Australian Border Force: All You Need to Know

australian border force

The Australian Broder Force (ABF) is the law enforcement agency responsible for the protection of Australian borders and the safety of travellers. Anyone who visits Australia from abroad has their luggage, documents, and Australian visa checked by an ABF officer at the border.

At the core of the ABF values is national security. Thanks to border checks and the control of goods and people’s movement in and out of the Australian territory, the Australian Border Force contributes to the safety of anyone on Australian soil, citizens and foreign nationals alike.

In this article, readers will learn about the ABF and what it does. Moreover, they will find out in which circumstances they may deal with an ABF agent and what to expect at the Australian border.

What Is the Australian Border Force?

The Australian Border Force is part of the Department of Home Affairs. It was created in 2015 after merging 2 agencies, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and part of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, specifically, the office responsible for immigration detention and compliance functions.

The ABF is responsible for the protection of Australian borders. These include:

  • About 37 thousand km of coastline and an offshore zone covering 10 million square km of ocean (about 23 thousand miles of coastline and over 6 million square miles of ocean)
  • Major and regional international airports
  • More than 60 international seaports

The Australian Border Force work is made of several control operations of trade and international movement. These include:

  • Mail inspection (1.1 million items checked each week)
  • Air passenger clearance (750 thousand passengers checked each week)
  • Ship clearance (700 ships checked each week)
  • Seizure of unlawful drug import (850 seizures each week)
  • Location of unlawful foreign nationals (300 individuals located each week)
  • Water patrols (2.3 million square nautical miles patrolled each week)

Do Australian Border Force carry guns?

Some ABF officers are authorised to carry guns. In 2016, about 15% of all officers were firearms trained. The Australian government has a training plan in place that will allow this number to increase to 25% of ABF officers by the end of 2020.

The ABF Role at the Airport

Incoming passengers will be checked by the Australian Border Force officers upon arrival and before leaving the country. This will happen both at international airports and seaports.

The ABF officers will make sure to:

  • Check the identity of all travellers
  • Go through the travel documents of all passengers
  • Examine the luggage of all passengers to ensure that they comply with the Australian customs regulations.
  • Seize items that do not follow the regulations and/or are prohibited (this may include, for example, tobacco products, drugs, images, wildlife, and more.) The ABF may use detector dog teams at the airport to identify illegal goods
  • Ensure that visitors comply with currency import/export regulations

In order to facilitate ABF operations, all travellers coming from abroad must fill out an Incoming Passenger Card form upon arrival. Usually, this card is provided by the airline and can be completed on the plane in minutes.

ABF officers work with Australian counter-terrorism authorities to identify potential threats, collect and share information of intelligence value, and detect and seize prohibited items and materials.

ETA and eVisitor: Do I have to show my Australian visa to the ABF?

The Australian Electronic Travel Authority (also known as ETA, visa subclass 601) and the eVisitor visa (visa subclass 561) are 2 electronic visas. This means that they are electronically linked to the passport of their holder.

Eligible international travellers can apply for an electronic visa for Australia entirely online. The request only takes minutes to complete. If their application is successful, they will receive their ETA or eVisitor visa via email.

The Australian Border Force officers check the visa of all incoming passengers through a secure electronic system. This means that visitors must provide their passport and/or other relevant documents to an ABF officer, who will then look up the foreign national’s information in the system.

Passengers can decide to print proof of their approved ETA or eVisitor visa (as to say, the confirmation email they have received) for peace of mind but it is not always necessary to show this to the ABF.

International and Australian visitors are required to collaborate with the ABF at all times. This may include showing travel documents, answering potential questions regarding their circumstances and travel plans, and allowing the Australian Border Force officers to examine their luggage.