Can I travel without a COVID vaccine?

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(NerdWallet) — Between ever-changing entry requirements, mandatory quarantines, testing rules, and vaccine provisions, traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t easy. If you are not vaccinated, it is even more difficult. Some countries won’t admit unvaccinated travelers outright, while others require mandatory quarantine and additional testing.

If you’re planning to travel and haven’t been vaccinated, here’s what you need to know.

Domestic travel for unvaccinated travelers

As recently as January 12, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend delaying travel until you are fully immunized. If you choose to travel, the CDC reminds travelers that “wearing a mask is mandatory on planes, buses, trains, and other public transportation inside and outside the United States.”

However, any additional requirements depend on each city and state. Hawaii, for example, requires unvaccinated travelers to submit a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours of departure. It’s the only way to circumvent a five-day quarantine.

Although Illinois does not have statewide restrictions, its recommendations differ based on the daily COVID-19 case rates of the state the traveler is from. Unvaccinated travelers arriving from states with higher case rates are encouraged to get a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of traveling to Illinois. At the city level, unvaccinated travelers to Chicago are urged to get tested for COVID-19 before and after arrival and self-quarantine upon arrival.

Meanwhile, all travelers 16 and older entering California through Los Angeles International Airport, Van Nuys Airport, or Los Angeles Union Station are required to complete a City of Los Traveler Form. Angeles, agreeing to follow CDC travel advice — or face a $500 fine.

Other states may be more flexible and have no recommendations or requirements regarding vaccinations, quarantine, forms, or testing for visitors.

Advice for traveling within the country without a vaccine
  • If the time required to take a COVID-19 test before travel is less than 24 hours, check to see if an urgent care center near you offers a rapid results option. Also, check if a PCR and/or antigen test will be accepted. Generally, the results of an antigen test can be provided more quickly. If you have insurance, the test may be covered.
  • Before traveling to your intended destination, check city and state requirements and recommendations, as they may differ (such as Chicago and Illinois). Find out if your destination has special requirements based on the state you’re from.
  • Some businesses require proof of vaccination to enter. Prepare to be turned away from restaurants, bars, shops and other establishments if this is the case.
  • Check if there are any current testing requirements. For example, unvaccinated travelers staying in Puerto Rico longer than a week must submit weekly COVID-19 test results.
International travel for unvaccinated travelers

Traveling abroad can present more obstacles, especially due to different systems and a possible language barrier. Some countries do not allow unvaccinated travelers to enter, period. For example, travel to the majority of European countries is only possible for those who are vaccinated. If you are not vaccinated, make sure the country you want to visit will allow you entry.

Additionally, before returning to the United States, you must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within a day of flight departure. While you are abroad, you will need to visit a COVID-19 testing center. Unlike testing in the United States, overseas COVID-19 testing is not covered by insurance, so you will need to budget for out-of-pocket costs.

Moreover, you need to book your accommodation wisely. Does the hotel you want to stay allow unvaccinated guests? Can you dine at the hotel restaurant? Can you use the spa or gym? These are important questions you will need to consider before booking an international hotel stay.

Also check your access to activities and other places you would like to visit during your trip, such as restaurants and museums. During my recent trip to Germany, I had to show my proof of vaccination and identification in every bar, restaurant, store and hotel I entered.

If you are not vaccinated, you may be denied access to all these places, which can ruin your trip.

Tips for traveling abroad without a vaccine
  • Get travel insurance with Cancellation for Any Reason coverage as entry requirements are constantly changing. What happens if you book a non-refundable flight and hotel and a week before your departure your destination stops allowing unvaccinated travellers? If you have travel insurance with CFAR, you will be able to cancel your trip and get your non-refundable deposits back as long as changes are not made at the last minute. For example, with Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection’s CFAR coverage, “you can only be eligible if you purchase CFAR when you purchase your base policy, insure the full cost of your trip, and cancel more than 48 hours before departure,” according to the company’s website.
  • Confirm admission eligibility for your must-see experiences, such as restaurants, museums, shopping malls, or bars and clubs. Check that your hotel will also allow you entry.
  • Research COVID-19 testing sites in the area prior to departure. Will you need to travel far to take your test? Consider travel time when making an appointment for a test.
  • Check if there is an app used by your destination country that will accept your negative COVID-19 test result before departure. This step could make it easier to visit the bars, hotels, shops, restaurants and museums you want to visit.
Final Thoughts on Traveling Without a COVID Vaccine

Domestic and international travel can pose new challenges for unvaccinated people. Be sure to keep up to date with the latest requirements to ensure your trip goes smoothly. International travel can cause much more difficulty, so if you’re not ready for all the uncertainties of being abroad, consider traveling to somewhere in the United States.

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