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At the very least, you can expect your visitor driver privileges to be permanently withdrawn until the fine is paid.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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