It took all of about 5 minutes online to complete. From the comfort of my home office, no trip downtown to the consulate or embassy or worse, having to mail off sensitive documents, hope they get there and hope again that they come back in time for the trip itself. No standing in line, praying that all the documents and photos they'll need are on hand and in order. No pulling the wrong forms, filling out the right ones incorrectly or trying and failing to print legibly.
None of that. This was an "ETA," otherwise known as an Electronic Travel Authority, issued by Australia. Somewhat cold and impersonal in not having to interact with a human being but I'll take that trade off for indifferent government workers, crowds, lines and the fact that I didn't have to go anywhere or mail anything off before my upcoming vacation. I mean, literally five minutes of my time and I'm all set for my paperwork to enter the land Down Under. Of course, I'll bring a printed copy of the approval just in case.
I consider my passport to be of greater personal value than my driver's license. To be able to come and go freely from my country and in to others is truly closer to a God-given birthright than simply being a citizen of any one country. Where I do have my passport, which allows me to enter and leave my own nation, some countries also require a visa which is their permission to actually cross their borders. Strange, but there it is.
Stranger still is the seemingly sudden new found wealth that countries have discovered can be had by charging for the privilege of entering their territory. A few go farther still by not only charging to ask permission by way of the visa application fee but charging again for the stamp of approval itself. Where it really seems to have gotten out of hand is the plethora of other charges that come with entering one country or another, on top of any fees and service charges the airline might want as well!
So far no one seems to have begun charging for potable water either onboard or at the final destination but, just as it is fast and easy to use, the Australian ETA is free as of this writing and cheapest to obtain via the do-it-yourself embassy web service at less than $20 to apply. I say apply because the service warns the applicant of no refunds if the request is denied. Otherwise, once approved, so long as the data entered matches that in my passport upon arrival in Australia I should be good to go.
There are some who grouse that ever-increasing fees from both the airlines and the countries we wish to visit will curtail travel in general. It certainly feels that way in the current economy and it also suggests that the fees will not go away once customers are flush with cash again. The truth of the matter from where I sit is that those who wish to travel even in these present times will do so, fees or no fees. And where today's fees are most likely geared towards simply maintaining cash flow, when the economy rebounds, the airlines, hotels, restaurants and attractions will probably raise or introduce new fees to help curb demand.
I just hope more countries who also require visas will catch up to the Australian example and at least make applying for a visa quick and easy, if not necessarily as affordable to obtain.