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Protocol Guidelines

15. Airport facilitation for visiting heads of state, heads of government, foreign ministers and guests of government

Facilitation services are available for visiting heads of state, heads of national government and foreign ministers (and their accompanying spouse and children), and guests of government arriving and departing on international flights at the following Australian airports: Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Darwin, Gold Coast, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

Heads of state, heads of government and foreign ministers are eligible to be exempted from aviation security screening (see 15.4). If exemption is granted, these visitors can also be facilitated for domestic departures.

15.1 How to apply

Airport facilitation for persons arriving or departing on private, chartered or State aircraft is arranged by the aircraft's ground handling agents in Australia.

For persons arriving or departing on commercial flights, applications for airport facilitation must be submitted at least five working days before the visitor's arrival by emailing a completed Airport Facilitation Request form to the relevant agency:

For a head of state, head of government, or guest of government:

  • Protocol and International Visits Branch (PIVB) of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet at PTVO@pmc.gov.au.

For a foreign minister:

15.2 How does airport facilitation work?

15.2.1 International arrival for heads of state, heads of government and guests of government

An Australian Border Force (ABF) officer accompanied by an official from the Protocol and International Visits Branch (PIVB) and one diplomatic/consular representative will meet the visitor at the arrival gate. The visitor will be escorted either to a VIP room, where entry formalities will be completed, or to the international arrival point for priority entry processing.

Except for spouses and children, persons accompanying the visitor will generally not receive facilitation, although reasonable efforts will be made to keep the travelling party together during arrival processing.

Department of Agriculture and Water Resources officers at the airport will be informed in advance of the visitor's arrival so that mandatory quarantine procedures can be handled appropriately.

15.2.2 International arrival for foreign ministers

An ABF officer accompanied by one diplomatic/consular representative will meet the visitor at the arrival gate. The visitor will be escorted to the international arrival point for priority entry processing, unless the mission/post has booked a VIP room where the minister can be taken while entry formalities are completed.

Except for a spouse and children, persons accompanying the minister will generally not receive facilitation, although reasonable efforts will be made to keep the travelling party together during arrival processing.

15.2.3 International departure for heads of state, heads of government and guests of government

An ABF officer accompanied by one PIVB official and one diplomatic/consular representative will escort the visitor to the passport control point for priority processing; the ABF officer will then facilitate the head of state or head of government's exemption from aviation security screening (if approved in advance by the airline – see 15.4). However, the accompanying PIVB official, diplomatic/consular representative – and guests of government who are not heads of state, heads of government or foreign ministers – will be required to undergo aviation security screening. The ABF officer will then escort the visitor, the PIVB official and the diplomatic/consular representative either to a VIP lounge or to an airline lounge in the departure area. When the aircraft is ready for departure, the ABF officer will escort the visitor, the PIVB official and the diplomatic/consular representative to the departure point. Once the visitor has boarded the aircraft, the ABF officer will return the PIVB official and the diplomatic/consular representative to the public area of the airport.

15.2.4 International departure for foreign ministers

An ABF officer accompanied by one diplomatic/consular representative will escort the minister to the passport control point for priority processing; the ABF officer will facilitate the foreign minister's exemption from aviation security screening (if approved in advance by the airline – see 15.4), then escort the minister and the diplomatic/consular representative to an airline lounge or the departure gate. The ABF officer will return the diplomatic/consular representative to the public area of the airport.

15.2.5 Transfer from/to international/domestic arrival/departure

Heads of state, heads of government and guests of government will be escorted by a PIVD official when transferring from an international to a connecting domestic flight, or vice versa. One diplomatic or consular official may accompany.

Visiting foreign ministers should be escorted from one terminal to another by the diplomatic/consular representative (ABF will not be involved). This is particularly important at Sydney and Brisbane airports, where international and domestic terminals are physically separate.

15.2.6 Private or transit visit by head of state or head of government

An ABF officer, accompanied by a PIVB official and one diplomatic/consular representative, will meet the visitor on international arrival and assist with entry procedures. The visitor will be provided with transport (maximum of two vehicles) to the first destination (usually accommodation) outside the airport, and for the transfer back to the airport for international departure.

15.3 Airport VIP rooms

For visits by a head of state, head of government or guest of government, the Protocol and International Visits Branch (PIVB) will book VIP rooms in consultation with the relevant embassy or consulate.

Airport facilitation for foreign ministers does not include access to airport VIP rooms. Embassies and consulates need to book these directly with airports.

15.4 Aviation security screening

Provided the Protocol and International Visits Branch (PIVB) and/or Protocol Branch is advised – by the submission of an Airport Facilitation Request form – at least five working days in advance of the visit, the Australian Government will exempt the following visitors – for official, transit and private visits – from aviation security screening for international and domestic departures:

  • head of state and accompanying spouse and children
  • head of national government and accompanying spouse and children
  • foreign minister and accompanying spouse and children.

This exemption does not apply to accompanying delegations. The exemption may apply to the visitor's carry-on baggage, which must be clearly identified, although some airlines routinely decline to exempt carry-on baggage from security screening (Please see note below). All checked-in baggage will undergo security screening.

Important note

While the Australian Government may exempt a foreign visitor from aviation security screening, each exemption must be separately approved by each airline on which the visitor is travelling. An airline may require security screening as a condition of carriage and the Australian Government cannot override an airline's decision. This means that a foreign visitor exempted by the Australian Government must still undergo security screening if the airline so requires.

All airline passengers, including those exempted from security screening, are bound by aviation security regulations including those governing items prohibited from being carried on board an aircraft – either in carry-on or checked-in baggage.

15.5 International arrival and departure processes

Visitors for whom airport facilitation is provided (and in specified cases are exempted from security screening) must still comply with immigration, customs and quarantine requirements.

15.5.1 Visa requirements

All foreign visitors, including guests of government, must hold a valid visa to enter Australia. They must also complete an Incoming Passenger Card.

15.5.2 Customs and quarantine requirements

Visitors will be required to undergo quarantine screening if:

  • they answer 'yes' to any of the questions on the Incoming Passenger Card
  • they declare on arrival that they are carrying quarantinable items
  • a Department of Agriculture and Water Resources officer has serious concerns that they are carrying quarantinable items.

For further information, go to:

15.5.3 Health issues

If a visitor indicates on the Incoming Passenger Card that they have been in Africa, South or Central America or the Caribbean during the preceding six days, they will be asked whether they have been in a yellow fever endemic country during that period. If they answer 'yes', they will be asked to present an International Certificate of Yellow Fever Vaccination. If they are unable to present a valid certificate, they will still be permitted to enter Australia (they will be given a Yellow Fever Action Card providing instructions on what they should do if they develop symptoms of yellow fever).

For further information, refer to the Department of Health's Yellow fever - general fact sheet.

If a visitor or members of their party show symptoms of an infectious disease while travelling to Australia, the Biosecurity Act 2015 requires that the Captain/Master of the vessel report this before arrival in Australia. A Biosecurity Officer may board the ship or aircraft to assess the ill person and facilitate medical assistance if required. Increased health screening may be introduced during the very rare event of a public health emergency.

15.6 Accompanying security personnel

Australian authorities provide comprehensive protective security arrangements for Internationally Protected Persons, including heads of state, heads of government, guests of government and other VIPs against whom an assessed security threat exists. This includes the use of close protection police officers and the implementation of appropriate transport, accommodation and venue security arrangements.

It is a long-standing policy of the Australian Government that foreign security personnel accompanying foreign dignitaries on visits to Australia are not permitted to carry firearms. This policy is based on the very high standard of protective security arrangements provided by Australian authorities. Foreign security personnel are also not permitted to import or carry prohibited items which include ballistic vests, or any other type of weapon, including batons, tasers, handcuffs and sprays. Any security personnel accompanying a foreign dignitary may be subjected to electronic security screening and may also be required to allow Australian officials to inspect their bags. In the event that a weapon or prohibited item is detected, it could be immediately impounded by Australian security authorities. Any person who breaches Australian law through the undeclared importation, carriage or use of prohibited items may be liable to prosecution.

Where foreign security personnel are carrying weapons for other purposes, such as visits to other countries, those firearms and other weapons must be handed over to ABF officers on arrival for safe keeping. The weapons will be returned to the security personnel at the point of departure from Australia. Prior arrangements must be made with ABF. It should be noted that it is an offence to carry firearms and/or ammunition in the passenger compartment of any commercial passenger aircraft entering, leaving or flying within Australia.

Visiting foreign dignitaries should be accommodated in a security-approved hotel. Where the dignitary wishes to stay at a mission or private residence, the additional cost of guarding the mission/residence will be at the expense of the relevant mission.

15.6.1 Hand-held radios

If foreign security personnel wish to bring hand-held radios into Australia, approval must be sought in advance for the proposed frequencies. For visits by heads of state or heads of government, the request, containing full details of the equipment, should be submitted to the Protocol and International Visits Branch (PIVB) of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet at PTVO@pmc.gov.au well in advance of the visit. For other senior foreign visitors, the request should be submitted to the Australian Federal Police for approval: email - SPC-Coord-Visits@afp.gov.au.

15.7 Accompanying media - equipment

The temporary importation of media equipment into Australia by media personnel accompanying a senior foreign visitor can be facilitated under section 162A of the Customs Act 1901.

To avoid delays on arrival, one of the following three options should be followed:

Option 1 (Carnet)

Goods that qualify as temporary importations, such as professional equipment, may be imported under an Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission (ATA) carnet. A security is lodged with a carnet issuing body (usually a Chamber of Commerce) in the country of origin. The security is either cash or a bank guarantee and is refunded to the applicant when the goods are re-imported into the country of origin.

This option also requires the lodgement of an Import Declaration.

Option 2 (Without a carnet)

Goods that qualify can be imported on a temporary basis. A security, either cash or a bank guarantee, or an undertaking is lodged with the Australia Border Force (ABF) at the time of importation. The goods must be specified in a convention (intergovernmental agreement) to which Australia is a signatory. There are two conventions that may apply to media equipment imported for the use of media personnel during a visit:

  • Convention of Temporary Admission (Istanbul Convention), which covers goods imported for use in meetings, events or exhibitions
  • Customs Convention on Temporary Importation of Professional Equipment.

To apply for entry under one of the conventions outlined above requires the completion of a B46AA Application for Permission to Take Delivery of Goods Upon Giving a Security or Undertaking for the Payment of Duty, GST and LCT form and a 1484 Undertaking to the Department of Home Affairs – Section 162A Goods form by each of the importer/owner of the goods.

This option also requires the lodgement of an Import Declaration.

Option 3 (Collective undertaking without a carnet)

To facilitate the entry of media equipment arriving as part of the contingent, the ABF will accept a single B46AA application and a single 1484 Undertaking to cover the group's collective equipment rather than taking individual applications. A collective undertaking can only be made if the goods are all being imported and exported on the same flights. Where goods are imported on different flights or will be exported on different flights, either Options 1 or 2 must be followed.

The applicant/undertaking provider must be a person of authority representing the dignitary and be prepared to take full responsibility for the payment of duty and taxes should any of the equipment fail to be exported.

The B46AA application must contain an itemised list of all the media equipment covered by the application and the following details:

  • full description of the goods
  • brand and serial numbers (where possible)
  • owner details
  • value of the goods/equipment.

The ABF reserves the right to request individual applications should a collective undertaking not be acceptable.

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