*Note: The information below was correct at the time of publishing and readers should refer to the Department of Home Affairs website for updates on Australian borders, or the Study Australia Facebook page for news impacting international students.
Large-scale international travel to and from Australia is unlikely to go ahead this year, despite hopes for borders to reopen after the nation-wide rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly announced international border closures and mandatory quarantine will be “one of the last things” to change, as other countries continue to struggle to contain the spread of COVID-19.
“[As] the first vaccinations rollout in a few weeks’ time, Australia is not going to change everything back to normal,” Professor Kelly said.
“We are in such an envious position at the moment compared with the rest of the world.
“Unfortunately, I think international border changes are probably going to be one of the last things to change, rather than the first.”
The announcement comes after similar comments by former Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy, who played an integral role in the initial border closure on February 1, 2020.
He explained in an interview with the ABC that the unprecedented nature of the virus meant predictions could not confidently be made “more than two or three months ahead” giving no clear window of when to expect international travel to resume.
The announcement has been supported by health experts across the country but conflicts with recent news that national airline Qantas is opening flight bookings and reinstating international travel from mid-year.
Can I get into Australia right now?
No. According to the Department of Health Australia, travel into Australia is not permitted to anyone other than Australian citizens, residents, immediate family members, and travellers who have been in New Zealand for the previous 14 days.
When can international students expect to enter Australia?
There are reports that various states are working on pilot programs to facilitate the return of international students, however, there is no clear timeline of when this will take effect.
Should plans be established, the numbers are expected to be restricted due to quarantine capacity, and the two-week hotel quarantine period will likely apply.
There has been one program that has successfully welcomed international students back to Australia during November last year.
ABC covered the story, which saw 63 students from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia arrive in Darwin, Northern Territory as the first international students permitted into the country since March 2020.
The arrangement was carried out as a result of a partnership between the Northern Territory Government and Charles Darwin University.
Can I fly out of Australia?
Yes. The Department of Home Affairs website says that temporary visa holders, such as international students, are permitted to leave – as long as border restrictions in your home country allow you to return – and do not require an exemption to leave Australia. However, as stated by the Department of Home Affairs, temporary visa holders who decide to leave “will generally not be permitted to return to Australia.” However, you may be able to apply for an exemption.
Which airlines can I expect to fly with?
While international travel remains a waiting game, Qantas has pushed ahead and opened international flights originally scheduled for October 2020 to July 1 2021. This decision received criticism from Australian government officials, according to the ABC. Qantas flights can currently be booked to a limited range of locations including New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
Qatar Airways and Cathay Pacific currently offer flights to Hong Kong and Qatar, with connecting flights available to Europe, while United and Hawaiian Airlines have flights to the United States.
Jetstar and Virgin Australia have also suspended international flights according to The Guardian, with Jetstar planning to reinstate them in Feburary 2021 and Virgin waiting until sufficient demand returns.
How much will flights cost?
Despite the many months before international travel will reopen, airline CEOs and aviation experts are already putting forward their predictions on flight prices. In an interview with A Current Affair, Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka said she expected to see prices for domestic flights drop below the pre-COVID norm, while the aviation market rebuilds and airlines compete for passengers.
However, no discounts to that degree are available for international flights currently offered. As expected for flight prices, the further in advance you book, the lower the prices are. However, according to The Guardian, these prices are not cheaper than the deals offered before the pandemic.