Travel advice explained
COVID-19: Travel advice vs Travel bans
- Advice on the risks you may face overseas
- Managed by the Smartraveller team at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Smartraveller provides official overseas travel advice. Our travel advice aims to inform you of the risks and how to avoid or handle difficulties overseas. Ultimately, though, it’s advice only and the decision to travel is yours. It’s also your responsibility to take care of your safety and wellbeing.
As part of our travel advice, we assign each destination an official advice level. The advice levels reflect the risks for Australian travellers to this destination. We have four levels.
On 18 March 2020, we raised the overall advice level for all destinations to the highest level – ‘Do not travel’. This was due to the health risks from COVID-19 and the significant disruptions to global travel. As with all our travel advice, this was advice only.
Read more on travel advice below.
- Mandatory border restrictions to keep Australia safe
- Managed by the Department of Home Affairs
On 20 March 2020, Australia closed its borders to all non-citizens and non-residents. This is an entry ban.
This was followed on 25 March 2020 by a ban on Australians travelling overseas. This is an exit ban. This ban is mandatory and sits higher than our ‘Do not travel’ advice level.
These bans, together with the requirement of the 14-day mandatory quarantine when returning to Australia, are about keeping Australia safe. Many COVID-19 cases in Australia have been from overseas or returning travellers. Many other countries are in a much worse position than us. Closing our borders and quarantining return travellers have played an important role in keeping our COVID-19 cases relatively low.
The Department of Home Affairs looks after both the entry and exit ban. Visit its COVID-19 and the border page for further information, including details on exemptions to the bans. Also visit the Department of Health’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for travellers page for information on quarantine and other biosecurity measures.
When travelling overseas, it's your responsibility to take care of your safety and wellbeing. Our travel advice will help you understand the risks and what you can do to avoid or handle difficulties.
This page explains:
- our travel advisories for destinations and our general advice
- how we develop and update our travel advisories
- what each advice level means in travel advisories
Smartraveller travel advice
Australians take more than 11 million trips overseas each year, and many of us live abroad. To help Australians avoid difficulties overseas, we provide a range of advice.
We publish official travel advisories and general advice to prevent problems while overseas. Our travel advice helps Australian travellers make informed decisions.
We maintain travel advisories for 177 countries. We assign an overall advice level to each. We continually review and update them based on credible information. Each travel advisory provides country-specific information about:
- local laws
- local contacts
It's your responsibility to be informed about all the countries you're visiting. This includes understanding any risks, and planning for your safety. It's also your responsibility to stay informed, in case things change.
Subscribe to get an email when we update our travel advice for the countries you're planning to visit. If you provide a mobile number, we'll send you an SMS if there's a critical alert. You can also subscribe for news updates and get push notifications.
Travel advice for other destinations
For some countries and territories with very few Australian travellers and/or where the risks are low, we don't publish a travel advisory.
We regularly review if a travel advisory is required for these destinations. You can also read the destination's travel advice from our consular partners in Canada, the United Kingdom or the United States.
General travel advice
We prepare and publish general advice on a range of travel topics. Our advice helps Australians be informed and prepared before they go. It also helps Australians stay safe while overseas.
How we develop travel advisories
We frequently review our travel advisories. However, we don't change them for all issues and incidents.
We update travel advisories if there are new or increased risks to Australians. This can be in response to new developments, such as credible intelligence reporting, major protests or unrest, new entry requirements or a natural disaster.
Our advisories are an objective assessment of the risks Australians face overseas. They’re not influenced by diplomatic, political or commercial considerations.
Sometimes advisories are updated with new information without changing the level of advice. If we judge that the risk for Australians hasn't changed, we won't change the advice level.
If we change the advice level, it's usually because of a specific event or changes to local circumstances. When we change it, we'll clearly state this in the 'Latest update' section at the top of the travel advisory page.
We use a range of information sources in our travel advisories. These include:
- Australian diplomatic missions overseas
- threat assessments produced by ASIO’s National Threat Assessment Centre
- analysis of common problems Australians experience overseas
- intelligence from our consular partners in the US, UK, NZ and Canada
- information from other government agencies, such as the Department of Health
- media and open source reporting
- feedback from travellers
If a travel advisory hasn't been updated for several months, it's not out of date. There's just been no need to update it.
Subscribe to get an email when we update the travel advice for your destinations.
What does 'advice level' mean?
We assign each destination an official advice level of 1, 2, 3 or 4. These levels reflect the risk for average Australian travellers to this country. For each level, we provide advice to help Australians avoid or reduce the risks.
A higher advice level means higher risk. The levels are:
- Level 1 - Exercise normal safety precautions
- Level 2 - Exercise a high degree of caution
- Level 3 - Reconsider your need to travel
- Level 4 - Do not travel
Where to find the advice level for your destination
Every travel advisory displays an overall advice level for the country. The advice level is shown on the bar at the top of the travel advisory, along with the date and details of the latest update. The advice level is also shown by the colour on the country map.
Sometimes regions or cities within the country have different levels. This can be because of specific risks or safety concerns. We publish this in the travel advisory on the page and in the map.
Changes to advice levels
It's your responsibility to keep informed about any changes to the advice level. If it increases, take extra precautions. You can also subscribe to get an email when we update the travel advice for your destinations and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
Travel insurance and advice levels
Before booking travel and purchasing travel insurance, make sure you're aware of, and comfortable with, the advice level for your destination. Some policies will only allow you to cancel for safety reasons if the advice level increases after you've bought your policy.
If the advice level hasn’t changed and you decide not to go for safety reasons, most travel insurers won't cover your cancellation costs.
If the travel advice level is raised to ‘Level 3: Reconsider your need to travel’ or ‘Level 4: Do not travel’, and you want to cancel your trip, contact your insurer. Find out if you can make a claim to cover cancellation costs, or changes to your itineraries.
Each travel insurance company will be different. Check with yours directly.
Australian States and Territories may have specific arrangements to their jurisdiction. Travellers should check their return arrangements to Australia.
Note that many insurance policies won’t cover any COVID-19 related claims for new travel.
Level 1: Exercise normal safety precautions
Use common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would in Australia.
At level 1, the security environment is similar to that of a large Australian city.
This doesn't mean the local situation will be the same as Australia. Laws and social customs could differ significantly. You could face terrorist attacks, civil unrest, violent crime, or unique health threats. But overall, the risks are not greater than those you'd face in an Australian city.
If you travel to a location with an advice level of 1, it's your responsibility to:
- monitor the media and other sources for changes to local travelling conditions, safety, health situation and security concerns
- be aware of local differences and, as appropriate, take similar precautions to those you would take in Australia
Keep in mind that being in an unfamiliar location without your support mechanisms always creates additional challenges. Even if the local environment is similar to Australia.
Level 2: Exercise a high degree of caution
Pay close attention to your personal security and the current health situation. Monitor the media for new and existing risks.
At level 2, there are more or higher risks than what you would typically find in a large Australian city. We're not saying 'don't go' to this location. But you should do your research and take extra precautions.
The level may reflect a weak law-and-order system, where violent crime is common. The destination may lack some key public services, such as a responsive police force.
At this level, the COVID-19 risk to you may be considered low. Keep in mind outbreaks may occur and local authorities could implement measures to manage this, often at short notice, which will affect your ability to move freely, including in and out of the country. Conditions may change at any time. Be prepared for an extended stay or disruptions to international travel, including return travel to Australia for ‘green zone’ countries.
In some cases, there may be a risk that the security environment could change with little warning. This level may also reflect a passing event, such as political unrest or a short-term increase in a location's domestic terrorism level.
If you travel to a location with an advice level of 2, it's your responsibility to follow all the advice for level 1, as well as the following.
Before you go
- Research the health situation and services available for your destination entry requirements and local restrictions on movement, events and gatherings.
- Understand the basics of the political and security situation.
- Familiarise yourself with the destination, especially dangerous areas of a city, types of crimes, risky modes of transport, specific precautions for women or LGBTI travellers and any behaviour that may offend or break the law.
- Check your travel insurance policy and coverage, particularly in the event there is disruption to travel or a change in travel advice.
While you're away
- Monitor the health risks in your location, and keep track of any changes to restrictions. Follow the advice of local authorities and minimise your risk of exposure to COVID-19.
- Maintain good hygiene and physical distancing when interacting with other people.
- Stay in contact with your airline operator or travel provider for changes and updates.
- Be aware of religious holidays or days of national significance. Terrorists have launched attacks on these occasions.
- Understand the safety of public transport options.
- Plan your daily movements and vary your routines and travel routes.
- Avoid known flashpoints, including protest areas.
- Don't wander into unknown areas.
- Avoid or minimise your time at places which may be targeted by terrorists.
- Leave an area at the first sign of unrest, or if you feel uneasy.
- Be aware of building exits and always know the safe places you can access if you feel threatened.
- Take notice of the people around you, and their behaviour. Be aware that, in an unfamiliar cultural setting, you may misinterpret some behaviour.
- When discussing your plans, avoid sharing details that others may overhear.
- Be cautious about the information you share on social media.
- Refuse unexpected packages or offers.
Level 3: Reconsider your need to travel
Avoid non-essential travel. Do your research and check that your insurer will cover you. If you do travel, take extra precautions to protect yourself from security and health risks.
At level 3, there are serious and potentially life-threatening risks. This can make the destination unsafe for tourism and unsuitable for most travellers. This could be due to:
- an ongoing threat of terrorism or kidnapping
- the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic
- travel disruptions
- frequent incidents of violent crime
- ongoing civil unrest
- widespread disease
- other safety risks
Think seriously about your need to travel to these places. This may mean postponing non-essential travel or choosing a less risky destination.
If you decide to travel anyway, it's your responsibility to reduce your risks and stay safe. The Australian Government is limited in how and when it can help if you get into trouble. Conditions may change at any time. Be prepared for an extended stay or significant disruptions to travel.
These countries often have an unpredictable security environment. We may assign this advice level temporarily when there's been a major incident there. This could include a natural disaster, terrorist attack, civil unrest or global pandemic that has made the destination too risky for most travellers.
Our advice levels also apply to Australian officials travelling overseas. Officials must undertake a detailed security risk assessment before travelling to these areas. They may have to adopt specific protective security measures.
If travelling to a destination with an advice level of 3, follow all the advice for levels 1 and 2, as well as the following before you go and when you get there.
Before you go
- Research the political and security situation from a variety of sources before booking. Understand the risks. Check news and social media and understand what's going on.
- Check your travel insurance policy carefully. It may not cover travel to 'reconsider your need to travel' destinations.
- Understand the health situation and risks for your destination, entry requirements and any local restrictions on movement, events and gatherings due to health risks.
- Consider whether you may be in a vulnerable category for COVID-19.
- Research the health services available, services may be strained and may not be the same as you would receive in Australia.
- Pre-book accommodation in safe areas with appropriate security.
- Get local advice on your itinerary. Follow advice on areas to avoid.
- Minimise time spent in airports by scheduling direct flights if possible. Avoid stopovers in high-risk airports.
- Stay as short a time as possible. Eliminate unnecessary activities.
- Think carefully about your security. At your hotel and getting around. Organise tailored security arrangements and prepare contingency plans.
- Ask your tour operator about their safety record and security arrangements. This includes safety equipment, extra security, emergency plans and evacuation procedures.
- Regularly review your security arrangements. The threat environment could change at short notice.
- Have an up-to-date will and enduring power of attorney in case you die. Designate appropriate insurance and beneficiaries.
While you’re away
- Be aware of the health risks for your location. Follow the advice of local authorities and minimise your risk of exposure to COVID-19.
- Pre-plan your travel routes. Have contingency plans in place.
- Be prepared to change your plans in response to evolving threats.
- Avoid potential terrorism targets. Know what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
- Stay alert and always be aware of your environment. Look out for suspicious activity or items, and report anything of concern to local authorities.
- Don't discuss travel plans with strangers. Never share personal information with people asking questions without good reason.
- Don't discuss your plans or risk management strategies where they might be overheard by others.
- Don't share information about your travel arrangements on social media.
How to minimise your exposure to risks
- Avoid travelling alone, especially after dark and on long trips.
- Minimise travelling by foot. Be vigilant in public areas.
- Before getting into a vehicle, check it for anything suspicious.
- Make sure any vehicles you use are in good working order and have enough fuel to get you out of unexpected trouble.
- When driving, keep your car doors locked and your windows up.
- Watch for people following you. Be ready to take evasive action.
- Avoid using public transport. Only use trusted private transport.
- Check the safety record of your travel service providers. Always use available safety equipment, even if others don't.
- Never take something across a border for someone else. If it contains something illegal, such as drugs, you could be arrested or jailed
- Don't meet strangers in your hotel room, or in unknown or remote places.
- Maintain good hygiene and physical distancing when interacting with other people.
Make contingency arrangements
- Wherever you are, have a plan of action in case the environment becomes unsafe.
- Be prepared to change your plans at short notice. This could include changing meetings or activities to less prominent areas, or to less dangerous days.
- Always carry a charged phone. Save local emergency contact details in it.
- Tell a trusted person about where you're going and when you plan to return. Discuss and agree what action they should take if you don't return at the planned time.
- Maintain contingency kits. Include medical supplies, food, water and fuel. This can help sustain you through any period of heightened unrest.
- Carry provisions with you when getting around.
In the event of a crisis and due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, departure options may be severely limited. You're responsible for ensuring you can depart independently and that your travel documentation is up-to-date. Don’t expect the Australian Government to organise your departure. See the Consular Services Charter to understand how and when we can help.
Level 4: Do not travel
If you're already in this location, you should consider leaving if it’s safe to do so. If you do travel, get professional security advice. Your travel insurance policy might be void. The Australian Government may not be able to help you.
At level 4, your health and safety is at extreme risk. This may be because of a high threat of terrorist attack, conflict, violent social unrest, widespread infectious disease or critical levels of violent crime. It could be a combination of risks.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the risks include getting infected with COVID-19 and significant travel and movement restrictions. You should ensure that you have sufficient resources to support yourself overseas for a significant period of time, including for medical or health services, in the likely event of flight cancellations and disruptions to your travel plans.
If you get into trouble, the Australian Government may be unable to help. In most cases, our ability to provide consular assistance in these destinations is extremely limited.
Any travel by Australian officials to ‘Do not travel’ locations is subject to high-level approval and is based on a rigorous risk assessment.
You should not travel to this location. If you travel to this location despite our advice, you should note that you may be unable to leave the location quickly if your circumstances change. If you're already in a 'Do not travel' area, consider leaving if it’s safe to do so. If, despite our advice, you decide to travel to a location with a travel advice level of 4, it's your responsibility to follow all the advice for levels 1, 2 and 3, as well as the following.
Before you go
- Check your travel insurance. Most standard policies won't cover you for 'Do not travel' destinations, including for COVID-19.
- Consider your security. Get independent, professional security advice. You may need to hire personal protection.
- Have robust risk management measures in place. This includes a detailed emergency management plan.
- Understand that you could die. Make sure you have an up-to-date will, an enduring power of attorney. Designate appropriate insurance beneficiaries.
It's your responsibility to take care of your security. The Australian Government can’t provide security assistance or advice.
While you're away
- Exercise extreme caution.
- Follow the advice of your personal protection service.
- Maintain good hygiene and physical distancing when interacting with other people.
If you die overseas in a 'do not travel' destination, it's unlikely your travel insurance will cover you. Your family will be left to deal with your death. This includes organising your funeral and bringing back your remains. They may also have to resolve legal or financial issues in the destination and in Australia.
- Read the travel advice for all the destinations you're travelling to, and through.
- Read our general travel advice and tips before you go.
- Read the Consular Services Charter for what the Australian Government can and can’t do to help you overseas.
- Contact the Consular Emergency Centre if you’re overseas and need urgent help.
The consular charter outlines the consular services and assistance provided by the Australian Government. In some circumstances, our assistance may be limited.