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It’s the big question on avid travelers’ minds, and though the rules around COVID-era travel change rapidly, we’ve gathered the latest information to help you plan for the future.
This is a developing story. We will continue to update as the world changes. For the latest information on traveling during the coronavirus outbreak, visit the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
For many, the idea of going abroad is unfathomable right now—like we’re suggesting we all go into space. (Actually, space sounds less threatening.) The COVID-19 pandemic continues and a vaccine is still in the works—but as we’ve noted in the past few weeks, after months of global lockdown to flatten the curve and the development of rapid coronavirus testing, several U.S. states and countries have started to gradually reopen. As we tiptoe back outside, masks firmly on, we may start asking: What’s open? What’s safe? When will international travel be allowed? Will I be able to board a plane this year, or use my passport? Signs are pointing to yes, if we do so responsibly and don’t face setbacks.
A few things to note about international travel during the COVID-19 crisis:
- Most countries’ borders remain closed to nonessential travel, which roughly equates to leisure travel: sightseeing, recreation, entertainment. Though “in the United States, nonessential travel hasn’t been defined as precisely, leaving it up to individual travelers to determine whether they have personal or business matters urgent enough that won’t allow them to stay at home,” destination news editor Lyndsey Matthews points out in our AFAR glossary of coronavirus-related terms.
- On March 31, the U.S. Department of State published a Global Level 4 Health Advisory, noting that “The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19.” The recommendation also extends to U.S. citizens who live abroad. The advisory continues: “If you choose to travel internationally, your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite time frame.”
- Many U.S. diplomatic and consular personnel have left their posts, meaning that U.S. embassies and consulates are limited in the services they now provide to U.S. citizens abroad.
- Most outbound travelers from the United States face health screenings on arrival in international countries and the possibility of a 14-day quarantine, whether they are symptomatic or not. This is widely thought to be a short-term strategy until immunity passports or immunity certificates become widespread. (Read more about immunity passports.)
- American citizens, lawful permanent residents, and their families returning to the U.S. from “high-risk areas” will be redirected to one of 13 approved airports, according to a March proclamation from the U.S. government. These travelers should expect “enhanced airport screening,” according to the U.S. State Department.
- As countries reopen, many are implementing “travel bubbles” or “travel corridors”—essentially, this agreement between cooperating countries allows for citizens to travel freely between specified nations, in the hopes of kick-starting tourism and helping economies rebound. Already, the prime ministers of New Zealand and Australia have said they will enact an agreement when the countries loosen their restrictions, and as of May 15, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia will begin operating theirs. (Read more about travel bubbles.)
- As of May 13, Greece, Iceland, and parts of Mexico have started publicly campaigning to have international travelers return as early as June or July.
So how realistic is it to leave the United States? Will all trips have to be at least 14 days, or is there the possibility you can take a weekend break this summer, or visit your family over the holidays? It depends on the country—so let’s dig in to the rules.
Canada and Mexico
As of March 21, all nonessential travel between Canada, the United States, and Mexico has been prohibited, though the deadline to reopen borders—or consider an extension—is May 19 for U.S.-Mexico and May 21 for U.S.-Canada. In Canada and Mexico, as in the United States, individual states and provinces have the autonomy to decide their own reopening timeline.
Canada has shut its borders, but there are a number of exemptions including Canadian citizens, permanent residents, person registered under Canada’s Indian Act, and approved workers and family members.
Canadian Premier Doug Ford, who leads the province of Ontario that shares borders with hard-hit New York, Minnesota, and Michigan, has been a vocal opponent of reopening too soon and is expected to extend his province’s closure until June 2.
The Canadian government’s COVID-19 response page is updated with the latest information.
The Mexican state of Quintana Roo, home to popular vacation spots like Cancun, Tulum, and Riviera Maya, has announced that it plans to reopen to tourists in June, with hotels getting a green light to start accepting reservations (after complying with new health and safety standards) and regularly scheduled flights resuming at Cancun International Airport. Local tourism is expected to rebound first—namely convention and wedding guests—while national travel restrictions are in place through May 30, says the Quintana Roo Tourism Promotion Council, though it hopes “international and national tourists will consider the Mexican Caribbean a safe and attractive destination to visit once travel restrictions are lifted.”
Los Cabos announced a five-phase reopening plan that begins June 1 with “limited travel activity” and the implementation of new health and safety standards. If COVID-19 cases remain low, Los Cabos will move to phase two—reopening the international terminal and resuming international visits—in July, with the hopes of reclaiming some of the estimated 1 million tourists it expects to be down in 2020. The tourism board also confirmed in a statement acquired by AFAR that “62 percent of the hotel inventory will resume operations while internationally airlines like Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest, and Delta have already announced the return to the destination.”
The website for the U.S. embassy and consulates in Mexico are regularly updated with entry and exit information, and any other travel requirements.
In the Caribbean region, the number of reported COVID cases has been relatively low: The Dominican Republic tops out with more than 8,800 infections as of May 7, according to the Miami Herald, and in some countries like Aruba, the Bahamas, and Cayman Islands, it’s only in the tens or low hundreds. Still, the concern is more about stopping community transmission and that includes from inbound travelers. Seaports and airports have been closed across the Caribbean since March and will resume on a country-by-country basis.
Per a separate Miami Herald article, a few Caribbean countries—Haiti, the Bahamas, and Antigua and Barbuda among them—plan to require visitors and returning nationals to show “virus-free” COVID-19 certificates and/or go through rapid testing for the novel coronavirus at airports once borders reopen. Here’s a snapshot of some of the rules:
Flights are still operating in and out of Nassau and some of the Family Islands, though the number of flights has been cut.
Stay informed by visiting the country’s COVID-19 dashboard.
Flights to and from the Dominican Republic are available on United and JetBlue, but the country remains under lockdown until May 17, and public services are limited.
Puerto Rico has remained open to tourists, with most hotels staying in business, but all flights are being diverted through San Juan Airport (SJU) where passengers can receive a brief verbal screening or temperature check by thermographic cameras. “All passengers (visitors and residents) must self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, regardless of symptoms,” according to Discover Puerto Rico.
Check the tourism website for the latest travel advisories.
Airlines are not scheduling regular flights between Jamaica and the United States, according to the U.S. embassy in Jamaica. Effective March 18, any arriving visitors will have to self-quarantine for 14 days. In mid-May, the country’s tourism minister, Andrew Holness, said Jamaica is preparing for a “phased reopening” of the tourism sector, with more details to come.
Central and South America
“In South America, seven out of 10 countries are experiencing community transmission,” reports the Miami Herald. “Some of the countries in the region are battling outbreaks in big cities, such as Guayaquil, Ecuador; and Manaus and Sao Paulo in Brazil. There is growing concern about more cases being reported in smaller towns where hospital capacity is limited.” Here’s a look at what some of the restrictions around the region:
At the end of April, Argentina announced it was banning all internal and international commercial flights until September, in response to the pandemic, reports CNBC. In addition, a national quarantine that began on March 20 has been extended until May 24, according to the U.S. embassy in Argentina. As a result, borders remain closed to international visitors.
On April 28, Brazil extended its ban on foreigners arriving in the country by air through May 28. There are a few exceptions, and the fine print can be found here.
On March 16, Colombia’s president Ivan Duque said the country’s borders would be closed until May 30, reports Reuters.
Until June 24, Costa Rica has restricted land, sea, and air arrivals to Costa Rican citizens and residents. (Foreign diplomats and air travel crew are also exempt.)
Check the country’s embassy page for up-to-date information.
Until May 18, all public activities and non-essential travel to Guatemala is prohibited.
Check the country’s embassy page for up-to-date information.
Peru’s national state of emergency and quarantine measures have been extended through May 24.
More information can be found on the website of the U.S. embassy in Peru.
On May 8, the European Commission recommended another 30-day extension of the ban on nonessential travel into the European Union, which would leave it in place until June 15, 2020, reports AFAR’s Michelle Baran. This travel restriction covers what is referred to as the “EU+” area: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. (Long-term EU residents, diplomats, and some health-care and transport workers are exempt from the ban.)
Before any external borders can be open, the European Commission stated that internal border controls would first need to be lifted “gradually” and in a “coordinated effort.” In recent weeks, individual countries have begun releasing more information about what that looks like. Here’s the latest:
The country’s parliament voted to extend the state of emergency until July 24. It requires incoming visitors to self-isolate for two weeks after arrival.
Any updates are posted on Atout France, the website for the country’s tourism development agency.
As of March 21, entry for tourism is no longer allowed in Germany, according to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community. Those who are not German citizens will only be allowed in the country under the following circumstances: work purposes, urgent medical reasons, legal residency, or transiting through the country if there are no other options available.
Germany’s tourism arm has a thorough guide on current restrictions by country and individual travel regions.
Greece’s borders remain closed to travelers from non-EU countries, but tourism officials have stated that they’d like to welcome tourists back by July.
Detailed information about Greece’s reopening plan is available on the country’s tourism website, Visit Greece.
Restrictions banning foreign travelers are in place until May 15, but starting in mid-June, the country will be open to travelers from around the world, reports the Reykjavík Grapevine, an Icelandic news publication. There is some fine print, of course: Travelers will be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival at Keflavík International Airport, and if the test is negative, they will be free to enter without a quarantine. Travelers can also bring a certificate from their doctor declaring a clean bill of health, to be approved by health officials.
Iceland has a designated website for tourism and COVID-19; it is maintained by the Directorate of Health and the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management.
There has been no indication of when travelers will be allowed to return. Anyone arriving in the country currently has to print out a form verifying that they are traveling as a health-care worker responding to the crisis, for a work requirement, or for a reason of “absolute necessity.”
Get the latest information from Italia, the country’s tourism branch.
Travel into the country remains off-limits.
Spain’s official tourism website has the latest practical information on traveling to the country.
Travel to the country is “not recommended,” writes AFAR’s Michelle Baran, but it’s also not forbidden, either. On May 11, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that incoming travelers to the country would be subjected to a mandatory quarantine, though he did not set an official start date for the policy. When the rules do go into effect, “people entering the United Kingdom, including both international visitors and British nationals returning home, will have to provide their contact details and the address of their U.K. accommodation where they will be required to self-isolate for 14 days. If international travelers can’t provide a location where they will self-isolate, the government will provide accommodation for them,” reports Baran.
Get the latest on travel to the U.K. on Visit Britain’s website.
The policies around border control are changing fast, but the latest updates are available under the European Commission’s page on migration and home affairs.
Africa counts 54 countries in its “group,” according to the United Nations. Most countries in the world’s second largest (and second most populous) continent have slashed the number of international flights, and others—like Namibia—have cracked down even harder. Here’s a look at what they’re currently allowing:
On March 25, Kenya suspended all international flights in and out of the country. Anyone arriving in Kenya must quarantine for 14 days at a government-designated facility at their own expense.
Read more about Kenya’s rules on the U.S. embassy’s site.
The government’s “Health State of Emergency” is in effect until May 20, and all commercial flights to and from the country are suspended indefinitely.
The U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Morocco regularly posts updates on its website.
Namibia has begun relaxing some of its guidelines as part of its “stage two” phase of COVID-19 response, which will be in effect until June 1. The country’s borders remain closed to non-Namibians during this time.
The Namibian President’s Facebook page has the most up-to-date information on when travelers might be allowed back.
Rwanda remains open for tourism but has adopted its policies to be more flexible for cancellations. A March brief from Visit Rwanda also mentions that “increased surveillance measures at all points of entry using high-tech equipment and medics to screen and check travel histories of all visitors, have intensified.”
Get the latest information on COVID-19 in Rwanda at the Rwanda Biomedical Centre site.
On March 15, South Africa’s government declared a state of disaster and placed a ban on travelers from the United States, United Kingdom, China, Italy, Germany, South Korea, Iran, and Spain, reports Bloomberg. Travelers who have also visited any of the high-risk countries recently may also be denied, and those from countries like Portugal, Hong Kong, and Singapore will have to undergo screening.
Check the official page for the U.S. embassy and consulates in South Africa for updates.
The largest continent in the world—by both area and population—Asia lays claim to around 50 of the world’s countries. (The specific number varies, based on what you count as a territory and whether or not the Pacific region is included.) Rules and regulations around who can enter these countries vary greatly, but here are the most visited countries in the region, and what they’re allowing:
In late March, China closed its borders indefinitely to foreigners—even those with residency in China. Diplomats are an exception, and new visas will only otherwise be considered “for necessary economic, trade, scientific or technological activities or out of emergency humanitarian needs,” according to a release from China’s foreign ministry. Officials note the ban is “temporary,” and the release mentions the following: “The above-mentioned measures will be calibrated in light of the evolving situation and announced accordingly.”
In a May 5 brief from India’s Bureau of Immigration, the government notes that “all incoming passenger traffic” is prohibited. Also outlined: “All scheduled international commercial passenger services shall remain closed till prohibition on international travel of passengers from/to India is lifted by the Government of India.”
Since April, Japan has banned foreign travelers originating from (or who have visited) more than 75 specific countries and regions—the United States included. The country has said the measures will remain in place “for the time being, unless there are exceptional circumstances.”
The Japan National Tourism Organization has a comprehensive guide to who is allowed in the country and when.
On March 25, Singapore’s government issued a statement, announcing that “all short-term visitors will not be allowed to enter or transit through Singapore.”
The Singapore Tourism Board has a handy guide to the latest updates for tourists.
As of April 1, anyone entering South Korea must self-quarantine for 14 days, according to the South Korean government. Asymptomatic entrants from abroad will also be tested, depending on how long they’ll be in the country and where they’re traveling from.
Visit Korea, the country’s tourism board, has a flowchart for travelers arriving into the country—and what they can expect.
As of April 23, domestic flights, public transportation, and restaurants are back in service in Vietnam—a sign that international travel isn’t too far behind. According to Skift, the country is discussing “travel bubbles” with China and South Korea and then plans to gradually open up slowly to other countries in the region, like Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Taiwan. For the time being, though, entry into the country is restricted to Vietnamese nationals, foreigners on diplomatic or official business, and highly skilled workers.
Vietnam’s tourism website has up-to-date guidelines on visiting the country.
Australia and New Zealand
New Zealand has been an early success story, nearly eliminating coronavirus in the country of 5 million; much credit goes to a strict lockdown enacted by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government in late March, when only 100 people had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, reports the Associated Press.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also been praised for his handling of the coronavirus response. Here’s what tourism and travel restrictions look like in the two countries:
The country has moved to phase 2 of its reopening with shops, cafés, offices, and parks opening—though the borders remain closed to all international travelers. A possible trans-Tasman travel bubble has been considered with Australia, though “we will not have open borders for the rest of the world for a long time to come,” Ardern said.
Check out the government’s “key updates” page on COVID-19 for more information about travel to New Zealand.
At present, only Australian residents, citizens, and family members are allowed to travel to the country. “All reopening timelines will be determined by individual states and territories—currently, Queensland plans to begin its stage one May 15 and Tasmania on May 18,” reports the New York Times.