You’d think a global lockdown might stop people moving abroad. Think again. 

At MoveHub, we help people relocate overseas, so that means we have a pretty good idea about where people tend to be moving. Despite the coronavirus pandemic seemingly bringing everything to a standstill, we’ve seen our numbers skyrocket. 

So, we took a look at the data and asked two questions: where are people moving, and why?

What did we do?

We decided to put a magnifying glass on Australia and see where people have been moving to from Oz, looking at data from March to August 2020 and comparing it to the same period in 2019. We then cross-referenced this with changes in Google search demand between the same two periods, just to get a bit of context.

As you’ll see, there have been some major increases in moves to certain countries, along with some hefty drops.

To paint a bigger picture, we also looked at which countries have seen the largest changes in moves to Australia, which threw up some pretty interesting results. You can read about that near the bottom of the page.

Use the buttons below to jump to the key stories.

Biggest increases

DestinationMoves in 2019Moves in 2020% Change
Sri Lanka213252.4%
New Zealand29043851.0%
map showing moves from Australia in 2020

Biggest decreases

DestinationMoves in 2019Moves in 2020% Change
Saudi Arabia157-53.30%
map showing drop in moves from Australia in 2020

Australia to everywhere

Moves: +6.7%

Overall moves from Australia to the rest of the world increased by nearly 7%, from 2,234 to 2,384

As you’ll see in more detail throughout this study, the key reason for this boost is largely down to foreign nationals returning home. Australia is a popular place for expats from all over the world in 2019, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported that there were 7.5 million migrants living in Australia, which is 29.7% of the country’s population

Naturally, when the coronavirus pandemic hit, this obviously urged a lot of people to return to their families and be closer to loved ones. What’s more, in times of national or international crisis, foreigners on temporary visas tend to be the first to find their jobs at risk, so heading home makes sense. 

Allow us to delve into a little more detail.

Australia to New Zealand

Moves: +51%

Search demand: -4.6%

Moves from Australia to New Zealand jumped by more than 50%, rising from 290 to 438 year on year. 

Well, New Zealand may have banned foreigners from entering, but Kiwi nationals are more than welcome to return. And if there’s a lot of anything in Australia, it’s New Zealanders. According to the ABS, there were 570,000 Kiwis in Australia in 2019, making up 2.2% of the country’s population

With New Zealand keeping such a firm handle on the coronavirus situation, it’s not surprising that so many New Zealanders decided to head home. 

What was the experience like?

We spoke to Sonia and Ben, two New Zealanders who moved back from Melbourne to Wellington in September. Click the arrows to see their answers.

Sonia: The Melbourne Covid lockdown roadmap was announced, and it was clear that after already being over 2 months in level 4 lockdown, nothing was going to be eased until December and that would still be with restrictions. I decided there was no longer any point in being in Melbourne during these times, and decided to move back to New Zealand (with the intention of possibly moving back after things are back to normal).

Ben: I had been living alone in a one-bedroom apartment for the past few years, and when Covid hit, being unable to see anyone for such a long time made me ask my work to come home for a few months to work.

Sonia: I found the moving experience very easy and stress free. As a NZ citizen, I had no extra paperwork to complete to leave the country. When arriving in Auckland, I found the process very organised and quick (although I was one of the first off the plane/through the process, so I did not have to wait in any lines). The process was very well set out in the airport and organised where we went through the usual arrival process, underwent an additional health/symptom check, and were processed onto a bus to be taken to our isolation location.

Ben: Easy. NZ is so organised, it was very well done.

Sonia: Good. I believe I was lucky to be placed at The Four Points by Sheraton in Auckland CBD. The hotel is nice and the food is excellent. We receive three meals a day (with a choice from two meals each time), plus an additional snack for breakfast, afternoon tea, and dessert. We have a small courtyard where we can walk/sit outside for maximum one hour a day. In addition, we can sign up to an organised walk to the waterfront. I think it’s been a pretty good experience considering the restrictions.

Ben: Amazing, so well organised.

Sonia: Do it! And hope that you get lucky with a good hotel! I have found it a surprisingly good/easy experience. Just come prepared with some things to do in isolation to keep you occupied.

Ben: Plan your trip accordingly, mentally prepare for being by yourself for a while, and stock up on ideas of what you want to achieve during isolation.

Sonia: Yes, I’m pleased I made the move I have much more freedom in New Zealand now, and was fed up with the unfair restrictions in Melbourne. I will not miss Australia at this time, as I moved only in January 2020 – I didn’t have much opportunity to properly experience Melbourne before I left, as I was in lockdown most of the year. I will however consider moving back in the future, as there is more to do in Australia than there is in New Zealand.

Ben: I am gutted that I couldn’t stay in Melbourne, but I am excited to be home with family for a while.

Roys Peak in Wanaka, New Zealand

Someone standing triumphantly atop Roys Peak, Wanaka, New Zealand

Australia to the USA

Moves: -9.2%

Search demand: -9.1%

We were less surprised to see that moves from Australia to the USA had gone down year on year, although not by much. There was a mere 9% drop (from 218 to 198), which is shocking when you consider how hamfisted the Yankees’ handling of coronavirus has been. The fall in AUS-US moves also aligns very nicely with the drop in Aussie Google search demand for “moving to the US”. 

Compared to Australia’s position as the 82nd worst country for coronavirus deaths per million people, the USA is in 9th place, with 597 deaths per million people. Given that the US ban on non-citizens entering their country came into place as late as mid-June, it’s possible that some of the moves from Australia between March and August 2020 were actual Australians. Yes, we don’t know why either.

However, most of the moves were probably US citizens returning home, which makes sense. According to Medium, Australia’s US-born population is the 6th largest American diaspora in the world (numbering 90,000).

Australia to Europe


Moves: +106.3%

Search demand: +46.7%

Moves from Australia to Portugal ballooned this year, jumping by over 106% from 16 to 33. We also cross-referenced this with data from Google Keyword Planner, which told us that the number of Google search queries for ‘moving to Portugal’ in Australia also increased in the same period (by a hefty 47%). 

But why Portugal? We can think of a few solid reasons, not least the fairly substantial community of Portuguese people in Australia (numbering 16,000 in 2016). For each of these dramatic increases in moves from Australia, there is always the explanation that foreign nationals have simply returned home. 

Portugal handled the initial outbreak of the coronavirus pretty well. It currently has a coronavirus death rate of 182.36 deaths per million people, which is vastly superior to that of its Iberian neighbour, Spain (642.16 deaths per million people the 5th worst in the world). 

Portugal’s comparatively firm control of the virus enabled it to reopen its borders after months of restrictions, unfreezing Residence Visa applications on 7th August. For the past couple of months, Aussies have been able to move to Portugal again.


Moves: +68.2%

Search demand: -7.1%

Moves from Australia to Italy increased by more than 68%, from 21 to 37

Given that the overall Google search demand in Australia for “moving to Italy” dropped off by 7%, this change looks pretty weird. Google’s data on its own would suggest that interest in moving from Australia to Italy has decreased, but what’s really happened is that only Australia’s casual searchers have peeled off. Meanwhile, the number of serious movers has increased. 

This makes sense, given that Italians have a very strong presence in Australia. According to the ABS, Italians are the 8th largest community of foreign nationals in Australia, making up 0.7% of the country’s population. That means a lot of Italians will have headed home from Oz during the pandemic. 

However, it isn’t just Italian nationals who have been going to Italy in the past six months. On 1st July this year, Italy reopened its borders to a select list of non-EU countries, which included Australia. Of course, people still have to undergo a 14-day quarantine upon arrival, but it means Aussies have been able to head over to Italy for more than three months.

A view of the River Arno flowing through Florence, Italy


Moves: +38.5%

Search demand: +62%

Moves from Australia to Sweden increased by over 38%, from 26 to 36

Sweden has taken a fairly unique approach to the coronavirus pandemic when compared with most of Europe. While many European nations implemented strict lockdowns back in March, Sweden decided to keep its economy ticking and instead rely on social distancing guidelines. 

This approach seemed to many like madness, and the nation’s numbers today don’t read too well. With 574.58 deaths per million people, it is the 11th worst performing country in the world. 

The country does have border restrictions in place (until at least the end of October), but being a Swedish national isn’t the only way to get in. If you own a national Swedish visa, or if a close relative already lives in Sweden as a permanent resident, you can enter the country.

The UK

Moves: +6.6%

Search demand: -24.4%

Moves from Australia to the UK increased by just 6.67%, from 510 to 544

Given the English make up the largest community of foreign nationals in Australia (almost one million in 2019), this increase actually seems surprisingly small. During a time when so many expats have moved home, it’s odd that the English in Oz didn’t really fancy following suit. 

Again, we’re looking at the same situation as Italy, where the drop in casual searchers is greater than the rise in serious searchers – hence a decline of over 24% in Google searches for “moving to the UK”.

Australia to Asia


Moves: +29.4%

Search demand: 0%

Moves from Australia to Malaysia increased by over 29%, from 51 to 66. Again, this maps out very neatly against the list of Australia’s largest foreign communities there were 176,000 Malaysians living in Australia in 2019, making up 0.7% of the country’s population. Considering this, it’s pretty likely that the vast majority of our 66 moves were Malaysian nationals returning home. 

However, it hasn’t been impossible for Australians to move to Malaysia in recent months. Malaysia’s ban on all foreign tourists provides an exemption for non-citizens with certain categories of residence or employment visa. Aussies can continue to enjoy this privilege, so long as their country doesn’t exceed 150,000 recorded cases of coronavirus (otherwise Australia will go on Malaysia’s blacklist).

Sri Lanka

Moves: +52.3%

Search demand: 0%

Moves from Australia to Sri Lanka rose by over 52%, from 21 to 32. Surprise surprise, Sri Lankans are the 10th largest community of foreign nationals in Australia, numbering 140,000 and making up 0.6% of Australia’s population.

The biggest changes in moves to Australia

CountryMoves in 2019Moves in 2020% Change
United States49265533.13%
United Kingdom47761629.14%
South Africa149116-22.20%

Looking at the biggest changes in moves to Australia, the data hasn’t thrown up any surprises. In the same way many foreign-born people needed to return home from Australia once the pandemic hit, there were also many Australians around the world who needed to get back. 

Moves from Singapore, the US, the UK and Canada all increased, and this generally correlates with the world’s largest populations of Aussie expats. The UN published a migration profile of Australia in 2013, reporting that there were almost 311,000 Aussies living abroad. In its list of countries with the biggest number of Australian immigrants, the UK (1st), the US (2nd), Canada (6th) and Singapore (10th) all featured.

Looking ahead

Much of the international movement since the coronavirus pandemic began has been people going home, as opposed to people starting new lives elsewhere. It isn’t a great time to be experiencing a new country when most countries are currently a bit out of whack some more than others. 

Fingers crossed, next year MoveHub will facilitate thousands more relocations for people in Australia but let’s hope it’s because people want to move, not because they have to.