The New Zealand government has announced the reopening of the country’s borders, starting from the end of February 2022.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed the decision at the end of January, stating that the new border measures would be implemented in a staggered 5-stage system.
“Opening back up in this managed way balances inflows of travelers, so people can reunite and fill our workforce shortages, while also ensuring our healthcare system can manage an increase in cases,” said Ardern.
The government had initially planned the reopening of its borders for the beginning of January 2022, however it was delayed due to the spread of the Omicron variant.
The move to relax border measures will be highly welcomed by New Zealanders, as well as travelers from around the world. Friends and family will be able to reunite, and foreign visitors will be able to enter the country once again.
New Zealand’s Strict Border Measures
To fight the COVID-19 pandemic, New Zealand has maintained some of the strictest border restrictions in the world. The country has been completely closed off to the rest of the world, prohibiting foreigners from entering for the last 2 years.
New Zealand citizens have been able to enter the country, but under strict rules that have prevented most from returning. New Zealanders can currently only enter by applying for an emergency spot at a government-run quarantine facility, or through a controversial lottery system.
The stern entry measures have been largely successful in fighting the spread of coronavirus in New Zealand. The country has seen significantly fewer cases than many other nations, with around 17,000 cases of a population of 5 million. Since the start of the pandemic, New Zealand has suffered just 53 deaths in total.
The hotel quarantine system (MIQ) has faced some criticism for being too hard on returning citizens, but Ardern defended this decision:
“The anguish of MIQ has been real, and heartbreaking. But the choice to use it undeniably saved lives,” Ardern said.
“MIQ meant not everyone could come home when they wanted to. But it also meant that COVID could not come in when it wanted to, either.”
The hotel quarantine facility will remain, but reserved only for high-risk travelers, such as individuals who are not vaccinated.
New Zealand’s Five Stage Reopening Plan
New Zealand’s reopening plan will be in 5 phases, starting at the end of February and going through to October 2022.
The staggered system is to prevent an overflow of travelers, and to ensure that healthcare and border systems are not overwhelmed.
All travelers will have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and self-isolate for 10 days at home. The self-isolation will replace the government quarantine facilities.
Stage 1: New Zealanders returning from Australia
The first stage of New Zealand’s reopening will allow New Zealanders in Australia to return without the need for hotel quarantine. This will come into effect on Sunday, 27 February.
Stage 2: New Zealand citizens around the world
As of March 13, New Zealand citizens traveling from the rest of the world will be able to enter New Zealand, as well as some skilled workers and their families.
Stage 3: International students and qualified workers
Starting on April 12, up to 5,000 foreign students and qualified workers will be able to enter New Zealand and skip hotel quarantine.
Stage 4: Travelers with New Zealand visa exemptions
From July, New Zealand will open its borders to citizens of visa-exempt countries such as Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom. This could be moved forward as the situation changes.
Stage 5: Back to normal for New Zealand’s borders
Beginning in October, borders will reopen to the rest of the world and normal visa processing will resume.
Welcoming Back Tourists to New Zealand
From July 2022, stage 4 of New Zealand’s reopening scheme will permit visa-exempt tourists to enter. This is part of the government’s plan to slowly recover its tourism industry, whilst maintaining control of coronavirus.
Citizens from visa-exempt countries will be able to visit New Zealand in the same way as before the pandemic. These travelers do not need a visa to enter, however, they must still have a valid New Zealand eTA Visa Waiver.
As of October 2022, travelers from the rest of the world will also be able to travel to New Zealand, providing they have the relevant visa.