The European Union will start letting in Australian travellers – but good luck getting out of the country first

Florence awaits. (Frank Bienewald, LightRocket via Getty Images)
  • The European Union (EU) will allow Australians, as well visitors from 14 other countries, to visit again from July 1.
  • The decision effectively reopens external borders that were shut in mid-March to stem the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • However, Australians are still subject to tight border controls in their own country, with holidays not on the list of valid reasons to travel abroad.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

In a coup for Australians everywhere, European holidays are back on. Well, kind of.

The European Union (EU) has lifted a prohibition on incoming Australian tourists, effective from Wednesday, after five days of diplomatic talks.

It comes after the governing body closed its external borders in mid-March in a bid to stem the first wave of the pandemic.

While COVID-19 infections would still ravage the likes of Spain, Italy, France, and Germany, all four have managed to flatten the curve and thus enable the Union to reopen.

The decision to reopen falls in the middle of summer, typically the busiest tourism seasons for the EU, but which this year has seen tourism-dependent nations like Greece and Portugal struggle.

All will now be able to welcome back tourists from the agreed-upon list of 15 non-EU countries, deemed to have dealt relatively well with the outbreak in their own countries.

They include Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Canada, Uruguay, Morocco, Rwanda, Tunisia, Algeria, Serbia, Georgia, and Montenegro. Interestingly, China could be added to the list but only if it reciprocates and allows EU citizens to visit – a binding condition Australia and others don’t appear to be required to meet.

The five non-EU countries of the UK, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein were also included.

To be included, a country must have kept the infection rate below 16 in every 100,000 people, be trending downward in case numbers, and be maintaining social distancing measures. A healthy dose of economics and geopolitics helped crafted the final 15.

Such criteria created some obvious exemptions, such as the US, Turkey and Russia all not making the cut.

However, Australians keen for a getaway will be challenged actually getting over there. The federal government has maintained strict border controls of its own and only grants exemptions to those Australian citizens who satisfy certain criteria, with applications understood to take around four weeks to process.

Currently, that is limited to those leaving to provide aid, essential workers in critical industries, the receiving of urgent medical attention not available locally, urgent and unavoidable personal business, compassionate or humanitarian leave or leave that is in the national interest.

Business Insider Australia has not yet been able to verify whether a burning desire for Spritz, sun and spanakopita is “urgent and unavoidable” enough to compromise Australia’s quarantine restrictions.

With Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham suggesting last month that borders would remain shut to Australians for the remainder of 2020, it’s unlikely anyone will be holidaying in Europe anytime soon.

Pending further outbreaks, however, the dream remains alive at least.