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QUT Student who studies Information Systems in a dark academia setting. Lives on coffee, strawberries and binge-watching anime.

Public transport tips for international students in Australia 

Navigating your way around a new city in a new country away from home can be a difficult adjustment. The struggles of using public transport to get from your apartment to campus or tackling Google maps just to get to the nearest supermarket can be difficult during the first few weeks after moving abroad to study.

Needless to say, almost all international students have gone through these hardships. it’s really common to feel nervous.

To future students who are making the move to study abroad and feel concerned about finding their way around in a new city, here are some of my tips you can follow to help you feel confident with getting around your new city in Australia.


Read up articles

When moving to a new country, reading and researching about your new city is essential.

There is a lot of information readily available on the internet so you will be able to read up on what transport is available in the area you’re moving to, and what are the rules for using the public transport system.

Public transportation is essential since traveling is compulsory when living abroad, and most importantly, since many international students won’t have access to private transportation, then it’s important to adjust to public transportation as soon as you arrive.

Public transport can be quite tricky to figure out at first as different countries and cities follow different structures and schedules. Also, the public transport etiquettes can be quite different from country to country as well, therefore, researching before arriving is a good way to prepare.

Organise your Travel card

From country to country, and state to state, the public transport services differ. In Australia, each major city has their own system. For example, In Brisbane the travel card is known as Go card while in Melbourne the travel card is known as the Myki card.

Travel cards can typically be purchased in many convenience stores near your university or at any 7/11. Travel cards can cost around AU$20–30 dollars for the card and some base travel credit and will need to be topped up when your credit starts to run low.

Toping up your travel card can be done online, at the major bus, railway or tram stations or at any 7/11 store. It’s wise to purchase a travel card since it’s easier, convenient and cheaper when compared to buying bus tickets every time you travel.

In cities such as Melbourne in Victoria, buying a travel card is essential to using the public transport network as you will not be able to pay for your fare directly to the driver or purchase temporary passes.


Understand the different public transport types

The different public transportation types in Australia are buses, trains, ferries and trams, and each will have a slightly different system to record your fare.

When you get on a bus, you will need to tap on and then tap off when you exit so your travel card can be charged for the trip.

Trams and ferries are similar to buses as well, except during peak times you may not be required to tap off on trams since this can hold up traffic.

It’s best to double-check the tap-on/tap-off requirements when you organise your travel card to avoid confusion and possible fines.

At train stations, there are platforms with relevant machines near or at the entrances and exits where you will tap on and off. Some train stations will have gated entry, which forces you to tap on and off, and some will be more open entry.

Regardless, it’s important to remember you must tap in and tap off otherwise you can end up with a fine since there may be inspectors who will check your travel card.

Travel costs may vary so it’s important to check on the relevant public transport websites for your city or at any major train, tram, bus or ferry stations.

Get your student concession

When you enter university, there are many perks that come with it.  One that sits on top of the list is student concession cards. In Australia, there are many student concessions and one of them is for public transportation.

This means you can get discounted public transport for the duration of your studies. Some states have restrictions on the types of courses and institutions that are eligible for concession transport, so it’s vital to double-check your concession eligibility with your university.

If you are eligible for concession public transport, then your first step is to create an account and apply for student concession.

You may need to organise your university student ID first or download and print a form from your university to prove that you are an eligible full-time student.

Typically, the price of your travel journeys will be reduced by half, which is a huge benefit since traveling can be expensive.

Remember, it’s better to apply for a concession as soon as you arrive since applying for concessions is part of the process of settling in as a university student.

Understand public transportation etiquette

Following the set of manners when traveling in a new country is essential and it develops a sense of gratitude and awareness. In Australia, a quick ‘thank you’ to the driver when getting down from the bus or tram is common and practiced by many.

Some public transport types will have limits on eating. Consumption of food and beverages are not allowed inside many public transportation venues or transport types so it will not disrupt the cleanliness and for convenience.

Again, it’s important to be familiar with the rules of each transport type in the city you’re living in.

Smoking is prohibited inside all public transport types and stations as well. If you’re using a wheelchair or a trolley, then always make sure to use the front section of trains, which are dedicated to passengers with disabilities.

There are also seats dedicated to people with special needs on each tram, train, ferry and bus but quite often these can be taken up, so always be kind enough to offer your seat to elderly or disabled passengers and pregnant mothers if there is no space.

It’s also good to be aware of your surroundings and be conscious. Bicycles cannot be taken inside buses but can be taken in trains (but not during peak hours).

And since you will probably be carrying a backpack for uni, it’s common courtesy and a requirement to take your backpack off and leave in on the ground between your feet during peak times so it doesn’t knock people or take up additional space.


Become familiar with public transportation schedules

The best way to check your public transport schedule and keep track with the numbers or names of the buses, trams, trains and ferries near you is to download the app.

In Brisbane the app is called translink, which is the name of the public transportation service. In Melbourne, it’s called PTV and in Sydney it’s called Opal Travel.

To find out about what app to download, you can check your city’s public transport website or get in touch with your university for advice.

The public transport app will allow you to plan your journeys. It’ll show you the time schedule, transportation type and route number you have to take to reach your destination.

The times and schedules are also always displayed at the stations or at the tram and bus stops, therefore, it’s easy to find your way.

The app will also show you the travel map and is very important when traveling. You can use Google maps as a GPS to guide you to your specific destination from the train, tram or bus stop if you prefer.

Getting around with public transport in a new city can be quite scary at first. But, the more you travel, the more familiar you will be with the public transportation system, therefore, it will be a lot easier to get around.

Remember, it’s common to be nervous and get lost. It’s okay to get down from the wrong stop and walk another 30 minutes to get to the destination because mistakes can happen and you’re adapting to a new city.

We’ve all experienced that when we first arrived too so it’s important to remember that you’re not alone.

Did you find this article helpful?

You can explore more stories by international students in our blog.


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