Travel Tips

What You Need to Know About Vaccine Passports

Scott Keyes
Founder & Chief Flight Expert
close up of shirt with a sticker on it that says "I got my covid-19 vaccine"
May 10, 2021
5 min read

There's a lot confusion out there about vaccine passports, how they work, and what's required of travelers. Here's what you need to know.

You do not need to go buy a vaccine passport.

In fact, it's not something that's actually for sale.

I so wish everyone had settled on a different term, because it’s quite confusing. Vaccine passports aren’t a singular thing, and they don’t have anything to do with the passport that holds your foreign stamps. “Vaccine passport” is the concept of making certain activities more accessible for those who’ve been vaccinated, not a physical thing you have to go out and buy.

Your white CDC vaccine card is sufficient everywhere that currently welcomes vaccinated Americans. And free digital apps are on the way—Travel Pass and CommonPass are two examples—to store your vaccination record, a welcome backup in case you’re like me and constantly spilling drinks on your most important documents.

Vaccine passports are an E-ZPass Lane, not a Do Not Enter sign.

Much of the media discussion around vaccine passports insinuates that proof of vaccination will be required for most international travel, but that’s not the case. There hasn’t been a single destination that has announced they’ll only allow vaccinated travelers to come.

Instead, the way vaccine passports are playing out is much more like an E-ZPass Lane on a toll road. Cars without an E-ZPass can still use the road, they just can’t zip right through the toll.

Similarly, for those who haven’t been vaccinated, many countries require a recent negative test or proof of recent infection like a positive antibody test. But if you have been vaccinated, you get to bypass those requirements and come right in.

You do not need a vaccine passport to travel domestically.

If you’re traveling to 49 states, no Covid documentation is currently required. (I would be quite surprised if that changed.) Hawaii is the only state that currently requires all visitors to show a recent negative test before flying, but they’re planning to soon allow vaccinated travelers to bypass that requirement. As of the time of publishing this article, Maui requires a second test on arrival but waives the requirement for those who can show proof of vaccination.

Vaccine passports will not be required for all international travel.

You can hop on a plane to Mexico or Costa Rica right now without any testing or quarantine required, much less proof of vaccination. Or you could visit dozens of other countries, from Kenya to Turkey to Aruba, with just a recent negative test. (Check out the list of where Americans can visit right now.)

There are a handful of countries—Belize, Croatia, Georgia, Ecuador, Greece, Guatemala, Maldives, Montenegro, Nepal, and Iceland—where proof of vaccination currently allows you to bypass testing or quarantine requirements (though note Iceland still requires all visitors to take a free Covid test upon arrival and quarantine until it shows negative, usually 5-6 hours but can be up to 24). And that list will likely grow, especially for travel to Europe, where officials just announced they’re planning to re-open for American travelers this summer (exact dates/details still TBD).

But in almost all cases, unvaccinated travelers are still permitted, there may just be a testing or quarantine requirement.

White CDC cards will be accepted internationally. You don't need a yellow WHO passport.

There was a viral TikTok video a month back (since deleted) warning people that Americans wouldn’t be able to travel internationally unless they obtained a yellow WHO vaccine passport to document their Covid shots.

This is totally false. There is no country in the world that has said they won’t accept the white CDC card as proof of Covid vaccination, and will only accept a yellow WHO vaccine passport. On the contrary, your white CDC vaccine card is sufficient proof for everywhere accepting vaccinated Americans (like Iceland or Belize), not to mention the dozens of countries you can visit today without being vaccinated.

(One reason this incorrect rumor spread is because yellow vaccine passports—officially called a International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis—are a real thing. A handful of countries in Africa have required it for years as proof of vaccination against certain diseases like yellow fever. But zero countries require the yellow passport for Covid-19.)

You need to be *fully* vaccinated for a vaccine passport.

Virtually everywhere that gives a fast lane for vaccinated travelers requires them to be fully vaccinated. That means at least two weeks after your last shot.

There are still lots of places you can fly without proof of vaccination.

By and large, airlines aren’t going to require a vaccine passport if the destination doesn’t, and vice versa. You can get on a plane to 49 states or dozens of countries this afternoon without proof of vaccination, for instance.

Airlines are the frontline of document verification though, whether it’s an actual passport or a vaccine passport. If you’re flying somewhere where vaccinated travelers are allowed to bypass any testing/quarantine requirements, expect to be asked for your proof of vaccination before your flight (as well as once you arrive).

Kids can’t get a vaccine passport.

Vaccines in the US are currently only approved for those 16 years old and up. (Pfizer has applied and is awaiting approval for vaccinating 12-15 year olds.) So if you’re traveling somewhere that lets vaccinated visitors bypass Covid requirements, unvaccinated children are still subject to those prerequisites.

For most destinations using vaccine passports, families just have to get a recent negative test for the kids beforehand.

The one exception had been Iceland, which initially had a mandatory quarantine for all unvaccinated visitors, including children, with no workaround. Thankfully, they’ve since updated their guidance to allow children to bypass quarantine after an arrival test and negative result.

The good news: every country that’s adopted vaccine passports is allowing in unvaccinated children with a negative test.

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Last Updated 
May 10, 2021
What You Need to Know About Vaccine Passports
Scott Keyes
Founder & Chief Flight Expert

Scott has traveled to 46 countries (and 46 states!), living in California, to Oaxaca, to Oregon. He’s left-handed, drinks five cups of tea daily, and holds a vendetta against the “Happy Birthday” song. On a dare, he once ate 13 hot dogs (and a bowl of Dippin’ Dots) at the ballpark. He grew up in Ohio and founded Scott’s Cheap Flights in a Denver coffee shop. Favorite airport: PDX.

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