New Zealand Eases Quarantine But Wont Welcome Tourists Yet

The announcement that New Zealand’s border restrictions will start to ease from mid-January wasn’t just welcome news for Kiwis who have been stranded overseas during the pandemic.

Many Kiwis and expats based in New Zealand will also now be able to start planning international trips, safe in the knowledge it will soon be much easier to return.

Unlike Australia, the New Zealand Government never banned its citizens from travelling overseas during the pandemic. It has always been possible to leave.

You'll soon be able to leave NZ safe in the knowledge you can easily come back - but travel will look a lot different.
123RFYou'll soon be able to leave NZ safe in the knowledge you can easily come back - but travel will look a lot different.

But with managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) spots in short supply, the big problem was getting back.


* Covid-19: Fully vaccinated Kiwis can skip MIQ from February

* Everything you need to know about New Zealand's border reopening

* MIQ changes: What we know about how self-isolation will work

That will change from January 17, when fully vaccinated New Zealand citizens and residents arriving from Australia will be able to bypass MIQ, and instead self-isolate for seven days.

Those travelling from other countries will be able to do the same from February 14, while those who aren't citizens or residents will have to wait until at least April 30 to be let into the country.

For Kiwis and New Zealand residents eager to reunite with family overseas, it might be tempting to leave in time for Christmas, take an extended break, and return just as the border is lifting.

But with the pandemic still raging around the world, there are some important things to consider before booking that flight.

‘Do Not Travel’

The first is the fact that the Government’s official SafeTravel advice is still, “do not travel overseas at this time”. This currently applies to all destinations, except for the Cook Islands.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which manages SafeTravel, said this advice would be updated at the “appropriate time”, with further details to be shared in the coming weeks.

SafeTravel’s advice is not legally binding – so you could ignore it, and travel at your own risk. But it matters to travel insurers.

“If there’s a ‘do not travel’ notice and you’re going to that country, you’ll find it very difficult to get any travel insurance,” said Insurance Council of New Zealand chief executive Tim Grafton.

Setting Covid-19 aside for a moment, that means you probably won’t be protected against any of the usual travel mishaps, like medical emergencies, cancelled flights, or lost luggage.

With a “do not travel” advisory, it will be a lot harder to get travel insurance.
With a “do not travel” advisory, it will be a lot harder to get travel insurance.

Covid-19 cover

But it’s also worth noting that some insurers do provide a Covid-19 extension to their normal travel insurance policies. However, you need to understand exactly what you’re covered for.

Allianz Partners, which handles travel insurance for the likes of AA Travel, House of Travel, First Travel Group and Helloworld, offers cover if you have to cancel your trip because you’ve got Covid-19, if you or your travel companion are denied boarding because it’s likely you’ve got Covid-19, or if you or your travel companion are specifically ordered into quarantine. You can also claim for medical benefits if you get Covid-19 during your trip.

But there is no cover for claims arising from lockdowns, changes in government alert levels, quarantine or mandatory isolation that applies to everyone.

“So, if a lockdown occurs wherever you are internationally, or if the New Zealand Government decides to lock down the borders, you will not have any related expenses covered nor be able to be repatriated and come home, care of your insurance policy,” explained chief sales officer David Wallace.

Covid-19 policies tend to cover if you personally get the virus, but not government decisions like lockdowns.
Getty ImagesCovid-19 policies tend to cover if you personally get the virus, but not government decisions like lockdowns.

Wallace said even if the SafeTravel “do not travel” warning remained in place, it would still be possible to get normal cover for your trip, just not for the underlying reason for the warning – which in this case was Covid-19.

Southern Cross has a similar travel insurance policy, which covers medical expenses if you are diagnosed with Covid-19 during your trip, and costs to change your travel arrangements if you or your travel companion have to cancel or cut short your trip because one of you has Covid-19.

To qualify for this, you must be fully vaccinated and travelling to a destination where the SafeTravel advice is “exercise normal safety and security precautions” or “exercise increased caution”.

Again, you won’t be covered if you get stuck in a lockdown overseas.

“Unfortunately, we are unable to provide cover for lockdowns as this would expose us to much greater insured losses,” said Southern Cross Travel Insurance chief executive Jo McCauley.

“Were our policies to provide lockdown cover, they’d be less affordable, so fewer people would have insurance cover.”

Finding a flight

Jumping on Skyscanner to find the cheapest possible route might have been your strategy in the past, but you may find yourself with far fewer options in the early days of the border reopening.

House of Travel chief operating officer and Travel Agents Association of New Zealand president Brent Thomas said even when the borders open to all, the seven-day self-isolation requirement would not be attractive to tourists, so there would be less demand overall for flights to New Zealand.

“What that means is aircraft won’t come back anywhere near the numbers we had previously,” he said.

Flight Centre general manager of product Victoria Courtney was more hopeful, saying they had reached out to their airline partners to ask if they were looking to revise their current schedules and add more flights in light of the announcement.

“Most of them are coming back to us and saying, ‘yes, absolutely, they’re looking at it’,” she said.

“I think there will be increased capacity over the next week or two.”

Flying internationally may look a little different to what you remember.
emiratesFlying internationally may look a little different to what you remember.

Air New Zealand had already cancelled more than 1000 flights between New Zealand and Australia before the end of the year, and has now had to cancel two more weeks of trans-Tasman flights at the start of January.

Meanwhile, Qantas is offering a handful of flights from New Zealand to Australia in December, but its trans-Tasman schedule doesn’t really ramp up until February.

So even though Australians living in New Zealand could, in theory, travel home for Christmas and return after January 17, they have limited options to get there.

For other countries, Air New Zealand chief customer and sales officer Leanne Geraghty said the airline was working through the required changes to its international schedule to align with February 14.

The airline would release more detail around its schedule soon, including when it would restart flying to key destinations like Los Angeles, Fiji and Honolulu.

Navigating the requirements

The good news for Kiwis is the world is still your oyster, in terms of the usual entry requirements.

“The New Zealand passport is widely recognised as one of the best passports in the world, and for fully vaccinated people the ability to move to other countries is good,” Thomas said.

But both Thomas and Courtney agreed travelling in our new normal was going to be a lot more complex than it’s ever been before.

“It’s the rapidly changing environment – we’ve never seen anything like it before,” said Courtney.

Every airline and destination has different requirements, including vaccine certificates, pre-departure tests that in most cases need to be taken within 72 hours of departure, and travel declarations that need to be completed before boarding. Further tests and documents may also be needed at transit points, and on arrival.

Even destinations you might be familiar with could cause a headache, such as Australia, Courtney said.

“Each state has different requirements. While it’s normally one of our easiest markets, certainly at the moment it’s presenting more difficulty for travellers.”

Thomas said: “That’s where a travel agent adds so much value. Having someone on your side who is New Zealand-based is something people really do need to consider.”

Consider using a travel agent to help plan your trip.
Unsplash/Kyle GlennConsider using a travel agent to help plan your trip.

When it comes to planning your return to New Zealand, even without MIQ, it’s still going to be a process, involving three Covid-19 tests – a pre-departure test at your destination, a test on arrival back into the country, and a final test before you enter the community.

Prepare for some additional costs, too. In New Zealand, pre-departure tests for international travel are different to Covid-19 tests for those who have symptoms of the virus, which are offered at community testing centres for free. Instead, travellers must arrange an appointment with a GP or specialist provider and pay for the test, which can cost around $250.

It is not yet clear whether there will be any fees associated with self-isolation, or whether travellers in self-isolation will be required to pay for their Covid-19 tests.

Flyer beware?

When the Government announced the trans-Tasman bubble back in April, they warned travellers it would be a case of “flyer beware” – that they should plan for the possibility of getting stuck over there if there was an outbreak on either side of the ditch.

But with the border reopening, the Government has given no such warning. In fact, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins assured travellers the opening dates of January 17 and February 14 had been “locked in”, no matter what happens with New Zealand’s outbreak.

Asked to elaborate, a spokesperson for Hipkins emphasised it was unlikely the border would suddenly shut again after reopening.

“The Minister has said that there is nothing certain with Covid-19, but a key reason why the Government has taken a phased, progressive approach to the reopening is to manage carefully any increase in cases from the new freedoms and to do everything possible to avoid going backwards.

“The Government does not want to be in a position where it is having to increase restrictions again.”

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