Australia international borders opening: Everything you need to know about travelling overseas

We're off! Well, almost. After nearly 20 months of closed borders and a lot of confinement, the drawbridge is about to crank open and international travel for frivolous purposes (and what's wrong with that?) will once again become a reality.

With the crystal ball dusted off, here are 22 analyses, projections and prophecies for the road ahead. Expect changes. Even today or tomorrow.

We trust our answers below will help ready you when our overseas borders are finally flung open.

THE BASICS

MAXPCE The Great Court of The British Museum, London, UK *** FEE APPLIES *** sept4coverquiz traveller quiz cover feature *** ONE TIME PRINT & ONLINE USE ONLY *** credit: Alamy

The Great Court of The British Museum, London. Photo: Alamy 

WILL I STILL NEED THE GOVERNMENT'S PERMISSION TO LEAVE AUSTRALIA?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed that as soon as 80 per cent of a state's eligible population is fully vaccinated, residents of that state will no longer require permission to travel overseas. See health.gov.au; smartraveller.gov.au

SO WHERE WILL I REALISTICALLY BE ABLE TO GO AND WHEN SHOULD I BOOK?

The world is going through a staggered reopening. Some countries, such as the US, never closed the door to us, Europe is open to vaccinated travellers and those from countries on their 'green lists', but Asia's most popular tourist destinations are reopening only slowly while caution reigns in the South Pacific. There will be a stampede when the brakes come off. But before you gallop off to your favourite place, you might want to wait and make sure those in the first wave are coming back healthy and happy. See smartraveller.gov.au

IS OVERSEAS TRAVEL GOING TO FEEL DIFFERENT?

Yes, but how different it feels will depend on your destination. Pre-flight COVID-19 tests, proof of vaccination status at the check-in desk and inflight masks will be almost universal but at your destination some countries are operating almost as if COVID-19 never happened. Apart from a few US states, such as New York and California, where proof of vaccination is required for entry to most restaurants and cultural institutions, in many other jurisdictions it's business as usual. The UK has recently backed away from plans to require a vaccine passport and protocols vary. Duck in for a pint at the Cross Keys in Covent Garden and you won't be asked to sign in, while the British Museum recommends but does not require the donning of a mask. In much of continental Europe proof of vaccination status is required when you enter a restaurant, cafe or museum, and you may need the local version of a health pass rather than Australia's COVID-19 certificate. See visittheusa.com.au; gov.uk; visitbritain.com; reopen.europa.eu/en

WHAT HAS THE CRUISE INDUSTRY DONE TO MAKE CRUISING SAFER?

The Cruise Lines International Association has instituted a comprehensive COVID-19 Member Policy including more medical specialists on board, daily temperature checks for staff and crew and greater capacity to provide intensive care for COVID-19 cases in dedicated cabins converted to isolation units. All crew are required to provide a negative test result before departing from home and before embarking the ship. Mask-wearing is required in public spaces and service areas. Passengers must prove a negative test before boarding, mask wearing and physical distancing are enforced and arrivals and departures from the vessel are staggered. Guests are tracked and traced for at least 30 days following final disembarkation. See cruising.org.au

HAVE AIRFARES INCREASED FROM 2019?

Singapore, Singapore - May 28, 2014: Sunny day at Gardens by the bay iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted. Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. Supertrees.

Flights to Singapore from Australia currently cost about $750. Photo: iStock

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At present you can buy a ticket to fly from the east coast of Australia to New York in May, returning in June for around $1400. Or you can fly to London on the same dates, starting from $1500, and to Singapore from $750. Airlines have a lot of spare capacity, demand is sluggish, they need to get passengers back on board and that means prices are low, but possibly not for long. When confidence returns and demand for international air travel from Australia ramps up, expect the least expensive seats to disappear quickly. Airlines are expert at tailoring prices to match demand.

THE PAPERWORK

WILL TRAVEL INSURANCE COVER ME FOR COVID-19?

Several travel insurance policies now come with cover for medical expenses if you're diagnosed overseas with COVID-19, but it doesn't apply if it's in a country bearing a stern "Do not travel" warning from DFAT. On October 28, DFAT lifted its blanket "Do not travel" warning that applied to every country in the world except New Zealand), meaning travel insurance with COVID-19 cover should now be available for international travel.

The Department of Foreign Affairs' Smart Traveller website's four warning 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

The warning levels are determined by various factors including crime, terrorism, health, medical care, natural disasters and DFAT's ability to provide consular assistance to Australians in a destination.

Smart Traveller website warns that, while most travel insurance policies will cover travel to destinations at level 1 or 2, cover can vary at level 3. Travellers should check policies carefully. See smartraveller.gov.au

WHAT'S THE WAITING TIME FOR A PASSPORT RENEWAL AND WHY DO AUSTRALIANS PAY SO MUCH FOR THEM?

Expect about three weeks. In urgent cases you can get a passport in under two working days but DFAT slugs you an extra $220, on top of the $310 passport fee. At about $370, the Liechtenstein passport pips the expense of ours but the Australian number is certainly fully on the podium as one of the world's most expensive. DFAT insists that the cost of the Australian passport reflects the cost of its production and its requisite robust checks on applicants. See passports.gov.au

See also: Hoping to travel overseas again soon? Warning over passport delays

THE SHOTS

WILL I NEED ANY MORE VACCINATIONS, LIKE THE FLU VAX FOR THE NORTHERN HEMISPHERE?

Best not entertain any risk these days. Even though the symptoms could be mild your immune system might be compromised if you get the flu, and that may increase your risk of contracting COVID-19. The flu could also well be mistaken for COVID and delay your travel plans or worse. Get a flu shot just to be on the safe side. If you're heading anywhere in the developing world, seek advice from a medical clinic that specialises in travel medicine.

SO WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH QUARANTINE IN AUSTRALIA ON MY RETURN FROM OVERSEAS?

Incoming Australian citizens and permanent residents to New South Wales and Victoria no longer need to quarantine, provided they are fully vaccinated with an approved vaccine. Rules in other states vary but travellers from New Zealand's South Island can enter some states, including Queensland, without having to quarantine. 

See covid19.homeaffairs.gov.au/travel-vaccinated-australians-and-permanent-residents

WHAT ARE THE VACCINE PROTOCOLS IN THE US? IS ASTRAZENECA RECOGNISED THERE?

Vaccine protocols vary from one US state to another. New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles require proof of vaccination for entry to museums, performing arts venues and restaurants and cafes with indoor dining. Most southern states have no such requirement. AstraZeneca has not been authorised by the US Food and Drug Administration but this may not be a problem. White House chief medical advisor Dr Anthony Fauci has indicated the US will allow entry to the millions of Europeans who have been vaccinated with AstraZeneca when the US opens its doors to vaccinated travellers in November. There is also evidence that venues may take a pragmatic approach. That's what happened when fans vaccinated with AstraZeneca were belatedly allowed to attend the mid-2021 Bruce Springsteen concerts, on the grounds that the vaccine was approved by the WHO. See travel.state.gov; visittheusa.com.au

THE WHAT-IFS

Business Class Foodservice 1 oct16cover traveller cover 22 burning questions ; text by Michael Gebicki ; SUPPLIED Etihad https://www.etihadaviationgroup.com/en-ae/media-resourcesEtihad cabin crew & / or guests wearing PPE onboard 

Etihad meals served with COVID-19 safety measures.

WHAT IF THE PERSON NEXT TO ME ON THE PLANE IS NOT VACCINATED?

Choose your airline and destination with care. Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has promised that only fully vaccinated passengers will be allowed to board the airline's international flights. Air New Zealand has done the same while Etihad requires that all passengers show proof of a negative PCR test taken either 48 or 72 hours pre-flight, depending on your destination. Many European countries also require proof of a negative PCR test 72 hours before boarding your flight. Finally, the air you breathe in an aircraft is recirculated every few minutes and passed through "high efficiency particulate absorbing" filters that are said to trap even tiny viruses. See qantas.com; airnewzealand.com.au; etihad.com

See also: PCR: What you need to know about compulsory COVID test for travellers

CAN I BE SURE I'LL GET BACK TO AUSTRALIA IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG AND CAN I RELY ON HELP FROM THE GOVERNMENT?

Government-imposed restrictions on the number of incoming travellers mean the number of seats on flights is well short of demand. Many Australian expats have been stranded overseas and that could affect travellers as well. Flights and seats should ramp up when the government relaxes restrictions on overseas travel and quarantine and demand increases. That's one reason the more circumspect travellers among us may want to wait and see if initial return flights present a problem. One thing for certain is that the government won't help you return.

THE DESTINATIONS

oct16cover traveller cover 22 burning questions ; text by Michael Gebicki ; SUPPLIED https://visuals.newzealand.com ; Credit: Stewart Nimmo
2548-Routeburn-Track-Fiordland-Stewart-Nimmo.jpgRouteburn Track - Fiordland National ParkLicence: Worldwide usage in unpaid digital and print media to promote New Zealand as a visitor destination.Usage: Worldwide usage in unpaid digital and print media to promote New Zealand as a visitor destination.Expiry: 21 Jan 2022

Fresh air in Fiordland National Park, New Zealand. Photo Stewart Nimmo

WHAT ARE LIKELY TO BE THE SAFEST OVERSEAS DESTINATIONS IN 2022?

Number one, New Zealand. Infection rates are low, the country has a reciprocal health agreement with Australia, COVID-19 protocols are tight and you're probably going there to take in NZ's stupendous natural glories. Those factors bode well for your chances of avoiding infection but travel to New Zealand is not an option right now. Qantas hopes trans-Tasman travel will resume in December but New Zealand shows no sign of relaxing tough quarantine requirements by then. The western European countries are making great strides in containing the pandemic with mandated vaccinations to achieve herd immunity. Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Austria and the Nordic countries are all looking good for mid-2022. See newzealand.com; qantas.com; reopen.europa.eu/en

HOW CAN I BEST CHOOSE A SAFE DESTINATION AND WHAT WILL MAKE IT SAFE?

Destinations with low current infection rates, high vaccination numbers, that require proof of vaccination for indoor activities and with an efficient health system are the way to go. Up-to-date information on all those metrics is available online. As well as your destination, there are choices you can make for a safer holiday. Self-contained accommodation is less risky than a hotel. Rather than places that are likely to be crowded, countries whose appeal lies in the out-of-doors enhance social distancing. That puts a biking or hiking holiday in the sweet spot, or how about a charter boat in the Greek islands? Island resorts get a big tick provided they insist on pre-arrival COVID-19 tests for staff and guests. See reopen.europa.eu/en

DO ANY COUNTRIES HAVE ZERO COVID-19 CASES?

According to the WHO, the Cook Islands, Niue, Tonga, Tuvalu and Nauru, all Pacific nations, have all escaped the scourge of COVID-19. They're all small, remote Pacific islands and they recognised the threat of the COVID-19 virus early, responded quickly and shut the door to the rest of the world. Most of those islands have sacrificed their tourism income in the process. For many that's the mainstay of their economy, but the loss of tourism dollars has been easier to bear than allowing the coronavirus to run riot. See cookislands.travel; niueisland.com; www.tongaholiday.com; timelesstuvalu.com; naurugov.nr

WHAT ABOUT A DESTINATION LIKE FIJI? DIDN'T IT HAVE A WORLD RECORD NUMBER OF CASES?

Palm trees over white beach on a a Plantation Island, Fiji, South Pacific tra15reporter
Fiji 

Fiji plans to open to fully vaccinated visitors on November 1. Photo: iStock

In mid-year, Fiji recorded the highest number of cases per capita of any country. The current case number is just six per cent of the peak figure reported on July 22, and infections continue to fall. Fiji has announced plans to open to fully vaccinated visitors on November 1, provided at least 80 per cent of its eligible population is fully vaccinated. Fiji Airways is taking flight bookings from October while Qantas is offering flights to Fiji from November 30. The big attraction is Fiji's resorts, and island resorts that have rigorous vaccine protocols for staff and guests offer a high degree of protection against the virus. See www.fiji.travel

IS BALI REOPENING TO VISITORS, AND IS IT SAFE? WHEN CAN WE GO THERE?

The seven-day average for new positive cases is low but static in early October. That should not alarm fully vaccinated visitors but right now the island is closed to international arrivals. Travel might begin again in October but progress has stuttered, with scheduled reopening dates that never quite arrive. Qantas and Virgin Australia are offering flights from March 27, 2022. Travel at an earlier date might be possible but right now, Bali's airport is closed to international traffic. See indonesia.travel

WHY DOES DFAT HAVE SO MANY "DO NOT TRAVEL" WARNINGS?

Because DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) proceeds with an abundance of caution. There's a lot that can go wrong when you're far from home and while they might do their best to take care of Australian citizens wherever they are in the world, our consular officials do not have the resources to make everything right. Therefore, DFAT urges caution, especially during the pandemic. See smartraveller.gov.au

PUTTING OVERSEAS ASIDE FOR THE MOMENT, WHEN WILL I AGAIN BE ABLE TO TRAVEL DOMESTICALLY BEYOND NSW AND VICTORIA?

Most states and territories are signalling a relaxation of border control, mainly in relation to NSW and Victoria, when 80 per cent of their eligible populations are fully vaccinated. However state premiers in Western Australia, Queensland and Tasmania are refusing to say when their states will open, with Tasmania indicating it may not open to NSW and Victoria until its citizens reach the 90 per cent mark. See australia.com

WHEN WILL I BE ABLE TO CRUISE IN AUSTRALIAN WATERS?

Aerial view Hunter River and Prince Frederick Harbour
Supplied PR image for Traveller. Australian cruises in 2021 Brian Johnston story tra6-online-cruises
Ponant sailing in the Kimberley (credit Ponant)

Ponant is set to sail the Kimberley coast in mid-2022. 

Coral Expeditions is operating Great Barrier Reef cruises from November this year, followed by other cruises in South Australia, Tasmania and in January 2022, Broome to Cairns. Royal Caribbean has cruises departing from Brisbane and Sydney in February 2022, Princess Cruises begins Australian operations the following month. Ponant will begin operating cruises along the Kimberley coast in mid-2022, along with Coral Expeditions and several other cruise operators. See princess.com; www.royalcaribbean.com; ponant.com

This story was first published on October 15 and updated on November 1. Travel regulations and restrictions are changing rapidly as nations reopen and the world navigates a path out of the pandemic. Some of these changes occur at short notice and may affect the content in this story. Keep up to date on the latest COVID travel news at traveller.com.au

See also: Do you need to be vaccinated? Comparing each airline's new travel rules

See also: Once borders open, this is the first country I'll be visiting

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