When Will International Travel Resume?

The COVID-19 pandemic has created extremely unpredictable circumstances for governments, businesses, and households around the world. For the Australian economy, one of the most heavily impacted industries is tourism, with domestic travel affected due to border closures, and international travel due to blanket travel bans.

In fact, in terms of international travel from Australia, the tourism industry has been reporting losses of over $4 billion per month since the middle of last year. With the pandemic continuing to take its toll, and many people wanting to fly overseas for personal and business reasons, when will international travel resume?

What are the current international travel bans?

Following an extension of the “biosecurity emergency period” that enables the Federal Government to place restrictions on cruise ships and overseas flights, most Australians are banned from international travel until at least March of this year. It will mark a full year since the Australian Government shut the country’s borders due to COVID-19. During that period, 95,000 Australian residents were granted an exemption from the Australian Border Force and the Department of Home Affairs, but there are strict criteria (more on that below).

Are airlines still flying internationally?

The current ban on overseas travel from Australia excludes travel to New Zealand (on Qantas), and overseas if you have an exemption or are eligible for a repatriation flight (currently on Qantas only).


Due to the international travel ban in Australia, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce has confirmed that travel would remain “at a virtual standstill” until at least the middle of this year, depending on the vaccine rollout. On the financial front, the airline expects to post "a substantial statutory loss" for the 2021 financial year. In terms of international travel, the airline faces an annual revenue drop of at least $8 billion, which Joyce says will take years to recover fully.

Joyce has also confirmed that a vaccination will be mandatory for all Australians flying overseas with the airline once international travel resumes. Exceptions may be made for those travelling to New Zealand and potentially other countries involved in a COVID-safe “travel bubble,” along with passengers who qualify for a medical exemption.

Currently, Qantas is offering a repatriation flight to the UK to Australian citizens and permanent residents who have qualified for an exemption. However, there is only one flight available at this stage, which departs from Perth on 12th January. The airline hasn’t confirmed whether other flights may be offered at a later date.

The travel ban excludes flights to New Zealand under the trans-Tasman bubble, but existing border rules will apply to people seeking to return there. If you are not a New Zealand citizen, you should check your eligibility. If you are eligible, you are legally required to wear face coverings on all public transport to, from, and through Auckland, as well as on domestic flights throughout the country.


Most Virgin Australia international flights have already been suspended until June 2021, however, Chief Executive Paul Scurrah believes the airline is unlikely to fly international routes for at least the next two years. In August 2020, over 3000 employees were made redundant and the Tigerair brand was axed, making it Australia’s first significant airline casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The business also confirmed in a statement to the ASX that when flights resume, the company would aim to operate as a “hybrid”, running a mixture of services but with reduced focus on international routines. The new network will also operate a slimmed-down fleet by removing its Boeing 777, ATR, Airbus A330, and Tigerair Airbus A320s.

What do I need to consider before organising travel?

Given the ever-changing nature of the pandemic, travel circumstances are constantly shifting. Before considering travel, be aware that:

  • Flights may be difficult to secure, for both leaving and returning to Australia. Many countries have closed their borders to foreign citizens, and restrictions and travel regulations are changing often and at short notice, so disruptions and delays are likely.
  • Many travel insurance policies won’t cover claims relating to COVID-19, so read your insurance policy carefully so you know what is covered.
  • If you are granted an exemption and can return to Australia, you must comply with the entry restrictions including 14 days of self-funded mandatory quarantine.
  • The Australian Government continues to offer consular support, however, this may be limited in some countries due to embassies being closed or offering limited consultations.

How do I get a travel exemption?

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, if you are a permanent resident or Australian citizen, you cannot leave Australia unless you have an exemption. You can apply online, but you must also meet at least one of the following:

  • Your travel is related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the provision of aid 
  • Your travel is for your business/employer
  • You are travelling to receive urgent medical treatment that is not available in Australia
  • You are travelling outside Australia for three months or longer
  • You are travelling on compassionate or humanitarian grounds 
  • Your travel is of national interest

You must provide evidence to support your claims, which may include:

  • Passports
  • Marriage certificates
  • Birth certificates
  • Death certificates
  • Proof of relationship (for example, shared tenancy agreement, joint bank account etc.)
  • Proof that you are moving to another country on a long term basis such as leases, job offers and evidence your goods are being transported
  • Proof of your current valid visa, including in Australia and/or overseas
  • A letter from a doctor or hospital about any medical treatment/condition, with statements on why travel is necessary
  • A letter from your employer, or other evidence that you are travelling for a business reason
  • A statement or evidence to show when you wish to return to Australia
  • Any other proof you may have to support your claims.

Where can I find out more?

You can stay up to date with the latest advice and information by checking the relevant government websites, including the Department of Health website and Smarttraveller. The Department of Home Affairs website also has further information, including details on travel exemptions in Australia.