Perth
Perth, Western Australia. Photo: Nathan Hurst on Unsplash.

From 20 November 2021, Western Australia will double its cap on the number of people allowed to arrive from overseas each week from 265 to 530 people. But the state’s international arrival cap and mandatory hotel quarantine will likely remain until at least late January 2022, with WA Premier Mark McGowan revealing last week that restrictions on international arrivals will be in place until 90% of the eligible WA population has received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

WA expects to reach 70% double-dose vaccination coverage around 20 November, triggering the increase to the international arrival cap. (This will still be 50% less than the arrival cap that was in place before July this year.)

Once WA reaches the 80% threshold, the state’s premier will announce a date for international arrival caps & quarantine for vaccinated Australians to be removed for vaccinated travellers who test negative for COVID-19. This is likely to coincide with the date the state expects to reach a 90% vaccination rate, which is currently estimated to be around late January or early February next year.

Until then, unfortunately, getting to WA from overseas (or even NSW or Victoria) remains extremely difficult. Thousands of West Australians remain stuck overseas or interstate and have lost most hope of getting home by Christmas. But there are some options.

Pathways to Perth from overseas

If you’re currently overseas, there are commercial flights available to Perth. However, these are mostly very expensive and seats are already sold out months in advance.

Another option would be to fly to Adelaide or Brisbane on a commercial flight, quarantine there for 14 days, then travel to Perth. But seats on commercial flights to Adelaide and Brisbane are also limited and the WA government has warned it could close its internal border with South Australia once SA reopens to travellers from NSW, Victoria and the ACT. (It’s not yet clear if this would impact people who completed hotel quarantine in Adelaide.)

If you’re lucky enough to get a seat on one of the Singapore Airlines or Qantas-operated repatriation flights from places such as Singapore, Frankfurt or Istanbul to Darwin, that would be another pathway to WA from overseas. You would be required to undertake 14 days of quarantine at Howard Springs on arrival, but would then be free to travel onwards to Perth. Unfortunately, again, seats on the DFAT repatriation flights have all sold out very quickly.

Qantas is currently flying from London to Sydney via Darwin. However, only NT residents (who also need to quarantine at Howard Springs) are allowed to disembark these flights in Darwin. Everyone else on these flights needs to rejoin the flight after the refuelling stop in Darwin for the final leg to Sydney. (This will also be the case with Melbourne when Qantas starts London-Darwin-Melbourne flights.)

The Canberra loophole

If none of these options are available to you, or you’re currently in NSW or Victoria and trying to travel to Western Australia, there is one final loophole that could get you home. It will take at least four weeks for you to get home, and there is a risk that the WA border rules could change mid-way through your trip. But if this loophole works, you wouldn’t have to do hotel quarantine and you may even be able to get back to WA from overseas before Christmas.

Currently, Australians are allowed to fly quarantine-free from overseas to Sydney or Melbourne. They are then free to travel onwards to anywhere within NSW, Victoria or the ACT (with two COVID-19 tests after arrival).

Western Australia currently has a “hard border” arrangement with NSW and Victoria. But the ACT is currently considered a “medium risk” area by WA.

If you have only been within the ACT for at least 14 days prior to travelling to WA, you would be allowed to fly to WA with a G2G Pass approval. According to the WA government website, approvals to travel from medium risk jurisdictions are available to people in the following categories with proof of full COVID-19 vaccination:

  • certain senior Government officials
  • certain active military personnel
  • a member of the Commonwealth Parliament
  • a person carrying out functions under a law of the Commonwealth
  • a specialist or category of specialist required for the performance of time critical services where the specialist’s skills are not otherwise reasonably available in Western Australia who is approved by the State Emergency Coordinator or an authorised officer; or
  • any person or category of persons who has been approved by the State Emergency Coordinator or an authorised officer.

Returning WA residents can also apply for approval to return home from medium risk jurisdictions on compassionate grounds by submitting a G2G Pass application to travel to WA. If you can prove residency or strong links to WA in your application, that may support your case.

This is what the WA government says about approving applications on compassionate grounds:

Compassionate guidelines ensure that people who recently left WA, and have roots in WA and a legitimate right to return, are offered a pathway to return, subject to the relevant quarantine conditions and required evidence.
The State Emergency Coordinator and authorised officers will assess each G2G Pass application on a case by case basis, after consideration of all circumstances – including the public health risks.

This method isn’t guaranteed to work – WA could change the rules for arrivals from the ACT or your G2G Pass application could be denied. But it is a potential pathway home for WA residents who have exhausted all other options and can’t wait until February 2022.

Crucially, if returning from overseas, you would need to have been in Australia for at least 14 days before applying for a domestic G2G Pass to enter WA from the ACT, NSW or Victoria.

“Any international traveller who arrives into NSW, Victoria and ACT needs to complete 14 days in Australia before they can apply for a G2G Pass to enter WA under our controlled border,” Premier Mark McGowan said last week.

When booking a flight from Canberra to Perth, you may also need to be careful not to stop over in a COVID-19 “hotspot”. If you can’t get a direct flight from Canberra to Perth, consider flying via Brisbane or Adelaide rather than Sydney or Melbourne.

When arriving in WA from a medium risk jurisdiction, you would still need to self-quarantine at a suitable premises (which could be your home, if you live in WA) for 14 days. You would also need to get a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours before flying to WA, and on days 2 & 12 after arrival.

Clearly, this isn’t an ideal way to return to WA from overseas. But there haven’t really been any ideal ways to get to WA for quite some time anyway. With the Canberra loophole, you would at least be free to do what you like within the ACT for 14 days, then be able to quarantine at home for 14 days after returning to Perth.

Read more: Overview of Australian State Border Restrictions

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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]

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