This is when, where and how you’ll be able to travel overseas from November
Since last March, speculation, best guesses and whataboutery has been just about the best anyone could manage when it came to pinpointing when Australia’s international borders would reopen. But now we know for sure: in November 2021.
There are a couple of things that need to happen first, including trials of a new seven-day, at-home quarantine model, and travelling privileges will only be permitted for the fully vaccinated, at least at first. But after infamously saying that Australians were in no rush to travel overseas (or get vaccinated) earlier this year, the prime minister has done a backflip and accelerated the reintroduction of international departure and entry in Australia, saying “It’s time to give Australians their lives back.”
When will borders reopen?
Once a state’s population is 80 per cent vaccinated, borders can reopen, on a state-by-state basis. However, while NSW, as the nation’s most vaccinated state, is set to reach this threshold by October 16, the aforementioned trials and vaccination passport infrastructure will not be finalised until November, so we’ll have to wait until then to dust off our suitcases.
Who will be allowed to travel?
For now, only people who have been fully vaccinated on outbound journeys. A QR code-supported vaccine passport that will be recognised worldwide, much like a visa, will make trying to board a flight without being inoculated virtually impossible. Unvaccinated Australian citizens and residents will be allowed to return home to Australia, however.
Provided the planned pilot works as expected, returning Australians who have been fully vaccinated will be able to quarantine from home for just seven days, rather than undergo the costly process of hotel quarantine, which currently runs up a bill in excess of $4,000 for a two-week isolation. However, those who have not been vaccinated or who have received a vaccine that has not been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) will still have to enter 14-day managed quarantine under guard in a hotel.
The TGA has now recognised the Sinovac vaccine, developed in China, which should make it much easier for travellers from Asian nations to come to Australia. Children and those with legitimate medical exemptions will be treated as vaccinated and will be permitted to quarantine at home.
There will be caps on the number of unvaccinated Australians who can return, due to limits on hotel quarantine spots, but there will be no caps on the number of fully vaccinated people who can enter the country, as they will be permitted to quarantine at home upon their return.
Where will we be allowed to go?
Essentially anywhere, although travel bans could become a reality for destinations with especially high levels of the virus or dangerous new variants. Likewise, certain countries may ban Australians, if levels of the virus climb here. If you don’t want to waste time quarantining, there are already plans in the works to create quarantine-free travel bubbles with certain nations. The first to get up and running will be with New Zealand, which had already established a short-lived two-way travel bubble with Australia, which unfortunately popped once the Delta outbreak started spreading in NSW. Singapore or Hong Kong are both likely candidates for future bubbles.
While we can start daydreaming about international jaunts again, the fate of interstate travel is altogether murkier. In a strange twist of fate, overseas travel may resume for the people of NSW and Victoria before interstate travel does. Both NSW and Vic have accepted that, given the rampant transmissibility of the Delta variant and its persistent presence in the community, reaching Covid-zero is no longer an option. From October 11, NSW will enter a new paradigm of ‘living with Covid’ as public businesses and venues begin to reopen to fully vaccinated people, and Victoria is set to follow suit sometime in November. However, places like WA and Queensland are still attempting to maintain a total suppression strategy. Circulation of the virus within the domestic population is one thing, but once international visitors return to Australia, imported cases will also be on the rise. For states that cling to the zero spread target, international travel could be permanently off the cards, as well as travel to Australian states that do permit overseas arrivals.
Who will we fly with?
Qantas has made no secret that it is ready to start flying internationally again – it has been promising us flights for months now, first suggesting borders would open in July, and then October. Apparently twice bitten, thrice shy, Qantas’ third guestimate of when flights might resume was a more conservative date in December of this year, but it’s likely the airline will make flights available in November now the official word has been given.
However, that’s not to say that globetrotting will be as easy as it was pre-March 2020. Not for a while, anyway. Many airlines, including Qantas, have had to downsize their fleet, servicing some routes less and scrapping others altogether. For example, due to a combination of climbing airport fees, WA’s isolationist Covid position, and lack of demand, Qantas is bypassing Perth on its European routes throughout this summer, redirecting flights through Darwin and indefinitely suspending its direct Perth to London route. Qantas is also cancelling almost all of its domestic flights to WA from Sydney and Melbourne.
In April 2021, Deloitte Access Economics’ latest quarterly business outlook projected that rates of air travel wouldn’t return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024, and that seemingly bleak prediction was made before the emergence of the now globally dominant Delta variant. This may have an impact on the cost of flights, potentially pushing international travel budgets to prohibitive heights.
With the ink still wet on the news of the border reopening, it’s too early to say every airline will that will be reestablishing links with Australia or which countries they’ll be taking Australians to, although several major airlines have already swooped to schedule a handful of routes from Australia from November. While the broad strokes of Australia’s return to a globalised world are now known, there are many fine details – including how vaccination passports will work; whether testing, masks and quarantining will be necessary long-term in a vaccinated world; and what travel bubbles may eventually be realised – that are as yet to be revealed.
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Australians can travel overseas again: what you need to know
H allelujah! Monday is the big day when fully vaccinated Australian citizens and permanent residents aged 12 and over may travel again internationally without having to apply for an exemption to leave the country.
To qualify as fully vaccinated, a vaccine must be approved or recognised by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). This includes two doses at least 14 days apart of: AstraZeneca Vaxzevria, AstraZeneca Covishield, Pfizer/BioNtech Comirnaty, Moderna Spikevax or Sinovac Coronavac, or one dose of Janssen-Cilag Covid vaccine.
Children under 12 and those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons will also be able to travel overseas without an exemption.
If you love to travel but haven’t been vaccinated, there couldn’t be a better incentive to get jabbed.
Smart Traveller has removed its global “Do not travel” advisory and has updated travel advice levels for 177 destinations based on the latest risk assessments related to Covid-19 and other threats to safety and security. At this stage, no destination will be set lower than Level 2 (“Exercise a high degree of caution”).
But before you rush out to book flights, it’s worth asking some key questions:
What are Australia’s exit and re-entry requirements?
What are the requirements of your destination country?
What is your tolerance and budget for potential disruption caused by Covid-19?
Exit: vaccination evidence
To travel internationally without needing an exemption you must show your International Covid-19 Vaccination Certificate (ICVC) at check-in when departing Australia. You can create your ICVC on your myGov account. It will be provided in PDF format for printing or electronic storage on your phone.
At check-in, everyone who is five years of age or older must give proof of a negative Covid-19 (PCR) molecular test provided by a laboratory to be done no more than 72 hours before the scheduled departure of the first leg of your return flight to Australia. This is required in addition to the Covid-19 vaccine. A negative PCR test result certificate will still be valid if your flight is delayed longer than the 72-hour window, but if the flight is rescheduled or cancelled, you will need to take a new test no more than 72 hours before the new flight.
Qantas begins preparing planes for return of international flights in Sydney. Photograph: Loren Elliott/Reuters
The Australian government regulates visas and exemptions, but state and territory governments regulate quarantine (and other inbound health related requirements). Therefore, even when you can leave Australia without an exemption, you must keep up to date with your state’s rules for your return.
From Monday, fully vaccinated returning Australians will not be required to quarantine in hotels or at home on arrival into NSW, Victoria and the ACT. Children under 12 will not be treated as unvaccinated.
If you arrive from overseas directly into another state, at this stage you will still be directed into mandatory hotel quarantine. Tasmania will open its borders on 15 December and South Australia has announced a slow reduction of restrictions starting on 23 November. Queensland has a very cautious reopening plan that will evolve as vaccination targets are reached. The Northern Territory has a home quarantine plan, for interstate arrivals, to begin around 23 November. Western Australia has not announced its reopening plan.
Where can you go?
As travel restrictions ease, Australians are showing the most interest in travelling to Fiji, Singapore, Thailand, Bali, the US and UK. Quarantine-free travel from New Zealand to Australia will resume from Monday.
From 1 December, Fiji is reopening its borders to fully vaccinated tourists (Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Janssen), aged 18 and above, from Australia and a select group of countries, including the US and New Zealand. At check-in, everyone aged 12 and above must give proof of a negative RT-PCR result from a test taken within three days of departure. On arrival, all travellers must download careFIJI onto their phones and head straight to their hotel, where they will spend their first two days, with access to all hotel amenities. After a negative rapid antigen (swab) test, taken after 48 hours, they will have access to a range of tourist-appropriate areas throughout the country.
The US has changed its vaccination requirements for non-US citizens entering the country. In the past, since Australia was considered a low-risk country for Covid-19, Australians did not have to be vaccinated to travel to the US. However, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now states that, starting on 8 November, all non-US citizens aged 18 and above coming into the US by air must be fully vaccinated at least 14 days before travel with any of the following Federal Drug Administration-approved vaccines: Pfizer/BioNtech Comirnaty, Moderna and Janssen; or World Health Organization Emergency Use Listing vaccines (including Australian-made AstraZeneca Vaxzevria).
All inbound air travellers aged two and older, regardless of citizenship, must show a negative Covid-19 test result. The timing of this test depends on vaccination status and age, something that is particularly relevant for travelling families. At check-in, fully vaccinated adults, and their accompanying children aged between two and 17, must give proof of a negative PCR result for Covid-19 from a test taken no more than three days before departure.
Alternatively, you can provide documentation from a licensed healthcare provider showing recovery from Covid-19 in the 90 days preceding travel. No quarantine will be required, but the CDC will issue an order directing airlines to collect travellers’ contact details for a contact tracing system that is yet to be outlined. International travellers are also still recommended to get a test three to five days after arrival regardless of vaccination status, and some US states make this a requirement.
Changi airport. Vaccinated Australians will be able to travel to Singapore quarantine-free from 8 November. Photograph: Edgar Su/Reuters
Vaccinated Australians will be able to travel to Singapore quarantine-free from 8 November. Starting on Monday you can apply for a Vaccinated Travel Pass to enter as a short-term visitor under the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL). You must show proof you are fully vaccinated at least two weeks before travel (children under 12 travelling with family are exempt). You will also be required to take a PCR test on arrival at Singapore airport and remain in isolation until a negative result is received. You must have travel insurance that covers Covid-19 medical treatment and hospital costs. For the moment, only Singapore Airlines is operating VTL flights.
The UK recently scrapped its traffic light country system and will remove its red list of countries on Monday so that all fully vaccinated international travellers will no longer have to quarantine in a hotel. The UK recognises Australian Pfizer/BioNtech Comirnaty, Oxford/AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines. Fully vaccinated travellers no longer need to show a negative test result before departing for the UK, although currently all airlines operating in and out of Australia are requiring passengers to take PCR tests before leaving. You must fill in a contact locator form before arriving in the UK and prebook a Covid-19 test to be taken before the end of day two after your arrival. Specific rules vary between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Heathrow airport in London. The UK recently scrapped its traffic light country system and will remove its red list of countries on Monday. Photograph: Matt Dunham/AP
Thailand is a bit of a grey area because, while the country is opening to Australia and 45 other “low risk” nations on Monday, the current advice on the Smart Traveller site is at Level 3 (“Reconsider your need to travel”). There are currently limited direct flights to Thailand but Thai Airways has announced an increase in flights starting on 17 November as well as nonstop Sydney to Phuket flights three times a week and daily Sydney to Bangkok flights starting on 8 December. Things are changing fast, so it is worth checking for updates regularly.
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Fully vaccinated travellers (Australia’s Pfizer/BioNtech Comirnaty, Moderna and AstraZeneca Vaxzevria all approved) arriving by air will need to show proof of vaccination no less than 14 days before departure (children under 12 are exempt), a medical certificate with a negative result of a PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before departure, and proof of a fully paid booking for their first night’s stay at government-approved hotels to wait for a negative result from a PCR test taken upon arrival. With negative results, travellers can go anywhere in Thailand. All travellers must register their details at the Thailand Travel Pass website at least seven days before departure and purchase a minimum per person US$50,000 travel insurance to cover medical expenses, including Covid-19 treatment.
Bali has recently opened to fully vaccinated travellers from 19 countries, who must quarantine in hotels for five days and follow strict visa requirements under new entry rules. Australia is not one of them, although there are indications that it will soon be added. But there are currently no direct flights from anywhere in Australia.
It is important to remember that most airlines are adding their own requirements in addition to those of destination countries. All are requiring mask-wearing in airports and for the duration of flights, except when you are eating. For flights to and from the US this applies to children as young as two. All airlines operating into and out of Australia are also requiring PCR tests and in some instances you may be asked to take a rapid antigen test requiring a negative result before you board. You also need to factor in the extra time and hassle with all the Covid-related checks while travelling.
Finding travel insurance that will cover Covid-related medical expenses overseas and cancellations due to Covid illness, not to mention lockdowns or government restrictions, is a monumental task. Suffice to say, there will likely be tears and unexpected costs involved.
You also need to factor in the risk of getting Covid-19 while travelling overseas and the costs involved of extending your stay in a hotel or managed facility, or, in the worst case, an ICU in a foreign hospital, until you can get a negative test and return to Australia.
And it is always possible that another international outbreak will occur while you are overseas and Australia will close its borders again. You will need enough resilience and a significant budget set aside to allow for an extended overseas sojourn.
For peace of mind, in these constantly changing circumstances, it may be worth using the services of a travel agent. They are not only across all the latest travel logistics and government requirements but are also equipped to help with refunds should you have to cancel or change your travel plans.
When Will Australians Be Able To Travel Overseas Again?
Qantas has reopened bookings for overseas flights from July sparking hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel for Australians hoping to jet off overseas this year.
The airline had previously suspended flights to the US and UK until October but confirmed it has brought forward the take-off date to mid-year and will be taking bookings for its entire overseas network.
It’s a move that caught the federal government off guard.
“International borders will be opened when international arrivals do not pose a risk to Australians,” Transport Minister Michael McCormack said.
“The Australian government is working on travel arrangements with countries, such as New Zealand, that have low community infections.
“Operations and ticket sales on particular routes are commercial decisions for airlines.”
Those hoping that an earlier roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine (it’s been brought forward two weeks to early March) would mean a speedy return to quarantine-free long-haul travel, Department of Health Secretary Brendan Murphy said that wouldn’t be the case as experts will need more time to understand how the vaccines work with transmission.
Late last year, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that Wellington will allow quarantine-free travel to and from Australia in the first quarter of 2021.
But has the trans-Tasman bubble been put on ice due to Sydney’s Northern Beaches cluster in New South Wales? At the time, New Zealand said it was “monitoring” the situation but said “it’s too early” to make a call on whether the outbreak will impact when the bubble may begin.
With a coronavirus vaccine on the horizon and rules changing rapidly again, what’s the latest on where and when we can travel?
“We’re monitoring the situation closely, but it’s too early to make any decisions based on the current community cases in New South Wales. Decisions on whether or not to proceed with a travel bubble will occur in the new year and we will assess the situation at that point,” a New Zealand government spokesperson said.
“Our Government has always been clear that we will reopen to other countries only when it is safe to do so and when very robust contingency plans have been agreed.”
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While it’s expected Prime Minister Scott Morrison will soon sign off a trans-Tasman bubble, he said he has “no plans” to immediately lift border bans and he does not expect international long-haul travel to resume as normal by the end of 2021.
While domestic state and territory border bans have been lifted, Australians will have to wait much longer to travel overseas to visit loved ones.
Australia closed its international borders early in the pandemic, and now, apart from New Zealanders, only allows 6,290 returning citizens to fly into the country per week, meaning tens of thousands of Australians are still trying to get home.
The ban on overseas travel from Australia still exists — you can’t leave the country unless you get a special exemption from the Department of Home Affairs.
So, with a vaccine on the horizon and rules changing rapidly again, what’s the latest on where and when we can travel?
Here’s what the experts are saying:
When is the trans-Tasman bubble happening?
Jacinda Ardern announced earlier this month that New Zealand will allow travel with Australia without quarantine in the first quarter of 2021.
While New Zealand has not set a date that Australians will be able to travel across the ditch, Ardern said there are still a few factors that need to be ironed out.
Coronavirus case numbers and community transmission will need to be under control in both countries. Australia must sign off on the deal, and a repatriation plan must be in place to get Kiwis home if there is a substantial outbreak in Australia in 2021.
The first phase of the bubble was introduced in October when New South Wales and the Northern Territory opened their borders to Kiwis without hotel isolation. Queensland has since done the same.
Will UK’s new mutant strain affect borders and travel?
Australia is reportedly considering blocking Australian arrivals from the UK and South Africa as the countries struggle to deal with mutant coronavirus strands, according to news.com.au.
This is despite Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly saying in December Australia won’t shut its borders with the UK as it was still prioritising bringing home Australians who are stranded there.
“They’re our number-one priority. They have been for a long time,” Kelly told media in December.
“We’ve committed to get people back, whoever wants to come back, and the Australian Government is assisting many people, whether they’re stuck overseas or whether they’re wanting to come back to have those assisted flights and so forth.
“In terms of where those Australians are right now who want to come back, the UK is right up there as one of the major places.”
A mutant strain of coronavirus sweeping across London and the south east of England has prompted EU nations to start restricting inbound flights from the UK.
The update comes as news more than one million people in England – or one in 50 – had coronavirus in the first week of January, official statistics suggest.
Professor Kelly said that of the almost 2,500 cases that have been diagnosed in hotel quarantine since March, four are people with UK’s variant strain.
When will Australians be able to travel to Europe and the USA?
Apart from travelling to New Zealand, Australians have a long way to go before they can use their passports again, according to Professor Rico Merkert from Sydney University’s Institute of Transport and Logistics.
“Given that there won’t be a vaccine rollout to all countries by then, and that not even the US will be fully vaccinated by that time, I believe that the travel ban will be further extended to mid-June 2021,” he told HuffPost Australia.
Brendan Murphy, who led Australia’s coronavirus response, recently ruled out a resumption of long-haul flight holidays, saying it could still be another year before experts grasp the effectiveness of vaccines.
“We still don’t know what the vaccines will do in terms of complete prevention of transmission of the virus,” he said.
“So the vaccines can prevent disease. We know that very clearly. The extent to which they will effectively prevent, for example, asymptomatic transmission or people bringing the virus with them when they travel, we still have to find out.”
Morrison echoed Murphy’s statements earlier this month when he told Channel 7 he doesn’t expect the travel ban to be lifted in the first half of next year.
“I hope that we can see international travel resume well into next year but I’m not expecting it, really, certainly not in the first quarter of next year,” he said.
“In the quarter after that, a lot would have to change to see that happening at any sort of industrial scale.”
Merkert agrees, adding that we should keep an eye on what the major airlines are planning as an indicator of when things will go back to normal.
Travel after June 2021 “is much more realistic,” he said, and is “one of the reasons that Qantas is not planning to operate any flights to either Europe or the US before mid to end of next year.”
What about other travel bubbles?
People cross an intersection in Tokyo’s Ginza district on December 13, 2020. Japan’s daily coronavirus cases have exceeded 3,000 for the first time while the government delays stricter measures for fear of hurting the economy ahead of the holiday season.
While New Zealand and the Cook Islands agreed to open a quarantine-free travel bubble by March next year, Australia has yet to secure a second bubble with another region.
Merkert said it’s not far-fetched to consider travel bubbles with other COVID-safe countries.
“Perhaps even a bubble with Fiji could happen by March 2021,” he said.
“But the other two bubbles that were under consideration, namely with Japan and Singapore, will most likely not happen before June 2021.”
“The issue with the latter two bubbles is that once international hubs get involved, travellers will come from all parts of the world and will mingle with the local populations of the two bubbles. This then creates a logistical nightmare in terms of contact tracing and ensuring that what is created is a fenced-off or isolated bubble between two COVID-19 safe populations.”
Will travel be cheaper after COVID-19?
According to Luke Wilson, area manager for Australia at Booking.com, holidaymakers will demand better value once overseas travel resumes.
Research from the online booking agent highlights that two-thirds of global travellers expect agents to support their future travel plans via promotions.
“The financial legacy of coronavirus will inevitably see people demand more bang for their buck,” he said, adding that “63% of travellers will be more price-conscious when it comes to searching and planning a trip, 51% will consider refundable accommodation a must-have, and 38% want the flexibility to change dates without being charged.”
Alex Ozdowski, director of Australia for Expedia, said that based on past data, the ideal day to book your flights is a Sunday.
“This is when Aussies could save around 25% on domestic airfares and almost 15% on international flights versus booking on a Friday,” he said.
“Choosing what day to depart is also key in saving a few extra dollars. For international travel, lowest ticket prices have historically been on a Tuesday or Thursday, where Aussies can save nearly 20%.”
Do we actually want to travel again?
Travel brands claim they’re seeing pent-up demand. Data from Expedia’s 2021 Travel Trends report shows Aussies are seeking out favourite destinations, with Bali, Fiji and Oahu among the 10 most-searched destinations for 2021.
“Searches by Australians for travel in 2021 have increased by 39% over the last month,” Skyscanner’s Paul Whiteway told HuffPost Australia, adding that demand for domestic travel was still far eclipsing searches for overseas journeys.
“January is the most-searched month for travel in 2021, suggesting Australians are planning to get away during the height of summer holidays, as soon as possible,” he said.
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