas to visit Australia. At this point it was Oct. 29, we were due to leave for New Zealand in two days, and it was impossible to get an appointment with a lung specialist before leaving the US. We decided to go ahead with our visit to New Zealand, find a doctor there, and connect with the Australian immigration system electronically. If we had to return to the US after two months, we would.
When we arrived in Auckland, Jonathan had to find a doctor affiliated with the Australian immigration system. Then he found that his xray couldn’t be transferred from Los Angeles, he’d need another. We went into Auckland where the doctor at the Emed clinic was very nice, but not qualified to write the needed opinion. He called around Auckland to try and get Jonathan an appointment with a lung specialist, but he couldn’t find anyone who would see him while we were there. We tried not to panic, and Jonathan began calling clinics in Wellington, to see whether he could get an appointment during the end of November. He did finally get an appointment for the day after we arrived in Wellington, and we waited for that day.
Jonathan went in for his new chest xray and then saw the specialist in Wellington. This took a bit more than an hour, and after all the tension of waiting for the appointment and getting to it, waiting, etc. and the additional cost, the results were truly surprising. The doctor couldn’t understand why the xray had been flagged. He described the “abnormalities” in the first report as trivial, and sat down and wrote a letter to that effect. He gave Jonathan a copy of his xray on his jump drive and promised to convey the xray and his results to the Emed office in Auckland that is our official contact point for the visa process.
Following up by phone on the Monday that followed, all the information was uploaded to the Australian visa system as promised. By Wednesday, Jonathan had his visa. Our six month visas shouldn’t have been such an irritation, and the extra exams and xrays ended up costing about $1000. It did all work out in the end.
Rather than take the time to get a six-month visa, we could have flown to New Zealand and spent a month, then spent three months in Australia, another month in New Zealand and three more months in Australia. We could have done this for less than $1,000 (not flying business class).
Disclaimer: I do not claim to be an expert on Australian 600 visas, and I cannot guarantee the absolute accuracy of my description of the visa process for everyone. I am sharing my personal experience as a US citizen, presently located outside Australia. lf you plan to apply for a visa, double check everything at https://www.australia.gov.au/information-and-services/immigration-and-visas