Australia’s outbound travel ban is one of the strictest coronavirus public health responses in the world.  Residents have been banned from leaving the country without an exemption since March 25th.  Australia is one of the only democracies in the world that has banned its citizens from leaving the country as a public health measure during the coronavirus pandemic. 

An Australian citizen or permanent resident is not permitted to travel outbound unless they apply online to the Australian Border Force and meet a set of strict exemption criteria.  Travelling as a tourist does not qualify for exemption. 

Phuket, a long standing favourite holiday destination for Australians, won’t be seeing these tourists anytime soon, regardless of Thailand’s plans to open the island as a first step to reintroducing tourism.

This is the list of criteria on the Border Force Website

  • Your travel is as part of the response to the COVID-19 outbreak, including the provision of aid 
  • Your travel is essential for the conduct of critical industries and business
  • You are travelling to receive urgent medical treatment that is not available in Australia
  • You are travelling on urgent and unavoidable personal business
  • You are travelling on compassionate or humanitarian grounds 
  • Your travel is in the national interest

You don’t need to apply for an exemption if you are:

  • Ordinarily a resident in a country other than Australia
  • An airline, maritime crew or associated safety worker
  • A New Zealand citizen holding a Special Category (subclass 444) visa
  • Engaged in the day-to-day conduct of outbound freight
  • Associated with essential work at Australian offshore facilities
  • Travelling on official government business, including members of the Australian Defence Force.

The ban is set to end on October 24, though is likely to be extended.

A Border Force spokesperson said the measures had “been successful in slowing the spread of coronavirus in Australia, and were implemented on the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee”.

The idea that citizenship carries with it an inherent right to leave the country of citizenship freely has not yet been tested in Australia’s law. More than 90,00 applications for exemption have been made so far with only a quarter grated.

The Australian Health Minister has the power to put in place measures necessary to prevent or control the entry of a disease and its spread into Australia, or into another country.  In this instance the purpose seems to be to slow the flow of citizens coming back into Australia later on.

Australia’s travel ban is rare among equivalent democracies.

New Zealand residents strongly advised not to travel overseas, but not banned from doing so.  In the United Kingdom residents discouraged from “all but essential” travel, but not banned from doing so. 

Singapore: Residents not banned from travelling, but will not have their healthcare costs covered if they go abroad and come back with the virus.

Canada: Residents are allowed to travel, but Government urging against it.

It’s worth keeping in mind that most of these countries have quarantine or self-isolation requirements for people who leave then decide to return home.