Ask LH: Can Australia Make Me Pay Traffic Fines If I Live Overseas?

Ask LH: Can Australia Make Me Pay Traffic Fines If I Live Overseas?

Dear Lifehacker, I live in the USA. I was driving in Australia last Autumn and got four tickets in the course of one day from highway cameras equalling $1000 in fines. I can’t afford to pay this, so I haven’t. Is there any recourse that the AU government can take against me back in the USA? Thanks, Karen

Dear Karen,

First off, the usual caveats apply: we aren’t lawyers and you should probably contact a professional for a definitive answer. With that out of the way, here are the laws as we understand them.

Australian states and territories have clear processes in place to pursue the non-payment of fines issued to international drivers. However, the effectiveness of these processes depends on whether you have any financial ties to Australia.

For example, here are the deterrents proffered by the NSW government on its LawAccess website:

State Debt Recovery (SDR) may suspend your Australian driver’s licence, cancel the registration of any vehicles you own in Australia, take money from (garnish) your Australian bank account, take property you have in Australia or put a charge on any land you own in Australia.

Obviously, for the above to be enforceable, you need to actually own a bank account, driver’s licence, vehicle or property/land in Australia. Your US assets and bank accounts should be safe.

To actively pursue you in the US, the relevant agency would need to take out a warrant of arrest. These are only issued for serious infractions: an unpaid traffic fine doesn’t qualify.

With that said, your fines will not be swept under the carpet. The unpaid penalties will remain on file and could come back to haunt you if you ever return to Australia. As the SDR warns:

Once an overdue fines is issued, State Debt Recovery can enforce it any time, even if it is for an offence that you committed many years ago.

At the very least, you can expect your visitor driver privileges to be permanently withdrawn until the fine is paid. State road authorities can also ban you from applying for an Australian licence and restrict certain business dealings within Australia.

If you’re extremely unlucky, the outstanding fines could also be flagged by customs officials when you attempt to return to the country. This could result in your entry being barred until the fines are paid.

On the other hand, if you never intend to visit Australia again, there’s not much our government can do about your unpaid fines. You intercontinental rebel, you.


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  • In 1998 I was visiting Victoria from QLD, and got a jaywalking fine, which I never paid. Nothing has ever come of it.

    • I can honestly say that is the first case of jaywalking I have ever heard of being fined for. I know they can do it and are within their rights to do so, but I have never actually seen it pursued in 30 years living here.

      Figures it would be the Vic police to do it, too 😛

      • You clearly don’t live in NSW. I often see police in Sydney CBD fining jaywalkers. It’s big business here.

      • My Dad got booked for Jaywalking in the 1970’s walking home intoxicated from the pub one night. Probably didn’t help that he most likely mouthed off to the officer (he says he didn’t but knowing him, I bet he did). Took it to court to contest the fine with a well known lawyer representing him (a mate of his) and the judge laughed it off.

        Still the only person I know directly to get booked for Jaywalking.

  • I returned to Australia after five years away to find that a parking ticket (not attached to my car) had accrued some astounding additional penalties, and my driver’s license was suspended until it was paid. As there was no way to prove innocence – and SDR is pretty much incommunicado outside of an expensive court appearance – there was no choice but to cough up.

    • hey i am actually in the same situation. i got a speeding fine 2 years before which i didnt pay and left the country. now i am planning to come back next month. will i be stopped at the immigration in australia or arrested?
      if you can tell me how did they asked you to pay.

      • I wasn’t aware of the fine until I went to renew my driver’s license. The RTA had my email address for years and didn’t bother to try to contact me with it. But that’s pretty common: I had a similar experience with a Telstra bill a few years later, and Telstra made no attempt to contact me despite having my email, my phone number and a local physical address from which mail was forwarded overseas. Of course Telstra is a bad example, as they’re inexperienced in the field of communications.

  • The other way around is relevant too, though it’d be hard to cover every other different country Australians probably do have fines in.
    I got a fine in America, I simply couldn’t read a thing the officer had written on it including the ID number so I couldn’t do anything about it. By the time I got back to Australia a few weeks later they’d already declared I’d failed to pay and given me a court date which I’d just missed.
    I usually forget about it, but there’s probably a record of some sort waiting for me in America.

    • In the US (California at least) if you get pulled over you may be asked to pay on the spot, i.e. pull out a credit card or you are not going anywhere.

      • Sounds like a corrupt officer or individual impersonating an officer could easily exploit that system.

      • Yeah, no. That’s hella illegal. You only pay after you get a notice in the mail.

    • Went to Vegas with some mates a few years ago. One of the guys had a very big night. Ended up getting taken to hospital. Spent the early hours of the morning recovering on a gurney getting a couple of bags of saline.

      From my memory he paid about $1k on the spot at discharge in the morning. Then the fun began! Because the Hospital required him to fill out forms they had all his residential information. Back in Aus, over the next couple of months bills from Vegas started rolling in. Got one for the ambulance that was about $2k, got one for the ‘medication’ he received which was about another $2k, got a couple more for who knows what but ended up totalling about $8k!

      He toyed with the idea of not paying them, but at the end of the day, being 25 years old realised it would likely hurt his chances to travel to the US in the future. Ended up being a very expensive night in Vegas!

      • Yeah I would not pay that. It would probably go to collections who buy out debts super cheap. You could bargain paying a massively discounted rate to them to cover their costs but I would not feed bottom scum. No way would this hurt your chances of returning.

        Either way, did you not have any travel insurance?

        • Travel Insurance doesn’t cover drugs and alcohol. They asked to see his toxicology reports which were another $1000 if he wanted them and him knowing he was drunk it was pointless.

  • Write back to the traffic authorities and say it was your “friend” driving the vehicle. He lives on an oil rig in Sakhalin. Bloody revenue raising 🙁

  • You incurred the fines, pay the the penalty, quite easy.
    Civic responsibility is what is required not a cop out.

    • That’s the thing though, the person in question isn’t a citizen (presumably), they aren’t even a permanent resident! In this instance there is no “civic responsibility”.

      You could argue that there is a responsibility to represent your own community in the best light by adhering to the civic duties of the country you are visiting, but at the same time, if you can get away with it, why not? Not like it will affect you or your community in any way.

  • State traffic police authority ends at the border. After that, they have to negotiate with the associated jurisdiction to attempt to enforce it. 99.99% of the time, it is too much effort just to enforce a fine and they will just let it lie until you come back in their jurisdiction.

  • Is the Australian Government gonna chase you to America? Unlikely for just $1k

    However, You will mostly have a warrant or a mark placed against your name so as soon as you enter Australia you will be arrested for failing to pay the fine. Which will be much more than $1k at that time.

    Pay it, Unless you never want to visit Australia again.

  • Be aware, if you rent a car, you have probably signed that the company can use your credit card details to pay the fine. And that they can charge an administration fee to do this. This happened recently when we were informed by a rental car company in Italy that they billed me ~$80 to supply my details to an Italian authority (8 months after an alleged event on Italian roads that I know nothing about). Yet to see anything from this authority.

    • I had a Sydney car rental company charge my card for a parking fine for a suburb I had not been to when I wasn’t even in the country. Unfortunately to contest that required returning to Australia which would have cost $000s more.

  • There was an advertising campagn a few years ago saying fines don’t go away. The agency may not do much at first but penalties can accumulate.
    I’m told that parking fines can eventually cause your vehicle’s registration to be suspended, but this is irrelevant if you live overseas.

  • If you get a ticket in Victoria and leave to another state, it will eventually become a warrant. While it may not chase you to other states, trust me, when you come back to Victoria and get pulled over or checked by police you will probably be arrested. Just pay it…do the crime do the time…or something like that.

  • They can if they were motivated – they’d just need to engage a debt collection company in the US.

    Did you rent a car? Because if so, I’m surprised the rental company didn’t charge your credit card.

    If you couldn’t afford the fines, why did you break our traffic rules?

    Finally, if it were me, I’d contact the authorities and work out a payment plan. Since they’re unlikely to pursue you, it’ll gives you time to pay off the debt and allows you to return to Aus in the future (and quite frankly, it’s the honourable thing to do).

    • “If you couldn’t afford the fines, why did you break our traffic rules?”

      Fuck your traffic rules, putting up mobile speed cams is a pussy way to issue tickets. I get a ticket when I am out of the country and now have no way to fight it because I am not there. They can shove that speeding ticket and the speed cam right up their Aussie asses! Fuck them and their mothers!

  • My wife and kids recently traveled to Australia. On returning to the States, my wife received a camera ticket for $884.00 in Woodburn, NSW. If the ticket is legitimate, my wife contends she does not speed, I can pay the fine. The fine amount seems excessive; is this the norm in Australia?

    • I know this post was a few months ago, but anyway if you got a ticket in Woodburn it was likely for exceeding a 50kmph limit. Judging by the fine it seems she was clocked doing at least 80kmph (30km over limit). The fixed speed camera sits not too far inside the town’s speed limit so it could be quite easy to find yourself doing that speed when coming into town or speeding up to exit.
      Penalties for Speeding in NSW
      Exceed speed limit by: Demerit Points Light Vehicles
      Not more than 10 km/h 1 $114
      More than 10 km/h but not more than 20 km/h 3 $265
      More than 20 km/h but not more than 30 km/h 4 $455
      More than 30 km/h but not more than 45 km/h 5 $872 3 months loss of license(minimum)
      More than 45 km/h 6 $2,350 6 months loss of license(minimum)

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