While most international travel from Australia remains suspended, those holding a government-granted departure exemption have cleared only the first of several hurdles to exit the country.
Even if suitable return flights can be found despite the government’s caps on international passenger arrivals, many airlines and destinations also require proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test result.
Skip this important step and you won’t pass the check-in desk, so here’s what you need to know about coronavirus testing ahead of your international flight.
COVID-19: Who can get tested in Australia?
Anybody in Australia can undergo a test for COVID-19, including those with imminent travel plans who believe they’re healthy and aren’t exhibiting any symptoms of the virus.
However, free tests are normally only given to those with symptoms, those who have been referred for testing by their GP, or those who meet certain criteria for no-cost testing in their state or territory, as determined by local authorities.
Other tests, such as for healthy would-be travellers, are normally user-pays at private clinics or collection centres.
Do I need a COVID-19 test to travel?
Whether you require a negative COVID-19 test will depend on the requirements of your airline and your destination country, as well as any country that you’ll transit through as part of your journey.
As these requirements continue to change, contact your airline for further information.
That said, at the time of publishing, both Emirates and Etihad are among the airlines that mandate COVID-19 testing prior to travel.
Before your flight to or through the United Arab Emirates (Dubai or Abu Dhabi), you’ll need to be tested for COVID-19 no earlier than 96 hours before your flight’s scheduled departure time, and you’ll need to have a certificate verifying your negative test result.
Etihad Airways advises that this test can be completed “at any government accredited medical facility,” with Emirates similarly confirming that the test “can be carried out at any COVID-19 clinic” – in Australia, at least.
Remember, your testing provider will need to issue you with a negative testing certificate after your results come back, so a text message, phone call or voicemail message with your test results won’t be sufficient evidence to travel.
Where to get COVID-19 testing for Emirates flights
Although Emirates advises that tests can be conducted at any 'COVID-19 clinic', the airline maintains a roster of suggested locations for its Australian passengers, as linked via its published Approved Laboratories list.
Whether your Emirates flight departs from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or Perth, you can search online for a clinic – or visit any other accredited Australian medical facility that can similarly provide a negative testing certificate.
Here are just some of the eligible testing centres across Australia, as can be booked via Emirates' suggested channel, Pure Health:
- New South Wales: Many Laverty Pathology and 4Cyte locations, some QML facilities.
- Victoria: Many Dorevitch Pathology and 4Cyte venues.
- Queensland: Many QML and some 4Cyte locations.
- Western Australia: Listed Western Diagnostics locations only.
- South Australia: Abbott Pathology in Adelaide (the only location).
- Tasmania: TML Pathology (one venue in each of Hobart and Launceston only).
- Australian Capital Territory: Listed Laverty Pathology venues.
- Northern Territory: No testing centres available via Pure Health.
While no suggested testing venues are available in the NT, and with limited 'suggested' locations in some of the other jurisdictions, travellers may prefer to choose their own clinic, provided a printed negative testing certificate can be issued.
If you’re taking a return trip, you’ll need to get another COVID-19 test prior to your journey back to Australia.
Depending on your departure country, you may need to visit a specific COVID-19 testing facility or clinic in order to have the airline recognise the results and allow you to board.
You can browse a full list of "authorised COVID-19 test laboratories" around the world via the Emirates website.
How much does it cost to get a COVID-19 test?
As those travelling overseas should be healthy and not displaying symptoms of COVID-19, tests enabling international travel would generally be on a user-pays basis.
This includes tests undertaken at facilities 'suggested' by Emirates which are booked online in Australia or otherwise arranged overseas.
While fees in other countries will vary, expect to pay AED379 (approximately A$141) for a COVID-19 test in Australia booked via Emirates’ provider, Pure Health. This fee includes both the test, and the certificate you’ll need to board your flight, once your test results are known.
Other companies offer similar pricing, such as Healius, which charges $150 per test. This includes a printable certificate sent by email upon a negative result, but check whether your airline and destination will accept this.
Why can’t I get a free COVID-19 test for travel?
Put simply, government-funded testing for COVID-19 is generally reserved for those who have symptoms of the virus or are otherwise believed to be at risk, such as having been in contact with a person known to have COVID-19, or having visited a known ‘hotspot’.
Of course, these are people who shouldn’t be contemplating immediate travel.
With a few exceptions, government-funded testing isn’t offered for those who merely need a negative test result to enable their international journey – particularly if the person wouldn’t have otherwise been in a category recommended for testing.
It’s also worth noting that most ‘free’ tests provide the results via text message or phone call: so even if you’re able to get tested at no charge, you may not have the appropriate paperwork accepted by your airline or destination, if required.
Rapid pre-flight COVID-19 testing
Many in the aviation industry believe that rapid testing for COVID-19 could help re-open borders, create travel bubbles, and bring about a ‘new normal’ for international travel while vaccines remain under development and testing.
Earlier this month, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce noted that rapid tests can help establish ”whether you’re exposed to COVID-19, which means if you pass there’s no need to be in quarantine at the other end.”
Those tests are “potentially super-fast, 15 minutes or so,” Joyce recounted, and would enable travel between countries “that have like levels of transmission – New Zealand, maybe Japan, maybe some counties in Asia."
Currently, it takes 1-3 days to receive a result from a COVID-19 PCR test – the type airlines such as Emirates are presently requiring for travel – although if rapid testing were to be more widely adopted and with greater accuracy, passengers could be tested at the airport prior to check-in, with results promptly known.