Do I Still Need a COVID-19 Test or Vaccination to Travel?

Do I Still Need a COVID-19 Test or Vaccination to Travel?
October 16, 2022
COVID travel restrictions are changing quickly
COVID travel restrictions are changing quickly

Our team at TravelBug Health is here to help you sort out the complicated and ever-changing rules for international travel in these pandemic times. We’ve compiled the latest up-to-date COVID-19 testing and vaccination requirements for travel to the most frequently visited destinations.

Travel to most of the world has been limited in some form or another since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, with more widespread vaccination and waning disease patterns, the world is starting to open again to unrestricted travel.
2022 was the year that COVID-19 related restrictions were relaxed or eliminated in much of the world, allowing a flood of pent-up travel demand around the globe.

So, do I still need a COVID-19 test or vaccination to travel? Well, that depends – on your destination, your citizenship, reason for travel, current vaccination (and booster) status, and age among other things. Also keep in mind that the world is a big place and rules change quickly. The regulations in effect today may not be applicable in the upcoming weeks and months.

How important is COVID-19 vaccination to be able to travel? 

Your COVID-19 vaccination status remains the single biggest factor that determines whether you are able to travel unrestricted. Most countries have lifted the requirements for a negative COVID-19 test prior to travel, but many still require proof of COVID-19 vaccination. A few countries remain closed to all non-vaccinated foreign travelers (you may be surprised to find out which ones).

What does it mean to be fully vaccinated? 

Many countries require proof that you are “fully vaccinated”. What it takes to meet this requirement varies from country to country. Usually, it means having received at least a full primary series of a World Health Organization (WHO) approved COVID-19 vaccine. In North America, this is 2 doses of the Pfizer® or Moderna® mRNA vaccines or one dose of the Janssen® (J&J) viral vector vaccine. Other brands of vaccines (such as the Sinopharm® vaccine from China) may be approved in other countries but not available in North America. Some countries (Japan for example) also require an up-to-date booster shot which usually means a total of 3 vaccines. Some countries even require that your last documented vaccine dose must be within a certain number of days of your departure.

In the US, your CDC issued white COVID-19 vaccine card remains the standard proof of vaccination. Some countries have online portals to upload images of your vaccine card. Some areas in the world (such as the EU – European Union) issue universal digital health certificates.

Don’t the airlines check your proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test?

Unless you are getting on a ship, traveling internationally usually involves boarding a plane. The airline check-in agents are the ones who are responsible for verifying your eligibility before you can depart for your international destination. If you are having trouble figuring out if you need proof of a negative test or vaccination, a knowledgeable airline agent should be able to provide the final word. Unfortunately, it’s hard to reach the airlines on the phone these days and I’ve even suggested to some travelers that they drive to the airport and talk to an agent in person at the check-in counter.

How do I check COVID-19 travel requirements for myself?

Existing rules can change at any time. Always check for any COVID-19 travel requirements before you finalize your travel arrangements. I recommend doing an internet search using the search phrase: “(name of the country) COVID-19 entry requirements” Go straight to the website sponsored by the country’s government. It is often the country’s foreign office or official tourist bureau and usually has a URL that ends in the name of the country. For example, the site for Germany is https://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/. The government sites will usually have the most up to date official information.

The US state department website will often show up in your search. Their information is usually accurate but may not always be current. Their bias is towards entry requirements for the US and recommendations posted for other countries are second hand.

Be prepared to read the rules carefully. Regulations may be straightforward but can often be complicated.

Do I need a COVID-19 test or vaccine to go on a cruise?

The cruise industry was hit particularly hard by COVID-19 and is one of the last to begin recovering their bookings to pre-pandemic levels.
The CDC first dropped its general warning against cruise ship travel in March 2022 and recently removed its online monitoring of onboard COVID-19 cases. Testing and vaccination requirements vary widely among the various cruise lines. Many cruise lines still require all crew and passengers to show proof of vaccination. Sometimes this can depend on the length of the cruise.
It's best to enquire directly with your travel agent or cruise line about any current guidelines.

Remember that a cruise ship is a closed environment and the more people that are vaccinated, the less chance that an onboard outbreak can occur.

Are there any other reasons I may need a COVID-19 vaccine or COVID-19 test to travel?

Regardless of international regulations, individual tour companies, cruise lines or other organizations may have their own requirements that you need to follow. Some tour operators and cruise lines still offer “vaccinated only” trips that provide travelers with an extra level of reassurance. Always check directly with your tour operator to find out if they have any requirements.

Should I still get a COVID-19 test before I travel, even if it’s not required?

Even if not required, it’s not a bad idea to get a routine COVID-19 test at least several days prior to your trip. Some of our patients do it to reassure themselves that they won’t infect anyone while they are traveling. Infections with the new omicron variant can be asymptomatic, so a negative test also helps to assure that you won’t have to change your reservations or cancel your trip at the last minute.

So, what are the requirements for your travel destination? Let’s start close to home:

Are COVID-19 restrictions still in effect for entry to Canada?

What about going to visit our friendly neighbors to the North? On October 1, 2022 Canada lifted all COVID-19-related border requirements. Visitors, including Americans no longer need to show proof of vaccination or a negative pre travel COVID-19 test. Registration on the ArriveCAN app is no longer mandatory but is still recommended as it can save you processing time when going through customs after arrival in Canada’s larger international airports.

This is good news for cruisers as all testing and vaccine requirements have also been removed for cruise ships that leave or disembark in Canadian waters.

Masks are encouraged, but no longer required, when travelling by air, train or public transit within Canada. Individual businesses and event organizers can choose to continue requiring masks on their premises.

The United States still requires foreign travelers to be fully vaccinated.

Effective June 12, 2022 the US CDC rescinded its order requiring all foreign passengers incoming by air to show a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19. However, the US remains one of the few countries in the world that still requires all non-immigrant, non-U.S. citizen air travelers to be fully vaccinated prior to boarding any aircraft destined to the United States from a foreign country. So, if you are 18 and older and not a US citizen, US national, lawful permanent resident or green card holder you better make sure you have a COVID-19 vaccine before you leave the country or you won’t be let back in.

The requirement for non-U.S. travelers to show proof of vaccination also includes those seeking to enter the United States via land ports of entry and ferry terminals at the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders.

Do I need a COVID-19 vaccine to travel to the Caribbean?

Island nations have typically been extra cautious during the pandemic to protect their isolated geography and often limited health care resources.

Bermuda plans to lift their COVID-19 restrictions on Oct 25, 2022 but until then still requires non-residents and those above 2 years of age to have a negative COVID-19 test at most 2 days before arrival.

As of Sept. 20, 2022 The Bahamas have eliminated their COVID-19 vaccination and testing requirements for entering the country. Most of the remaining Caribbean islands have already lifted their restrictions and testing requirements.

As of Oct. 15, 2022 the island of Sint Maarten requires visitors to show proof of vaccination, including a booster dose. Non-residents who are not fully vaccinated are required to submit a negative 24 hr. antigen or 48 hr. PCR result. Travel insurance is now optional for visitors.

What about COVID-19 vaccination or testing requirements for the rest of the Americas?

Brazil continues to require proof of vaccination, or a valid negative COVID-19 test undertaken one day prior to travel.

Honduras, Paraguay, Ecuador and Venezuela require proof of a negative COVID-19 test for all unvaccinated travelers. Panama recently lifted their strict entry requirements.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Mexico has not implemented any vaccination or testing requirements for entry.

Are there any COVID-19 restrictions for travel to the European Union (EU)?

As a result of a recent change of regulations for EU member nations, The Netherlands, France, Malta, Portugal, Finland, Germany, Estonia, Italy, Cyprus, Austria and Greece no longer have any COVID-19 travel restrictions for visitors. Many countries still require travelers to wear masks when using public transportation.

Travelers to Spain from outside the EU and Schengen Area, including Great Britain must be able to present proof of vaccination, a recovery certificate or a negative test. This rule has been extended until November 15, 2022 but it is no longer necessary to fill in a Spanish health form.

Can I travel to China?

With its strict “zero COVID-19” policy, China continues to maintain some of the strictest travel restrictions in the world. Entry visas are only available to select individuals including diplomats, airline and ship crews, and Chinese residents and their close family members under special circumstances, such as bereavement. Tourist and student visas to enter China are not currently being issued.
Passengers eligible for travel to China must take two COVID-19 tests within 48 hours of boarding a direct flight to mainland China. The tests must consist of two nucleic acid tests (PCR test), one taken within 48 hours and the other taken within 24 hours of the flight’s departure. Each test must be done at a separate lab and performed on a separate testing platform.

TravelBug Health is registered with the Chinese Consulate (we were designated as the official testing site in Arizona for the Beijing Olympics) and our COVID-19 tests meet all the requirements for travel to China.

Quarantine requirements remain in effect upon arrival and within China.

Can I travel to Taiwan or Hong Kong?

As of October 13, 2022 Taiwan has fully re-opened to foreign tourists after more than two years of strict COVID-19 border restrictions. Visitors to the island are no longer required to quarantine upon entry, or to take any PCR tests. Instead, they will need to test negative on a rapid antigen test on arrival and monitor their health for a week.

Since September 26, 2022 international arrivals to Hong Kong are no longer required to undergo three days of centralized hotel quarantine and will instead be permitted to undergo three days of self-monitoring at home. Passengers are still required to take a rapid antigen COVID-19 test prior to their departure. Once in Hong Kong, they will be subjected to regular PCR testing and will be temporarily restricted access to some locations

What COVID-19 restrictions remain in effect for travel to Japan?

Japan has been slowly lifting its COVID-19 travel restrictions in response to pressure from the Japanese tourism industry and an economy stunted by the pandemic. Broad testing requirements for all travelers were removed September 4, 2022. As of October 11, self-isolation is no longer required for all travelers upon arrival and many visa restrictions have been lifted.
Japan still requires all travelers to provide evidence of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (a minimum of 3 vaccines) OR a qualifying negative PCR test done within 72 hours of final international departure. A “special format” Japan Ministry form must also be completed correctly and submitted. TravelBug Health is registered with the Japan consulate as a trusted testing partner and can provide you with the proper test as well as complete the necessary forms to comply with the strict Japanese standard.

What other countries require COVID-19 vaccination for entry?

Non-UAE nationals traveling to The UAE (United Arab Emirates) still require proof of vaccination or a negative certificate for a COVID-19 PCR test performed no more than 48 hours before departure which must include a QR code. Travelers originating from India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh or Egypt must meet even further requirements.

As of this writing, unvaccinated foreign nationals are not allowed admission into the Philippines. Foreign nationals who are fully vaccinated with at least one booster shot are no longer required to provide a negative RT-PCR test, provided they present proof of vaccination along with their passport, valid for 6 months.

The Top 5 Reasons to get a COVID-19 Vaccination Prior to Travel:

  1. To not get sick. Being protected with a vaccine reduces your chance of becoming ill, both while traveling and afterwards. Being off of work sick for a week is hopefully no more than an inconvenience but getting sick or hospitalized in a foreign country is no joke and is guaranteed to ruin your trip.
  2. Avoid the hassles. Carrying proof of vaccination will help you avoid the worry and expense of undergoing COVID-19 tests, and potential quarantines or restrictions after you arrive at your destination, not to mention the possibility of being stranded overseas or having difficulty returning home.
  3. Protect the people you care about. Know that you are protecting not only yourself, but your family and loved ones at home, your traveling companions and your community. Help to protect your elders and the immune compromised, who are especially susceptible and more likely to become seriously ill or die.
  4. Help preserve the future of travel for yourself and others. Getting vaccinated helps to protect the hardworking travel industry workers as well as the welcoming people at your destination. Staying healthy also avoids burdening the health care systems of other countries that may already be strained for resources. Besides, isn’t your goal to have such a great worry-free trip that you should already be planning your next one?
  5. PEACE OF MIND – see numbers 1 through 4. Cross Get Vaccinated off your list. Knowing that you are protected frees up your mind to be excited about your trip and focus on enjoying the amazing experiences of visiting someplace new.

What else should I do prior to planning a trip overseas?

It’s easy to focus on how COVID-19 may affect your travel after hearing nothing but pandemic news for so long. Don’t overlook the basic preparations and precautions that should go along with planning any international travel. Make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months, especially since the application process for a US passport is currently backlogged for months. Run through your international travel checklist . Finally, check with your Travel Health Specialist to find out if there are any vaccinations or other precautions you need to take to protect you on your travels.

The travel health experts at TravelBug Health stay current with COVID-19 and other travel health requirements around the world. We want you to stay informed, be prepared and travel safely. Call us at 480-435-2774 if you have any questions.

TravelBug’s on-site lab offers both PCR and rapid antigen testing for travel. We guarantee rapid turnaround, and our reports meet the requirements for every destination in the world. We are registered with both the Japanese and Chinese consulates as their official designated testing site in Arizona.

Go. Explore the world and rekindle that sense of adventure that’s been suppressed for the last few years.