Coronavirus (COVID-19) FAQs – international airlines operating to Australia

Information on pre-departure testing and requirements for masks during the flight.

Pre-departure COVID-19 testing requirements

When did the pre-departure testing requirement commence?

All people travelling to Australia on flights departing on or after 22 January 2021 (local time) must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test result at check-in to airline staff. The PCR test must be conducted no more than 72 hours before the scheduled time of departure of the person’s first flight.

What type of pre-departure test does the traveller need to have to be allowed to come to Australia?

Unless subject to an exemption, at check-in, the traveller must provide to international airline staff proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test result that has been provided by a laboratory.

PCR is a common and simplified way to describe reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing.  Test results that state ‘PCR’ or ‘RT-PCR’ as the testing methodology are acceptable for pre-departure testing.

Unless subject to an exemption, this test must be conducted 72 hours or less prior to the scheduled departure time of the traveller’s flight (or first flight if the traveller has one or more connecting flights booked for their travel to Australia).

Do Australia’s travel restrictions still apply if passengers have a negative PCR test?

Yes, Australia has strict border measures in place to protect the health of the Australian community. Information on who can travel to Australia can be found on the Department of Home Affairs website.

Are there any exemptions from the pre-departure testing requirements?

Yes. The exemptions from the pre-departure testing requirements are listed below:

Pre-departure testing exemptions

  1. Children aged under 5 years (4 years and younger) at the time of check-in for the scheduled flight departure
  2. People with a medical condition (who can provide a medical certificate) 
  3. International air crew
  4. Travellers on a designated green safe travel zone flight
  5. People travelling from countries where COVID-19 PCR testing is not reasonably available. Exemptions for this purpose will be determined by Australia’s Director of Human Biosecurity

(1) Children who are aged under 5 years (4 years and younger) at the time of check-in for the scheduled flight departure are not required to have a test or present evidence of a negative COVID-19 test result.

(2) People that present a medical certificate which indicates that due to a medical condition they are unable to undergo a COVID-19 PCR test. The medical certificate must include the following information:

  • The traveller’s name (this must match their travel identification documents)
  • Date of medical consultation and details of the medical practitioner
  • Details that clearly acknowledge that the traveller cannot undergo a COVID-19 PCR test or any other COVID-19 test due to a medical condition

If the above details are not included on the medical certificate, the traveller does not meet the exemption requirements.

(3) International air crew are subject to state and territory surveillance testing requirements, which may include a test on arrival or every 7 days in Australia.

(4) Travellers departing on a designated green safe travel zone flight are exempt from pre-departure testing.

(5) People travelling from a country where PCR testing is not reasonably available. Exemptions for this purpose will be determined by the Director of Human Biosecurity, who is Australia’s Chief Medical Officer.

Which countries / jurisdictions are exempt from the PCR pre-departure testing requirement?

Travellers on designated green safe travel zone flights from New Zealand are exempt from pre-departure testing requirements. Travellers on all other flights from New Zealand are required to meet the pre-departure testing requirements. If a flight changes from a ‘green’ to a ‘red’ zone flight, all passengers are required to comply with the pre-departure testing requirements.

Further to this, countries / jurisdictions where PCR testing is not reasonably available (determined by Australia’s Director of Human Biosecurity) are also exempt. These countries / jurisdictions are listed below.

Countries / jurisdictions exempt from the PCR pre-departure testing requirement*

  • New Zealand (only designated ‘green safe travel zone’ flights)
  • Kiribati
  • Myanmar
  • Niue
  • Samoa
  • Solomon Islands
  • Tokelau
  • Tonga
  • Tuvalu
  • Vanuatu

This list remains under review and may be updated as local circumstances change.

PCR testing is available in the country / jurisdiction that the traveller is in, however it is very difficult to access and results take a couple of days to be returned. Can the 72-hour timeframe be extended for countries / jurisdictions with continued limited capacity?

The Australian Government is continuing to monitor PCR testing capacity in countries / jurisdictions where travellers are likely to depart from. Travellers departing from the countries / jurisdictions listed below may provide evidence of a negative PCR test result, where the test was conducted 96 hours or less, prior to their scheduled flight departure.

Countries where a negative PCR test may be accepted, where the test was conducted 96-hours or less, prior to the scheduled flight departure*

  • Belize
  • Cook Islands
  • Federated States of Micronesia
  • Fiji
  • French Polynesia
  • Marshall Islands
  • Nauru
  • New Caledonia
  • Palau
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Timor-Leste
  • Wallis and Futuna

* This list remains under review and may be updated as local circumstances change.

Are passengers on all flights to Australia required to have a pre-departure test or are some types of flights exempt?

Travellers on military, commercial and charter flights bound for Australia are required to meet the pre-departure testing requirements.

Travellers on designated green safe travel zone flights from New Zealand are exempt from pre-departure testing requirements. Travellers on all other flights from New Zealand are required to meet the pre-departure testing requirements.

If a flight changes from a ‘green’ to a ‘red’ zone flight, all passengers are required to comply with the pre-departure testing requirements.

Are foreign diplomats travelling to Australia required to meet the pre-departure testing requirements?

Yes. Foreign diplomats are required to provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 PCR test result at the time of check-in.

What information should be included in the laboratory test result record? Does it need to be paper-based or can it be electronic?

The following information must be included on the traveller’s COVID-19 PCR test result record. If possible, this should be provided in English.

Mandatory required information:

  • traveller name and date of birth (age at time of test or passport number accepted, if date of birth not listed)
  • the test result (such as ‘negative’ or ‘not detected’)
  • the method of test conducted e.g. PCR test
  • the date and time the respiratory sample was collected for the COVID-19 test.

Additional information requested, if available:

  • the respiratory sample type that was collected (e.g. nasopharyngeal)
  • the date the test result was authorised and the name of the authorising officer
  • name and address of the laboratory / clinic / facility that administered the test
  • accreditation body that the laboratory is affiliated with.

It is critical that the test result certificate includes the four mandatory fields outlined above. If the test result record does not include this information, or the test result indicates the traveller is positive for COVID-19 (or results are inconclusive), the traveller must be prevented from checking-in and boarding the aircraft. 

A paper-based record is preferred, however electronic records (such as a document embedded in an email or text message) that contains the required information should be accepted.

Airlines are not required to collect the evidence, but must view it to confirm it meets the requirements. Traveller are required to hold onto their testing result certificate for the entire travelling journey and may be required to present it more than once.

Is there a recommended respiratory sample that must be collected for the PCR test?

Yes. It is recommended that a throat and bilateral deep nasal (or nasopharyngeal) swab be taken for the PCR test.

The traveller is able to obtain a PCR test that is based on saliva instead of a throat and bilateral deep nasal (or nasopharyngeal) swab, is that acceptable?

Yes. If the testing facility is conducting PCR testing, using saliva as an alternative specimen to a throat and nasal (or nasopharyngeal) swab, that is acceptable.

Can the passenger self-collect a respiratory sample for the PCR test?

The passenger is only allowed to self-collect a respiratory sample under the supervision of an appropriately trained healthcare professional at an authorised/accredited testing facility. For example, at a drive-through COVID-19 clinic under supervision by trained personnel, if self-collection is offered.

However, self-administered sample collection for COVID-19 testing at home without supervision or otherwise outside of an authorised/accredited testing facility is not acceptable.

A traveller has presented a COVID-19 test result record, however it is not in English, can it be accepted?

It is recommended that travellers provide their COVID-19 test result record in English, if possible. If the traveller is not able to do this, the following is also acceptable:

  • a certified translated copy of the traveller’s COVID-19 test report in English. The traveller should present this to the airline along with the original test report at check-in
  • the traveller’s original test result that is not in English, if the airline has the capability and capacity to interpret the original test result and confirm that the mandatory information has been included. Passengers are encouraged to contact the airline in advance of their flight to confirm whether this is possible.

Do air crew need a pre-departure test?

No. International air crew continue to be subject to state and territory surveillance testing requirements, which may include a test on arrival or every 7 days in Australia.

Do maritime crew flying to Australia to join a vessel and commence working, require a pre-departure test?

Yes, passengers travelling to Australia to join a vessel, who hold a current maritime crew visa (MVC) (subclass 988) are required to provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 PCR test result at the time of check in for their flight unless they are in an exemption category.

Do travellers still need to have a pre-departure COVID-19 test if they have had a COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes, they still need to provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 PCR test result. If the traveller has had a COVID-19 vaccine they should also carry their vaccination certificate with them while travelling.

The traveller has presented a serology (blood) test result record which indicates they have developed antibodies to COVID-19 as a result of a previous infection. Do they still need to present a negative PCR test result?

Yes. Some people have been infected with COVID-19 more than once. The traveller is still required to provide proof of a negative PCR test prior to departure. There is still a lot of research required to understand how protective antibodies are and how long they last.

The traveller’s final destination is not Australia – they are only transiting through. Are they still required to present evidence of a negative test result?

Yes, transit passengers present the same risk as other travellers on the flight and are required to provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 PCR test result at the time of check-in.

Are travellers to Australia from New Zealand on a ‘green zone’ flight required to have a test and wear a mask during the flight?

No they are not required to have a pre-departure test. They are required to wear a mask during the flight and on-arrival at the airport.

Is the negative PCR test required to be conducted 72 hours before the passenger’s first flight or before arrival in Australia? 

The PCR test must be conducted no more than 72 hours before the scheduled time of departure of a passenger’s first flight.

What should airline staff do if the traveller does not have documentation of a negative COVID-19 PCR test?

Airline staff should not check-in or board any traveller who does not have a negative COVID-19 PCR test result and does not meet the exemption requirements outlined above.

The traveller has presented a negative PCR COVID-19 test result, however, this flight was delayed outside of the 72 hour window. Is this test result still valid?

Travellers who are affected by a flight delay are considered to have met the pre-departure testing requirements, and will not need a new COVID-19 test.

However, if the flight has been re-scheduled or cancelled, travellers should ensure that they have evidence of a negative COVID-19 test result, where the test was conducted within no more than 72 hours prior to the re-scheduled or newly booked flight.

The traveller has presented a positive COVID-19 PCR test result at check-in – what happens now?

The traveller, and people in their travelling group who are primary close contacts, must not be checked-in and be prevented from boarding the aircraft. A primary close contact is anyone who has had unprotected exposure to a confirmed case. The traveller and primary close contacts should isolate and seek advice from the local health authority.

The traveller has presented a positive COVID-19 PCR test result at check-in and they state they have already had COVID-19 and recovered from it. They have also provided a medical certificate to accompany the test result. Are they allowed to check-in and travel?

If a traveller presents a positive COVID-19 test result at check-in and it is accompanied by a medical certificate from a doctor (issued no earlier than four weeks before their flight) that clearly states the following information, they should be cleared for check-in:

  • at least 14 days have passed since the onset of symptoms or initial positive PCR test if asymptomatic; and
  • there has been clinical resolution of fever and respiratory symptoms of the acute illness for the previous 72 hours; and
  • they have previously had COVID-19 but are now recovered and not considered to be infectious.

Travellers and their close contacts should not go to the airport, if they have received a positive COVID-19 test result and they do not have a valid medical certificate that states the above information.

For medical practitioners: see Australia’s policy on clearance of a confirmed COVID-19 case from isolation.

The traveller has presented an inconclusive test result – what happens now?

An inconclusive test result should be treated the same as a positive test result. The traveller, and all primary close contacts within their travelling group must be prevented from boarding the aircraft and be advised to seek further medical advice.  

Do travellers still have to do 14 days quarantine if they present a negative COVID-19 PCR test result?

Yes, they are still required to undertake 14 days mandatory quarantine on arrival in Australia.

They may still be incubating a COVID-19 infection, and quarantine will minimise the risk to the community from the introduction and spread of COVID-19.

Mask requirements

Are there any exemptions from the mask wearing requirements?

Yes. Masks are not required for:

  • Children aged under 12 years (11 years and under) at the time of boarding, as they may not be able to handle it safely.
  • Anyone who has a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask and who can provide a medical certificate as evidence. The medical certificate must include the following information:
    • The passenger's name (this must match their travel identification documents)
    • Date of medical consultation and details of the passenger's medical practitioner (including name, address and type of practice)
    • Details that clearly acknowledge that the passenger cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition

If the above details are not included on the medical certificate, the passenger does not meet the exemption requirements.

  • People assisting people who are deaf or hard of hearing (and their contacts), as for some people with hearing disabilities seeing the mouth is essential for communication.

Where can travellers find advice on appropriate mask use?

Our website has a range of resources to assist in using the right mask for the circumstances, and using it safely.

Is a mask provided when traveller arrive at the airport? If not, where do they get the recommended cloth or surgical mask?

Travellers should provide their own mask, and bring enough masks to last the duration of their journey. Travellers should change their masks every four hours, or when their masks are wet. A cloth or surgical mask is acceptable.

Airlines should ensure they have a supply of masks as a contingency.

At check-in, the traveller has requested an exemption from wearing a mask without medical documentation. Are they allowed to check-in and board?

The traveller must agree to wear a mask or they will not be allowed to check-in and board the flight.

Can passengers remove their masks during the flight?

Yes, passengers can remove their mask to eat and drink, and if directed to do so by an airline or government official for identification, emergency and safety or other purposes. Passengers should was their hands or perform hand hygiene after removing their mask and replace it with a fresh mask after consuming refreshments. They should perform hand hygiene again after re-applying their mask.

Can airline crew remove their masks during the flight?

Yes, crew can remove their masks to eat and drink, or when otherwise necessary for operational purposes (for example, during safety demonstrations).

Other infection prevention and control measures

What are the requirements for airline crew testing in Australia?

Crew testing for COVID-19 is undertaken by state and territory health authorities in Australia every seven days and may also be required on arrival. 

International air crew must not travel domestically within Australia to reposition for an outgoing international flight unless they do so on a crew-only flight.

Airlines should consult the relevant state or territory health website for more information.

What are the requirements on airlines in relation to infection prevention and control measures?

Airlines must ensure appropriate infection prevention and control measures on aircraft according to COVIDSafe plans and national and industry guidelines. General guidance on managing health risks on international flights is provided on the Department of Health website.

Last updated: 
11 February 2021

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