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Do Australian travellers need a COVID test to travel?

Thinking of travelling soon? Here is the key information you need to know about pre-departure testing for COVID-19.

With the uncertainty of Australia’s current travel climate, you might be wondering if you need a PCR test to see if you’ve contracted COVID-19 test to travel. In this guide, we’ll cover the most common questions about the COVID-19 test you might need to get in order to leave or return to Australia.

To stay updated on the latest government advice, please consult or the Australian Department of Health. This article is accurate as of 19 August 2021.

Do I need a COVID-19 test to travel into Australia?

The Australian Government Department of Health requires all international travellers entering Australia to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test. This test must be done no earlier than 72 hours before the scheduled departure of your initial flight bound for Australia. If your flight is delayed, your PCR test will still be valid. However, if your cancelled or rescheduled, you may need to retest before your new flight.

Travellers who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 still need to provide proof of a negative PCR test to enter the country.

Do I need to provide a negative COVID-19 PCR test result for domestic flights?

A negative COVID-19 test is not required for domestic flights. However, it’s best to research your airline and destination to check for any exceptions.

What types of COVID tests are available for travel?

At the moment, the only accepted COVID-19 test for travel into Australia is the PCR test. A PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test detects the presence of a virus if you are infected at the time of the test. It is regarded as the most accurate accessible test for COVID-19.

The PCR test involves a swab sample of the nose and/or throat. You may get a swab of the immediate nostril, although the more common and generally more accurate swab is the nasopharyngeal swab (taken further inside the nasal cavity). Your nose and/or throat swabs will be sent to the laboratory to detect genetic material in the virus.

A Rapid Antigen Test also involves a nose and throat swab, but is processed differently to the PCR test. A Rapid Antigen Test can reveal results within a couple of hours and can be carried out on site. The PCR test, however, can take up to 2-3 days to process.

Concerns have been raised that Rapid Antigen Tests may not be as accurate as PCR tests. At this time, all people travelling to Australia on flights departing on or after 22 January 2021 must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test result at check-in to airline staff.

Woman sitting on suitcase waiting for PCR results wearing a mask.

Which destinations require a test on arrival?

At the moment, you do not need a COVID test to travel domestically within Australia. Before booking your flight, you should find out about any restrictions at your destination, as well as any requirements issued by the airline before flying. While some airlines will accept free tests done by local testing sites, others require paid tests done by specific labs.

The Domestic Passenger Journey Protocols issued by Australia’s Department of Transport provide clear guidance on your conditions as a domestic passenger, as well as advice on reducing the risk of COVID-19 on your aircraft and within the airport.

Each state’s border restrictions are changing daily. While you may not necessarily be required to provide a negative PCR test before boarding your flight, there are some locations that require a COVID screening upon arrival. You may also be asked to fill out a health declaration.

No matter where you go, it is advised that you practice COVID-safe behaviours including social distancing and correct hand hygiene.

Travellers from Perth currently undergo more severe symptom checking.

How long before travelling should I get the test?

To ensure the safety of yourself and other passengers, it is recommended that you take a COVID-19 test before travelling, regardless of the airline or destination’s requirements. If you are entering Australia, you should take your COVID test within 72 hours of your scheduled departure time. If you are departing Australia, you will need to follow the timeline given by the destination you are flying to.

Depending on the airport/airline, you may need to provide evidence of a negative COVID test. Ensuring you have all the necessary documentation is essential for this reason.

If you are displaying symptoms and are awaiting your test results, it is important to self-isolate before travelling to minimise the risk of spreading the virus.

COVID PCR test sample being examined

Where can I get a test?

You can receive a COVID-19 test at an official testing facility prior to your travel. This may include health clinics and pharmacies. While some Australian airports do have onsite testing facilities, it is best to receive your test and results prior to arriving at the airport. Check with the airline’s pre-departure requirements before travelling to ensure you are conducting the testing and COVID-19 prevention procedures correctly.

How long do the results take?

You normally receive your COVID test results within two days of testing. Depending on the testing facility and your area, this time frame may be longer or shorter.

For example, a testing facility in a COVID hotspot would most likely take longer to process results than an area with limited cases, due to the increased number of tests.

PCR tets can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to return results - Watch with plane in background

How much does the test cost?

In most cases, you can receive a COVID test at no charge. This is true if you’re tested at a mobile testing clinic, bulk billed medical practice or public health facility.

If you are being tested at a GP’s office that does not provide bulk billing, you may be charged for the appointment. However, you won’t be charged for the PCR test itself.

There are some airlines that require a negative COVID test from specific providers. Some of these providers do charge for a COVID test. As each airline is different, it’s best to browse their websites or contact them for more information regarding their COVID-safe regulations.

You will need to bring photo ID and your Medicare card to any test. You will also need to provide contact details to the testing officer so you can receive your results. There is no limit to the amount of COVID tests you can take.

What do I know once I get the results back?

When you receive a COVID test, the workers will ask you what format you would like to receive your results. A text sent to your mobile is the most common way of receiving results. However, you can choose to have an email or printed copy sent to you. They will provide you with printed evidence that you received a COVID test on the testing date. This also serves as a medical certificate for 24 hours.

When you receive your test results, you will be alerted if it is a positive or negative result. You won’t be allowed to travel if the test shows a positive result.

You will be allowed to travel if the test shows a negative result. Make sure you retain a copy of your results in case you are required to provide them at your destination. However, if you’re showing symptoms, it’s advised that you remain isolated and contact your general practitioner for advice.

Once you are successful in travelling to your destination safely, it’s important to upkeep proper hygiene and COVID-safe practices like hand washing and social distancing. This helps to protect yourself and those around you. Some states and territories have an app that uses a QR code or booking system to help contact trace should a case of COVID-19 arise in the community.

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