Travel is getting back to normal. Or at least as normal as we can hope for two years out from the most devastating pandemic in over a hundred years. The return to normalcy has been a chaotic, uneven path that is as ugly as the weeds in my flower beds in August after I’ve once again surrendered to the inevitability that I can’t keep up with them. Where are the deer when I need them? Oh yeah…mowing down my Black Eyed Susans and hydrangeas…grumble.
This post is not going to get into whether it is safe to travel…for most people it is. Nor am I going to address whether you should travel…only you can make that decision. This post is about what it will be like if you choose to travel during this spring and summer’s peak tourism season. I hope to follow-up in a bit with another post describing what you can expect if you test positive for COVID while abroad. Fear of a positive COVID test shouldn’t keep you from traveling to most destinations, as long as you are prepared for it. Also…important disclaimer… I am not passing judgement on the efficacy of any of the requirements I lay out in this post. They are not necessarily what I would do to protect myself from COVID, but whether I agree with them or not, they are the necessary cost to travel. Accept them or stay home, that’s your decision and it’s another decision I can’t make for you. As for me…I’m not staying home folks!
In addition to a passport, most nations require proof of full vaccination against COVID-19, they require some form of a negative COVID test report prior to arrival, and they require masks in public indoor spaces. I know COVID vaccination and masking are hot topics in this country, though for some reason having to get a stick shoved so far up your nose it touches your brain hasn’t been so controversial. When you travel abroad you have to go by the rules of the places you visit, and unless you want to endure a lengthy quarantine or repeat COVID testing that interrupts your vacation time, you’ll have to be vaccinated.
The definition of “fully vaccinated” does not yet include getting a booster shot for most countries. That is changing and our recommendation to avoid any uncertainty if you want to travel abroad is to get boosted before your trip if you are eligible, and make sure it gets entered on your CDC COVID card. As far as masking goes, increasingly countries are expecting travelers to wear the disposable surgical or N95 masks. They are now readily available, and there are a number of studies showing them to be far superior to reusable cloth masks. Some international airlines already required them, and I expect more to follow.
Until very recently the testing requirement could be quite burdensome…some destinations only accepted a PCR test, and it had to have been taken within 24 hours of your arrival. That was a challenge at a time when it was taking most test centers in this country two or three times that long to get the results back. Now you can get a rapid antigen or PCR test at most large international airports and get the results back within 15-30 minutes. In this part of the country, BWI, Philadelphia, and Dulles airports all offer 3rd party COVID testing that will satisfy most international entry requirements. Some take appointments and medical insurance but not all do, and clinic hours vary so check it out in advance and plan your arrival time accordingly.
Nowhere do travel restrictions reflect the most and least restrictive human efforts to control COVID than in Europe. While some nations are beginning to remove COVID-related travel restrictions entirely (Denmark, UK) others like Austria are doubling down on theirs. Even the W.H.O. has said enough…their International Health Regulations Emergency Committee recently called for all COVID related travel bans to be eliminated. Not because they think they’ve won, but because they surrender. It is an admission that the well-intended travel restrictions levied at the start of the pandemic have been ineffective at controlling the spread of COVID, as demonstrated by the incredibly fast global spread of the Omicron variants.
Regardless of the reason, nations are taking note and taking heed. Even though travel restrictions are being removed, you’ll still need to comply with each E.U. member nation’s entry restrictions. When the European Union announced it was recommending member nations remove travel restrictions, they went on to note they were recommending nations rely on the E.U. digital COVID-19 certificate for entry (the CDC COVID certificate is accepted as an equivalent). There are exceptions. Unvaccinated travelers can still go to some countries in Europe, Greece being one, but they’ll have to run a gauntlet of testing and in some cases endure a short period of isolation before being permitted unrestricted entry.
Vaccination is still the coin of the realm for being allowed to enter most European nations without having to quarantine, but once there it can also be the key to the city. The most popular indoor tourist attractions throughout Europe require proof of vaccination for entry, and you can’t count on being able to hop on line and get in. Entrance to many of Europe’s prime attractions is now timed to enable social distancing to the extent that can happen in a place like the Louvre. It means a bit of advanced planning on your part to register with the attraction and schedule an arrival time. Don’t think that will get you out of having to wait. Even with assigned time slots, social distancing only makes things worse and those skip the line tours will be even more effective at getting you in ahead of the socially distanced crowds.
As we head into this next peak travel season for Europe, projections are that tourist travel will substantially recover, reaching about 90% of the rate prior to COVID. That doesn’t mean traveling to and throughout Europe is “back to normal.” It isn’t, and may never be what it was before the pandemic. Even though it will be easier to get into most European nations this summer than it was last year, you’ll still need to carry proof of vaccination, and in most indoor areas you’ll need to mask up with a disposable surgical or N95 type mask.
Asia and Down Under
As uneven as travel restrictions have been in the western world, they have been and remain brutally consistent throughout much of Asia, Australia and New Zealand. It remains very difficult for a tourist to travel to most areas in that part of the world, and where you can it often requires a lengthy period of quarantine. That’s on top of requirements to be vaccinated and show a negative COVID test result. Janet and I are closely watching the state of play for tourists in Japan as we plan to be on one of the first planes we can book after restrictions are lifted to visit our kids and grandkids. For now, it looks like that won’t happen before summer.
Travel restrictions are hit and miss for South American nations, but for the most part if you are vaccinated, you’ll be allowed in. Some South American countries still require pre-admission negative COVID testing while others are relaxing that requirement. Best to check before you book anything and make sure you work any COVID test requirements into your travel plans.
The U.S. and Canada are the among the most difficult countries to enter in this part of the world. Foreign travelers need to be vaccinated and show proof of a negative COVID test result, taken within 24 hours for entry into the U.S. and within 72 hours for entry into Canada. The testing requirement for entry into the U.S. also applies to reentry for US citizens, but that requirement can be satisfied with a monitored rapid antigen test kit like the monitored test kits available over the internet and in many retail stores like Walmart, Target, and at pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens. Just be sure you get the monitored test kit, like eMed’s BinaxNOW. Unmonitored self-administered BinaxNow COVID test kits don’t generate the result report you’ll have to show at the immigration checkpoint.
As difficult as it is to get into the U.S. and Canada, there are no COVID-specific restrictions for entry into Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Neither country requires COVID vaccinations or COVID testing, all you need is a passport…bienvenido a México i Dominica! U.S. citizens will still need to have a negative COVID test taken within 24 hours of their reentry into the U.S.
The Caribbean is every bit as chaotic as Europe in terms of their COVID entry requirements. Some, like Trinidad, still don’t allow tourist travel. Others are more open but most require vaccination and some form of negative COVID test, and of course as noted the DR doesn’t require anything. The island of Barbados has one of the strictest COVID test requirements. In order for a tourist to be allowed to enter the country, in addition to showing proof of vaccination you must show proof of a negative COVID test from a PCR test with the sample taken within 24 hours of arrival, it can’t be self-administered, and it must be of the nasopharangeal (ie brain tickling) type and not the more common mid-turbinate (bottom part of the nasal passages) swab. Barbados has only recently begun accepting rapid PCR tests, which is virtually the only way to meet their timeliness requirements. Other nations such as The Bahamas will let vaccinated travelers in with a negative rapid antigen test and they don’t care if it is self-administered or how far up the nose the swab goes. If you are in a transit status (staying for less than 48 hours) you won’t even need that. As long as you are vaccinated.
I don’t know what the path of recovery from COVID will mean for the world. What I do know is that if you want to travel and are comfortable with the risks, which vary depending on how and where you travel, things are getting easier. If you’ve been putting off traveling because of COVID this is probably a good time to start thinking about planning again. Find your CDC COVID vaccination card, dust off your passport and check that expiration date…the State Department passport office is still taking 12 weeks to process renewals and new applications alike. Check with your doctor if you have any medical concerns to make sure the local conditions where you want to visit are appropriate for your individual risk situation, then give us a call. We’ll get you back on the road, in the air, or on the seas again.