The announcement that New Zealand’s border restrictions will begin to ease from mid-January was not only good news for Kiwis who have been stranded abroad during the pandemic.
Many New Zealand-based Kiwis and expats will now be able to start planning international trips, knowing that it will soon be much easier to get back.
Unlike Australia, the New Zealand government has never banned its citizens from traveling abroad during the pandemic. It has always been possible to leave.
But with the shortage of managed isolation and quarantine points (MIQs), the big problem was getting back.
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That will change from January 17, when New Zealand citizens and fully vaccinated residents arriving from Australia will be able to bypass MIQ and self-isolate for seven days.
Those traveling from other countries will be able to do the same from February 14, while those who are neither citizens nor residents will have to wait until at least April 30 to be allowed to enter the country.
For Kiwis and New Zealand residents keen to reunite with their families abroad, it might be tempting to leave in time for Christmas, take an extended break, and return just as the border rises.
But with the pandemic still raging around the world, there are some important things to consider before booking this flight.
“Do not travel”
The first is the fact that the official government advice on SafeTravel is still “don’t travel abroad yet”. This currently applies to all destinations except the Cook Islands.
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which manages SafeTravel, said that notice would be updated at the “appropriate time,” with more details to be shared in the coming weeks.
SafeTravel’s advice is not legally binding – so you can ignore it and travel at your own risk. But it is important for travel insurers.
“If there is a ‘do not travel’ notice and you go to this country, it will be very difficult for you to get travel insurance,” said Tim Grafton, chief executive of the New Brunswick Insurance Council. Zealand.
Putting Covid-19 aside for a moment means you likely won’t be protected against typical travel accidents, like medical emergencies, canceled flights, or lost luggage.
But it’s also worth noting that some insurers offer a Covid-19 extension to their normal travel insurance policies. However, you must understand exactly what you are covered for.
Allianz Partners, which manages travel insurance for AA Travel, House of Travel, First Travel Group and Helloworld, offers coverage if you need to cancel your trip because you have Covid-19, if you or your travel companion is refused. boarding because you are likely to have Covid-19, or if you or your travel companion is specifically quarantined. You can also apply for medical benefits if you contract Covid-19 during your trip.
But there is no coverage 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 abroad, or if the New Zealand government decides to lock the borders, you won’t have any related expenses covered and you won’t be able to be repatriated and go home, take care. of your insurance policy, ”explained Sales Manager David Wallace.
Wallace said that even if SafeTravel’s “do not travel” warning remained in place, it would still be possible to get normal coverage for your trip, but 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 costs if you are diagnosed with Covid-19 during your trip, and costs for modifying your travel arrangements if you or your travel companion needs to cancel or shorten your trip. trip because of one of you. a Covid-19.
To qualify, you must be fully vaccinated and travel to a destination where the SafeTravel advice is “take normal safety and security precautions” or “use extra caution”.
Again, you will not be covered if you are stranded abroad.
“Unfortunately, we are unable to cover blockages as it would expose us to much greater insured losses,” said Jo McCauley, Managing Director of Southern Cross Travel Insurance.
“If our policies provided foreclosure coverage, they would be less affordable, so fewer people would have insurance coverage. “
Find a flight
Hopping on Skyscanner to find the cheapest route possible may have been your strategy in the past, but you might end up with far fewer options when the borders begin to reopen.
House of Travel COO and Chairman of the New Zealand Travel Agents Association, Brent Thomas, said that even when borders open up, the requirement for self-isolation from seven days would not be attractive to tourists, so there would be less overall demand for flights to New Zealand.
“What this means is that the planes will not come back close to the numbers we had before,” he said.
Flight Center Product General Manager Victoria Courtney was more optimistic, saying they have reached out to their airline partners to ask if they consider revising their current schedules and adding more flights in light of the announcement. .
“Most of them come back to us and say, ‘yes, absolutely, they are thinking about it’,” she said.
“I think there will be an increase in capacity over the next two weeks.”
Air New Zealand had already canceled more than 1,000 flights between New Zealand and Australia before the end of the year, and must now cancel two more weeks of trans-Tasman flights in early January.
Meanwhile, Qantas offers a handful of flights between New Zealand and Australia in December, but its trans-Tasman schedule doesn’t accelerate until February.
So while Australians living in New Zealand could, in theory, go home for Christmas and return after January 17, they have limited options for getting there.
For other countries, Leanne Geraghty, Air New Zealand’s head of customer and sales, said the airline was working on necessary changes to its international schedule to align with February 14.
The airline will release more details of its schedule soon, including when it will resume flights to key destinations like Los Angeles, Fiji and Honolulu.
Navigate the requirements
The good news for Kiwis is that the world is still your oyster, in terms of usual entry requirements.
“The New Zealand passport is widely recognized as one of the best passports in the world, and for people who are fully vaccinated, the opportunity to move to other countries is good,” Thomas said.
But Thomas and Courtney agreed that traveling in our new normal is going to be much more complex than ever.
“It’s a rapidly changing environment – we’ve never seen anything like it before,” Courtney said.
Each airline and destination has different requirements, including vaccination certificates, pre-departure tests which in most cases must be passed within 72 hours of departure, and travel declarations which must be completed prior to boarding. . Other tests and documents may also be required at transit points and upon arrival.
Even destinations you might be familiar with could cause headaches, like Australia, Courtney said.
“Each state has different requirements. While this is normally one of our easiest markets, it certainly presents more of a challenge for travelers right now.
Thomas said: “This is where a travel agent adds so much value. Having someone by your side who is based in New Zealand is something people really need to consider. “
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, an arrival test in the country, and a final test before entering the community.
Be prepared for additional costs as well. In New Zealand, pre-departure testing for international travel is different from Covid-19 testing for those showing symptoms of the virus, which is offered free of charge at community testing centers. Instead, travelers must make 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 travelers in self-isolation will be required to pay for their Covid-19 tests.
When the government announced the Trans-Tasman Bubble in April, it warned travelers that this would be a ‘beware of travelers’ case – that they should plan for the possibility of getting stuck there s’ there was an epidemic on either side of the ditch.
But with the reopening of the border, the government has given no such warning. In fact, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has assured travelers that the Jan. 17 and Feb. 14 opening dates have been ‘stuck’ no matter what happens with the outbreak. New Zealand.
When asked to elaborate, a Hipkins spokesperson stressed that the border is unlikely to suddenly close after it reopens.
“The minister said there was nothing certain with Covid-19, but one of the main reasons the government has taken a phased and phased approach to reopening is to carefully manage any increase in cases related to new freedoms and to do everything possible to avoid going backwards.
“The government does not want to be in a position where it has to increase restrictions again. “