Expert Advice

Covid Rules and Restrictions: What You Need to Do and Know to Travel the World

by Pavia Rosati
Photo by Pavia Rosati.

This article was updated on January 4, 2022.

Here we go again: Another coronavirus variant is spreading fast, threatening our best-laid, ever hopeful travel plans. Yes, it's frustrating, but there's no need for despair. This is what we should expect for the foreseeable as we work through the pandemic. (Consider the very, very faint silver lining: We're brushing up on the Greek alphabet.)

Joking aside, you're not the only one who is confused about rules and regulations and country-wide bans that are changing at break-neck speed as governments scramble to react to new threats, often without the complete medical picture of what's really going on with the variants. As I'm writing this article, the White House announced that all travelers, residents and visitors, flying to the United States must present a negative Covid test taken within one day of departure, effective December 6. Consider this a cheat sheet for the latest news and info.

Sherpa

Sherpa is a travel tech company that powers tools for such global companies as American Airlines and Airbnb. They've developed an incredibly simple, useful, and free tool that tells you everything you need to know wherever you're going. You input a few variables — the country of your passport, departure and arrival countries, and vaccination status — and the tool generates the essential info you'll need about testing, quarantine, visas, any documentation you'll need to enter the country, and helpful links. A separate page on their site lists the latest health and travel restrictions by country. Bookmark this one.

And If You're Traveling To...

Here's country-specific info for popular destinations around the world. It's written for an audience of vaccinated Americans. If you're not vaccinated, you should reconsider traveling to keep yourself and everyone else safe.

The United States

Starting December 6, all international travelers entering the United States need proof of a negative antigen test taken within one day of travel, or proof of recovery from Covid within the past 90 days, regardless of vaccination status. This includes US citizens and applies to all travelers older than two. Get more details here.

England

Getting In
The United States has the United Kingdom on its Level 4 - Do Not Travel list. Fully vaccinated travelers to England need to:

- show proof of a negative PCR or lateral flow test within 48 hours of departure, beginning December 7,

- book and pay for a PCR test (not a lateral flow test) to be taken on or before day two after landing and self-isolate until they get a negative result,

- complete a passenger locator form 48 hours before arriving in England. You start counting days after you arrive. If you land on a Tuesday, day one is Wednesday and day two is Thursday.

Book the PCR test first, because you'll need the booking reference number for the test to complete the passenger locator form. Bring the passenger locator form to the airport: You'll need it to check in for your flight. Per a new law passed in response to the Omicron variant, all travelers, regardless of vaccination or citizenship status, need to isolate until they receive a negative result from the PCR test. I've been ordering my self-administered tests from Project Screen by Prenetics, which make the process easy as can be, and I'm get my pre-flight tests when leaving London at a Doc Tap location around town.

Getting Around
Masks are now required in public places and on public transportation, but the truth is the Brits have been (annoyingly) lax about masking since the beginning of the pandemic. Restaurants and other public places aren't really checking for proof of vaccination. Please, be a nice visitor and wear your mask.

France

Getting In
The United States has France on its Level 4 - Do Not Travel list, and, as of December 17, UK citizens were no longer allowed to enter France without an essential reason to do so. (Needless to say, checking out the new Bourse museum in Paris does not count as essential.) UK citizens who do make it to France must quarantine for 48 hours, then take a negative PCR or antigen test to be released.

Starting December 4, all vaccinated travelers older than 12 who are not EU citizens, regardless of nationality, must be able to show proof of a negative PCR or antigen test taken within 24 or 48 hours of travel, along with proof of their vaccination status, and a sworn statement certifying they don't have Covid-19 symptoms and have not had contact with anyone with Covid. Starting December 15, everyone aged 65 or older will need to have a booster to get a health pass (see below); starting January 15, everyone aged 18 and older will need a booster. The sworn statement, along with other travel rules and regulations, can be found here. The United States is on an amber list, so be sure to click on the tab in the middle. There are no restrictions for leaving France. Here's more info.

Getting Around
The French require proof of vaccination for everyone aged 12 and up for entry to most public spaces, including bars, restaurants, cinemas, and shopping centers. (I spent a week in Paris recently, and they scrupulously checked everywhere.) Vaccinated Americans can get the equivalent of the "pass sanitaire" (the health pass or the Green Pass) at French pharmacies — bring your passport and original paper vaccination certificate/card. If you need a test before you leave France, these same pharmacies are a great place to get tested. Results for antigen tests are sent within 24 hours (and can be less than an hour, though you'll want to let the pharmacy staff know if you're in a hurry); PCR test results can take up to 48 hours. Here's more info and a directory of French pharmacies.

Everyone is required to to wear a mask in public spaces indoors as well as on public transport. Some town are also requiring masks outdoors.

Germany

Getting In
The United States has Germany on its Level 4 - Do Not Travel list. Starting December 23, everyone over the age of six must show proof of their Covid status in order to enter Germany; Covid tests must  be taken within 48 hour of departure (PCR) or arrival (antigen). In mid-December, Germany began banning travelers from the United Kingdom in an attempt to curb the spread of the Omicron variant, but relaxed that restriction on January 4. Visitors from high-risk countries, which include the US and the UK, must complete a digital registration form to enter the country. Here's more info.

Getting Around
Face masks must be work in stores, on public transportation, and in crowded outdoor areas.

Italy

Getting In
The United States has Italy on its Level 4 - Do Not Travel list. All visitors to Italy must fill in a digital Passenger Locator Form (minors can be included on their adult's form) and a self-declaration form attesting their health status and reason for travel. American travelers must show proof of vaccination and submit a negative test (PCR or antigen) within 72 hours of arriving in Italy. Here's more info.

Getting Around
The Italian government rates every region on a risk scale of white (very low), yellow (low), amber (high), and red (very high). As of December 5, every region is white except Calabria, Friuli Venezia Giulia, and Bolzano, which are yellow. Masks are required indoors at most public spaces and public transport and outdoors in some major cities. Proof of vaccination will also be required for entry to most places and, as of January 10, that includes hotels.

Mexico

The US has Mexico on its Level 3 - Reconsider Travel list. But Mexico is open, with no quarantine or testing required. Travelers should complete a health declaration form before traveling in case airlines, customs officers, or resorts ask for it.