A few months ago, I decided I had waited long enough for Australia to unlock its borders to the rest of the world. So, after being barred from international travel for almost 2 years, I started looking into the exemption process which would allow me to leave… and most importantly, return in a timely fashion.
In this post:
Exemption to leave Australia
For most Aussies, leaving Australia is a challenging task right now (luckily, there are some signs that this will change by Christmas). You need a valid “excuse” and, in most cases, a statutory declaration saying that you will stay away for 3 months+. I’ve seen many horror stories of people getting denied exit and entry into their own country.
Considering I’m not an Australian citizen or permanent resident, leaving Australia was very easy: I don’t need any exemption! With that in mind, getting back in is the harder part (so I thought).
As it turns out, my exemption approval was straightforward. All up, it was approved in 24h. In my case, I was asked to provide proof of my visa status and proof that I ordinarily reside in Australia.
Booking Flights To Leave
With my exemption in the bag, I set out to find the best possible way to leave the country in style. My preferred way was to combine ANA Business Class out of Sydney to Tokyo and an ANA first class redemption from Tokyo to London. I managed to redeem this itinerary using LifeMiles points purchased during one of the incredible LifeMiles promotions we’ve seen during the pandemic.
Requirements To Leave
As a non-citizen/resident, I didn’t need to prove anything when leaving Australia; however there were a few requirements for my destination country (Belgium), which was a negative PCR test of less than 72h and a passenger locator form. Since I transited through the UK, I also needed a PLF (passenger locator form) for the UK.
At the time, the UK wasn’t allowing people to enter without quarantine and an expensive testing regime. However, I figured out that the loophole was simply to transit through the UK, in which case you could enter the country without test or quarantine requirements. Logic.
Traveling Within Europe
Arriving in Europe, it soon became apparent that covid was in the back of people’s minds. They had moved on while back home in Australia; a 24/7 news feed of doom and gloom was the norm.
To travel within Europe, you only need a “green pass” when traveling by air. Such a pass is obtained when you either present a negative PCR (valid for 72h) or a rapid antigen test (valid for 48h), or a vaccination certificate (recognised in Europe).
As it stands, if you come from Australia, only Pfizer and Moderna are currently recognised in Europe. AstraZeneca produced in Australia is currently not recognised as a valid vaccine due to some branding issues. This should however, be resolved soon.
Certain countries will require your “green pass” to enter restaurants, bars, and other places. Currently, those countries are France, Italy, Netherlands and Greece (although there might be others?).
After visiting Italy during my recent trip, I can tell you these rules are very lightly enforced. My Green Pass wasn’t checked when entering the country, and none of the restaurants and bars I visited asked for it either. Funnily enough, on my departure, I was checked 4 times at different stages in the airport: at the check-in counter, at the security screening, again at a second security screening, and again when entering the lounge. I will call this “Italian efficiency.”
Coming Back To Australia
According to the Government and media, there are 30,000+ people still “stuck” overseas and wanting to come back. Initially, this was a concern to me since I didn’t want to be stranded. And this is where the system only caters to those willing to pay. If you’re happy to pay business or first class, the chances of getting bumped are minimal. In economy, tickets are costly, but there’s a good chance you will be bumped to a later flight.
I managed to find a reasonably priced one-way first-class fare out of Athens. If you want to know how to find such fares, check out our guide on how to use Google Flights. After booking, I was then able to change the departure point to Brussels at no extra cost. Considering the ticket price out of Brussels was twice the price compared to Athens, I was pretty happy (+ I got to fly the Emirates “Game Changer” again).
Upon check-in in Brussels, I was asked to show the following documents:
- Negative PCR test
- Australian Travel Declaration
- WA G2G Application
- Travel Exemption Status (this is electronically recorded against your passport number)
The agent then had to get on the phone with the Australian Government to request an override code for her to check me in. So, in total, check-in took around 20mins.
Arriving Into Australia: Hotel Quarantine
Upon arrival (there were around 30 passengers on my flight), we all went through the standard immigration procedure and customs. In Perth, there’s a separate station where you need to show your G2G QR code (similar to the Australian travel declaration), and the staff informs you of which hotel you will be doing your 14-day quarantine at. Afterward, we were guided back into the baggage hall, where we were all seated and told to wait.
Some 2 hours later (one passenger held us all up for this long – presumably because his paperwork wasn’t in order).
We were then led out of the back of the airport, back onto the tarmac where 3 busses were waiting for us, accompanied by a police escort. I wasn’t sure if I should feel like royalty or a criminal. From my understanding, both get a similar experience when arriving by air in Australia.
As I’m writing this, I’m on day 4 of my hotel quarantine which lasts for 14 days and includes 3 covid tests along the way (on top of the negative result I had to get before departure). The cost in Perth is currently $180 a day, including breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That said, I’ve ordered My Muscle Chef meals to make sure I don’t get out bigger than before! (Ps. Get a $20 My Muscle Chef discount with code FH20)
Stay tuned for my complete “how to survive Australian quarantine” guide…