Adventures Getting an Electronic Australian Visa


Liz and I are getting ready for our big trip to Australia on Monday. Part of getting ready is of course making sure we have the right visas. Our goal was to not repeat New Zealand (which was still a wonderful trip). Despite Australia, New Zealand, and Canada all being Commonwealth countries, we do need visas for both. The main goal for Australia is to speak and exhibit at Debbie Ireland’s Digital Workplace Conference, but since we’re going so far, we’re adding a few weeks of travel in as well.

We went to New Zealand in February for the same reasons, and Liz had the right visa, but I of course checked the wrong box and got a visa for transiting through New Zealand instead of visiting and was denied boarding in Toronto. Thankfully I had us there very early (not my norm) and I was able to call New Zealand from the check in counter and sort the visa out. I still managed to forget my iPad at the check-in, but Air Canada was good and brought it through to the gate for me. Too bad Liz’s jacket we left on the Auckland leg never found it’s way back to us. However, I’m rambling.

The simplest approach is to load the Australia ETA App on your phone and apply electronically. To do this you need to use your phone camera to scan the passport and take a selfie, and also scan the RFID chip in your passport with your phone. This is where it gets tricky. Both Liz and my chips in our passports have not been working for years, both in Canada and at foreign border controls. We’ve asked many times, but no one has figured out why. Coming back from New Zealand we even got pulled out into Canadian immigration, where they checked our passports and recommended we get new ones. We also have Nexus and that always wants us to scan our passports, which also never works.

Canadian Passport and Nexus Card

We debated getting new passports, but with three weeks to leaving decided to do the long form visa application. It got complicated as they needed personal banking records, proof of employment, and scans of all our passport pages with the past visas. I kept putting off (they said they only needed 12 hours to process), and suddenly it was only a week to departure. I wrapped up the paperwork, only to discover that instead of the $20 each ETA fee, it was going to be $190 each.

My 10 year passport only has 9 months to expiry, so I have to renew it soon. Liz has more than two years left, so technically they can refuse to renew. We decided to do it anyways, and Liz headed off to Kitchener to do expedited renewals. She got grief on the early renewal despite explaining the situation, but they were proceeding on hers after a few hours wait in the queue. Turns out you need to do the expedited in person, so I headed out to meet her there to do mine.

To Service Canada’s credit, they decided to renew Liz’s passport without charge since the chip had failed, which apparently almost never happens. It was kind of like lightning striking twice with both passports failing, so Liz pressed to understand what we might have done to have it happen to both. They had already sent it to the back to the tech to investigate, but he hadn’t found anything. Liz then pointed out that I had taped our Nexus card sleeves into the back of our passports to keep them safe and was wondering if that was the cause. They removed the sleeve, and the passport chip started working.

Turns out the Nexus card sleeves I had taped in are copper lined and RFID blocking. I didn’t realize Nexus cards also have an RFID chip in them. I had tried taking the card out of the passport when scanning, but not the sleeve.

I still need to renew my passport when I get back, but I don’t have to pay the extra $110 for next day rush service. I also still need to find somewhere safe to keep my Nexus card, but otherwise the ETA app worked great, and Australia confirmed our visas less than 12 hours after applying.

Moral of the story – if you see someone with their Nexus card holder taped into their passport, don’t think it is a good idea and copy them. In fact, you might want to let them know the grief they could be in for.

Australia here we come.

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