Two years after New Zealand first implemented border restrictions in response to Covid-19, the country plans a gradual reopening with new entry rules coming into effect next month.
This will be the first of five stages of gradual border reopening, with citizens from all around the world able to return two weeks later. Most tourists will have to wait until October to be allowed entry, said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday.
As one of the world’s most closed off countries, New Zealand has recorded only 53 deaths from Covid-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
But the country has faced criticism with many Kiwis effectively locked out of their own country. Now, as part of plans to live with the virus, a very gradual reopening of borders is set to commence.
Who can travel to New Zealand?
The border is currently closed to almost all travellers to help stop the spread of Covid-19.
Most people cannot go to New Zealand and many citizens who have been outside the country for nearly two years are desperate to get back, but face managed isolation and quarantine if they do so.
A limited number of travellers from the Pacific Islands of Niue, Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga and Vanuatu can travel to New Zealand, but only if they meet certain requirements.
Initial plans to ease border restrictions in January 2022 were pushed back to the end of this month because of concerns about the Covid-19 Omicron variant.
When will New Zealand's borders open?
The gradual reopening of the borders will start on February 27, when fully-vaccinated New Zealanders in the country will be able to travel freely to and from Australia.
On March 13, citizens will be able to return home quarantine-free, alongside some vaccinated skilled workers and backpackers.
In April, the country will welcome back more non-citizens with visas, such as international students.
Tourists will have to wait a little longer to explore the country’s deep valleys and crystal lakes. By July, non-citizens from visa-waiver countries – including Australia, the US and the UK – can travel if they are vaccinated. This could also happen before July said the prime minister on Thursday.
The rest of the world will be able to visit New Zealand from October, when border restrictions are set to be lifted and travellers can visit for tourism purposes with normal visa processing resuming.
Do you need to be vaccinated to travel to New Zealand?
Yes, you need to be fully vaccinated if you are a foreigner travelling to New Zealand.
Only those who have received a complete dose of an approved Covid-19 vaccine at least 14 days before arriving in the country will be allowed entry. A total of 33 vaccines approved by a government or approval authority are recognised for travel.
Citizens will be able to return without being vaccinated, but will enter mandatory state quarantine, alongside any high-risk travellers.
Air New Zealand and Qantas, two major airlines serving the country, have announced they will only allow vaccinated passengers on flights, or those with a genuine exemption. Children under 17 do not need to be vaccinated.
Will I need a negative PCR test to travel to New Zealand?
Negative pre-departure tests will be required for travellers. These must be taken no more than 42 hours before travelling.
On arrival in the country, travellers will be issued with three rapid antigen tests to be used for follow-up testing. Any positive test results will require a follow-up PCR test.
Will I need to quarantine if I travel to New Zealand?
Despite strict managed quarantine policies in place at the moment, New Zealand's reopening plans are all about quarantine-free travel.
However, travellers still have to self-isolate for 10 days, said Ardern on Thursday. This may be reduced to seven days in the future and will align with New Zealand’s system for managing close contacts of Covid cases.
Home isolation rules have been criticised by those in New Zealand's travel and tourism industry, who believe they will hamper international tourism.
Kevin Ward, chief executive of NZ Airports Association, said on Thursday: “We are really pleased for Kiwis who have been stuck overseas and want to return home, however the continuing requirement for self-isolation means New Zealand will remain essentially off the map for international travellers and many airlines. People do not want to fly to New Zealand if they have to spend their first week sitting in a hotel.”