How Not to Enter Australia as a Photographer – Lessons Learnt

Written by  on June 17, 2011 

I thought it would be easy enough to travel to Australia and make some money on the side with my photography. I soon found out that was not the case. I nearly had my whole holiday cut short well before it began. If you are planning to go to Australia, don’t make some of the mistakes I made. It is very easy to get stopped at the airport and be taken away for a lot of questioning, and they might even take away, purely on suspicion.

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Photo: M i x y

  • My preparation. I had done all the usual looking around for work online. I even went a little further, contacting local businesses. Normally, the best way to get any photography work is to start looking at other businesses that are involved in events. I contacted a number of wedding cars Sydney companies, and they all said they were very busy with this kind of work. Limousine hire Sydney, is big business, and they all seem to have inside knowledge on any event or goings on that would lead to work. I thought that I had spread the word enough locally, and online, so that when I got into Sydney and Australia, before too long, I could pick up some jobs on the side.
  • My Equipment. It started with my equipment. I did not declare any of it to customs. As far I was concerned it was all mine for personal use. Ultimately, it was. But because there was so much of it, the customs officials began asking me a lot of questions. Sure, some of it was new, and was still in the boxes that I had purchased it in, and that is what raised a red flag. Apparently, there is a law on bringing in items over around $900 per item for personal use. To me this was all pretty vague. All of my items were not new, but because they appeared to be so, it started a train of questioning.
  • The Questioning. I was asked a number of questions by customs on why I had all this equipment. What would I need it for, what was I planning to do with it? They were more interested in the taxation value of it. However, this brought attention from an immigration official. You would not believe it. I was taken to a small room and left there for about an hour before someone else came to ask me more questions. I was on a tourist visa. I thought I was on holiday, and I would take photos for my own pleasure, and if a job did pop up, and I could get it in cash, why not? I realized pretty fast I should not say this. I was told I was under suspicion of entering Australia to work without the appropriate visa, and they were considering cancelling my visa and sending me back on the next flight.
  • Stamped In. After about 5 hours of questioning and not once me admitting to the fact that I would have done some cash in hand work if it was offered to me, did they finally let me go. The official told me that they have the right to cancel my visa because under the law, they had enough suspicion I would be attempting to work, or even looking for work, because of the amount of professional equipment that I had brought.

As you can imagine, I did not do any work in Australia on my three-month holiday. I did get called by one limousine hire Sydney about a wedding project. Out of fear, I decided to reject it. Not all countries are as strict as Australia in regards to freelance workers like us. But in the case of Australia, all I can say is get an appropriate visa before you go. I was very lucky to get passed them at immigration.

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