With the rollout of COVID vaccines finally picking up steam, people are wondering not just when they will be able to travel again but where they can safely travel to. Most parts of the world are still off-limits for travel until a universal “health passport” is developed. Still, a growing number of countries eager to revive local tourism are already encouraging stir-crazy foreigners to visit—as long as they’re vaccinated.
The destinations listed here have had strict entry requirements ranging from mandatory self-isolation upon arrival to completely closed borders, and they are now planning to safely re-open for tourists who’ve gotten their shots. Several countries worldwide are open for tourism whether you’ve been vaccinated or not, but the limited re-opening of the places below provides extra peace of mind for travelers who have already been jabbed. What’s more, you may find some extra sweet travel deals in countries that haven’t seen tourists in months.
The first country to open its borders to vaccinated tourists was the Seychelles, the archipelago off East Africa's coast that’s practically synonymous with paradise. Visitors need a certificate showing that at least two weeks have passed since being fully vaccinated—meaning both shots—and also bring a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure. By the end of March 2021, the government expects the majority of the local population to be vaccinated, making it one of the fastest vaccination campaigns globally. Getting to Seychelles may seem like a long journey, but after being cooped up at home for nearly a year, an escape to one of the most far-flung places in the world sounds better than ever.
If you’re looking to explore somewhere new and the country of Georgia wasn’t on your travel radar before, it should be now. Beginning Feb. 1, 2021, any foreign nationals entering Georgia with a certificate showing they’ve received the full vaccination are exempt from the current restrictions of arriving with a negative test and self-quarantining. But that’s not to say that the only reason for visiting is the lack of obstacles. The Caucasus Mountains rival the Alps in terms of scenery and ski opportunities but at a fraction of the cost. When you get tired of the snow, the beaches of the Black Sea are just a few hours away. Between the two, don’t forget to make a pitstop at the Georgian vineyards in one of the oldest wine regions in the world.
For a tropical escape that’s a bit closer to home, the Aloha State plans to be one of the first places in the U.S. to pilot a vaccine passport. Hawaii has had the lowest number of cases per capita out of any U.S. state, partly due to a strict arrival procedure requiring all incoming passengers to complete a PCR test and also self-quarantine for 10 days. To balance out locals' safety while also welcoming back much-needed tourists, Hawaii plans to launch its own digital health passport so vaccinated visitors can enjoy the islands without worrying about a test or quarantine. The Lieutenant Governor has said that the program will be rolled out in phases and could begin as soon as March 1, 2021.
With easier borders to control and a heavy dependence on tourism, it’s not surprising that most destinations opening up to vaccinated travelers are islands. Cyprus is launching a tiered system for 56 countries on March 1, 2021, with differing levels of restrictions whether you’re coming from a green, orange, or red country. However, vaccinated travelers don’t need to worry about any of those restrictions, as long as they have a certificate stating they've already been jabbed. American travelers aren’t included in the initial group of 56 countries. Still, the U.S. is set to become a “red country” on April 1, 2021, meaning restriction-free entry for vaccinated travelers or a double PCR exam for unvaccinated travelers. Other Mediterranean beaches like Santorini or Majorca may still be out of sight, but a vacation to Cyprus could be just on the horizon.
The Kingdom of Thailand re-opened its borders to tourists in December, including visitors from the U.S. But before you go and book a flight to Bangkok, know that you’ll need to get a negative PCR test result and quarantine in a government facility for 14 days after you arrive, at your expense. Eager to bring tourists back as soon as possible, the island of Phuket has already requested an exemption to the entry requirements for vaccinated travelers, and it’s currently under review by the government. Any relaxing of the rules would likely be tied to the majority of locals being vaccinated as well, a milestone that the Thai government expects to reach in Sept. 2021.
As of Feb. 1, anyone entering Romania who shows that at least 10 days have passed since being fully vaccinated or that they’ve already had COVID-19 in the previous six months can skirt the strict 14-day quarantine period upon arrival. Despite the laxer rules, however, tourism is still off the table for American visitors. European Union borders are closed to non-EU residents unless it’s for essential travel or some other justifiable reason, and Romania is included in that group. But the country is one of the main proponents for safely reopening EU borders and, if they can show their new policy is effective, may help to spur on the rest of Europe to follow suit.
The small island nation has had one of the lowest incidence rates of COVID in the world, largely due to being naturally isolated and enforcing a strict double screening where visitors must take a PCR test on arrival, quarantine for five days, and then take another test. Beginning Feb. 19, 2021, anyone arriving in Iceland must have a negative PCR test before boarding the plane in addition to the double screening, meaning you have to endure three exams over the course of a week—unless you’ve been fully vaccinated. Vaccinated travelers can forgo the pre-boarding test, the double screening, and the self-isolation on arrival. Keep in mind that even though Iceland isn’t a part of the EU, entrance is still restricted to EU residents and essential travel for the time being.
The small Baltic country of Estonia decided to follow Romania’s lead and also waive the self-isolation requirement for anyone who’s been vaccinated or has already recovered from COVID, hoping to entice immunized travelers. Like Romania, entry to Estonia is still limited to EU residents or those with a valid excuse for traveling. More European countries are sure to follow, with Greece and Denmark already making plans to release their own digital health passports by summer. As more European countries open up to inoculated travelers, it’s only a matter of time until the entire bloc opens up to non-EU tourists.
Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Georgia. "Regulations for Crossing the Georgian Border in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic." Retrieved February 22, 2021.
The New York Times. "Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count." Retrieved February 22, 2021.
Visit Cyprus. "Travel Safely to Cyprus." Retrieved February 22, 2021.
Insider. "Thailand resort island plants to let in vaccinated tourists in October." Retrieved February 22, 2021.
Matador Network. "Romania will lift quarantine for vaccinated travelers." Retrieved February 22, 2021.
Icelandair. "Visiting Iceland." Retrieved February 22, 2021.
CNN. "Denmark pins hopes on a Covid-19 vaccination passport." Retrieved February 22, 2021.