Millions more are expected to hit the skies and the roads in the coming weeks. But as pandemic regulations ease in some countries, others are tightening entry rules to contain new waves of the virus. The shifting rules, rapidly changing course of the pandemic and lack of international coordination on travel regulations continue to leave consumers — and many travel operators — flustered and confused.
Travelers, both those going abroad and those entering the United States, are likely to have questions about the complicated regulations this holiday season. Here’s what we know so far, but be sure to come back — as rules are constantly changing.
Many hotels offer in-house testing facilities for an additional fee. If not, ask the concierge service or hotel reception for the nearest place you can get tested that will guarantee results within the required time frame.
Many pharmacies offer tests for travel and most major cities have walk-in test sites, which do not require appointments. Test prices can vary between $25 and $150, depending on the country and PCR tests are more expensive and results take longer to process.
As a fallback, most airports offer coronavirus testing, but expect to pay a hefty price and lines could be long, so make sure to go early.
What about a self-test, is that accepted?
Yes, as long as the test meets several requirements. It must be an antigen or nucleic acid amplification test that has been approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration.
Make sure you have a good internet connection when you take the test because you will have to connect to a telehealth service that verifies your identity and provides supervision during testing.
The F.D.A. has authorized eight home-tests, but not all of them provide digital supervision and prompt results.
The Abbott’s BinaxNOW Covid-19 AG Card Home Test usually produces results within 15 minutes and comes with a digital app called NAVICA, which can be helpful for travel as it facilitates easier access to results. Once you receive a negative test result, the app will generate a QR code that is renewed each time you take a new test.
The Ellume home test, another popular option for international travel, costs between $30 and $40. The home-tests are in high demand, so make sure to order them well in advance of your trip.
Are all vaccines obtained overseas accepted in the U.S.?
No. To the enter the U.S., travelers must have proof they were inoculated with vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the World Health Organization (WHO). The Russian Sputnik V and the China CanSino jab have not been approved while the Chinese Sinopharm and Sinovac are now accepted following recent approval by WHO.
There are several digital health passes in the United States that are convenient for travel, but make sure you check country-specific requirements before your departure. The Smart Health Card is a verifiable digital proof of vaccination that generates a QR code, which only shows the individual’s name, date of birth and vaccination status. It can be obtained in states using the Smart health system or through the retail pharmacy program.
Healthpass by Clear is another option that generates a QR code and vaccination details, including the type and number of shots received. Clear has partnered with the Hawaii Safe Travel program, and provides verification of a passenger Covid-19 test results or proof of vacation to satisfy the state’s quarantine exemption requirements. The app allows visitors to skip the verification line upon arrival in the state.
Several states, like New York and California, have their own digital apps, which pull data from the state’s immunization registry and can be used for travel.
While most countries will accept the digital passes for entry, some require visitors to apply for local digital passes to secure access to restaurants, bars, and cultural activities. Switzerland was one of the first countries to adopt this measure last month, requiring all tourists from outside the European Union and Schengen Area to register for a Swiss health pass before arrival.
Are booster shots necessary for international travel?
For most places, not yet. But as new coronavirus variants emerge and concerns grow over waning vaccine efficacy, some countries are setting vaccine “expiration dates” for travelers.
Croatia and Austria were among the first countries to introduce the expiration dates this summer, only accepting second vaccine doses or booster shots administered within a year of entering the county. For those who have received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the validity period is 270 days, around 9 months. Anyone who does not meet the criteria also has the option to submit a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours before departure. The United States does not have an “expiration date.”
Israel took a more stringent approach when it reopened to fully vaccinated foreign travelers on Nov. 1, only accepting vaccines that have been taken within the last six months.
Many countries say they are open to fully vaccinated travelers, but as booster shots roll out around the world, it is important to read the fine print to understand which vaccines are accepted and how long they are valid for.
Masks continue to be required for domestic air travel.
Credit: The New York Times