It’s going to be a very different Christmas this year with COVID-19 travel restrictions. Australians who want to see family in other countries and also people living overseas with family in Australia may be wondering if it’s possible to get together for the holiday season.
If you’re in the midst of making travel plans for Christmas, this guide will help you understand the regulations and exemptions in place for Australian inbound and outbound travel.
COVID-19 travel restrictions: Who is eligible to travel to or from Australia at Christmas?
The short answer is that due to the COVID-19 travel ban, all non-essential travel remains restricted.
While it’s possible to come to and leave Australia during the holiday season, travel remains very restricted and you will need to qualify for a travel exemption. Exemptions apply to both incoming and outbound travellers, temporary and permanent residents, and Australian citizens, so it’s essential to understand the restrictions and potential exemptions that apply to you before booking any travel.
- What you need to know about leaving Australia for Christmas
Outbound travel restrictions vary depending on your citizenship status. During the travel ban, Australian citizens and permanent residents are not able to leave Australia unless their travel qualifies under one or more of these exemption categories:
- The trip is part of the response to the COVID-19 outbreak, including the provision of aid.
- The trip is essential for your business/employer.
- The purpose of the trip is for you to receive urgent medical treatment that is not available in Australia.
- You are leaving Australia for three months or longer.
- You are travelling on compassionate or humanitarian grounds.
- The trip is in the national interest.
Unfortunately, most holiday travel will not fit these guidelines since it’s purely for leisure. This means that the majority of Australians will spend the holiday season at home. However, for those who usually live outside of Australia, a Christmas holiday may be possible.
The COVID-19 travel restrictions are different for temporary residents. People with temporary residence status in Australia are free to leave at any time, subject to the availability of flights and any restrictions on entry to their destination country. But they should remain mindful of the fact that there is a strong possibility they may not be able to return once they’ve left if they have chosen to travel for a non-critical purpose. They will likely need to qualify to return under inbound travel exemptions that are quite restrictive. Visiting family for the holidays is not considered a critical or urgent need for travel.
- What you need to know about coming to Australia for the holidays
If you’re an Australian citizen, permanent resident, or an immediate family member living abroad, you can return to Australia for the holidays – however, there are still restrictions that you should keep in mind while planning to travel.
Citizens often live abroad for work, humanitarian projects, or personal reasons. Under current rules, a person could come back to Australia for Christmas, but they would need to quarantine for 14 days in a government-approved hotel before spending time with family. The costs of hotel quarantine range from $2,500 to $5,000 depending on the state and number of family members.
At the end of their Australian holiday, Australian citizens and permanent residents will need to qualify for a travel exemption to depart the country. Current exemptions exist if your travel overseas is related to assisting with the COVID outbreak, you are essential to your business or employer, you will spend more than 3 months outside of Australia, you are travelling on compassionate grounds or your trip is in the national interest. In order to obtain an exemption, you must lodge an exemption request and provide documentation to demonstrate your eligibility.
Given the restrictions and quarantine that apply to incoming travel, and the possibility that a person could have difficulty leaving Australia after their visit, it’s likely that we’ll see less inbound travel during this Christmas season unless the quarantine and outbound exemption requirements ease.
Temporary visa holders are currently unable to come to Australia unless they can qualify for a travel exemption. Non-citizens can potentially qualify for an exemption if they are:
- Travelling at the invitation of the Australian Government or a state or territory government authority for helping with the COVID-19 response.
- Providing critical or specialist medical services, including air ambulance, medical evacuations, and delivering critical medical supplies.
- Working in a critical sector in Australia or having critical skills.
- Being sponsored by your employer to work in Australia in an occupation on the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL).
- Certain categories of international students
- Visiting the country while supported by the Australian Government or a state or territory government authority.
All applicants must hold a current visa and submit documents to support their claims for exemptions. Appropriate documents may include letters from employers, invitation letters, and other documentation. Without an approved exemption, you won’t be able to board a plane bound for Australia, so it’s critical to secure this before your trip begins.
The Australian Government recommends applying for an exemption at least two weeks, but no more than three months, before your date of travel. You can learn more about travel exemptions here.
Understanding COVID-19 travel restrictions on domestic travel
Many Australians embark on inter-state trips during the holidays to see family and friends. Some states and territories allow travel, but others have restrictions in place, so it’s critical to do your research beforehand so that you are not turned away at the border during your trip.
It’s important to realise that restrictions may not only apply to people travelling from certain areas, but also to certain people depending on their visa status or their purpose of travel. For example, you may be restricted on travelling interstate if you have been in a Covid hotspot, or if travel is restricted to critical or work purposes.
Each state and territory releases regular updates about travel limitations and entry/exit requirements. Be aware that even states allowing domestic travel may only be open to travellers who meet certain requirements. Check frequently to ensure that the border situations haven’t changed at your destination before you leave.
You can learn about the specific rules for domestic travel in each state or territory here.
New Zealand travel bubble
New Zealand citizens who usually reside in Australia and their immediate family are exempt from the travel restrictions to Australia. Persons who have been to New Zealand for 14 days more prior to coming to Australia are also permitted to travel to Australia quarantine-free under the Trans-Tasman travel bubble.
Australian citizens and permanent residents are only permitted to travel to New Zealand if they ordinarily reside in New Zealand. Travel for leisure over the Christmas holidays will not be possible for Australians until the Trans-Tasman travel bubble is fully opened.
How we can help
This year, Australians at home and abroad will be celebrating Christmas very differently and it’s likely to be a Zoom Christmas for many. However, if you want to travel in or out of the country, TMA is ready to assist with exemption requests. We handle a high volume of these cases and have strategic insights into what the Australian Border Force looks for when approving these requests. We’ll assemble your documentation, build your case, and work with the proper authorities to secure an exemption on your behalf. Contact TMA today for advice about securing an inbound or outbound travel exemption.