We’ve had a few questions about which countries we needed visas for, and how we were able to stay so long in New Zealand and particularly Australia. Here are the details on the visas we did apply for and how the overall process worked out for us.
Of all the countries we’ve visited so far (Kiribati, French Polynesia, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Zealand and Australia), only Australia has required a visa prior to arrival. Most other countries issue a visitor’s permit or visa upon arrival. Each country has it’s own rules about how long you can stay, typically limited to three months, although sometimes shorter. The stay limit wasn’t a problem for most of the places we’ve visited so far, but we did plan to be in New Zealand for six-eight months and their standard visitor visa granted on entry is limited to three months.
New Zealand will issue a new three-month visa on each entry to the country, limited to nine months in an eighteen-month period. So we could have left and re-entered by air to extend our visit. But we didn’t want to be forced to re-enter every three months, so we applied for six-month visas while we were in Honolulu. This was a several-week process that required sending our application, along with our passports, to the New Zealand visa processing center in Los Angeles.
We got our visas back and were all set. The only problem was that although we were granted multi-entry visas, the labels incorrectly specified single-entry, among other errors. (The visa application didn’t actually have a specific place to request multi-entry. Applicants need to explicitly request this and include an itinerary that indicates multiple entries into the country.) We didn’t have time to send our passports back in before we left Hawaii, so we had to wait until we were in New Zealand to get the labels fixed.
While we were in Whangarei, we made a road trip to the visa office in Auckland where they issued new labels. That’s why the label in the above photo is dated Oct 22, 2013, several weeks after our Sept 30th arrival into New Zealand. These visas had an expiry travel date (the last date we could use them to enter or re-enter the country) of February 22, 2014. This is one year after the visas originally were issued.
The six-month New Zealand visas worked well for us. We made one return trip together to the US from New Zealand in November of 2013, giving us another six months in the country, until May of 2014. James returned alone briefly in early May of 2014 and was issued a new three-month visa on re-entry because the six-month visa wasn’t valid for entry beyond February of 2014. He couldn’t technically stay in the country for that full three months however, as that would exceed the nine months in eighteen limit. We then exited the country shortly after he returned. If we only had three-month visas, we would have had to leave and re-enter the country in February of 2013 when we were travelling through Fiordland. This would have been a major inconvenience, as there’s really nowhere to leave the boat and fly in and out. Even with the six-month visas, Jennifer’s was within two weeks of expiring when we exited New Zealand and she had been receiving reminder mail from Immigration New Zealand about it.
With respect to visas, Australia is quite different from all the other countries we’d be visiting. First, Australia requires a visa for visitors from most countries except New Zealand. And second, Australia has no defined limit on how long you can be in the country, so long as you’re still considered a visitor.
Prior to entering Australia, we were issued 12-month multi-entry subclass 600 visitor visas. This visa allowed us to stay in the country for up to 12 months after every entry. The Australian immigration web site doesn’t give much detail about how to apply for this, but in the online visitor visa application there’s a “Proposed period of stay” where we specified our initial entry and final departure dates (these don’t need to be exact), and for the “Length of stay in Australia” we selected “Up to 12 months”. And there’s a freeform text section where you can “Give details of any significant dates on which the applicant needs to be in Australia”. Here we said we would be visiting by yacht and how long we planned to be in the country for and that we would need a multi-entry visa to allow us to return to the US while we were there.
The visas had a “Must Not Arrive After” date which is one year from the date the visa was issued. There’s a lot of confusion (both inside and outside Australia Immigration) as to what that date means, but the bottom line is you cannot enter or re-enter the country after the “Must Not Arrive After” date. We applied for our visas on Nov 16th, 2013 and they were issued on Nov 18, 2013. So we could entry any time up to Nov 18, 2014, but couldn’t enter or re-enter after that date. We first entered Australia in May of 2014 and returned to the US in July of 2014, re-entering Australia in August of 2014 on that visa. At that point, we could remain in Australia for 12 months, until August of 2015. But we had to make a subsequent return trip to the US that would have us coming back into Australia after Nov 18, 2014. So we applied for a second visa while we were back in the US on that November trip and were issued new 12-month multi-entry visas. These have “Must Not Arrive After” dates of Nov 13th, 2015.
A later application date on those first visas would have given us more flexibility on that “Must Not Arrive After” date, but getting another visa wasn’t that difficult. For US citizens, the visa processing is paperless and online and generally is super-fast. Both sets of visa applications were processed within three days. We also uploaded a swack of supporting documentation (financials etc). We’re not sure if that helped or not. And in our case, because we needed to make a third return trip to the US in July of 2015, we’d have had to apply for a new visa anyway because the lastest possible “Must Not Arrive After” date on that first visa would have been May of 2015 for our initial May of 2014 entry into the country.
We asked Australian Immigration about limits on total length of stay in Australia, and were told that there’s no offical limit so long as you’re still classified as a visitor. You have to leave at least every 12 months (or whatever the maximum stay period is on your visa). But you can apparently just keep applying for new visas. This must be done outside the country–when you’re in Australia all you can do is extend the existing visa.
While in Australia, we also needed to get our passports updated. When you travel as much as we do, this is actually more difficult to organize than one might expect. We rarely return to the US for more than two weeks at a time, so renewing them there is difficult as the processing times are 4-6 weeks standard, 3 weeks expedited, or possibly 8 days expedited based on need. None except the last option would work for us, and even if we could get that assuredly, 8 days still is a little tight. Handling this while in Australia turned out to be remarkably efficient and straightforward with the US Consulate’s committed 2-3 weeks processing time. We mailed our applications from Hobart to the Melbourne US Consulate, and the new passports were waiting for us in Melbourne when we arrived in town. (Melbourne-resident David Newnham, owner of Nordhavn 62 Celebrate, had offered to accept mail for us, which included our passports and a small part.) Once we received the new passports, we updated our visa information online with Australia Immigration.
That got us into Australia for more than a year. The boat, however, is given only a one-year duty free entry called a control permit. This can be be extended for up to three years. After that, you have to either remove the boat from the country or import it and pay taxes. We extended our control permit once, about eleven months after we arrived. This was a quick and easy process–we just sent an email to Brisbane customs (our port of entry) requesting the extension and got it within a couple of days. Australia Customs requires a quick email giving the boat’s location every three months or when you arrive at a designated Port of Entry. The fact we’d been keeping up with ours seemed to help with the extension.
We’re not sure when we’ll next need to apply for a visa to enter a country. We’ll only be staying for a short period in the next two countries: Mauritius and perhaps Reunion. Neither requires a visa in advance for US citizens. After that, South Africa issues a 90-day visitor visa to those arriving by yacht. This apparently can be extended with difficulty, but we’re hoping not to need to.