Since 25 March 2020, Australian citizens and permanent residents have been banned from leaving the country without a travel restriction exemption from the Department of Home Affairs.
When the Australian outbound travel ban was first introduced in response to the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic, many applications were being rejected. Thankfully, it has now become a little easier to apply for an exemption and more are being approved.
If you want or need to leave Australia in the near future, here’s what you need to know about getting an Australian travel exemption…
Travellers who don’t require an exemption
Firstly, if you’re not an Australian citizen or permanent resident, you do not need an exemption to leave the country. (However, you may be unable to return as Australia has also banned people who are not Australian citizens, permanent residents or their immediate family members from arriving.)
If you’re an Australian but normally live overseas, you also don’t need to apply in advance for a travel exemption. The government considers that you are normally a resident of another country if international movement records show you’ve spent more time outside Australia than inside during the past 1-2 years. The Border Force can check this when you depart the country.
There are also various other automatic exemptions, including for airline and vessel crew members and ADF personnel travelling on official business.
Applying for an exemption
If you’re an Australian citizen or permanent resident who normally lives in Australia, you can still apply for a travel exemption if your reason for leaving the country falls into one of the following categories:
- Part of the response to the COVID-19 outbreak, including the provision of aid
- Essential for your business/employer
- Receiving urgent medical treatment that is not available in Australia
- Compassionate or humanitarian grounds
- Travel is in the national interest
- You are leaving Australia for more than 3 months
Requests to leave Australia are approved on a case-by-case basis, but as a guide would generally be granted for things like:
- Visiting critically-ill immedaite family members, or attending the funeral of a close family member
- Picking up a young child in order to return to Australia with that child
- Completing an existing work contract
- Travelling for elite sporting events
The possibility to apply for an exemption because you plan to leave Australia for more than 3 months is relatively new. This was not initially a reason to leave when the travel ban came into place. But you can now get an exemption if you don’t plan to return for at least 3 months and have a compelling reason to travel, such as studying overseas or visiting a long-term partner.
If you’re eligible, you can apply for an exemption on the Department of Home Affairs website. The government recommends you apply between 3 months and 2 weeks prior to travel, although you can apply within a fortnight if you’re travelling due to the death or serious illness of a close family member. You will need to provide evidence to support your application, as outlined on the Home Affairs website, but don’t need to have flights booked.
Risks of travelling overseas
If you have a compelling enough reason to travel outside Australia, your travel exemption request will most likely be approved. But you should beware of some of the risks of international travel during the pandemic.
Firstly, you may have trouble returning home. The number of passengers allowed to return to Australia each week remains limited, and there are few commercial flight options. There’s still a huge backlog of stranded overseas Australians trying to get home, and this backlog is unlikely to clear for at least a few more months.
Secondly, depending on the country you’re travelling to, you could be at a heightened risk of contracting COVID-19. And as the Australian government still considers every other country a “Do Not Travel” zone, it’s unlikely you’ll find a travel insurance policy that will cover overseas trips.
Thirdly, you’ll need to undergo two weeks of hotel quarantine at your own expense when returning to Australia.
Keep in mind that some other countries also currently have closed borders, or require an exemption or a negative COVID-19 test to travel there. So even if you can leave Australia, you may not be permitted entry to some other countries.
The Smartraveller website has more advice about travelling overseas at this time.
The Australian Frequent Flyer forum has lots of useful posts and information about applications to leave Australia. You can join the discussion here: Experience with Australian border controls leaving the country