It is certainly a different world we live in now, where meticulous planning of any travel is required – especially international travel. Border restrictions are now common place around the world, in the hope of reducing the spread of the virus which has caused havoc globally.
Currently anyone arriving into New Zealand will have to quarantine for 14 days and be tested for COVID-19 during that 2-week period. Aside from New Zealand citizens and residents returning home, those on essential work visas are also granted entry. The journey to get here however can have its challenges.
Hospital Staff Solutions have been working with two Psychiatrists from South Africa who have secured roles in different District Health Boards (DHBs) and have recently arrived into Auckland with their families. We asked them to summarise their experience and the steps they took into consideration before, during and after their flights. For those who are also in the process of emigrating to New Zealand, we are sure you will find this information insightful and extremely helpful.
Bookings and flights
- Find a very experienced travel agent to book and manage all flight logistics is essential.
- Ensure you are listed with more than one travel agent as a key factor is finding a repatriation flight, so network with other South Africans and get listed on as many flights as possible.
- Due to limited flight availability, be prepared to make bold decisions about flight bookings at short notice.
- We put our household effects into storage to enable departure at short-notice.
- Anticipate costs of flights to be much higher than usual.
- Anticipate flight delays, cancellations, multiple flight legs and long layovers.
- Read the fine-print when making flight bookings, especially cancellation/refund policies.
- If taking repatriation flights, you may need to present yourself at the embassy to be bussed to the airport. We had to be at the Qatari embassy in Pretoria on the morning of our departure; we queued on the pavement (with all our bags and no shade, water or food) for many hours before boarding the airport buses; we then waited in the bus for hours at ORT airport, and only boarded our flight after 8pm.
- Anticipate wearing masks and visors throughout the journey (including throughout the flight).
- Meals were served as normal during our flights.
Transit and visas
- Check visa / permit requirements for all transit destinations, especially if transiting through Australia (where both a transit visa and quarantine exemption permit may be required).
- Ensure sufficient time to obtain necessary travel documents between flight booking and departure e.g. transit visas/quarantine exemption permits in transit, letters from embassies/government departments of eligibility to leave country of departure / enter country of destination, etc.
- If travelling via Australia and transiting between 8 and 72 hours you need a transit visa 771. Register on the Australian immigration website at online: https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/visas/getting-a-visa/visa-listing/transit-771 then apply for the 771 transit visa. NOTE: the website gives a timeframe of up to 2 weeks for processing and the repatriation flights come up unexpectedly, so apply immediately if you think you may need to travel via Australia.
- An additional important application for exemption of quarantine is applied for at the New South Wales (NSW) health website, if you transit via Sydney. https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/covid-19/Pages/quarantine-exemptions.aspx Register and then apply by answering the basic questions about your identity and itinerary. Another obstacle here is that this exemption document may take a week or two to be issued. A huge help is a good travel agent with contacts at the Australian high commission to get these documents short tracked.
- Anticipate limited or no airport services e.g. there were no food outlets nor lounges open at OR Tambo International when we departed. Also, no option to change money or buy local mobile SIM card on arrival in NZ (but health staff did provide us a free sim card on arrival as this is important for their contract tracing).
- During transits with long layover periods, checking into an airport lounge (if available) is a very good idea, though these were more crowded than we expected. If travelling with children, an IPAD is essential as they entertain themselves during transit and quarantine.
- Have an emergency fund on hand in case of needing to book new tickets. (Our quarantine exemption documents weren’t ready and we missed our flight from Sydney to Auckland.)
Border control in New Zealand
- This was efficient and hassle-free in our experience, including during transit.
- Officials were generally polite, courteous and professional.
- Anticipate being under police supervision and surveillance at all times throughout the journey.
- Declare everything you are unsure about when you go through customs. Do not try and bring food with you. https://www.mpi.govt.nz/travel-and-recreation/arriving-in-new-zealand/items-to-declare/
Transfer to quarantine
- This was similarly well organized and hassle-free in our experience.
- Buses take you and your family directly from airport to managed isolation/quarantine facilities.
- Managed isolation facilities are allocated to you upon arrival in NZ & Australia. You do not have a choice in which facility you are sent to.
- Accommodation is generally, as far as we are aware, provided at good hotels.
- Food is generally of a good standard but limited in choice.
- If you have a sensitive palate you will have to order online from Countdown. They deliver within 2 to 3 days and stock almost everything. UberEATS are also allowed to deliver during quarantine.
- Hotel services are very limited, with minimal face-to-face interaction with hotel staff.
- Meals are left outside your hotel room door in disposable packaging and with plastic cutlery.
- You have to clean your own room, with cleaning materials and equipment provided on request.
- Exercise options are limited to supervised, booked walks in the hotel car park (no running or high energy exercise allowed).
- There was no access to any green spaces (e.g. park) at our isolation facility.
- Online orders from local supermarkets / food outlets are allowed but delivery can take a few days.
- No alcohol can be ordered from outside, only from the hotel itself. All beverages have been on our account, except the tea & coffee in the room. Tap water is safe to drink.
- Hotel WIFI was generally high speed and reliable.
What we are pleased we brought
- Essential items to pack: extra masks; books; laptop computer; snacks; board games; devices for kid’s entertainment (e.g. tablets; PlayStation console); headphones; walking shoes (for daily exercise); travel adaptors for NZ / AUS plug-points (there are USB charging points in our room but the laptops need adaptors).
- Bringing an extra mobile phone has been useful in order to link with a New Zealand service provider whilst retaining a South African sim as well.
- We brought our favourite coffee mugs, good filter coffee and plunger/Aeropress, otherwise would be stuck with instant coffee or ordering in.
Other tips and final thoughts
- Communicate regularly with your medical placement agent, immigration lawyer/adviser and others in similar situations as yourself. Open sharing of information was very helpful.
- The entire process is fraught with uncertainty and unpredictability, and is really stressful as a result – but mostly turns out fine in the end.
We would like to thank both families for sharing their experiences with us.
If you would like more information about their journey to New Zealand or are interested in finding out about job opportunities in New Zealand or Australia – please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Angela and Rachel