Even in the best of times, travel can be confusing. But this summer, it’s extra confusing. People want to know if they need a COVID test to travel, whether they have to be fully vaccinated, and when they need to wear a mask.
“Finding answers to all of the questions about where you can go and what COVID restrictions are being enforced in that destination can be complicated,” says Andrew Williams, a travel advisor with Ovation Travel Group.
He says the information posted online is quickly out of date.
“Any COVID-related information posted on a company’s official website that is older than a week is likely overdue for an update since the situation is still very fluid,” he says.
I know. I’ve been answering questions like, “Do I need a COVID test to travel?” on my nonprofit advocacy site since the outbreak, and the answer seems to change by the minute.
Here’s a list of the most common travel question — and answers:
Do I need a COVID test to travel domestically?
If you’re flying domestically, the answer is no. In fact, there was never a federal testing requirement for domestic air travel. Hawaii has a state-mandated testing requirement — more on that in just a minute.
“If you are fully vaccinated you don’t need a COVID-19 test before or after domestic travel unless required by local, state, or territorial health authorities,” says Jan Carney, a professor of medicine at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. “Also, you don’t need to self-quarantine after you return.”
Do I need a COVID test to travel internationally?
If you’re traveling abroad, it depends on the country. You can find all the testing requirements on the State Department website. If you’re returning to the States, you need to show a negative COVID-19 test, regardless of your vaccination status.
For a visual breakdown of what you can — and can’t — do, check out this quick guide to COVID and travel from Travel Again.
Do I have to be fully vaccinated to travel?
It depends where you’re going. The CDC still recommends delaying travel until you’re fully vaccinated. “They also say that if you are not fully vaccinated but must travel, make sure to follow CDC’s recommendations when traveling,” adds Shelley Ewing, president of Tier One Travel. That includes getting tested before and after your trip and self-quarantining.
Most travel advisors recommend that their clients get vaccinated before they travel anywhere, just to be safe. If you test positive while you’re abroad, you’ll have to wait until you can show a negative test result. And that can extend your trip by days or even weeks.
You’ll probably have to either be fully vaccinated or show a negative test to visit Europe, though details are still being worked out.
Where can I travel now?
That can take some research. A good travel advisor can tell you where you can go and if you need a COVID test to travel. You can always do your own research on the State Department site. Several other sites also list travel requirements. One of the newest, Airheart’s new tool, Explorer tool, aggregates information about where you can go based on your point of origin. It covers local regulations about shopping, bars, restaurants and public transportation. For example, you can use its tool to filter places where you don’t need to quarantine.
“Travelers can make an educated decision if it’s really worth the trip,” says Airheart’s CEO, Lindsey Renken.
Do I need to wear a mask when I travel?
Probably. According to the Centers for Disease Control, fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations. However, face masks are still required on planes, buses and other forms of public transportation. So when you travel, you will probably still need to mask up.
Does my hotel have a mask requirement?
It might. “It all depends on the location,” says Jennifer Lobb, owner of JJ Travel Design. She just returned from Mexico, where all resort staff wore face coverings, but guests were not required to do so and most did not. I just stayed in a hotel in Florida where face coverings were required, but no one followed the rules. Generally, you still have to wear a mask indoors, and especially in hotel elevators, but not in your room.
Do I have to quarantine when I travel?
Maybe. According to the CDC, some state and local authorities may require a quarantine for returning travelers.
“Those who are unvaccinated should continue to follow the usual CDC guidelines to get viral tested within 1 to 3 days of your trip,” says Ramzi Yacoub, chief pharmacy officer at SingleCare. “Then, upon returning home, you should get a viral test 3 to 5 days after travel and stay home to self-quarantine for a week after your trip.”
Those local regulations may vary. Hawaii still requires proof of a negative COVID test 72 hours before arrival, for example. Travelers must have their negative test results before leaving for the islands as an alternative to Hawaii’s mandatory 10-day quarantine.
“These guidelines are constantly changing, so travelers should continue to check in to the CDC and their state websites for the latest guidance up to their departure,” advises Yacoub.
How can I be sure that I have the latest travel information?
COVID-19 restrictions are in an almost constant state of flux, say experts. To know for sure, you have to be an expert — or find one.
“Hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions, and even countries are often slow to update their websites or have conflicting information published,” says Kim Greulich, founder of KG Travel Club, a travel agency. “To avoid the risk of misinformation, travelers should call the establishment directly during the planning process, one week prior, and the day before.”
How about country restrictions? Careful research is a must. You can find information on the country’s official website, but a trusted travel advisor can also help. Agents work with destination marketing companies, which work directly with their country’s tourism board to have the latest information.
Where can I find information about airline, hotel and car rental policies?
Some companies offer that information for subscribers. TripActions, a cloud-based travel management platform, recently introduced a know before you go section that offers up-to-date information on cancellation policies, loyalty program updates, unused ticket credit applications and safety enhancements from major airlines and hotels. But your company will need to be a TripActions customer to get the information in one place.
By the way, you can also consult Sherpa, which provides some of the information to TripActions. For example, it lists the countries that are open to U.S. travelers. Sherpa also has information on the policies travelers need to know, including COVID-19 testing, quarantine measures, masking guidelines, and in-destination testing locations.
If you’re concerned about rapidly changing regulations (and who isn’t?) try Borderless, a site by travel insurance company SafetyWing. It offers updates and email alerts on travel restrictions, containment measures and vaccination information around the globe. Many of these online resources will also tell you if you need a COVID test to travel.
Should I take a summer vacation?
Ah, that’s the big question! If your head is spinning after reading all of this, you may want to wait until after Labor Day to travel. The vaccines will be almost fully distributed, the summer crowds will thin out, and you may not need a COVID test to travel.
But if you’re vaccinated and restless after more than a year of being locked down, don’t wait. Summer is just around the corner.