Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, there is currently a travel ban on traveling in and out of Australia unless you fall into one of two categories:

  • you are in the category of people who do not require a travel exemption; or
  • have an individual travel exemption.

Your ability to enter and leave Australia is also dependent on the type of visa you are on, whether you’re a citizen, how long you wish to leave and your reason for leaving.

You can use the diagram below to find out whether you need a travel exemption, then refer to the appropriate part in the article to learn more.

Part 1: Entering Australia – Australian Citizens, Permanent Residents & Others

If you are in the following category of people, you can travel to Australia without a travel exemption:

  • an Australian citizen;
  • a permanent resident of Australia;
  • an immediate family member of an Australian citizen or permanent resident;
  • a New Zealand citizen usually resident in Australia and their immediate family;
  • a diplomat accredited to Australia and their immediate family members holding a valid subclass 995 visa;
  • a person transiting Australia for 72 hours or less;
  • airline crew or maritime crew (including marine pilots);
  • a person recruited under the Government approved Seasonal Worker Program or Pacific Labour Scheme; or
  • a person holding a Business Innovation and Investment visa (subclass 188).

Whilst you do not need a travel exemption, you will be required to complete and submit a Travel Declaration 72 hours before boarding your flight.

Part 2: Entering Australia – Foreign Nationals/Temporary Visa Holders

If you are a foreign national and hold a temporary Australian visa (like a visitor visa or a temporary partner visa) and you do not fall into one of the categories listed at Part 1, you are not able to travel to Australia unless you obtain a travel exemption.

You may be able to obtain an individual travel exemption if you are:

  • travelling for compassionate and/or compelling reasons;
  • assisting the Australian government with the COVID-19 response, invited by the Australian government or a state or territory government authority;
  • a foreign national whose entry into Australia would be in the national interest, supported by the Australian Government or a state or territory government authority
  • providing critical or specialist medical services;
  • a foreign national with critical skills or working in a critical sector in Australia;
  • a foreign national sponsored by your employer to work in Australia in an occupation on the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL);
  • military personnel;
  • a person who resides on a vessel and who is seeking safe haven;
  • a student studying Year 11 or 12 who has support from the relevant Australian State or territory government health authority & education department; or
  • a student studying the final two years of a medical, dental, nursing or allied health profession university degree where you are able to provide evidence of a placement at an Australian hospital or medical practice commencing within 2 months.

Part 3: Leaving Australia Permanently – Foreign Nationals/Temporary Visa Holders

If you are a foreign national, hold a temporary Australian visa, are onshore in Australia but wish to leave Australia permanently, you can leave Australia at any time, as long as your destination country allows you to return. You do not need a travel exemption.

Part 4: Leaving Australia Temporarily – Foreign Nationals/Temporary Visa Holders

If you are a foreign national, hold a temporary Australian visa, are onshore in Australia, and wish to leave Australia temporarily (i.e. you wish to return to Australia), you can leave Australia, but will only be allowed to return if you have a travel exemption to re-enter Australia.

If you know you wish to return to Australia before you leave, you should consider applying for an incoming travel exemption before departing, as a rejection may mean you decide not to leave Australia at all.

According to the Department of Home Affairs, the incoming travel exemption will likely only be granted in these circumstances if:

  • you meet the requirements for an individual travel exemption from Australia’s Inward Travel Restrictions (see PART 2 above); and
  • you have a strong compassionate or compelling reason to leave Australia in the first place, supported by relevant documentary evidence, for example:
    • attending the funeral of a close family member overseas, visiting a close family member who is seriously or critically ill, seeking medical treatment not available in Australia; or
    • your travel is considered essential for business purposes.

Part 5: Leaving Australia – Citizens & Permanent Residents

If you are an Australian citizen or a permanent resident, you are currently not allowed to leave Australia unless you have an exemption.

To obtain an exemption, you must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • you are travelling outside Australia for:
    • a compelling reason; and
    • for three months or more;
  • you are travelling on compassionate grounds;
  • your travel is as part of the response to the COVID-19 outbreak, including the provision of aid;
  • your travel is for your business/employer;
  • you are travelling to receive urgent medical treatment that is not available in Australia;
  • you are traveling on humanitarian grounds; or
  • your travel is in the national interest.

Final Thoughts

Restrictions on travel to Australia and the associated grounds available to apply for travel exemptions are complicated.

It is important to explain and prove the grounds on which you believe you are eligible for a travel exemption correctly. This is particularly important if you are applying on the grounds of compelling and/or compassionate circumstances, which are granted on a case by cases basis and very subjective in nature.

You must also provide the correct supporting documentation and submit it within the correct timeframe to ensure your travel exemption application is not rejected on technical or administrative grounds.

The team at MSM Legal has been assisting clients with travel exemptions throughout the travel ban, please let us know if you require our assistance.


Katie Wren, Senior Lawyer

Zainab Alsweedy, Lawyer










*Restrictions on travel are subject to change.

The exemptions listed are not exhaustive and are subject to change without notice. See the Department of Home Affairs website for current exemption criteria. The contents of this article are for reference purposes only. The contents do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your personal circumstances should always be sought separately before taking any action based on this publication or otherwise.