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My Experience Leaving Australia, And Coming Back In As A Foreigner

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Immanuel Debeer | 22/09/2021

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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.

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.”

Ps. Check out my A350 flight experience (fifth freedom) from Rome to Copenhagen on Youtube.

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…

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Immanuel Debeer

Chief points nerd and travel hacker at Flight Hacks

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    • Hey Adam, as it stands all flights are sold out until January. This is because of the increased demand for people wanting to get home for Christmas etc. Out of Europe, I recommend plugging the following departure cities in Google Flights: OSL, ARN, BUD, ATH, OTP and sometimes even AMS. These are some of the cheapest departure points for business/first-class flights. If you’re looking for urgent flights, it would be best to contact a good travel agent and see if they can put you on some type of waitlist or if you have status with an airline that is flying to AU, they usually give you priority waitlist as well. On my flight, 4 people didn’t show up for their first-class seats so availability is there when you can act quickly. Best case the border opens for Australians by Christmas as the politicians indicate…

      • I wouldn’t hold my breath re. the border being open as usual by Christmas. Governments have always promised things will happen/be over “by Christmas.” It’s rarely true My grandfather, who fought in the First World War, told my dad that the Government back then promised “the war will be over by Christmas.” He was one of the first to volunteer because he was afraid he’d miss it. Years later he was still up to his beck in mud with shells whistling over his head. So my question would be “which Christmas?”

        • Normally I wouldn’t believe them either but they have an election to win next year… and nothing warms the voter’s hearts like a Christmas miracle! ha
          It’s the perfect PR setup: re-unite Australians with their loved ones and take all the credit for doing so. Let’s see.

    • So the flight costs would have been hefty to do this? Plus Hotel Quarantine would bot be so affordable for me!! Glad you got to travel to see family & friends!

  1. I’m on day 9 of my hotel quarantine
    It’s probably the worst experience I’ve made
    Being locked up in one room No windows to open no Balcony No fresh air
    Food is disgusting
    I really don’t understand 14 days of quarantine
    I’m fully vaccinated and had arrived with a negative PCR test and have been tested twice in the Hotel also Negative
    5-7 days should be enough for Hotel quarantine

  2. My convern is what kind of visa you hold when you get back to Australia as a foreigner. I am keen to get to Australia to stay with my daughter and my grandson and happy to take hotel quarantine.

    • Hi, I hold a 461 visa and live in Australia hence why I’m eligible to return. I think you will find it hard to get in unless your daughter is Australian? In any case, you will always need a valid visa first.

      • Hello , i am Sam , New Zealand citizen holding visa class 444. I am working in oversea by left wife caring 3 kids are doing school in Cranbounre East 3977. I met a problem with rejected by Department of home for travel examption to get back home. I decided fly over to New Zealand and spent 14 days quarantine in Auckland before take travel bubble fly to Melbourne. However, i am still concern as i planed back to work next month, what shoul i do on returning if NZ-Aussie travel bubble has been paused? Would you please give some tip or advise information to me?

        • Hi Sam, NZ citizens can come to Australia without needing an exemption. However, you will still need to do quarantine here so you will have to do double quarantine unless you can fly to NSW when they drop restrictions.

          • Thanks for your respond. Yes you’ re right. Your tip is the same information i ‘ve read on their website that Aussie , Aus PR and NZ citizen can enter Australia without apply return examption but they all need 14 days hotel quarantine with their own costs on arrival. However , i was informed by email in June 2021 that the examption were not satify . With this responding, do i still can fly or can not? sorry for ask again because i just need more clearly what would i suppose to deal with before leavig Melbourne and if all the restrictions including international border ban will retun in place after Christmas . Thanks

  3. Hi! My brother is getting married in December in Chile. Im currently in my bridging visa for 821 (partner) and don’t see any hope on going until I saw your post. How did you apply for an exemption to come back? What is wa g2g? Thanks

    • Hi Ina, in your case it might be difficult because you’re on a bridging visa (not impossible though). Having been on a bridging visa myself it can take some time and each time you leave the country you have to apply for a different type of bridging visa that allows for travel (it’s a simple $150 money grab lol), if you don’t do this your bridging visa will be canceled when you leave. For your case, I assume it will be very similar to mine so what you will need is: visa information (grant number etc) + proof of relationship will help such as bank accounts, property titles, shared investments etc. + some proof that you normally live in Australia (drivers license with address will do). You can apply and find all info here: https://covid19.homeaffairs.gov.au/leaving-australia

  4. Hey, do you know more about why Astra Zenica is not recognised in Europe and the USA I believe. This is a massive concern for when we can Travel..
    great job btw !
    Cheers

  5. How much could you do in the hotel?
    Could you go out to the gym, go outside to a dedicated area?
    Or was it essentially a ‘jail’

  6. Hey Immanuel, do you have a ballpark figure on what this trip costs altogether in AUD? It’d be great to go visit home in the states but I’m not in a position to throw thousands and thousands of dollars around at the moment. Thanks

    • Hi Mitch, the only way is to spend thousands. Flight out was on miles so I only paid $60 or so in taxes. Flight back (not possible to redeem points due to arrivals cap) was 3k economy, 4.5k business, or 5.9k first class. My flight earned around $300 worth of frequent flyer points so that offset the cost slightly. Quarantine in Perth is a smidge over $2.5k all in and between 3-3.5k in other states.

  7. Hi Immanuel! Your ‘adventure’ gave me some hope that it might not be as bad as Im imagining it to be when I come back. I am booked to leave in November for a compassionate reason so I was given an exemption to travel to the Philippines and Im hoping to not get bumped off my flight to come back early next year. Anyway, I was wondering how the payment for hotel quarantine here is done. Did you pay upfront?

    • Hi Anna, great to see you got your exemption approved! If you’re coming back next year, I don’t think you will have an issue unless the government lied about borders opening by Christmas haha! The hotel quarantine is managed by the department of health so any billing is done via the government. This means they will send you an invoice after you have stayed with options to pay. There’s no payment upfront.

  8. Hi Immanuel,

    Do you happen to know any clever ways to get out as an Aus citizen only? (Not overly concerned about returning anytime soon – destination USA.) TIA

    • If you don’t have a family emergency you can go for an urgent business exemption and sign a statutory declaration stating you will stay away for 3 months+. Check out the Australian exemption Facebook group for lots of tips on what info to provide. Basically, the government just wants to know you won’t become a liability for them once you’re overseas.

  9. Hello there!

    Question for you! I’m on a 482 business visa, due to family emergency, I’d to fly back to Singapore and obviously didn’t apply for any exemption to leave as there wasn’t a need to.

    Wondering if there’s a way around to getting back in.
    Singaporean here. Was living in Melbourne for 2 years.

    • Hey, I don’t think there’s a way back in if you didn’t get the return exemption approved before leaving. I know a few people who had careers in Australia and were forced to resign after having left the country for a family emergency. The only temporary visa holders who can come in are those on family visas or certain groups of skilled shoratge workers etc.

  10. Im originally from Northern Ireland and emigrated to Australia in 2002 and have Australian citizenship. I’ve been refused an exemption to fly to Northern Ireland to see my terminally ill mother. The only option that may be feasible is to go through the process of proving I will stay for 3 months or longer. This is not feasible however as I have a job, rent etc to pay.

    • Hi Donna, I hope you get there! The system is flawed to the max and those that designed it have zero conscience it seems. I suggest you keep trying and make sure you give them all the info they need to approve the exemption, I’ve seen a lot of people in the same situation as yourself succeed after multiple attempts.

  11. Even as an Australian citizen I have been able to fly out and back in. I simply applied for an exemption to travel from Australia to return home. I applied through compassionate grounds but also being away for more than 3 months. Coming back in was easier than leaving. I simply booked a flight, completed the entry form online, which was basically letting the government know flight details so they could organise quarantine on arrival. This took less than 5 minutes to complete. Next a covid test within 72 hours of flight and thats it. All these people saying they are “stuck” and can’t get back or that Australia won’t let them back in is BULLSH#$t. It is easy to get back and I know many who have done it. Just booked a flight and returned. It is not that they can’t get back, its the cost of getting back that is the problem. Most are staying overseas because they cant afford the flights and quarantine. Im about to go again, in 3 weeks leave Australia and then return after xmas. It’s very easy to do.

    • Hi Jim, I agree with you. A lot of people in Australia don’t seem to understand that the media headlines of “people stuck overseas” are mostly due to the cost involved. As you said, coming back is straightforward if you can/want to pay for it.

  12. Curious how you managed to find flights using lifetimes. I’ve tried multiple times on the same legs and it almost always returns empty result. Put me off buying then. Which is a shame cause their promotion are crazy good!

    • Hi Tony, ANA releases flights at random intervals so I just set an alert with Expert Flyer
      for the dates I want and wait for it to trigger. 99% of the time I get the flights and dates I was after.

  13. I am wanting to go to USA leaving from New Zealand, do I need to get Covid jab to enter. I was hoping to fly with American Airlines as I believe unvaccinated are allowed to travel on their airlines.

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