Most Australians have spent the past two years unable to travel overseas, forgoing holidays, family events, and overseas work opportunities.

Now that borders are starting to reopen, more than half a million international trips have been booked from Australia and demand is only expected to grow as more states open up to the world.

But many travellers are about to discover boarding a flight for a foreign destination is not what it used to be.

Gone are the days of checking you had passport, ticket and wallet.

Flying overseas is now much more complicated: There are more forms to fill in, apps to install, certificates to carry, and checks to clear.

And it all takes far longer to work through at the airport, so Qantas has started recommending passengers arrive at the airport at least four hours before they fly.

Here’s what’s changed.

How do I prove I’m vaccinated?

You’re already vaccinated? Great, but this is international travel 2.0 — the version with unexpected twists.

You might already have the COVID-19 vaccination digital certificate, but the federal government has also introduced the International Vaccination Certificate.

A printed international COVID-19 Vaccination Certificate bearing a QR code lies next to a passport and some US dollars.
The International COVID-19 Vaccination Certificate shows a traveller’s passport details and a QR code.(ABC News: Mary Lloyd)

You could be asked to show this to airline staff, local authorities at your destination, or Australian immigration officials.

To get yours, go into the Medicare app, or log on to the Medicare section of, find your vaccine history and request an international certificate.

You’ll need to have your passport number and expiry date handy.

The international version can be saved as a PDF and printed out. Carrying a hard copy is advisable because you never know when you’ll run out of battery power, or lose coverage.

Surely the COVID-19 test is the same?

Of course not.

Getting a PCR test for international travel is slightly more complicated than the regular one we all know and love. So best not leave it too late.

Queue for COVID-19 testing at Robina on the Gold Coast
Not all testing sites can provide an internationally recognised negative COVID-19 PCR test result.

It will cost you $150 and you’ll need your passport details and a bit more time to fill out the required forms. 

Not all testing sites can give you the kind of test you need to board an international flight. Check that your chosen testing station can. 

Australia does not require a negative COVID-19 test before you depart, but the country you’re going to might, so check that well in advance: Your airline may not allow you to travel if you don’t meet the requirements set out by that country. 

Check-in is check-in, right? Why would it take any longer?

This is where all the extra little bits and pieces can make things really fun.

It may have been a global pandemic, but there is currently no global agreement on what’s needed for international travel.

Every country is making up their own rules.

One destination might need you to download a health app, the next to complete a health declaration, another to do both.

Two men eat a meal at an airport restaurant with a plane reflected in the glass window.
If you hope to relax at the airport before boarding, be sure to arrive early.(ABC News: Mary Lloyd)

Some countries use online systems, others require printed forms the ground staff pull out of a folder.

Plus, things are changing fast, so it’s possible one country’s rules changed last Thursday.

For many travellers, the requirements will be unexpected and take extra time.

Let’s assume it normally takes five minutes to check in.

When you arrive there are three counters open and 12 groups ahead of you in the queue, so you’d expect to wait 20 minutes.

But if each group takes an extra 10 minutes, and someone argues with ground staff about what’s required, you’re going to wait more than an hour to check in.

And you’ll be crossing your fingers the person in front of you doesn’t present a vaccine certificate in a language staff don’t recognise.

Any changes to security and immigration?

No, but don’t be surprised if you discover before you go through security or customs there’s another surprise form to complete on the fly.

Remember to carry a pen.

What else do I need to take with me?

A mask.

Passangers wearing face masks exit an airport tunnel
You’ll need to wear a mask from airport to airport and throughout your flight.(AAP: James Ross)

Most airlines require you to wear a mask for the entire journey, so make sure it’s comfortable.

Some might prefer one type of mask over another. If they want you to wear a surgical masks and not cloth, they will likely provide those.

Consider taking some snacks and a water bottle. Some domestic airlines have suspended refreshment services, so you can’t be sure you’ll get that cuppa you’re hanging out for on the local leg.

Any documents I need to get home?

Of course. None of this is easy.

Australia requires all inbound travellers to complete a travel declaration at least 72 hours before departure.

You can fill this out online, or download the Australian Travel Declaration app.

Paper forms are also available, but again this will slow you down.

Do I need another COVID-19 test to enter Australia?

Yes, you’ll also need another poke-up-the-nose no more than 72 hours before getting your flight home.

Airport staff redirect a traveller at a checkpoint for people from high risk areas to present test results before checking in
Airport officials overseas may ask to see internationally recognised proof of a negative COVID-19 test before you board.(AP: Ng Han Guan)

If you’re getting a connecting flight back into Australia, consider whether your test is within 72 hours of boarding that leg.

Again, we’re not talking about the regular yes/no test – this needs to be associated with your passport details and be internationally recognised.

Finding someone in an Australian city to do this test might be easy, but do you know where to have it done in London? Johannesburg? Kathmandu?

Consider finding out well in advance who provides these, where they are located, what they require and how much it costs.

As with all of this – expect it to be more hassle than you imagined.

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COVID cases surging across several European countries

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