When will Australia open to tourists? This is the A$1,000,000 question—and unfortunately, there are no certain answers at this point.
The cost of Australia’s much-lauded Covid response has been nearly two years of closed borders. As Europe and North America re-open and re-connect, even Australia’s own citizens find it difficult (if not impossible) to return home.
Given that citizens, residents, students and professionals are yet to be allowed back into Australia, it’s unlikely that tourists will be allowed anytime soon. Join me as I dig deeper into this issue and, later on in the article make a prediction.
When Can I Travel to Australia?
When will Australia open to tourists? No one knows the answer to this question for sure, but it is unlikely to happen until at least halfway into 2022. The reasons for this are complex (and I’ll get to them in a second), but the conclusion is simple: If you plan to visit Australia purely for leisure, it would be foolish to expect arriving Down Under anytime before about April 2022; August is a much safer bet.
Over the next few paragraphs, I’ll explain the reasons behind the Australia travel restrictions, which as of August 2021 entail essentially closed borders, even to Australian citizens. Because students and medium- to long-term business travelers will be first in the queue once #StrandedAussies have all been repatriated, tourists won’t realistically able to enter the country for at least 6-12 months.
5 Reasons Australia’s Border is Still Closed
The #CovidZero fantasy
In an absolute sense, Australia deserves props for limiting its Covid-19 fatalities to a fraction of those seen in most other Western nations. However, the idea of “eliminating” a virus as contagious as SARS-CoV-2 for months or years on end is a fantasy—a dangerous, costly fantasy. Since closed borders were essential in allowing Australians to believe this lie, they will be among the last of the totems erected to it to fall.
Anemic vaccine rollout
If Australia is open for tourism by the time you read this, you can bet that at least 80% of the country has been vaccination. This is the “magic number” the government included in a July 2021 report, written with medical experts who set targets for the relaxation of various Covid-era restrictions. Unfortunately, as of August 2021, just over 20% of Australians have been vaccinated, as a result of self-induced supply issues.
Racism and xenophobia
Many people rightly point out that closed borders have made Australia, which was initially founded as an outpost for the British prisoners, into a penal colony once again. Less talked about is Australia’s more recent legacy of racism (namely, the “White Australia” policy in force until 1973) and the country’s various displays of xenophobia throughout the years. Unfortunately, Australian base instincts seem to lead toward isolation.
Complacent, passive population
Another reason Australia isn’t open for tourism is that many Aussies are just fine with closed borders. Those who aren’t outright racists are xenophobes simply don’t want to rock the boat. Many Australians would rather put another shrimp on the barbie and crack open a Foster’s than make the noise necessary to visit family overseas, holiday in Bali or otherwise enjoy their God-given freedom of movement.
Frighteningly, Australian voters have rewarded “Fortress Australia” leaders like Victoria’s Dan Andrews, Queensland’s Annastacia Palaszczuk and Western Australia’s Mark McGowan. Even the “pro-business” PM Scott Morrison has tacitly endorsed closed borders, saying in March 2021 that the vaccine rollout was “not a race.” Only New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian has shown any leadership or courage.
When Will Australia Open Borders for International Travel?
I’ll answer this question in two parts. The first part is that as Australia’s vaccination campaign accelerates—it’s definitely a “race” now!—following the ongoing Delta variant outbreak in Sydney, it will become both medically and politically feasible to raise and eventually eliminate caps on #StrandedAussies returning home. This is outlined in a vague but evolving document the Morrison government first release in July 2021.
However, it won’t be until after the federal elections in early 2022 that any government will be able to consider admitting non-essential travelers (tourists, but also students and workers) into the country. I imagine this will be the case even if Australia reaches steps three or four, which entail have 80-90% of its population vaccinated. When will Australia open to tourists? Not in 2021, that’s for sure.
Other FAQ About Visiting Australia After the Pandemic
Why is Australia’s border still closed?
Australia’s border is still closed, as of August 2021, for a combination of reasons. Most importantly, Australia’s #CovidZero strategy is predicated on allowing almost zero people into the country. The country’s slow vaccine rollout compounds the necessity for closed borders, since allowing any SARS-CoV-2 into the country would quickly result in an out-of-control outbreak. Secondarily, Australians have a long history of xenophobia and even racism; cynical politicians like Scott Morrison have attempted to leverage this for political gain, in spite of the high cost of keeping borders closed.
When will international students be able to enter Australia?
Prior to the Sydney Outbreak that began in June 2021, I was optimistic that NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian would make good on her promise to begin allowing international students back in, starting from the Australian spring. Unfortunately, because the entire country is once again paralyzed by fear and united behind a vaccine target that will be difficult to achieve in 2021, I think it’s unlikely that most students will be able to enter Australia until sometime in 2021.
When can tourists visit Australia again?
Given that even essential travelers like students and workers—and even Australian citizens!—are currently banned from entering the country, I think tourism to Australia is unlikely before deep into 2022. Depending on how the vaccine rollout goes, and the speed with which Australians make peace with the fact that Covid-19 will eventually be spreading within their communities, tourism to Australia could resume anywhere between April 2022 and January 2023.
The Bottom Line
When will Australia open to tourists? At this point, it seems unlikely to happen before mid-2022, and even that seems optimistic. When Australia does re-open, it will be in a phased and slow manner, and likely require jumping through hoops that many tourists won’t want to do it at all. If you plan to visit Australia solely for the purpose of leisure and don’t want to follow up your trip Down Under with one to the looney bin, you might even plan for January 2023 or later, just to be on the safe side.
Robert Schrader is a travel writer and photographer who’s been roaming the world independently since 2005, writing for publications such as “CNNGo” and “Shanghaiist” along the way. His blog, Leave Your Daily Hell, provides a mix of travel advice, destination guides and personal essays covering the more esoteric aspects of life as a traveler.