Kiwi travel to Australia during COVID-19

A focus on all overseas visitor arrivals from New Zealand


Travel between Australia and New Zealand was severely impacted in early 2020. On 20 March 2020 the Australian Government closed the international border to all non-citizens and non-residents to slow the spread of the coronavirus (Australian Government media release). These travel restrictions caused international arrivals from all countries to plummet.

On 2 October 2020, the Australian Government announced the commencement of a one-way Safe Travel Zone with New Zealand. This allows visitors from New Zealand to arrive into Australia without the requirement to quarantine.

This article explores how the COVID-19 pandemic and associated travel restrictions have impacted visitor volumes from New Zealand and the first hint of a recovery to former international travel volumes.

The Kiwi Connection

Australia and New Zealand enjoy a unique relationship, made possible by geographic proximity, shared status as members of the Commonwealth, the ANZAC tradition and our shared language and culture. Travel between the two countries reflects this unique close relationship, with citizens able to live and travel with relative ease between the two countries. This reciprocal arrangement was cemented in 1973 by the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement.

Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement

The Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement, implemented in 1973, has allowed Australian and New Zealand citizens to travel freely between each country to visit, live or work, without the need to obtain authority (i.e., obtain a visa). New Zealand is the only country in the world that has such an arrangement with Australia. There are no caps on the numbers of New Zealanders who may enter under the arrangement and the only limitations on entry relate to health and character requirements (Parliament of Australia).

For many decades, New Zealand was consistently the largest source country for visitor arrivals to Australia until China took the lead in mid 2017. In 2019 however, there were still 1.4 million New Zealand visitor arrivals, the highest on record. Furthermore, at June 2019 there were 570,000 Australian residents who were born in New Zealand. This is equivalent to over 10% of the total New Zealand population. It is then unsurprising that so many New Zealanders report ‘holiday’ or 'visiting friends and relatives' as their main reason for coming to Australia.

After travel restrictions were imposed in late March 2020 and the volume of arrivals dropped sharply, New Zealand once again became the largest source country, accounting for 17% of all visitor arrivals since the start of the restrictions (April - November 2020).

(a) Top 5 source countries based on year ending November 2020.
(b) Excludes SARs and Taiwan.
(c) Includes United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man.

The Safe Travel Zone represents an important turning point in Australia’s recovery to former international travel volumes. At its lowest point, visitor arrivals from New Zealand plummeted to only 370 in September 2020. For the same month a year before there were 128,000 visitor arrivals.

Since the announcement in October 2020 there has been an increase in visitors arriving from New Zealand. For example, in November there were 1,800 visitor arrivals. This is the highest volume of any source country since the border closures in March. This is still very small however, compared to levels prior to the pandemic.

(a) Top 5 source countries based on year ending November 2020.
(b) Excludes SARs and Taiwan.
(c) Includes United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man.

Age and Sex

The travel restrictions not only caused a substantial drop in the volume of arrivals but have changed the characteristics of those visiting from New Zealand.

Visitor arrivals from New Zealand in the period currently impacted by travel restrictions (April to November 2020) recorded 3,900 male arrivals and 3,100 female arrivals. There were:

  • more males (56%) than females (44%) in this 2020 period
  • but more females (51%) than males (49%) in the equivalent 2019 period.


The median age for visitors from New Zealand was:

  • 38 years for males and 37 for females in the 2020 period
  • 47 years for both in the equivalent 2019 period.


The decrease of the median age by 10 years from 2019 to 2020 reflects the decline in older New Zealanders travelling during the pandemic.  

Reason for Journey

In the 2019 period (April to November), the most frequently reported reason for New Zealanders to visit Australia was for a 'holiday'. This accounted for 41% of visitor arrivals. For the equivalent period a year later, during the pandemic, there was a large drop down to only 4%.

Visiting friends and relatives, generally the second most reported reason, also dropped:

  • 36% (2019 period)
  • 30% (2020 period).

The data showed a large increase in the proportion of New Zealanders reporting ‘other’ as their main reason for journey. This indicates a larger group who are unsure of which reason to report when travelling during the pandemic. The reason of ‘other’ showed the largest increase:

  • 3% (2019 period)
  • 40% (2020 period).

The reason of ‘employment’ showed an increase:

  • 2% (2019 period)
  • 14% (2020 period).

The reason of ‘business’ stayed similar:

  • 11% (2019 period)
  • 10% (2020 period).
Back to top of the page