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Going the (social) distance: Everything you need to know about COVID-19 travel recommendations

Learn how to travel safely this summer both domestically and internationally during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This summer will mark the world’s second summer in the COVID-19 pandemic. But according to Tripadvisor’s 2021 Summer Travel Index, Americans are tired of their quarantine staycation and 67% plan on traveling this summer (June 1 - August 31).

With this 17% increase from those who traveled this spring (March 1 - May 31), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommendations to make travel plans as safe as possible. The CDC says that travel increases the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19, which is why it recommends that people travel once they have been fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized vaccine or a vaccine authorized for emergency use by the World Health Organization (WHO). People are not considered fully vaccinated until after they have waited two weeks after their second dose in a two-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine.

However, those who are not fully vaccinated and must travel are advised to follow the CDC’s recommendations for unvaccinated people. People should not travel if they were exposed to COVID-19, sick, or tested positive for COVID-19. The CDC has a number of resources to learn when it is safe to travel and how best to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

Domestic Travel Recommendations

According to the CDC, if people are fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine or a vaccine authorized for emergency use by the WHO, they can travel safely within the United States and U.S. territories.

The CDC also advises people who have a condition or who are taking medication that may weaken their immune system to talk to their healthcare provider, since being fully vaccinated may not protect them against the virus.

The CDC recommends that those who are not fully vaccinated and must travel should take similar precautions during their trip. However, since they are at more risk of contracting the virus than those who are fully vaccinated, they also have a number of additional recommendations to follow.

While being vaccinated increases a person’s protection from the virus, there are still important protocols to follow to make your travels as safe as possible. But here are additional suggestions for both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people to consider while traveling domestically.

1. Do you need to get a COVID-19 test before your trip?

According to the CDC, if you are fully vaccinated, you do not need to get tested before or after travel unless your destination requires it. However, if you are unvaccinated, you should get tested for COVID-19 with a viral test at least 1-3 days prior to your travel.

2. Mask up.

Wear a mask to cover your nose and mouth. Masks are required when taking public transportation and traveling into, within or outside of the U.S., as well as in U.S. airports and stations.

The CDC also says that those traveling by airfare should check their specific airline’s requirements to see if they must provide further health information, testing, or other documentation before travel.

3. Keep your hands clean.

Wash your hands often with soap and water and use hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol) while traveling.

4. Social distance.

Avoid crowds and stay at least 6 ft. (about a two arms length) away from anyone who is not a member of your traveling party during your travel.

5. Check yourself for symptoms of COVID-19.

After travel, be sure to monitor yourself and check for symptoms of COVID-19. If you do develop any symptoms, the CDC recommends self-isolating and getting tested.

If you are fully vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 in the past three months, the CDC says you do not need to get tested or self-quarantine during your travel. However, you should follow all other travel restrictions and regulations.

6. Follow the latest COVID-19 safety protocols and information of the area in which you are traveling.

Lastly, be sure to follow all state and local recommendations or requirements when traveling. The CDC also recommends that people be flexible during their trip since certain restrictions and policies may change throughout. Visit the COVID-19 Travel Planner to find the most updated information about COVID-19 travel guidance, restrictions, and other resources regarding your specific destination.

7. Take precaution after your trip.

Fully vaccinated travelers do not need to self-quarantine, according to the CDC. But if you are unvaccinated, the CDC recommends that you get tested with a viral test at least 3-5 days after your trip. Even if you test negative for COVID-19, you should stay home and self-quarantine for a full 7 days after travel.

If you do test positive, isolate yourself to protect others from the virus and if you do not get tested, the CDC advises that you stay home and self-quarantine for 10 days after travel. But regardless of whether or not you get tested, you should avoid being around people who are at increased risk for severe illness for at least 14 days after travel.

International Travel Recommendations

Traveling outside of the U.S.? The CDC says that travelers who are fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized vaccine or a vaccine authorized for emergency use by the WHO are less likely to get and spread COVID-19 while undergoing international travel. However, the CDC also says that international travel can pose additional risks of spreading new COVID-19 variants — even to those who are fully vaccinated. The CDC recommends that unvaccinated people delay international travel until they are fully vaccinated.

The CDC also advises following the same safety precautions that fully vaccinated people in the U.S. should follow for domestic travel. But here are additional suggestions for both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people to consider while traveling internationally.

1. Research and plan the travel recommendations of the destination in which you are traveling to.

According to the CDC, fully vaccinated do not need to get tested for COVID-19 before leaving the U.S. unless their destination requires it. The CDC advises those who are unvaccinated and must travel to get tested with a viral test at least 1-3 days before your trip.

You can research the current COVID-19 situation in your specific destination to help you prepare.

If you are traveling internationally, the CDC recommends that you also research your destination’s Office of Foreign Affairs of Ministry of Health or the US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Country Information page for further information about entry requirements and restrictions for arriving travelers. Once you have done so, follow all of those requirements and provide any required or requested health information. The CDC says that if you do not follow your destination’s requirements, you may be denied entry and required to return to the U.S..

2. Follow the CDC’s safety guidelines while traveling.

Just like if you were traveling domestically in the U.S., the CDC advises international travelers to wear a mask, follow social distancing protocols, and wash their hands frequently and use hand sanitizer. Refer to the CDC’s list of domestic travel recommendations and other information above (1-5).

3. What to do before flying back to the United States.

All air passengers coming to the U.S. are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result no more than three days before travel or documentation of recovery from the virus in the past 3 months before they can board a flight to the U.S.. This includes all U.S. citizens and fully vaccinated travelers.

4. What are the next steps after arriving home?

If you are fully vaccinated, the CDC advises that you get tested with a viral test 3-5 days after travel, self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms, and follow all state and local recommendations and requirements after travel. However, the CDC says that fully vaccinated people are not required to self-quarantine after returning to the U.S. after international travel.

If you are not vaccinated, you should get tested for COVID-19 with a viral test 3-5 days after travel and stay home and self quarantine for a full 7 days after travel. For more information about taking post-travel precaution, refer to the CDC’s list of domestic travel recommendations and other information above (1-5).

This information is from the CDC’s website recommendations as of April 29, 2021.

For the latest information about safe travel during COVID-19, visit the CDC’s website.