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Will Australia’s International Border Re-Open in 2021?

international travel to Australia


With the ever-changing situation with the pandemic there is continuing uncertainty about the rules for people travelling or moving to Australia. Sheila Woods of Interstaff sets out what has been said by Australia’s politicians and what it means for international travel to Australia.




Written by Sheila Woods of Interstaff 19 January, 2021


Yesterday, Health Department Secretary, Brendan Murphy predicted it is unlikely there will be a return to widespread overseas travel this year, even with COVID-19 vaccinations being rolled out across the world.

According to Mr Murphy, the prospect of Australia’s international border opening in 2021 remains a ‘big open question’. He told ABC TV, “I think we will go most of this year with still substantial border restrictions.”

Mr Murphy said health authorities remain concerned about the ongoing transmission risk from international travellers even after they have received the vaccine.

The Australian Government is closely monitoring vaccine rollouts overseas, with safety being the top priority.
Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, today echoed Mr Murphy’s comments, saying “international borders will be one of the last things to change.”

Prime Minister, Scott Morrison though, was not as definitive. He confirmed that decisions about opening borders would be made on health advice but said the Government would “see how things play out over the course of the year.”

Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack added the Government wanted “to see our international flights resume as soon as possible” while ensuring Australia could continue to have positive health outcomes.

“We have the vaccine coming out, rolling out, from next month. We will assess these situations as they occur from week by week,” Mr McCormack said.


What does this mean for international travel to Australia?
Travel Exemptions and Travel Bubbles

Initially, the arrival of a vaccine provided the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ that international travel restrictions could be lifted sooner than anticipated.

However, given that more infectious strains of COVID-19 have emerged overseas, the Government appears to be moving with greater caution to re-open the international border.

Last week, international travel rules changed to ensure travellers take a COVID-19 test and wear a mask while travelling. International arrivals have also been capped to ensure state jurisdictions can better manage the risk of infection.

If Australia’s international border were to remain closed this year, travel would continue to be restricted to:

Travel Exemptions and Travel Bubbles

The good news is Travel Exemption categories are gradually expanding to allow more travellers to enter Australia. For most of 2020, Travel Exemptions were mostly available to Compassionate cases and Critical Work. Now international students in their final year of study can also apply for a Travel Exemption.

Travel Bubbles are also being established to allow travel with other countries that have successfully managed to limit virus transmission, such as New Zealand.

While it may take some time until the international border re-opens to all travellers, Travel Exemptions and Travel Bubbles may provide options for some people.

Those that cannot travel to Australia may wish to use this time to find out their visa options and prepare their visa requirements, such as Skills Assessments and English tests, to be in a better position once the international border re-opens.


Interstaff assist people all over the world with the legal and professional process to travel or migrate to Australia for temporary work or permanent residence. Established in 1988, Interstaff has been trusted by migrating individuals and businesses for over 30 years and are the strongest group of experts for visa work in Australia. MARN: 0533879.