Do you need a COVID-19 booster shot to travel?
Most travel does not require a COVID-19 boosters, though that may be changing. The governor of Hawaii recently said that state soon may require travelers from other US states and territories to have a booster shot in addition to being fully vaccinated.
And Spain has just announced that starting Feb. 1, it will require all US travelers to prove they’ve been fully vaccinated at least 14 days before their departure to Spain, plus proof of a booster if their final vaccine was more than 270 days .
The CDC recommends that everyone, including people who already have had COVID-19, get a booster shot when eligible in order to travel. A booster may take one to two weeks to reach peak protection.
What are the COVID-19 vaccination rules for international travel?
You can travel internationally if you’re fully vaccinated, according to the CDC, but expect to face various vaccinations, testing or quarantine requirements throughout the world.
In France, for instance, you need to be fully vaccinated and offer proof of a negative COVID test. Officials will scan your vaccination data to create a digital health passport with a QR code, which you’ll need to go into any restaurant or museum in France. In Greece, you don’t need to show proof of vaccination to enter the country, but you will need to do so to enter public spaces like restaurants.
Meanwhile, the CDC advises against travel to both countries (among many around the world), due to high COVID-19 rates, regardless of your vaccination status.
That means travel to other countries requires careful planning, and staying up to date on the latest requirements, says Keyes. “There’s not only more bureaucracy and documentation involved, but changing guidance — and changing pretty frequently.”
Online resources to consult while planning international travel include:
- The CDC map of COVID-19 risk levels, travel recommendations and restrictions by destination.
- The website of the US Embassy in your destination country. The US State Department lists US embassies by country at usembassy.gov, and provides a map with country-specific information on COVID-19 restrictions, requirements and risk levels (which are sometimes higher than the CDC’s risk assessments, often due to factors other than COVID).
- Your destination’s official government or tourism board website.
- Your airline’s website, which should have information about flight requirements and may provide information about the country you plan to visit.
Should you carry your paper vaccination card?
Some travel providers or venues may require your original CDC-labeled paper vaccination card, but many places will accept a digital image (meaning you can just keep a photo of the card on your smartphone).
There is no national registry for electronic health records, but some states, including California and New York, offer digital health passports to help people manage their COVID-19 data. If you received a vaccination outside your home state, it may be difficult to get a digital passport because each state registry is different.
Some private organizations also offer digital health passports or mobile apps. Apple’s Health app, for example, lets you upload your COVID-19 vaccination record and display it in its Wallet app.
The International Airline Travel Association is testing the IATA Travel Pass with more than 50 global airlines, including AeroMexico and Qantas, to store and manage COVID-19 vaccine and other information. The mobile app is free for passengers to use if their airline is part of the pilot program. Many airlines offer similar online tools for their passengers.
What should you do if you lose your vaccination card?
If you carry around your original vaccination card, you risk losing or damaging it. Experts recommend photographing your card as a backup.
If you need a new one, contact your state health department for a replacement, suggests Vicki Sowards, director of clinical resources for Phoenix-based Passport Health, which provides travel medicine and immunizations at more than 270 clinics across North America. You also can contact the site where you received your vaccine.
Once fully vaccinated, can you travel like you did before the pandemic?
No, experts say, because of the various regulations and guidance that’s constantly changing.
It’s still important to wear a face mask, wash your hands frequently, practice social distancing and take other precautions, Sowards says. Masks are still required on public transportation, including airplanes and trains, and inside travel hubs, like airports .
“There’s risk and you have to assess the degree of risk you’re willing to take,” says Abinash Virk, MD, an infectious disease and travel expert for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “There are people who want zero risk, so they stay home and limit their activities.” But if you’re fully vaccinated, have received the booster and follow CDC guidance, he adds, your risk of contracting COVID-19 (particularly a life-threatening case of it) is relatively low.