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Travelling to Australia


Aim of this information

This information is designed to set out the types of visa required for travel to Australia and how a criminal conviction may affect your ability to get a visa.

Why is this important?

People with criminal records are not barred from travelling to Australia. However, it’s important to know how a criminal record determines the type of visa you should apply for and whether or not you are likely to meet the good character test.


Visas are required for all travel to Australia. British citizens can obtain the following types of electronic visitor visa:

  • an eVisitor visa direct from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. There is no visa application charge or service fee for this;
  • an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) via their travel agent or airline. There is no visa application charge, but a service fee of $20 applies. An example is the Australian Visa Bureau but others are available.

An eVisitor

  • An eVisitor is designed for people who are outside Australia and want to visit Australia for tourism or business purposes.
  • Tourism includes holidays, recreation and seeing family and/or friends. Business purposes may include attending a conference, negotiation or exploratory business visit.
  • eVisitor applications are free, there is no application charge or service fee.
  • An eVisitor lets you stay in Australia for up to three months on each visit within a 12 month period from the date of grant.
  • An application for the visa can be made online here.

For more information, visit the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

An Electronic Travel Authority (ETA)

An ETA Tourist Visa allows you to stay in Australia for up to 3 months on each arrival within 12 months from the date the visa was granted.

Although there is no visa application charge, a service fee of $20 applies.

An example of this is the Australian Visa Bureau but other services are available.

A Visitor Visa (Subclass 600)

A Visitor Visa gives more flexibility in the length of stays that are permitted in Australia. There is a substantial charge for this type of visa and they can often take over a month to process (see here for more details).

You may require other visas for transit through Australia to another destination or if you are visiting Australia for reasons other than a holiday.

Criminal convictions

As part of the eligibility requirements to obtain any of the above, it states that:

You must not have any criminal convictions, for which the sentence or sentences should not equal a total period of 12 months duration or more (whether served or not), at the time of travel to, and entry into, Australia.”

This implies the following:

  • If you received two 6 month sentences, you would be ineligible to apply online, and would have to apply for a full Tourist Visa.
  • If you have received a 12 month sentence, but only served, for example, 6 months, you would still have to apply for a full Tourist Visa.
  • If you have received a 12 month suspended sentence, and therefore never stepped foot in a prison, you would still have to apply for a full Tourist Visa.
  • The Australian authorities do not recognise the difference between concurrent and consecutive sentences. Therefore if you were convicted of two offences and received two six month sentences to run concurrently, the Australian authorities would consider this to equal a 12 month sentence and you would have to apply for a full Tourist Visa.

Good character test

If you fall into the category of ‘criminal convictions’ set out above, in order to travel you must pass what the Australian government calls ‘the character requirement’ (as defined in Section 501 of the Migration Act 1958). You are likely to fail this test if you have a ‘substantial criminal record’.

A person is deemed to have a substantial criminal record if they have been:

  • sentenced to either death or life imprisonment
  • sentenced to a term of imprisonment for 12 months or more
  • sentenced to two or more terms of imprisonment (whether on one or more occasions), where the total of those terms is two years or more
  • acquitted of an offence on the grounds of either unsoundness of mind or insanity and, as a result, the person has been detained in a facility or institution.
  • they have, or have had, an association with an individual, group or organisation suspected of having been, or being, involved in criminal conduct

You are also likely to fail the good character test if there is a risk that you would:

  • engage in criminal conduct in Australia
  • harass, molest, intimidate or stalk another person
  • vilify a segment of the Australian community
  • incite discord in the Australian community or a segment of that community
  • represent a danger to the Australian community or a segment of that community by becoming involved in activities that are disruptive to or threatening harm to that community

Applying for a visa if you’ve been convicted of a sexual offence

In February 2017 amendments were made to the Australian Migration Act 1958 which will affect those who have been convicted of a sexual offence who are considering travelling to Australia.

Any new visa applications will be refused or existing visa’s cancelled if, a court in Australia or a foreign country has:

  • convicted you of one or more sexually based offences involving a child; or
  • found you guilty of such an offence, even if you were discharged without a conviction (for example you received an absolute discharge).

If an Interpol green notice is in force, then the Australian authorities will infer that you would present a risk to the Australian community and any visa application will be refused or existing visa revoked. Interpol green notices are often given to people on the Sex Offenders Register

What happens if you do not pass the good character test?

Even if you fall into the above, you will not automatically be refused a visa. Another requirement of the ‘good character test’ will look at what you have done (and how you have behaved) since being sentenced. You may want to give some thought to what evidence you could provide to show this. The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection will use their discretion as to whether or not to approve your application.

How will your application be decided?

When a visa applicant or visa holder does not pass the character test, immigration officials will decide whether to refuse the application or to cancel a visa. Exercise of this discretion will take into account a wide range of factors, including the protection of the Australian community, the expectations of the community, the best interest of any children under 18 years of age, as well as other considerations such as the non-citizen’s links to Australia, and any relevant international law obligations.

‘I managed to get into Oz with a record (24 month sentence) even though my offence made it impossible to enter the country.  I had to bend over backwards to get all the necessary paperwork together but the point is that if you have a record there is a chance of getting in.  I’m working with explosives now – this would have been unheard of in the UK.’

What if they say no?

If your visa application is cancelled on the grounds of either a substantial criminal record, or another character issue, you are permanently excluded from Australia.

There is generally no appeals procedure if you have been refused an eVisitor or ETA. The only visitor visa that may have a right to appeal in very limited circumstances is the sponsored visitor visa.

If you have a substantial criminal record or a character issue then you should seek advice from the Migration Institute of Australia (MIA). This organisation has contacts in the UK, providing migration advice to prospective migrants, workers, students, families and humanitarian entrants and to employers seeking to obtain skilled overseas workers.

Personal experiences

The personal story below has been posted on theRecord, our online magazine.

Dealing with my barriers and borders – a story from Carlotta, one of Unlock’s trustees who has recently travelled to Australia

Discuss this with others

Read and share your experiences on our online forum.

Key sections include:

Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page. More specific details (including addresses and telephone numbers) of some of the organsiations listed below can be found here.

For more information

  1. For practical information – More information on character and police certificate requirements can be found on the Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection website
  2. To read personal stories – You can read stories about this posted on theRecord, our online magazine under the tag travelling abroad
  3. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experience on our online forum
  4. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline

Get involved

  1. Comment on this information (below)
  2. Send your feedback directly to us.
  3. Discuss your views and experiences with others on our online peer forum.
  4. Share your personal story by contributing to our online magazine, theRecord.


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Photo of Helpline lead, Debbie Sadler
Debbie Sadler
Helpline lead

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