The end of the year is near, Christmas is on the horizon, and work is ramping up to the final push before the holidays begin, which is often a peak travel time.

Given New Zealand’s geographical location, for many kiwis that travel, flying is an inevitable part of travel. Travelling and ‘the great kiwi OE’ has become something regarded as a rite of passage.

Whether you are planning an intrepid expedition, or something closer to home, here are some handy legal travel tips to help you enjoy the summer break as much as possible.

Visas

Planning a trip overseas?  Before booking your tickets check and double-check entry visa requirements for every country you plan to visit.

New Zealand passport holders are lucky. As at July 2018, New Zealand citizens had visa free or visa on arrival access to 182 countries, and is currently ranked seventh in the world in terms of travel freedom.

However, that ease of travel afforded to New Zealand citizens can easily trip intrepid kiwis into assuming a visa is not required when, in fact, it is. Not having the right visa, or no visa, can prevent you from entering the country, or even checking in for your flight. Visa requirements are the traveller’s personal responsibility, and airlines or insurers will not take responsibility for missed connections resulting from visa issues.

Coming back into New Zealand, the same applies. When travelling on a New Zealand or Australian passport, re-entering New Zealand will generally not be a problem. But travellers on any other passport should ensure that it is endorsed with their New Zealand citizenship, or (if not a citizen) that their visa conditions allow them to return to New Zealand.

For residence class visa holders, check the travel conditions of your visa. If you have a travel condition on your residence visa, and you are outside New Zealand after the expiry of that travel condition, you may not be allowed re-entry (even though a residence visa allows indefinite stay while in New Zealand). If in doubt, check with Immigration New Zealand, or an immigration lawyer or adviser before your depart.

Non-refundable fares, travel insurance, and flight disruptions

Ever booked a cheaper non-refundable ticket refusing to pay extra for that flexibility you didn’t think you would need, and then turned up late at check-in with that sinking feeling as you read ‘check-in closed’ on the departure board?  Or perhaps there has been an unforeseen event that means you cannot travel as planned?

If you hold travel insurance (and you should) check your policy. Most travel insurance policies will provide some cover for situations beyond your control. That does not include lateness to the airport (unless you were late because you were involved in a car accident on the way to the airport), or visa issues (as discussed above).

Missed flights caused by connecting flight disruptions, such as mechanical faults, weather events, and crew resourcing, are normally not covered and should be compensated for by your airline. How and when an airline covers these will be found in the applicable fare conditions in your ticket, and applicable international conventions, and domestic laws (airlines often publish a summary on their website).

Be careful when booking flights. It’s often cheaper (and therefore tempting) to avoid higher fares by separately booking and ticketing flight sectors instead of booking a through ticket. You do this at your own risk, and your airline will not be liable for a missed connection with another airline (or even the same airline) if that connection has been separately booked.

If you have lost the use of the fare (through lack of insurance or otherwise), all is not totally lost. While you can kiss good bye to the base airfare, passengers are entitled to claim back other charges and taxes paid in advance with the ticket, but not actually incurred. Again, check with your airline about what policies it has around this. Often taxes such as GST (which is charged and payable on the sale of the ticket) are not refundable.

Other charges like airport landing charges and levies, civil aviation charges, border clearance levies and security charges, which are usually collected by the airline on behalf of the relevant authority and payable per passenger actually travelling, are all refundable if you don’t actually fly.

These charges, although small on their own, do add up and it may be worth claiming a refund. However, some airlines do charge an ‘administration fee’ for processing the refund, and cancelling out any potential refund!

Overseas laws, cultures and customs

It goes without saying that you must abide by the laws of the country that you are in at all times.

That said, travellers may find unexpected and unpleasant surprises in some countries which have laws which we would not expect back home.

Common sense applies. Study the culture and the norms of the country that you are visiting.

Some things like sexual orientation and gender identity, public displays of affection, dress, and even how you use (or fail to use) religious symbols can land you in a prison cell.

While New Zealand’s laws recognise personal freedoms, that won’t protect you from the laws and applicable penalties in the country you are visiting.

Do not expect the New Zealand government to get you off a criminal charge, negotiate your release from custody, or even request for you to serve any sentence in New Zealand.

Our government can provide consular assistance, which is a recognised right under international law, and this includes putting you in contact with local English speaking lawyers, and assisting with contacting family, transferring private funds to pay for legal costs, bail bonds, deportation costs, or medical expenses.

It pays to take note of the contact details of the nearest New Zealand Embassy or High Commission, so you can make contact in case you do unexpectedly end up in trouble.

All of this may leave you wanting to stay firmly put in Aotearoa, but by packing (along with your passport), an open mind and flexibility, some preparedness, and some knowledge about your legal rights and obligations, you will be well on track for a great experience.