The other day, I was speaking to a lady at my local coffee shop when she broke down crying when explaining to me that her mother’s health had taken a turn for the worse and that she had just been approved by the Australian Home Affairs Office for a travel exemption to fly to the UK to see her. I was shocked, I asked her how long it took for her travel exemption to get approved and she said “a few days”.
I contacted my travel agent nearly two months ago to reserve flights to the USA so that I could apply for a travel exemption. I have been suffering from an unknown health condition for a few months now and the treatment I need is not available in Australia. After much consideration on whether I should risk going to the country most affected by Covid-19 worldwide, I decided it was worth it considering the symptoms I was experiencing were making my day to day living difficult.
My travel agent was absolutely amazed when I sent her the email. She said to me ”You're the first person who's come to me since the borders closed asking for a flight to that part of the world!” She then sent me all the current travel warnings, Australian and US Embassy travel ban statements, Advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and all manner of 'scary' Covid-19 travel warnings.
To put it frankly, I’m really not worried about catching coronavirus (maybe I should be), but then again I've only been in Australia for the current duration of the pandemic where we've had it very 'good' with 126 deaths, compared to the USA where over 143,000 people have lost their lives to date.
After submitting my 'reason to travel' request, along with my passport number, flight reservation numbers and all the normal information needed for government forms, I then had to attach all my medical records, test results and numerous letters from doctors and specialists. I had to use a new form because all the attachments wouldn't fit on one form. This severely tested my patience. After patting myself on the back for successfully submitting both forms, I waited a few days, heard nothing, then waited a few more days.
Still nothing! I was beginning to lose my patience, so I called the office of the Minister for Home Affairs.
The lady on the phone told me that they are prioritising travel requests by travel dates - that made sense. Then she asked me to explain my story and I did so with much gusto thinking this could somehow help my case. In the end, after putting me on hold three times, she said "You'll need further medical proof if you want to have a better chance of getting accepted" and "you should hear from an agent a few days before and up to the day of the intended travel date, but I can't guarantee when."
So, what she was essentially saying was, ‘You might not hear anything until the day before you're due to fly.’
Talk about adding stress to uncertainty!
So off I marched to my GP, asked her to write a letter stating "Refusal of Treatment," that says she can't prescribe what's needed to begin treatment for my condition, because that’s essentially the exact reason I can’t get better! I sent through yet another form with the new documentation.
Is this making you frustrated yet?
Well, I waited a few weeks, before I got an email from Home Affairs stating that my travel request was 'rejected' due to insufficient "proof of documentation." The lady asked me to submit another form with more proof and send it through. Already at my wit's end, this was the last straw for me.
I broke down crying and had to go for a long run to calm myself down.
A few days later, I discovered John Hopkins University in Maryland has a clinic which specialises in my exact condition. Battling the time difference for nearly a week, I finally got in touch with a doctor who told me that they can't treat me from Australia, I will need to be in the US for them to even give me a consultation. I was really hoping they could treat me from Australia! They then told me how much it will cost and I did a double-take. I was under the impression that I simply needed a certain medication but have been advised it's more than just that. I am now at a standstill, wondering what my next course of action is.
Turns out my condition isn’t as simple as I thought.
Since I can’t go to the USA for treatment, I will need to chase down every single health professional in Australia, until I get the help I need. It may prove to be a challenge with all the border closures! Hopefully less challenging and stressful than applying for a travel exemption!
My advice to anyone wanting or needing to leave Australia during the current pandemic situation is to call up the Home Affairs office and explain your situation in as much detail as possible, see what they say, and then decide if it’s in your best interests to submit any online forms and continue with the application. It will save you (and those around you) a lot of stress and anxiety.
Apply for a travel exemption (from Australia): COVID-19 (Novel coronavirus) request to travel form
Number to call (Home Affairs): Contact us