A quick guide to how I brought my girlfriend of 3+ years to Australia under current quarantine/lockdown rules, in case it's useful during the coronavirus pandemic.

This is a somewhat personal guide, very specific to the 2020 COVID-19 coronavirus travel ban on non-Australians. It was hard for us to figure out, so sharing it in case it's useful.

On 19 March, Scott Morrison made an announcement that only Australians and their "immediate families" could enter Australia under lockdown rules, as of 20 March 2020.

The announcement included "exemptions only for Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family, including spouses, legal guardians, and their dependants."

Media release on 19 March 2020 by Australian prime minister announcing entry ban on new arrivals for non-australians

This was a problem for us because my partner wasn't my "family" in any legal sense. She would be a "de facto" partner. (In other parts of the world this would be known as a "common law" partner.)

Summary of How to Bring a De Facto Partner to Australia under the Coronavirus Travel Ban

In summary, the process is:

  1. Create a document with evidence showing that you have a legitimate relationship. Address the sections under the Family Law Act 1975 that the Government might consider in deciding whether it's a de facto relationship or not.
  2. Get an ETA or other visa for Australia. If you can't, then you can't be admitted.
  3. Fill out the COVID-19 Enquiry Form and attach the document you produced.
  4. Wait for a response. You need a letter from an embassy saying that the travel ban does not apply to you (or your de facto partner). This could take 1 day or more depending on case load. Print it out if you can (not necessary, but it makes things smoother)
  5. Book your flight. I don't think you should book a flight assuming you'll get the letter, or that you'll get it in time.
  6. Check in to your flight as early as possible. The airline attendant needs to call the local embassy to verify your letter — even though your details are "in the system" (I believe it's the Australian government's systems).

Once the attendant has verified your permission to land and enter Australia they'll give you your boarding pass.

More details on this below.

Exceptions to the Australia Coronavirus Travel Ban - Includes De Facto

Some exemptions to the Australia travel ban are listed on the Home Affairs website:

Exemptions to the 2020 coronavirus entry ban to Australia

So "de facto" partners are an exemption under the entry ban.

Based on this form, we followed the link to request an exemption.

Filling out the COVID-19 Enquiry Form to get exemption under the entry ban

Using the "COVID-19 (Novel coronavirus) enquiry form", we filled out details and specified "I am an immediate family member (spouse, dependent child or legal guardian) of an Australian Citizen or Permanent resident. I need to travel to Australia now".

The form changes a lot (at the time we filled it out, on 19 March, there were far fewer fields).

The most important parts of the COVID-19 enquiry form are:

  • Select "I am an immediate family member (spouse, dependent child or legal guardian) of an Australian Citizen or Permanent resident"
  • Say you have a visa to travel to Australia. Note: An ETA counts as a visa. You usually get approved quickly, but make sure you apply for an ETA.
  • The attachment showing proof of your relationship (more on this below)

This form gets submitted to your nearest embassy based on your current location. It may also be distributed to other locations depending on workload.

For us, our nearest embassy was in Chile, as we were in Colombia. But we used an older version of the form and so had to specify which embassy to contact. Chile wasn't an option. We got permission from the embassy in Korea, and that letter was sufficient for us to enter Australia

Proving your De Facto Relationship

To come to Australia under the 2020 coronavirus travel ban for non residents, you have to get express permission the embassy to which your documents were submitted.

The easiest way to do this is if your de facto relationship has previously been declared to Australia. You might have done this by

  • A Change of Circumstances Form 1022
  • Notifying Australia domestically for tax purposes

Otherwise, you need to produce a document with proof of your relationship and submit that along with the COVID-19 Enquiry Form above.

The best guidance to what evidence you should submit is in the Family Law Act 1975 Section 4AA.

Section 4AA of the Family Law Act 1975 - provisions proving you have a de-facto relationship
Excerpt from Family Law Act 1975 on defining de facto relationships

Under that section, to conclude that your relationship is genuine and that you haven't just met this person at the airport and decided to bring them over, the Embassy will consider a number of factors listed there like how long you've been together, whether you live together, whether you have kids, etc.

I suggest you make a document with the following headings that expressly addresses those provisions that you can prove (it's harder to prove things like a sexual relationship or a "mutual commitment to a shared life").

The headings and relevant I suggest are

  • Duration of relationship: Describe and show photos of you together for as far back as possible (at least one year).
  • Common residence: Include rental agreements where you're both listed, and photos of mail received by each or both of you.
  • Financial dependence/interdependence: Show evidence that one pays for the other, or that you own a business together
  • Property: If you own a house together show some paperwork showing that
  • Reputation/public aspects: Show photos/links for social media evidence that you've publicly been together for a while, and include your links to your social media

That's what we did. We made a single 45-page PDF document with all that evidence and submitted it.

Processing and Using the COVID-19 Enquiry form

We received a response from the Australian Embassy in South Korea overnight. Obviously I can't guarantee a similar processing time. I think that was exceptionally fast.

We received a letter from the Embassy of Seoul saying that the current travel restrictions do not apply and that we could travel to Australia.

Letter from Australian Embassy granting exemption from the Coronavirus travel ban

It also specifically mentioned that

Please note that when you arrive at the airport, the check-in procedure may take a little longer than usual as the airline may need to contact the Border Operation Centre (the airline will have the phone number) to get approval for you to board the plane.

Once we had that letter, we booked the next available flight.

We checked in to the flight as early as possible (three hours beforehand). Sure enough, the airline attendant had to call the number to verify that my partner could land. He waited on hold for twenty minutes. If you leave it too late, that twenty minutes might not be available.

We spoke to someone in the line who said they had other friends for whom the airline attendant never got through to the Border Operation Centre — they just were on hold too long. Those people were unable to board flights for Australia.

Once the airline attendant got permission, we got our boarding passes and were able to board.

Once we arrived in Australia, we showed the letter to the immigration official who checks passports and were waived through after less than a minute of checking.

What's next?

Once in Australia, if you're under a temporary visa, you should look into a more permanent solution if you don't plan to travel again within 3 months.

Just a word of warning — the Australian partner visa costs thousands of dollars.