Travel abroad ? What to know about overseas flights with COVID-19 in mind this summer


This Tuesday, California will remove its social distancing requirements and allow businesses to operate at full capacity. The mask’s tenure will also end, but there are a few exceptions. If you plan to travel soon, keep in mind that COVID-19 health restrictions change depending on how, where and when you travel.

While most health restrictions will soon be lifted in California, it’s important to remember when planning a trip that each country has a different approach to controlling the pandemic. (Malaka Gharib / NPR)

What should I know about international air travel at this stage of the pandemic?

First of all, you have a lot of company. International air travel is expected to increase this summer. Americans are thinking about vacations in Europe again. “We’ve had people asking us a lot of questions about Europe,” said Kendra Thornton, Chicago area travel consultant, Royal Travel & Tours. “Not necessarily a reservation, but I want to keep an eye on it.”

Additionally, residents of the United States with family members in other countries are eager to reunite after separations forced by the pandemic. People can also travel abroad for work.

They will face a whole range of travel restrictions and entry requirements.

NPR correspondent Jason Beaubien was surprised to see his face on a giant screen at an airport in Sierra Leone, where thermal scanners simultaneously take everyone’s temperature in the crowd. Airport staff take anyone who registers a fever separately for evaluation.

Travelers to Peru should bring a face shield. You have to wear it in crowded spaces like an airport.

Additionally, protocols may change as new variants, such as the highly contagious Delta variant, spread and take hold in different countries.

So, if you are in the mood to travel abroad or have already booked a trip, you are probably asking yourself a lot of questions. Here are some guidelines that may help you deal with the new international flight rules:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting the vaccine before you go.

Air travelers should be fully vaccinated regardless of the level of risk in the country you are visiting, according to the health agency. There are still a lot of viruses circulating.

Keep track of the ever-changing guidelines and restrictions for your destination.

You can check the specific travel requirements on the website of the United States Department of State or the Office of Foreign Affairs or Department of Health at your destination.

Additionally, the CDC provides advice on travel to other countries, which are rated from “very high” risk of COVID-19 transmission to “low” (among them China, Iceland and Rwanda).

Avoid countries in the “very high” category unless they are essential trips.

There are 60 countries on this list, ranging from Argentina to Yemen.

Some countries are closed to visitors but make exceptions.

Belgium, Canada, the United Kingdom and Uruguay are a few examples. But some of these “visitor-free” countries may make exceptions in the event of the death or serious illness of a family member. If this is your case, you may be able to visit. But the authorities might not take your word for it. Expect to have to show proof of the reason for the visit, such as a death certificate or doctor’s note regarding a family member’s illness. You can find out about the rules for your destination by contacting the U.S. embassy or consulate there, or the country’s embassy in the United States.

And changes happen almost daily in this matter, so it’s good to keep an eye on the official State Department or country’s website for updates.

Photo of a COVID-19 vaccination card
Some travel counselors suggest making a copy of your COVID-19 vaccination card or having a photo on your phone as a backup when traveling. (Chandan Khanna / AFP via Getty Images)

Bring your vaccination record.

Some countries want to see your vaccination record, so make sure your official CDC vaccination record is filled with the date of your dose (s) (if you received a two-dose vaccine). It’s a good idea to make a copy of the map or have a photo on your phone as a backup, suggests Thornton, the travel counselor.

Have you lost your card?

Contact your immunization provider or contact your state health department’s immunization information system.

You can also present the International Certificate of Vaccination from the World Health Organization, also known as a yellow card. You can ask your vaccinator to add your COVID-19 vaccination information if you already have a card. Or if you need it, you can buy it through the U.S. Government Bookstore, which tells NPR it has seen sales increase 55% in the past six months.

The cards are out of stock but should be available by the end of June. Or you can buy one from the WHO, which means waiting at least a week for shipment from Switzerland.

A photo of the WHO international vaccination certificate.
Another way to verify that you have received the COVID-19 vaccine is the WHO International Certificate of Vaccination, also known as a yellow card. You can ask your vaccinator to add your COVID-19 vaccination information if you already have a card. (Sean Gallup / Getty Images)

What about vaccine applications?

Vaccine applications that show your record may also be accepted, but there is no guarantee that border control will accept them as proof, so bringing a paper record is a good idea.

Citizens of the European Union will soon have a COVID digital certificate system that provides a scannable QR code to check vaccination status and coronavirus test results. This should make it easier to travel between Member States, but will not help a tourist vaccinated outside the EU.

Airlines are trying to help their customers meet the vaccination and testing requirements of various countries by developing their own applications. The International Air Transport Association has deployed its own IATA Travel Pass, which many major airlines around the world will use.

But officials say calling it a vaccine passport, like many people, is a bit of an overkill.

“It’s more of a digital identifying information associated with your vaccination or testing profile,” said Nick Careen of IATA. “The consumer can therefore use it to help him in his passenger journey.”

British Airways, Japan Airlines, Qatar Airways and Emirates are among the global airlines testing the IATA travel pass app, which is expected to go live soon.

Other airlines, including American, will use an app called VeriFly.

American Preston Peterson told NPR that “because entry requirements differ in almost every country and in some cases depending on the region of a country,” the app will give the customer “peace of mind. mind knowing that it is complying with these different regulations. “

“A customer can submit their documentation, have it checked, and then they get a green tick, or indeed, an OK to travel status, which we, the airline, trust, the customer can trust and then they know they is ready to go, ”said Peterson, adding that the app will be updated in real time as entry requirements for various destinations change.

A coronavirus test panel at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on February 4, 2021 in Los Angeles.
A coronavirus test panel at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on February 4, 2021 in Los Angeles. (Patrick Fallon / AFP via Getty Images)

But even proof of vaccination may not be sufficient to facilitate your entry.

Some countries don’t care if you have a vaccination card, as it can be easily tampered with or tampered with, or a digital vaccination card on an app. They will always insist on a PCR test to determine if you are infected several days before entering and leaving their airports. Most countries require airline staff to verify the test. A positive result means the trip is disabled. This is the case in Egypt, in some European countries and in Israel. And you can’t leave Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel after arriving in the country without passing a coronavirus test; airport staff drive everyone to the clinic tent right after baggage claim.

Even if you are vaccinated and tested negative for the coronavirus, you may need to quarantine. Samoa, for example, requires a minimum quarantine of 21 days for all incoming passengers.

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