Can visa holders enter Australia? What are the quarantine rules? How do I prove I’m vaccinated when travelling overseas? Can I get travel insurance? Expert answers to all your questions.

After 18 months of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, international travel from Australia has slowly started to resume since November 2021.

But what are the rules, where can you go and how can you minimise the risks? Here’s what has been officially confirmed so far. New information is emerging regularly, so we’ll keep this guide updated as fresh details appear.

1. Who is allowed to travel to and from Australia?

Under new rules announced in early October 2021, Australian citizens and permanent residents who have been double-vaccinated will be able to travel to and from Australia once their state of residence has more than 80% of residents double-vaccinated against COVID-19 and has implemented rules allowing travel. Parents of permanent residents and citizens will also be eligible.

From 1 November, Australian citizens and permanent residents will no longer need an exemption to leave the country – as long as they are fully vaccinated.

From 1 December fully vaccinated eligible visa holders (including student, skilled worker, refugee and working holiday visas) can also enter Australia without applying for exemptions.

Fully vaccinated citizens from New Zealand, Singapore can enter the country with Japanese and South Korean citizens to join them from 1 December.

How can I prove my vaccination status while travelling?

Vaccination status is tracked by an “internationally recognised proof of vaccination document”, called the “International COVID-19 Vaccine Certificate”. As of 19 October, the certificate can be accessed through a Medicare account linked to myGov, or through the Medicare Express app.

The document is a PDF with a secure QR code, which can be printed or stored on your phone. It’s linked to your Australian passport, but you’ll still need a copy of it in printed or digital form when travelling, for use in any other countries which require proof of vaccination.

“It can be downloaded digitally or printed and is compatible with COVID-19 travel apps such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Travel Pass,” the official announcement notes.

The certificate is available to “Australians and Australian visa holders who have a valid passport and their COVID-19 vaccination recorded on the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR)”, that announcement says. Again, only permanent residents are currently eligible to travel overseas from 1 November, though that may change in the future.

See the steps to download your International COVID-19 Vaccine Certificate

  • 1. Login to MyGov. Head to the linked Medicare website (you’ll need to link those accounts if you haven’t already). On the Medicare homepage, go to “Proof of vaccinations”.
  • 2. Under “International COVID-19 Vaccination Certificate”, click “Request a certificate”. Confirm that the COVID-19 vaccination details on your screen are correct.
  • 3. Link your Australian passport (or foreign passport with a valid Australian visa). Enter your passport details and confirm, making sure all the displayed details are correct.
  • 4. Click the button to download your certificate with a QR code. You’ll receive a copy of the certificate the size of an A4 page. You can print out a copy and it’s good to keep a version on your phone and in your emails as backups.

When will international travel open up in each state?

These are the estimated dates that each state or territory will reach the level required to open up, as calculated by the ABC:

State/territory Date
New South Wales 18 October 2021
Victoria 29 October 2021
Queensland 12 December 2021
Western Australia 12 December 2021
South Australia 28 November 2021
Tasmania 8 December 2021
Australian Capital Territory 18 October 2021
Northern Territory 7 December 2021

The exact dates will vary depending on how vaccination progresses across the rest of the year. So far only New South Wales, the ACT and Victoria have reached 80%. Each state also gets to set its own quarantine rules, so reaching that milestone doesn’t automatically trigger the availability of travel. In particular, Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia are yet to confirm what their rules will be and may take a tougher approach.

The dates that airlines launch services will vary, with many only planning flights from late December 2021, when most states are expected to have crossed the 80% target.

2. What quarantine rules will apply when I return to Australia?

Man and dog working from home
The broad regulations announced by the Federal government stipulated that travellers would have to quarantine at home for 7 days after returning to Australia.

However, state approaches vary. In New South Wales and Victoria from 1 November 2021, hotel quarantine is being eliminated entirely for people who have 2 vaccinations. Travellers will be required to take a PCR test and return a negative result before boarding their return flight. If you haven’t been double-vaccinated, you’ll still need to use hotel quarantine (and pay $3,000 for the privilege).

Details of the quarantine rules are yet to be clarified for other states, including how people will be allowed to travel from the airport to their home for quarantine; what will be done for residents of regional areas; how people in quarantine will be tracked; what kinds of negative COVID tests will be needed before quarantine ends; whether results from home testing kits will be acceptable; and whether travellers will have to pay for testing. We’ll continue updating this guide as more details become available.

While all states have broadly signed on to the scheme to open up, each state will set its own quarantine rules and there are expected to be variations.

What rules will I have to follow while I’m overseas?

On top of Australia’s own rules, you’ll also need to follow the pandemic travel rules for your destination country. These could include requiring pre-flight tests; tests when you land; evidence of return flight plans; and core requirements such as visas that existed before the pandemic.

The key source for Australians for information on travel advice and requirements is Smartraveller, which is run by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). Smartraveller issues guidance on 177 destinations and ranks the level of risk associated with them.

As of 28 October, DFAT has removed its level 4 “do not travel” advice for 162 countries. Most have been downgraded to either level 3 “reconsider your need to travel” or level 2 “exercise a high degree of caution”.

It’s important to always check DFAT warnings before booking a trip, as those warnings can impact travel insurance. DFAT has indicated it won’t be downgrading any countries to level 1 just yet while COVID-19 remains an “ongoing global health risk”.

From 8 November fully vaccinated Australians will be allowed to travel to Singapore without quarantining. You will need to return 2 negative COVID-19 tests, taking one 48 hours before departure and one when you arrive at Changi Airport. You’ll also need to self-isolate until your result is confirmed to be negative.

3. When will international flights restart?

Airport departure board
This date keeps moving forward. After originally planning to start in late December then shifting to mid-November, Qantas now intends to commence “up to five return flights a week from Sydney to London and up to four return flights a week from Sydney to Los Angeles” from 1 November 2021.

Those will be the first regular international commercial flights running from Australia in 2022, outside of the ones which ran during the limited Australia-New Zealand travel bubble earlier in the year.

“Bringing forward the reopening of Australia to the world and removing quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travellers entering New South Wales is a massive step towards life as we knew it,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said.

Which airlines are restarting flights from Australia?

All these airlines are currently selling tickets on some international routes from Australia from January 2022, with most starting earlier in 2021:

To score the best deal, it’s worth comparing pricing and deals with sites such as KAYAK, Skyscanner or Agoda.

Once you’ve compared you may choose to book directly with the airline or hotel, or through a travel agent like Flight Centre. Remember: If you book through a third party such as a travel agent, you’ll also have to deal with them for any refund or change requests.

Don’t miss out on flight deals as international borders open. Check out our full list of all the latest flight sales.

Which airlines require you to be vaccinated from Australia?

  • Qantas; must be a TGA-approved vaccine
  • Air New Zealand from 1 February 2022
  • Singapore Airlines; must be a WHO-approved vaccine for VTL (vaccinated travel lane)
  • Fiji Airways

4. Can I get a refund if I have to cancel my international travel?

Dollar sign on empty beach.
Your options to change flights without paying extra or to get a refund will vary depending on your airline and your fare type.

“Look through each travel provider’s terms and conditions, paying close attention to their wording on cancellations and refunds,” says consumer advocate Adam Glezer, adding:
“If your terms and conditions are live on a website, make sure you print a copy for your records. In the event of a cancellation, you’ll have the relevant evidence of your entitlements.”

During the pandemic, most major airlines have been allowing fee-free changes to existing bookings. For instance, Qantas says it won’t charge change fees for international flight bookings made up until 28 February 2022.

Under Australian consumer law, you’re entitled to a refund if your flight is cancelled altogether. However, the process may be time-consuming, and airlines have generally made it easier to get a travel credit for future use than an outright refund.

“At this stage, if you’re not happy to receive a credit if the flight doesn’t happen, booking an international trip is probably too risky,” says Finder’s travel expert Angus Kidman.

Paying by credit card can offer some additional protection, as you can apply for a credit card chargeback to reverse a transaction if something goes wrong. Keep in mind though that a chargeback may be denied if you can make an insurance claim.

5. What will (and won’t) travel insurance cover me for?

Lots of suitcases
Travel insurance can offer essential protection in case you get sick or injured while you’re abroad, including medical repatriation to Australia if required. It can cover the costs of your luggage being lost or stolen and trip cancellations not related to COVID.

Some insurers are offering limited cover for COVID – but those that do will probably only cover medical, quarantine and trip curtailment costs if you, a fellow traveller or the person you’re due to stay with tests positive for COVID. You’ll want to check your terms as cover may not be available for all destinations.

Crucially, travel insurance policies won’t cover you for cancellation if you can’t travel due to a government-imposed snap border closure or lockdown.

Will travel insurance cost more now that travelling is “riskier” amid a pandemic?

Time will tell. Theoretically, as COVID is considered a “known event”, prices may not be impacted too much as, unfortunately, the consumer now takes on much of the risk of COVID-related travel woes. That said, low demand for policies isn’t great news for competitive pricing.

Shop around and compare travel insurance cover so you get a good deal.

Which brands currently offer insurance for international travel?

We’ve identified 6 partner brands that are currently offering policies for international trips, and have some cover for COVID-related expenses.

Dylan Crismale contributed to this report.

Note: We updated this article on 22 November with the news that eligible visa holders will be allowed to enter Australia from 1 Decemeber.