Unlocking the World

Coronavirus and travel: Everything you need to know

Marnie Hunter, CNNUpdated 5th April 2021
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(CNN) — Bathed in the faint light at the end of the once seemingly endless pandemic tunnel are visions of trips that reunite us with loved ones or take us to some blissfully new environment.
Many of those visions are becoming a reality for vaccinated travelers. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its guidance for vaccinated individuals, saying that "fully vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread Covid-19."
The new guidance for vaccinated travelers covers both domestic and international trips.
Many Americans are already traveling again, based on pandemic-era record numbers of passengers being screened at US airport checkpoints.
In the locked down United Kingdom, it is currently illegal to travel abroad to vacation, although a new tiered system is expected to restart some international travel as early as mid-May.
There is no doubt that interest in traveling and making future plans is picking up in some countries -- raising lots of questions about how to safely navigate the new travel landscape.
Each country has its own tangle of rules and restrictions, so almost any trip will require deep pre-travel research.
Here's what you need to consider as the pandemic eases:

Even if I can travel, should I?

Restrictions vary widely across the world, and for many people it is possible to travel domestically and internationally. Yet many public health officials would advise against it, especially for unvaccinated travelers.
Concern about highly transmissable coronavirus variants has informed much of the CDC's guidance. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has noted that every time travel escalates, a surge in coronavirus cases follows, citing Independence Day, Labor Day and the winter holiday season.
Yet the guidance issued on April 2 for vaccinated travelers will make decision-making easier for many Americans. The CDC still recommends against nonessential travel overall, Walensky said as the new guidelines were released.
"We haven't changed our guidance for nonessential travel at all. We are not recommending travel at this time, especially for unvaccinated people," Walensky said
The agency does provide guidance for those who choose to travel as well as a tiered assessment of the least and most risky types of travel and traveler behaviors.
Canada advises against all nonessential travel outside Canada until further notice.
The United Kingdom is expected to roll back some restrictions on domestic travel later in April.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, saw large spring break crowds in March.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, saw large spring break crowds in March.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Can I travel within my own country?

As with most things pandemic-related, it depends on where you live. While leisure travel is mostly out of bounds right now in the UK, destinations are already bracing for a huge influx of domestic travelers when lockdowns ease across the country later this month (a lifting of local travel limits in Wales has already prompted a surge in travel).
In Canada, there are no federal travel requirements for Canadians traveling between provinces and territories, although there are provincial or territorial rules and restrictions in many cases and nonessential travel is discouraged.
In the US, some states have restrictions and mandates that apply to travelers, while others offer unrestricted access to visitors. See a compilation of those evolving policies here.
No matter where you are, it's important to check regional and national websites and resources for guidance and restrictions on travel.

Do I need a negative Covid-19 test to travel internationally?

In a great many cases, yes, you will need a negative Covid-19 test before you travel to another country.
But again, it depends on your destination. Check local government and tourism sites for Covid-related requirements. CNN Travel's Unlocking the World guides offer up to date information on many popular destinations
A traveler takes a photo of a Covid-19 testing sign at  Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in February 2021.
A traveler takes a photo of a Covid-19 testing sign at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in February 2021.
Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images
The time frame for getting a test before departure varies by destination and there can be requirements around the type of test or the testing provider, as is the case for Hawaii.
Not every destination requires a test. For example, Mexico has one of the world's most relaxed travel policies. The country currently does not require testing or quarantine for international arrivals.
But in Europe, many destinations have barred nonessential travel such as tourism from non-European Union countries and tests are required for entry.

Do I need a negative Covid-19 test to get into the United States?

All air passengers two years of age and older entering the United States must have a negative Covid-19 test result taken within three days of your flight to the US or documentation indicating you have recovered from Covid-19.
The requirement includes US citizens and legal permanent residents returning to the United States.
Nonessential travel is restricted across US land borders with Canada and Mexico.
Travelers arrive at a hotel in Melbourne, Australia, to quarantine in December 2020.
Travelers arrive at a hotel in Melbourne, Australia, to quarantine in December 2020.
WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images

Will I have to quarantine?

Some countries require all travelers to quarantine and have narrow restrictions on the acceptable reasons for entering at all. Others have no quarantine requirements (Mexico, for one) or are much less restrictive.
Travelers entering Canada, including those who have tested negative or recovered from Covid-19 or have been vaccinated, must quarantine or face fines or more severe penalties. International leisure and tourism arrivals are barred from entry.
Many popular tourism destinations in the Caribbean and elsewhere have adopted testing rules that allow international arrivals to bypass quarantine requirements with negative results.
The US CDC recommends getting tested and quarantining after travel, but it is not mandatory.
It's important to check on specific requirements for your destination and for returning home.

Do I have to be vaccinated for international travel?

It's complicated. Some countries are starting to open borders to vaccinated travelers who would otherwise be barred from entry. Travelers from non-Schengen countries, including the US and the UK, will be allowed to visit Iceland as of April 6 with proof of vaccination or having recovered from Covid.
Some countries are allowing vaccinated travelers to bypass entry requirements they would otherwise need to comply with such as negative Covid-19 tests and quarantines. For example, travelers to Belize can bypass pre-departure Covid tests.
So while being vaccinated may not be a requirement to travel, proof of vaccination could significantly smooth the journey.
But being vaccinated is far from a carte blanche. Some countries are only welcoming vaccinated travelers from specific areas, such as the European Economic Area. And many haven't yet made a decision on vaccinated visitors.
So even if you're vaccinated, you'll need to make sure your destination is welcoming inoculated travelers from your location.
International air travelers are likely to share health information in the future via new apps.
International air travelers are likely to share health information in the future via new apps.
Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images

How do I share my test results and vaccination status with officials and travel providers?

The confusing tangle of Covid regulations continues.
In the US, incoming travelers must present a "verifiable test result" to their airline. It "must be in the form of written documentation (paper or electronic copy) of a laboratory test result," according to the CDC.
When possible, take both electronic and paper copies wherever you travel.
The process for sharing test results and vaccination status varies by destination and in some cases they are only valid in specific languages.
There are a number of digital applications -- commonly referred to as "vaccine passports" or "vaccination certificates" -- that aim to streamline health information so that it's securely shareable across borders.
Numerous international airlines have started or plan to conduct trials of the International Air Transport Association's Travel Pass. Clear's Health Pass and Common Pass are similar health information apps.
The European Commission has proposed a Digital Green Certificate to facilitate movement inside the EU. The digital certificate would include three types of information: vaccination certificates, test certificates and certificates for those who have recovered from Covid-19.
In many cases, "vaccine passports" will not only be used to cross borders but may be required to gain entry to public events or other crowded spaces at home. New York has launched Excelsior Pass to carry results and certification of Covid tests and vaccinations conducted in the state.
In Israel, a "green pass" issued by the Ministry of Health is needed for some everyday activities.
Tourists line up to board a boat in Playa del Carmen, Mexico on March 3, 2021. Mexico has some of the world's loosest travel rules.
Tourists line up to board a boat in Playa del Carmen, Mexico on March 3, 2021. Mexico has some of the world's loosest travel rules.
Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images

I'm planning to travel. What can I do to decrease my risk of contracting or spreading the virus?

The mitigation strategies you use at home apply on the road. Vigilant hand hygiene, social distancing and mask use are key, as is avoiding crowded indoor spaces.
Air travel is considered riskier by the CDC than car travel because of the unavoidable contact with other people in airports and aboard flights, although documented cases of on board transmission are few.
The advanced air filtration used on commercial airliners -- plus mask mandates on planes -- helps to lower the risk in flight.
Limiting stops and contact with others on road trips, social distancing and opting for contactless check-in at hotels are all important ways to reduce risk. As are focusing on outdoor activities and avoiding close contact with people outside of your bubble.
Hopefully, in the months to come, our worlds will expand well beyond our bubbles -- with careful country-by-country calculations.