What is it like to travel overseas, right now?

 On April 18, 2022, Australia did away with all COVID-related restrictions. Incoming visitors no longer need to show negative PCR tests and outgoing travellers (vaccinated or not) no longer need to seek travel exemptions.

After two long years in isolation, Australia is finally ready to pick up its adventures where it left off!

The demand for overseas travel is expected to grow rapidly in the next few months, as Australia looks down its wintery tunnel and popular northern hemisphere destinations, like Europe and North America, enter their summer season.

All this great news aside, it’s worth remembering that not every country is in the same boat. The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we travel. The complicated international web of vaccination certificates, testing, and quarantining rules mean traveling isn’t quite as simple as it used to be.

Pre-COVID, all you needed to do was ensure you packed your passport, visas, tickets, toothbrush, and credit cards.

Today, flying overseas can involve a lot of logistical tasks. Most countries still require you to fill in an incoming passenger form. Many require you to do so via an app, where you’ll receive a QR code to show upon arrival. Some also still require passengers to show negative PCR test results upon arrival and others are still enforcing a quarantine for unvaccinated and vaccinated travellers.

What is it like to travel overseas, right now?

Read on to discover what you need to do to travel overseas from Australia and what (if any) steps need to be taken when returning to your home state.

Check Airline Restrictions

Most airlines require passengers to be fully vaccinated prior to traveling and some still require you show a negative PCR-test upon check-in. The vaccination certificate needs to be internationally recognized for travel.

Those who received their vaccines in Australia can get their ICVC (International Covid Vaccination Certificate) through MyGov. If you were vaccinated abroad and planning to leave again, you should have your ICVC already.

If you have received an exemption to the vaccine for medical reasons, you are considered fully vaccinated for travel. Just make sure you carry your exemption certificate at all times.

Do note that the Australian Government states you must provide your ICVC upon departure if asked by an airport or customs official.

Pre-departure testing for COVID-19

What you need to do prior to traveling depends on the airline with which you’re flying, any countries you are transiting through, and your final destination. Current travellers recommend you plan as direct a flight route as possible to your chosen destination, to avoid unnecessary hassles.

We strongly recommend you check the latest airline and government travel requirements well before your departure date to ensure you understand and comply with any test requirements that apply to your trip. This may include the minimum age of passengers who are required to take the test, approved testing providers, and test types. You’ll also need to ensure you have valid test result documentation to meet the criteria for travel.

Helpful hint: It's important to get your info directly at the source, from your destination country’s official health ministry website. For Italy, for example, the Ministero della Salute is the only reliable source of entry requirements info. Most countries the world over have added an English translation to their official pages to make your life easier. Don’t trust 3rd-party info and get all your info from official sources.

When to have your COVID-19 test if you need one

Your pre-departure testing window may vary depending on the country you’re traveling to, the airline you’re flying with, and your vaccination status.

Covd testing before overseas travel

You'll need to check both with the airline and government of your destination country and comply with the most stringent requirement of the two. This means that if the airline states you must take a test 72 hours prior to flying, but your destination demands a test no older than 48 hours, make sure you comply with the latter!

Where can I get a test?

COVID-19 tests for travel are different to the usual free COVID tests you may be used to. Official tests with travel certificates are offered by private pathology clinics. They cost around $150 each. PCR are considered the best and most reliable tests to get for travel. When enquiring with your chosen clinic, make sure they offer tests with relevant fit-to-fly travel certificate.

On arrival at your destination, you may be required to take additional tests after landing. 

How long do COVID test results take?

You will normally receive your COVID test results within 24 hours of testing. This time frame differs based on the testing facility and your area.

For example, a testing facility in a COVID hotspot most likely would take longer to process results than an area with limited cases, due to the increased number of tests. Remote areas may take more time to transport your test to the testing facility than in metro locations.

What happens once I get the results back?

When you take a COVID test, the staff will ask you what format you would like to receive your results in. A text sent to your mobile is the most common format for receiving results. You can also choose between an email or having a printed copy sent to you. The testing facility can provide you with printed evidence that you received a COVID test on the testing date. This also serves as a medical certificate for 24 hours if you need it for work purposes.

When you receive your COVID test results, you will be alerted of the result as positive or negative. You won’t be allowed to travel if the test shows a positive result.

Make sure you keep a copy of your results in case you are required to provide them during your travels. However, if you are showing symptoms, it’s advised that you remain isolated and contact a medical practitioner for advice.

Once you are successful in travelling to your destination safely, it’s important to keep up with proper hygiene and COVID-safe practices such as hand washing and social distancing. This will help to protect yourself as well as those around you. Some states and territories have an app that uses a QR code or booking system to help with contact tracing if a case of COVID-19 arises in the community.

Anyone planning an overseas trip will have to budget for the additional cost of taking multiple tests. Each country has different rules and these keep changing constantly. It is best to check the most current arrival rules for your destination immediately prior to travel and throughout your trip abroad.

Do I need to provide a negative COVID-19 PCR test result for domestic flights?

A negative COVID-19 test is not required for domestic flights within Australia. However, it’s always best to research your airline and destination to check for any exceptions or last-minute changes.

If required, most states now accept a RAT result. The QANTAS domestic travel requirements page gives a great overview of what’s required for each state and territory in Australia.

Can you travel overseas, from Australia, if you are unvaccinated?

Yes. However, some Australian states cap incoming numbers of unvaccinated return travellers and impose quarantine requirements, at traveller’s expense.

Moreover, you are urged to check travel requirements with the airline and the country you wish to travel to. Australia might allow you to fly out but that doesn’t mean the airline will take you nor the country you wish to visit will accept you upon arrival.

Applying for medical clearance if you’ve had COVID

If you've previously had COVID-19, your pre-departure COVID-19 test can show a positive result even if you're not currently infected. In this case, you'll need to apply for COVID-19 past positive medical clearance in addition to your pre-departure test, if one is required.

COVID-19 medical clearances are not able to be processed at the airport on your day of departure. You will need to ensure you submit your request at least seven days in advance, otherwise, you may not be able to board your flight. You may also need to carry proof of recovery to comply with individual country requirements.

Do you need to wear a mask to travel overseas?

You don’t need to wear a mask to fly out of Australia but you may not be allowed to fly without one. Most airlines are still demanding passengers wear masks on their flights.

Travelling with masks

Mask requirements overseas vary greatly. In Scandinavian countries, for example, no mask is required to go into shops and hotels. In Germany, masks are voluntary (about 50% of people are reported to be wearing them in public places) while in Italy, masks are still mandatory in all enclosed public places.

What new documents do I need to travel? 

Along with your physical passport, your smartphone will be the most important travel accessory. That’s because smartphone apps will be the easiest way to prove you’ve had the required vaccinations and tests.

Helpful hint: make sure you check whether your passport is up to date - the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade reports that 1.3 million passports have expired since the pandemic began. Having at least 6 months validity past your planned exit date is a requirement for entering most countries.

It is advisable to print out all the documents you might need during your journey, as phones can unexpectedly run out of battery or not be accessible for whatever reason. You also might not want to hand your phone over to several people during your trip, for hygiene reasons. Make a folder of copies with you and keep your phone safely in your bag.

To leave the country, travellers will be asked to download an international vaccination certificate from MyGov. It includes a QR code that can be used for verification by immigration authorities.

Almost every country you visit will have its own app that is used to prove your vaccination status on arrival. In some cases, you will need to prove that you have been vaccinated to get into restaurants and public spaces. In some countries, such as with Singapore’s TraceTogether app, vaccination is required to go anywhere at all in the country. Some of these apps require Bluetooth for contact tracing, so check your phone's capacity against the requirements of the apps you need to download.

Most airlines will also require a separate app to get you through the check-in counter. Based on the International Air Travel Association’s Travel Pass, passengers can upload their vaccination certificates and test results to the app, indicating to airlines whether they are permitted to fly.

Helpful hint: Make sure you take your Australia SIM card with you, and consider having data roaming enabled. Data roaming starts from around $1 to $3 per day, and allows you to use your Australian SIM overseas. You may need this to log in to your internet banking or myGov services where access codes are sent to the mobile number they have on file.

Returning to Australia

Those flying into Australia must now submit a Digital Passenger Declaration Form. You can fill in the form up to a week before returning.  

Returning back from overseas travel

Vaccinated Travellers – Department of Home Affairs details entry requirements for vaccinated travellers

Unvaccinated Travellers – Department of Home Affairs details for unvaccinated travellers

Do I need a COVID-19 test return to Australia?

Australia no longer requires inbound travellers show a negative COVID test upon arrival. However, most airlines demand you have one to fly with them.

Every state and territory within Australia have the autonomy to dictate their own entry requirements. Here is where they stand, at time of writing:

ACT, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales   – Within 24 of arrival, you are required to take a PCR or RAT. You must isolate until you receive a negative result.

Northern Territory,  Tasmania – You are not required to test or isolate upon arrival. 

Western Australia – Incoming passengers must fill in a G2G Pass prior to arrival. They must also take a COVID test and isolate until a negative result is received.

What happens if I get sick while I'm away?

Another big concern for travellers is the risk of being stranded overseas either because they’ve caught COVID-19 or because border rules have changed. Using Rapid Antigen Tests in the leadup to your return is a good way to know early if you've caught COVID-19, rather than waiting for your PCR test 72 hours before you're set to fly.

Falling sick while travelling overseas

Catching COVID-19 while you're away would most likely require you to isolate on the spot. Isolation requirements do vary in different countries, although in most places you won't be able to leave your accommodation except to get tested or to seek medical care.

If you're staying with other people who aren't sick, you may be required to make alternative arrangements for accommodation.

Does travel insurance cover COVID related costs?

Insurance is crucial now more than it’s ever been. Singapore even has specific travel lanes to expedite travellers who are vaccinated and requires tourists visiting the country to have at least $30,000 insurance cover for COVID-19 related medical expenses.

While before the COVID-19 pandemic, most insurance policies specifically excluded any costs related to a pandemic, insurance policies can now be purchased with specific COVID-19 inclusions. This may cover you for medical treatment if you catch COVID-19 on your travels, while some even cover quarantine and flight cancellation costs.

Be sure to look for COVID specific insurance, as some basic policies still exclude pandemic-related cancellations and expenses.

Helpful hint: Australia has reciprocal health care arrangements (RHCAs) with some countries, including the UK and New Zealand. This means that your Medicare card will help cover you for some essential care. Check if any RHCAs cover you for the countries you're headed to, and note any gap payments that may still apply. Insurance will still be essential, though, so don't skimp on your cover.

Tips to stay healthy while you're overseas

Aside from the standard COVID-safe practices such as social distancing, wearing a face mask and regular hand washing, get all your routine health checks in order before you leave. Travellers should also make sure other vaccinations — apart from COVID — are up to date, including things like hepatitis A, chickenpox, shingles, measles and tetanus.

Wash hands and sanitise

  • Pack some snacks and drinking water - you may have to queue or have delays. Have some healthy snacks on hand to fight hunger.
  • Avoid restaurants and self-service food wherever possible.
  • Maintain social distancing- Stay 1.5m from others and practice good hand hygiene.
  • Disinfect often - Disinfect items you often use like your phone. Use a disinfectant wipe on handles or buttons before you touch them.
  • Exercise good hand hygiene at all times - wash your hands with soap and water. Avoid touching your face. Cough or sneeze into your arm, elbow or tissue and dispose of the tissue. Wash your hands after coughing or sneezing. Avoid placing hands on high touch surfaces like railings.
  • Stay at home if you are unwell-  Help protect others. If you have any symptoms or have been in contact with someone with COVID-19, get tested.
  • Check-in - When out and about always check in for contact tracing.

Have you travelled overseas recently or are you abroad, right now? Tell us in the comments all about your experiences!

Disclaimer : 

While the information in this article is correct as of the publication date, this article is only meant to be a general guide for travellers. Many of the health and travel regulations change very regularly and we suggest that you check with your local authority to get the most up to date advice. 


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