Unravelling Travel To Australia

Publication Date - 25/10/2021

By - Chani Fletcher

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, it also hit the world's ability to travel. Where we'd been a closely interconnected globe, we suddenly became pockets of isolated groups of humans. Individuals and families found themselves locked out, or locked in, to countries unexpectedly.

Australia's response to the pandemic was to shut its national borders and strictly control entries and departures as way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. This meant Australia effectively became closed for most foreign nationals.

So what is the current situation about coming back to Australia? If you're an Australian citizen or permanent resident, you have the right to return home to Australia at any time - in theory. However, you have almost certainly found, that in practice, it has been impossible to find flights and Australia is effectively barred off to you as well. This is because, until now, Australia had capped how many passenger flights it is currently allowing into Australia. In July, the government reduced international arrivals to only 3,070 per week across the entire country (1).

The song said "I still call Australia home" - so what gives?

Good news is on the horizon! Thanks to progress Australia has made with its vaccinations, the good news is that, from 1 November:

  • Fully vaccinated international travellers will be able to enter Victoria without spending 14 days in quarantine
  • Caps on international arrivals will be removed
  • International flights from Sydney to London and Los Angeles will resume with QANTAS (2)

In December, Virgin will resume flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Fiji (December 16, 17 and 18 respectively) and QANTAS will expand to resume flights from Sydney to Singapore, Fiji and Vancouver (December 18) (3).

There is a plan - it just might take a little longer than we hoped and it all hinges on Australia's vaccination progress. Under Australia's National Plan(2):

  • when 70% of the population is double-vaccinated, the inbound passengers caps will increase
  • when 80% of the population is double-vaccinated, caps on returning vaccinated Australians will be abolished, restrictions on outbound travel for vaccinated Australians will be lifted and the travel bubble for unrestricted travel will extend
  • beyond 80% double-vaccination, we can then expect Australia's international borders to re-open, with uncapped inbound arrivals for vaccinated travellers and quarantine for high-risk inbound travel only.

As of the 27th October (5), the Australian Department of Health's vaccination figures were showing 74.8% of people over 16 being double-vaccinated.

"Travel exemption": ironically, your means to travel

So we can hopefully look forward to normal service resuming at some point in 2022. While that is great news, life sometimes can't hold on. What can people do in the meantime?

  • If you're an Australian citizen or permanent resident: you don't need a travel exemption - your only limitation is the ability to obtain a flight. Keep trying. You will need to complete quarantine in a designated area upon arrival in Australia. Word of warning: once you've entered Australia, you will need to obtain a travel exemption to depart Australia.
  • If you're an immediate family member of an Australian citizen or permanent resident (spouse, de facto partner, dependent child, parent/legal guardian of a dependent child or, from 1 November, parent): you will need a valid Australian visa and you will also need to obtain a travel exemption before you depart unless you hold a Partner (subclass 100, 309, 801 or 820) or Child (subclass 101, 102 or 445) visa. You'll need to evidence your relationship to your Australian family member when applying for the travel exemption.
  • From 1 November, immediate family member will include parents: this includes biological parents, adoptive parents, step-parents and parents-in-law,
  • If you're a NZ citizen normally resident in Australia: you can enter Australia without needing a travel exemption but, if you have not been in NZ for 14 days or more immediately before your arrival in Australia, you'll need to provide proof of your residency in Australia when you check-in to board your flight. You will need to complete quarantine in a designated area upon arrival in Australia.
  • If you're anyone else: you will need to obtain a visa that permits your anticipated activities in Australia and you'll need to obtain a travel exemption before you depart. Travel exemptions are only granted on a limited basis, so you'll need to demonstrate that you have critical skills or will be working in a critical sector in Australia. You should provide a statement on how you meet one of the grounds for exemption and support this with evidence. You will need to complete quarantine in a designated area upon arrival in Australia.

We are all looking for freer times ahead but, in the meantime, while it isn't easy it is still possible to make it to Australia! Just be careful of the snakes and spiders once you get here...


(1) Evershed, Nick. 'Data reveals Australia's new international arrivals cap is harshest yet', The Guardian, 7 Jul 2021. Online edition. 

(2) https://www.pm.gov.au/sites/default/files/media/national-plan-to-transition-australias-national-covid-19-response-30-july-2021.pdf

(3) https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2021/11/covid-19-vaccine-rollout-update-19-november-2021.pdf 

(4) https://www.pm.gov.au/sites/default/files/media/national-plan-to-transition-australias-national-covid-19-response-30-july-2021.pdf

(5) https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2021/10/covid-19-vaccine-rollout-update-27-october-2021.pdf