updated April 5, 2021
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that it’s impossible to predict the future. But we’re hopeful that we’ll be back to traveling more easily and safely sometime midway through 2021. Wondering how the Covid vaccine will affect the ways we travel this year (and beyond)? Here’s what we know so far.
Will I be able to travel again once I get the Covid vaccine?
Yes! Unfortunately, the details are a bit more murky. Ultimately, much will be up to individual countries, as it is now: some countries are welcoming travelers with testing or quarantine requirements, while others are welcoming travelers from certain countries only. Still others not welcoming travelers at all. In 2021, we’re still seeing similar patterns: some countries may welcome travelers who can show proof of vaccination, while others are just keep their current testing requirements.
Places like Australia and New Zealand—who have had strict international travel restrictions—will likely continue to be cautious and may not open borders in 2021 at all. However, we are seeing some countries who are opening again to vaccinated travelers or waiving their current testing/quarantine requirements if you’re vaccinated. In short, having a vaccine is going to make traveling easier in 2021.
Will I need to prove I’ve been vaccinated to travel again?
Individual countries—or even airlines—have the ability to require vaccinations from would-be travelers. Some countries, like Iceland and Croatia, are welcoming travelers who have been vaccinated with no testing or quarantine requirements for those travelers.
However, many countries are welcoming unvaccinated travelers as well, so long as you can provide a negative Covid test prior to arrival or agree to a quarantine period.
Some airlines are already testing technology to provide travelers with an easy app that would allow you to provide negative test results, vaccination records or other health data in a simple (and secure) way. For now, your vaccination card is valid proof for most countries requiring vaccines.
Where can I travel once I get the Covid vaccine?
Good news: the list of where you can travel once you’re vaccinated is growing all the time as more and more countries and destinations decide to reopen for vaccinated travelers. Check out our full list of countries where you can travel if you’re vaccinated.
Can I travel even if I’m not vaccinated?
Yes! Domestic travel is still mostly available, even if you’re not vaccinated yet. You can view state-by-state travel guidelines to see which states you can travel to and how. If you’re ready to get somewhere totally new, there’s a number of countries open to travelers, so long as you get a Covid test. Check out where you can travel right now and then start making your plans!
What’s a vaccination passport, and will I need one?
There’s been a lot of talk about the idea of a “vaccination passport.” In short, a vaccination passport would allow you to show you’d been vaccinated, and when. Countries could then require an up-to-date vaccination passport for travel.
The idea of requiring vaccinations to travel is not uncommon. Even pre-pandemic, many destinations require travelers to receive vaccinations against things like malaria, yellow fever, smallpox or other diseases. With the Covid vaccine, the small vaccination card you get when you receive your vaccine—or, potentially in the future, an app on your phone—will provide a record of your vaccination and relevant health or testing data for officials. The details of how a virtual “vaccine passport” would be executed—or if it will be done, or who would require it—are still being discussed and worked out.
If a vaccine does end up being required, can I travel as soon as I get it?
Not quite. You’re considered fully vaccinated once it’s been two weeks since your second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, or two weeks after your vaccination of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. At that point, you can travel to anywhere requiring a vaccine.
Here’s an example timeline. Let’s say that the Covid vaccine becomes available for the general public for your city in May. You’re able to get an appointment for a vaccine on May 10th. Currently, the Modern and Pfizer vaccines require two doses, spaced either 21 or 28 days (approximately) apart. You go in and get your first dose on May 10th, then schedule a follow up appointment for May 31st for your second dose.
In between those two doses, your body is learning what the coronavirus looks like and how to defeat it. You don’t have full immunity yet! You immune system is just learning and practicing.
May 31st comes, and you head back in for dose #2. Now your vaccination is complete. So you’re good to go, right? Not so fast. It’ll take another week or two for your body to finish building up immunity against Covid. So—according to what we know so far—you’ll have some solid immunity against Covid by June 14th.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, on the other hand, requires only one dose. So if you get your vaccine on May 10th, you’d have some solid immunity against Covid by May 25th or so.
Will I be able to bypass testing/quarantines for travel once I get the vaccine?
Again, individual countries will have the ability to decide what the requirements for entry are. Some countries are allowing vaccinated individuals to bypass testing and quarantine requirements, while others are keeping their testing rules in place for the time being. You can see a full list of which countries are open and what the requirements to visit are in our guide to where US citizens can travel right now.
Will I be able to get a vaccine sooner if I need to travel for essential purposes?
Currently, no. There are some national requirements for Covid vaccines, like making sure that healthcare workers and elderly populations get vaccinated first. Other requirements are left up to individual states. In general, the consensus is that there will be enough supply of the vaccine to give it to the general public by late spring or early summer. That’s if everything goes mostly according to plan.
When will study abroad programs be available again?
There’s a lot of factors that will go into this decision: your school’s reopening plan, for one; but also the study abroad destination and their travel requirements; how many students will be in the program; how long the program is and other factors. We’re hopeful and cautiously optimistic that some study abroad programs may resume as early as Fall 2021.
When will travel go back to normal? 😭
Look, we’re with you—we can’t wait for to get back to exploring the world. That being said: the return to “normal” is going to be a slow process. As the vaccines roll out, we—along with many scientists, medical professionals and other experts—are optimistic that things will start returning to normal throughout spring and summer of this year.
However, getting everyone a Covid vaccine—and two doses, nonetheless—is going to be a BIG project with a lot of obstacles. Vaccinations may help countries feel good about opening borders again and may make travel in the latter half of 2021 a lot easier. However, some aspects of pandemic life—like masks, reduced capacity in indoor spaces, increased cleaning and testing—may all stay in place for longer.
Until a vaccine is widely available and the majority of the population has built up some immunity, testing (and masks, and potentially other measures) will likely continue to be a part of the travel experience. This doesn’t mean that travel won’t get easier (and safer), but “normal” will take some time to get back to.
Are flights—and travel in general—going to be more expensive once travel resumes?
We expect that once the Covid vaccine becomes available to the general public, demand for travel will increase—quickly. As people realize they can get a vaccine soon and finally get a change of scenery with less risk for themselves and others, there’s going to be a big pent-up demand to get out of the house! We expect travel demand to continuously increase from now through the summer months, so if you’ve been eyeing a cheap flight (even if it’s for a trip for next fall), now’s the time to book!
What if I still end up needing to cancel? Will travel continue to be more flexible?
When the pandemic first hit, many people learned first-hand that most travel plans and flights are pretty inflexible. Unless you’d specifically paid for a flexible ticket, or had “Cancel for Any Reason” trip insurance, you were likely hit with change and cancellation fees that were hundreds of dollars.
Since then, many airlines have instituted flexible change policies. These allow passengers to more easily get future travel credit for canceled flights. Some airlines have done away with change fees indefinitely! This is a huge move toward more flexibility for the travel industry. For StudentUniverse, we’ll continue to honor any airline flexibility policies. We waive all change fees (including our own!) for any flights where the airline has agreed to waive fees. We also honor any credit policies in place by the airline. You can view a list of flexible airline policies here. Don’t forget to check the terms of your ticket during checkout by clicking “Rules and Restrictions” on the right-hand side of the page.
What can I do until I’m vaccinated?
If you’re still waiting on your vaccination, you’ve got options! It’s a good time to start planning future travel and lock in some cheap prices before airfare increases. Planning a trip for late in the summer or next fall is a pretty good bet. While you should still take into account your own health and comfort levels, it’s estimated that a good portion of the US population should be able to begin receiving vaccinations by early summer.
Whether you’re planning travel for later this year or excited to hit the road ASAP, we’re helping you stay updated with current travel restrictions and requirements with our list of destinations that American travelers can visit right now. This list includes where you can go if you’re vaccinated and even if you’re not! You can also check out our state-by-state travel guidelines to see where in the US you can plan a trip to right now. You can also book tickets now for travel through November 2021 on most airlines. If you want to get a head-start (and lock in some rock-bottom prices), you can buy your tickets now. And then, when vaccines start making their way to the general public, make sure you get yours. Be sure to follow any instructions for follow-up doses carefully.