Australians can travel overseas again: what you need to know
Hallelujah! 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.
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 Australia to New Zealand is currently suspended due to the Covid-19 outbreak there.
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.
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.
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.
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.