As temperatures fall and the holidays approach, the urge to travel grows—despite COVID-19 and the cautionary advice of Dr. Anthony Fauci. The surge of virus cases in many countries has experts fearing the coming months will be the worst yet. The CDC and State Department still advise against nonessential travel to most countries.
But some destinations outside the continental U.S. are reopening to American tourists—with many caveats. At this time, about 75 countries are open and hoping to attract Americans. Here’s where you can go and how to travel safely.
Where can Americans go?
Americans can visit any of these destinations by showing proof of a negative COVID test: Antigua and Barbuda, Botswana (on December 1), Colombia, Croatia, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Egypt, El Salvador, Guatemala, Kenya, the Maldives, Montenegro, Morocco, Nicaragua, Niger, Panama, Puerto Rico, Saint Lucia, Senegal, Tanzania, and Zambia. Most countries prefer the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test; a few accept the rapid antigen test. Each country specifies how recent the test must be (usually between 48 hours and one week before travel) and whether you need to show it on arrival or submit it electronically in advance.
Other countries require visitors to take tests several days into their stay, sometimes requiring them to remain in their hotel rooms or resorts until they get the all-clear. For example, to journey to the beaches of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, you’ll need a negative test five days before traveling, another on arrival, and a resort-based quarantine until you pass another test on day five of your stay.
The Bahamas, Bahrain, Cuba, Djibouti, Lebanon, and Rwanda also require in-country tests, sometimes with quarantine. Ethiopia, Ireland, Niger, South Korea, and the U.K. require U.S. travelers to quarantine (the rules of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales are all slightly different). England’s new lockdown doesn’t change entry rules, but visitors must abide by the national restrictions in place until at least December 2. Hotel rooms in the U.K. can only be booked by those traveling for essential purposes.
Also welcoming U.S. travelers—check websites for detailed rules—are Anguilla, Armenia, Aruba, Bangladesh, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Bonaire, Costa Rica, Curaçao, Dominica, French Polynesia, Ghana, Grenada, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Jordan, Kosovo, Liberia, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Peru, Saint Barths, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Martin, Sint Maarten, Turkey, Turks and Caicos, Uganda, Ukraine, parts of the United Arab Emirates, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
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Countries with no requirements beyond a fever check or filling in a form (and, maybe, rapid tests for randomly selected passengers) include Albania, Belarus, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Mexico (fly-in only), North Macedonia, and Serbia.
There’s good news for American travelers aiming to stay within the U.S. On October 15, Hawaii dropped its 14-day quarantine, which means that travelers from the U.S. mainland can visit, provided they stick to one island. All visitors need to do is fill out a health questionnaire and show an authorized negative NAAT test taken within 72 hours of their flight to Hawaii.
Check your destination’s website because requirements change frequently.
Why travel when caseloads are rising?
Economies need travelers, despite COVID. But the next few months will be the “darkest of the pandemic,” according to infection-disease expert Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center of Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and a coronavirus adviser to President-elect Joseph Biden. Daily case counts are at record highs in many countries—both in popular travel destinations and countries with frequently traveling citizens.
Europe had 328,123 new cases on November 7—an all-time record—with surges in Belgium, Czechia, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Spain, and the U.K. European governments are implementing lockdowns, curfews, and other restrictions to bring infection rates back under control. Daily cases are repeatedly reaching record-breaking highs in the U.S. too. The worst day (so far) was November 6 with 132,797 new cases. New U.S. cases are 64 percent higher and deaths are 18 percent higher compared to two weeks ago.
“As case counts rise, there is more concern for either being infected at destination or bringing infection there or home,” says Dr. Lin H. Chen, president of the International Society of Travel Medicine and director of the Harvard-affiliated Mount Auburn Hospital Travel Medicine Center. Her advice: “It’s better to defer travel if the COVID-19 trend indicates rising case counts.”
Traveling or not, wearing masks (not just face shields) and keeping six feet from others is the best way individuals can prevent COVID-19. While a negative COVID test is reassuring, it doesn’t guarantee you’re virus-free. The World Health Organization is concerned about countries’ contact tracing, saying it’s essential that every contact with a confirmed case quarantines for the appropriate time.
Should you travel during a pandemic?
Despite the pandemic, many people want to reunite with family and friends they haven’t seen in months and don’t want to break the tradition of a holiday visit. Lucie Josma, a New York City social-media manager, wants one last trip to a warm beach with a family member who has a fatal, chronic illness. “We know this may very well be the last with him and we want to make it special,” she says.
If you travel over the holidays this year, there are ways to make it safer. Although crowded airports are risky, the air on planes is relatively clean. A recent Department of Defense and United Airlines study concluded that the risk of contracting COVID while flying is “virtually nonexistent.” However, the study has been criticized because the tests didn’t include boarding or deplaning, or collect data about passengers walking the aisles or eating on board.
Likewise, evidence is mixed about whether empty middle seats significantly decrease COVID risk and whether window seats or being far from bathrooms makes flying safer. Delta Air Lines will cease blocking middle seats in 2021.
Whenever you get together with people you don’t live with, plan ahead and discuss the risk levels and activities everyone is comfortable with. “Consistent, continual, and complete candidness is key,” says Dr. Joyce Sanchez, the medical director of the Travel Health Clinic at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin. She counsels being transparent about the risks you might bring to others so that everyone can make the best decisions for their own health.
This year you have the perfect excuse to decline your in-laws’ lumpy sofa bed. Avoid shared bathrooms and dining room tables by staying in a hotel. Dine outdoors if the weather allows and seat households apart as much as possible. Serve in the kitchen rather than family-style, and use new plates for anyone having seconds.
The pandemic will continue to evolve, and plans will need to change accordingly. “Extend yourself, your friends, and your family grace during this holiday season,” says Sanchez. It may be that there’s “no better way to show your love than by caring for yourself and each other, even if it means postponing, adjusting, or canceling in-person plans to keep everyone safe.”