The impact of COVID-19 on international travel
Over the last year, COVID-19 has changed international travel. It’s more unpredictable, and far more complex. Being separated from family and friends who live overseas is hard, but the reality of how difficult travel during the pandemic is should not be underestimated. Every day, we’re contacted by Australians overseas who need assistance because of COVID-19-related impacts on travel.
We continue to advise Australians not to travel at this time due to the health risks from the COVID-19 pandemic and the significant disruptions to global travel.
There’s an outward travel ban on leaving Australia, administered by the Department of Home Affairs. There are strictly limited exemptions to travel available. If you’re considering whether you should apply for an exemption to travel overseas, or fly on from a travel zone destination, you need to first consider how different travel has become. It’s your responsibility to ensure you’re informed of all the risks and well prepared before making the decision to travel.
Before applying for an exemption and planning to travel, consider:
- The risk of contracting COVID-19 overseas
- The infrequency and cost of flights
- The limits of consular assistance
- How international restrictions and visas can impact your travel
- How Australian border restrictions can impact your travel
Think carefully about whether you’re willing to accept these risks before you plan to travel.
The risk of contracting COVID-19 while overseas
Australia has had relatively few COVID-19 cases but the situation in your planned destination could be very different. The chances of being exposed to the virus is significantly higher in many places overseas, and the healthcare system may be strained due to the pandemic.
COVID-19 has the potential to make you gravely ill. You need to consider the impact to your health if you catch the virus, as well as the cost of treatment overseas. Depending on your destination, the standard and cost of medical care may be different to Australia’s health care.
Check your travel insurance policy closely to make sure it covers COVID-19 related medical expenses.
The infrequency and cost of international flights
The likelihood that your pre-booked flights will be cancelled is higher than it was before the pandemic. If your flight is cancelled while you’re overseas, it may not be as simple as booking a seat on the next flight back, especially if it involves a transit point. Depending on your location, the next flight with available seats could be weeks or even months away. The cost of available tickets may also be above your budget due to the scarcity of seats.
Before you leave Australia, you must consider whether you have the financial, medical and social support available in your destination to stay longer than anticipated if your flights are delayed or cancelled. Be prepared for your flight to be cancelled or delayed multiple times before you can return. This is one of the leading causes of distress for Australians who’ve travelled overseas during the pandemic.
Research the visa regulations in your destination – if your flights are cancelled you could end up in breach of your visa.
Pay close attention to the cancellation and refund policy for any tickets you plan to book. You may lose 1000s of dollars if your airline has a ‘no refund’ clause on delay or cancellation. Financial loss from flights being cancelled because of Australian or international border restrictions is often not covered by travel insurance.
The limits of consular assistance
There’s an unprecedented number of Australians needing assistance overseas. DFAT’s highest priority at this time is helping vulnerable Australians overseas to return to Australia, but our capacity to help everyone is limited. Local COVID-19 measures also impact our ability to provide consular services.
DFAT can offer facilitated commercial flights and financial assistance to vulnerable Australians overseas who have exhausted all other available options. However, these shouldn’t be relied on as a back-up plan when you’re thinking of travelling overseas.
When you apply to the Department of Home Affairs for an exemption to the outward travel ban you must read and acknowledge advice about travel risks, including delays returning to Australia. Applications to travel for 3 months or more must be accompanied by a legally binding statutory declaration and a range of supporting evidence. You’re acknowledging that you have sufficient resources to support yourself overseas for a significant period of time in the likely event of flight cancellations and other disruptions to your travel plans.
The Australian Border Force monitors compliance with periods of declared travel, in particular if you apply to travel for 3 months or more, and shares exemption details with DFAT.
If you apply for financial assistance or a facilitated commercial flight, the date you departed Australia and any commitments you made in your exemption application to the Department of Home Affairs may be taken into account when DFAT assesses your application.
International border and movement restrictions
Every destination is managing its borders differently to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It’s difficult to predict when or how quickly border restrictions will change, and what impact these changes will have on pre-existing travel bookings. If you’re overseas when borders lockdown, your departure plans may be delayed or cancelled with no warning. If internal movement restrictions are put in place, you could find you’re unable to get to your departure location.
Border biosecurity has drastically increased internationally as well. Depending on your destination, you could be required to comply with COVID-19 testing and have to pay for several weeks of quarantine.
Anyone transiting must follow COVID-19 restrictions in that location, including COVID-19 testing. Transit hubs can also lock down with no warning, causing your connecting flights to be delayed or cancelled. You may need to stay longer in a place you did not expect and have to arrange visas and accommodation at short notice.
If you’re thinking of supporting your travel by working overseas, you need to be aware of the risk that your destination may suddenly lock down and impose restrictions that could cause you to lose your job. Some job sectors are severely impacted by COVID-19 restrictions overseas, and your source of income can dry up with no warning.
Australian border restrictions
To protect Australians in Australia, there’s a cap on international arrivals and limited quarantine places in each state and territory. Arrival caps can change at short notice if a local COVID-19 hotspot emerges in Australia.
Airlines arriving in Australia must comply with the arrival caps and manage their passenger numbers if the caps change. Your return flight to Australia could be cancelled as a result, often within days of departure, even if you booked well in advance.
A negative COVID-19 PCR test is needed to board your flight to Australia. You must be tested within 72 hours prior to your flight’s departure, unless you’re travelling from an exempt destination. The test is at your own expense. If you return a positive result, you won’t be allowed to board your flight. You’ll have to organise accommodation or quarantine, re-book flights and ensure your visa covers a longer than planned stay.
When you arrive back in Australia, you have to quarantine for 14 days regardless of you COVID-19 vaccination status. Quarantine is at your own expense and can cost 1000s. The cost of quarantine must be taken into account when you’re considering the full cost of your trip. Quarantine in Australia is managed by the States and Territories.
Australia’s COVID-19 vaccinations will be rolled out domestically to people in Australia. The vaccinations will only be available in Australia. Up to date information about Australia’s national roll-out of the COVID-19 Vaccination Program is available at the Department of Health’s website.