Coronavirus: What you need to know about New Zealand's travel bubbles with Australia, Cook Islands

As the year that's been dominated by the coronavirus pandemic comes to an end, many countries, including New Zealand, are looking to safely reestablish international travel.

The idea of a trans-Tasman bubble between Australia and New Zealand has been floating around since May, with one that was touted to be "realistically" in place by September.

There was also the idea of a bubble between New Zealand and the Cook Islands. The then-Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puka wanted free travel between the two countries once New Zealand left alert level one after the first lockdown in June.

But as the year progressed and cases rose once again, any plans of travel bubbles were sidelined.

However, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has indicated over the past two days there are plans to establish two-way travel bubbles with Australia and the Cook Islands.

The two bubbles would allow New Zealanders to travel freely to these countries without going into managed isolation upon returning home.

Here's the latest on the travel bubbles with these two countries, as well as some places where New Zealanders can travel one-way without quarantining on arrival in another country.


On Monday, Ardern announced Cabinet agreed in principle to establish a travel bubble with Australia, with plans this would open in the first quarter of 2021.

Since October, New Zealanders have been able to travel to Australia without needing to quarantine in certain states, however, they needed to enter managed isolation once they returned home. Western Australia still requires Kiwis to enter quarantine for 14 days once arriving in the state.

Ardern said the Government intends to name a date in the New Year for when the trans-Tasman quarantine-free bubble will open.

"Officials have been working on a range of matters and good progress has been made," she told reporters.

"There has been some public focus on the requirement for 28 days free of community transmission, but that is just one of the criteria and areas where preparation needs to be done before opening."

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said the bubble will be "good for the economy, good for our airlines, and good for both countries".

"This is a sign that New Zealand and Australia aren't just working together but that families can be back together in both directions, friends can be back together in both directions and flights can be full in both directions," he told reporters.

Certain states opened up to New Zealanders in October, although some Kiwis used loopholes to travel domestically to states that hadn't officially opened up to international visitors.

Woman snorkeling in the blue sea of Aitutaki, Cook Islands
Photo credit: Getty Images

Cook Islands

Ardern and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown announced a travel bubble is anticipated to be in place in early 2021.

The Cook Islands hasn't recorded any COVID-19 cases.

Ardern said the priority remains to keep the two countries free of the virus.

"The arrangement recognises the special ties between New Zealand and the Cook Islands. It will allow people to travel more easily between our two countries while acknowledging that the priority remains to protect our populations from COVID-19," she said.

Brown said opening up free-movement will help the Cook Islands recover from the impact of COVID-19.

"This arrangement is the next step towards resuming many aspects of life in the Cook Islands that have been disrupted by COVID-19, including access to health and education, and reuniting family and friends."

Both prime ministers and their Cabinets have instructed officials to continue working on a two-way quarantine-free travel bubble that could open in the first quarter of 2021.

Countries New Zealanders can travel to quarantine-free

While many countries around the world have closed their borders, some remain open to New Zealanders.

One such country is Japan, which only allows travellers from selected countries to enter at the moment.

New Zealand makes up one of 11 countries that are currently on the Japanese government's unrestricted travel list. However, it warns that this list may change depending on the pandemic situation in each of these countries.

The United States is another country New Zealanders can enter without self-isolating. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends people arriving stay about two metres from people they didn't travel with for two weeks, wearing a mask, and washing their hands often.

While there are countries New Zealanders can travel to without quarantining after arriving there, Kiwis still need to enter mandatory managed isolation for two weeks once arriving back home.