Here’s what you need to know about vaccination requirements before booking a domestic or international trip.
With the holiday travel season here, you may have many questions and concerns about how the ongoing pandemic could complicate any plans you have to visit friends and family or take a winter vacation far from home.
In particular, you may be wondering about the COVID-19 requirements currently in place, including whether you’ll need to show proof of vaccination for either domestic or international flights.
Healthline spoke with health and travel experts who helped clarify when, where, and why you may be required to present proof during a holiday trip that you’ve been vaccinated.
Dr. Joseph Khabbaza, pulmonary and critical care physician at the Cleveland Clinic, told Healthline that you should continually assess beforehand different requirements for different forms of travel as well as what might be required once you reach your destination.
Don’t wait until the last minute and then be caught by surprise once you make it to the airport or your destination.
Within the United States, the only place that currently requires proof of vaccination for entry is Hawaii, which has an online portal available to upload proof of vaccination, he said.
If you have been vaccinated within the continental U.S. or its territories, you can avoid the mandatory 10-day quarantine with vaccine proof upon entry to the state.
If you don’t wish to show proof of vaccination, then you can take a pre-travel test, showing a negative COVID-19 test result no more than 72 hours before the final leg of your trip to the state, according to the state’s official website.
Other than Hawaii, the United States does not require vaccination proof to travel within the country at this time, Khabbaza reasserted.
That being said, he cautioned domestic U.S. travelers within the country to check the website of common transportation services like Amtrak and airlines to see if guidelines and recommendations change as the global and international realities of the pandemic change.
He said, right now, all domestic forms of travel have mask mandates inside a train or plane, for instance.
“Rules may change. Check ahead with whatever route you go,” he added.
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Keep in mind, this is not an order but a strong recommendation backed up by nonpartisan health experts.
Lonely Planet staff writer Sasha Brady told Healthline that the winter has brought about a rise in COVID-19 infections in the northern hemisphere and, as a result, most countries have extended travel restrictions “well into 2022.”
“So, expect to show proof of vaccination when traveling internationally to most countries this holiday season. Many accept vaccines that have been listed by the World Health Organization for emergency use from travelers, including the U.S. But not all of them do. Always consult the U.S. Embassy website for the country you are traveling to. They’ll have destination-specific information about vaccine requirements for entry,” Brady explained.
Both Brady and Khabbaza said U.S. citizens do not need to show proof of vaccination when traveling back to the United States from abroad. That being said, Brady stressed that without proof of vaccination, a U.S. citizen might be “subject to tighter deadlines for pre-departure COVID-19 tests.”
“Vaccinated U.S. citizens can take their pre-departure test within three days of traveling back home, but unvaccinated citizens only have a 24-hour window in which to get tested before their journey back,” she added.
Khabbaza stressed that U.S. citizens should check in with their airlines to be best prepared before their trip when flying out of the country.
Beyond the travel logistics, you should also assess your safety threshold. If you aren’t vaccinated, you are putting yourself at a disadvantage, with less immunity and subject to more hangups and confusion when attempting to travel abroad.
Be sure also to research what is going on with the pandemic at your desired location. Research transmission numbers and vaccination proliferation at your given destination.
“An official vaccination certificate issued by your government or public health agency is generally adequate proof of COVID immunity for travel. For Americans, that is the CDC card; for most Europeans, it’s the EU digital COVID certificate; for Canadians traveling abroad, it’s the Canadian COVID-19 proof of vaccination card, etc.,” Brady said.
She added that these could be presented in either digital or paper form. Still, regardless, you should always carry a paper printout of your vaccination proof in case your phone runs out of battery or you accidentally delete it from your device.
“Tuck it inside your passport, along with your boarding pass and you can easily present them to airline staff when boarding your flight,” Brady suggested for international travelers.
Khabbaza said there are several apps you can download that can show your vaccine proof and echoed Brady in recommending you keep physical proof of vaccination on you. You never know when you might need it. He said you could also take a photo of your original vaccine card.
“For domestic travel, proof of vaccination isn’t required when boarding trains or domestic flights in the U.S., but if you’re vaccinated, it’s a good idea to take your vaccination card with you on your trip as some cities require people to be fully inoculated before entering certain establishments,” Brady said.
For example, in New York City, you must show proof of vaccination to frequent an indoor dining establishment, an indoor gym, or theaters or concert venues, among other examples. Always do your due diligence to research what might be required in any given city, state, or country you’re traveling to this winter.
Remember, even if you don’t need proof of vaccination for one leg of the journey, you might need it once you get off your plane, train, or bus.
“You’ll generally get away with presenting your official vaccination certificate at the door in most countries. But some countries have very specific processes. In France, for example, Americans can present their CDC card at the border as proof of vaccination to get into France, but once they’re in France, that card won’t be sufficient to gain entry into commercial establishments where proof of vaccination is required,” Brady cautioned.
“Americans, or indeed any traveler visiting France who was vaccinated outside of the EU, must register online for a vaccination certificate with a QR code that’s compatible with the French system. It’s recommended that travelers do this a week or so before traveling to France, or 2 weeks if traveling during peak season.”
She said that if you’re an international traveler, consult the embassy’s website for the nation you’re visiting before you book your trip to make sure you have all of the needed documentation on hand.
Khabbaza said that we are still following the guidelines that “fully vaccinated” means immunity is reached 14 days after your second shot of either the Moderna or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines or 14 days after one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
If you have a trip coming up, he recommends you plan ahead of time.
A Johnson & Johnson single-dose shot about 2 weeks before your trip would count as being fully vaccinated. However, a complete course of Pfizer vaccination would have to begin about 5 weeks before your trip. If you are combining different vaccine brands, full immunity still comes 14 days after that second dose.
“Also, some people in vaccination trials would have different criteria depending on what they received and when they received it,” he explained.
Make sure you mark your calendars and consult your healthcare professional about timing your shots before a big trip.
If you’re reading this and you haven’t gotten vaccinated, what should you do?
“I would recommend getting all your recommended jabs in at least 1 month before traveling. Not only does it give you plenty of time to reach immunity, it also allows you sufficient time to get all your vaccine documentation in order for travel,” Brady said.
We understand that you’re worried about your health and safety away from home, and the safety of the communities that you’re visiting around the world. As regulations and requirements for travel shift, we’re here to help you navigate this complex and often confusing landscape. Whether you’re driving to a natural wonder in your state or flying around the globe, we can help you protect yourself and others.
Check back often to learn how to protect yourself and your loved ones on your next journey.