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The Australian government website states with regard to the ETA:

There is no visa application charge for an ETA. However, a service charge of AUD20 applies for online applications only.

Yet, nowhere on any Australian government website could I find instructions on how one might make an offline application. (It's almost as if the Commonwealth wants me to pay them AU$20)

I am an American citizen (living in the US). How can I go about making an offline application, and avoid paying the AU$20?

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    Just a note, but that line doesn't necessarily suggest that any offline process has no fee, just that it won't be charged that fee. The offline process may attract a higher fee... – Moo Aug 11 '17 at 22:12
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The How to apply section of the web site cited by the OP shows how one could apply "offline":

Lodge your application in person

If you hold an eligible citizen passport but cannot lodge your application online, you can apply:

  • at your nearest office [of the Department] outside Australia
  • with a travel agent, airline or specialist service provider.

European passport holders also have the option of applying online for an eVisitor visa (subclass 651), rather than an ETA.

  • Awesome! Now to find a Department of Immigration and Border protection office in the US... – user65735 Aug 12 '17 at 4:29
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    I wonder if the travel agent / airline / etc has some special entry into the system, or if they'd just be typing your data into the same online application on your behalf (and being charged $20, which they'd turn around and collect from you). – Nate Eldredge Aug 12 '17 at 4:30
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As electronic is the operative word, it is an online tool, and not something for which there is a embassy or consulate function where you might be able to be handed an authorization to enter Australia. That process would be done through visa application, and not be cost free.

An Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) provides authorisation to travel to and enter Australia and is electronically linked to your passport.

  • All Australian visas are electronically linked to passports, yet many of those have paper forms and don't allow online applications. I don't see how your logic follows – user65735 Aug 11 '17 at 17:06
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    @suitvertices are you asking if Americans should receive privileged treatment based on their nationality and global standing? Would you please clarify? Thanks! – Gayot Fow Aug 11 '17 at 17:46
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    @GayotFow Absolutely not! I'm asking if the "offline" methods referenced in Australian government documentation (often with regards to travel agencies and airlines) can be used by an individual – user65735 Aug 11 '17 at 18:45
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    Since the documentation refers to the possibility of an offline application, I want to know if that's a practical possibility, or just Australia pretending they don't have a fee. – user65735 Aug 11 '17 at 18:46
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    @GayotFow: He was just proactively giving us information that might be needed to answer if it turned out that there's an alternative application route that applies to some nationalities or countries of residence. (Just like when every other person who asks about transit visas explains prominently the exact number of hours their layover will last for, because they don't know which time limits there are which may be relevant). – Henning Makholm Aug 11 '17 at 21:09
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Australia ETA can be applied through the Australian government website (AUD 20 service fee) or through your travel agent. The travel agent may charge a fee.

http://hongkong.china.embassy.gov.au/hkng/VISMG_ETA.html

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