COVID-19 travel advice
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Feb 15, 2022.
A coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine can prevent you from getting COVID-19 or from becoming seriously ill due to COVID-19. But even if you're vaccinated, it's still a good idea to take precautions to protect yourself and others while traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you've had all recommended COVID-19 vaccine doses, including boosters, you're less likely to become seriously ill or spread COVID-19. You can then travel more safely within the U.S. and internationally. But international travel can still increase your risk of getting new COVID-19 variants.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you should avoid travel until you've had all recommended COVID-19 vaccine and booster doses.
Before you travel
As you think about making travel plans, consider these questions:
- Have you been vaccinated against COVID-19? If you haven't, get vaccinated. If the vaccine requires two doses, wait two weeks after getting your second vaccine dose to travel. If the vaccine requires one dose, wait two weeks after getting the vaccine to travel. It takes time for your body to build protection after any vaccination.
- Have you had any booster doses? Having all recommended COVID-19 vaccine doses, including boosters, increases your protection from serious illness.
- Are you at increased risk for severe illness? Anyone can get COVID-19. But older adults and people of any age with certain medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
- Do you live with someone who's at increased risk for severe illness? If you get infected while traveling, you can spread the COVID-19 virus to the people you live with when you return, even if you don't have symptoms.
- Does your home or destination have requirements or restrictions for travelers? Even if you've had all recommended vaccine doses, you must follow local, state and federal testing and travel rules.
Check local requirements, restrictions and situations
Some state, local and territorial governments have requirements, such as requiring people to wear masks, get tested, be vaccinated or stay isolated for a period of time after arrival. Before you go, check for requirements at your destination and anywhere you might stop along the way.
Keep in mind these can change often and quickly depending on local conditions. It's also important to understand that the COVID-19 situation, such as the level of spread and presence of variants, varies in each country. Check back for updates as your trip gets closer.
Travel and testing
For vaccinated people
If you have been fully vaccinated, the CDC states that you don't need to get tested before or after your trip within the U.S. or stay home (quarantine) after you return.
If you're planning to travel internationally outside the U.S., the CDC states you don't need to get tested before your trip unless it's required at your destination. Before arriving to the U.S., you need a negative test within the last day before your arrival or a record of recovery from COVID-19 in the last three months.
After you arrive in the U.S., the CDC recommends getting tested with a viral test 3 to 5 days after your trip. If you're traveling to the U.S. and you aren't a citizen, you need to be fully vaccinated and have proof of vaccination.
You don't need to quarantine when you arrive in the U.S. But check for any symptoms. Stay at home if you develop symptoms.
For unvaccinated people
Testing before and after travel can lower the risk of spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. If you haven't been vaccinated, the CDC recommends getting a viral test within three days before your trip. Delay travel if you're waiting for test results. Keep a copy of your results with you when you travel.
Repeat the test 3 to 5 days after your trip. Stay home for five days after travel.
If at any point you test positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, stay home. Stay at home and away from others if you develop symptoms. Follow public health recommendations.
Stay safe when you travel
In the U.S., you must wear a face mask on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation. The mask must fit snugly and cover both your mouth and nose.
Follow these steps to protect yourself and others when you travel:
- Get vaccinated.
- Keep distance between yourself and others (within about 6 feet, or 2 meters) when you're in indoor public spaces if you're not fully vaccinated. This is especially important if you have a higher risk of serious illness.
- Avoid contact with anyone who is sick or has symptoms.
- Avoid crowds and indoor places that have poor air flow (ventilation).
- Don't touch frequently touched surfaces, such as handrails, elevator buttons and kiosks. If you must touch these surfaces, use hand sanitizer or wash your hands afterward.
- Wear a face mask in indoor public spaces. The CDC recommends wearing the most protective mask possible that you'll wear regularly and that fits. If you are in an area with a high number of new COVID-19 cases, wear a mask in indoor public places and outdoors in crowded areas or when you're in close contact with people who aren't vaccinated.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Cover coughs and sneezes.
- Clean your hands often. Be sure to wash your hands after using the bathroom, before eating, and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- If soap and water aren't available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub your hands together until they feel dry.
- Don't eat or drink on public transportation. That way you can keep your mask on the whole time.
Because of the high air flow and air filter efficiency on airplanes, most viruses such as the COVID-19 virus don't spread easily on flights. Wearing masks on planes has likely helped lower the risk of getting the COVID-19 virus on flights too.
However, air travel involves spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which can bring you in close contact with other people. Getting vaccinated and wearing a mask when traveling can help protect you from COVID-19 while traveling.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has increased cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces and equipment, including bins, at screening checkpoints. TSA has also made changes to the screening process:
- Travelers must wear masks during screening. However, TSA employees may ask travelers to adjust masks for identification purposes.
- Travelers should keep a distance of 6 feet apart from other travelers when possible.
- Instead of handing boarding passes to TSA officers, travelers should place passes (paper or electronic) directly on the scanner and then hold them up for inspection.
- Each traveler may have one container of hand sanitizer up to 12 ounces (about 350 milliliters) in a carry-on bag. These containers will need to be taken out for screening.
- Personal items such as keys, wallets and phones should be placed in carry-on bags instead of bins. This reduces the handling of these items during screening.
- Food items should be carried in a plastic bag and placed in a bin for screening. Separating food from carry-on bags lessens the likelihood that screeners will need to open bags for inspection.
Be sure to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds directly before and after going through screening.
If you travel by bus or train and you aren't vaccinated, be aware that sitting or standing within 6 feet (2 meters) of others for a long period can put you at higher risk of getting or spreading COVID-19. Follow the precautions described above for protecting yourself during travel.
Even if you fly, you may need transportation once you arrive at your destination. You can search car rental options and their cleaning policies on the internet. If you plan to stay at a hotel, check into shuttle service availability.
If you'll be using public transportation and you aren't vaccinated, continue physical distancing and wearing a mask after reaching your destination.
Hotels and other lodging
The hotel industry knows that travelers are concerned about COVID-19 and safety. Check any major hotel's website for information about how it's protecting guests and staff. Some best practices include:
- Enhanced cleaning procedures
- Physical distancing recommendations indoors for people who aren't vaccinated
- Mask-wearing and regular hand-washing by staff
- Mask-wearing indoors for guests in public places in areas that have high cases of COVID-19
- Vaccine recommendations for staff
- Isolation and testing guidelines for staff who've been exposed to COVID-19
- Contactless payment
- Set of rules in case a guest becomes ill, such as closing the room for cleaning and disinfecting
- Indoor air quality measures, such as regular system and air filter maintenance, and suggestions to add air cleaners that can filter viruses and bacteria from the air
Vacation rentals, too, are enhancing their cleaning procedures. They're committed to following public health guidelines, such as using masks and gloves when cleaning, and building in a waiting period between guests.
Make a packing list
When it's time to pack for your trip, grab any medications you may need on your trip and these essential safe-travel supplies:
- Face masks
- Alcohol-based hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol)
- Disinfectant wipes (at least 70% alcohol)
Considerations for people at increased risk
Anyone can get very ill from the virus that causes COVID-19. But older adults and people of any age with certain medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness. This may include people with cancer, serious heart problems and a weakened immune system. Getting the recommended COVID-19 vaccine and booster doses can help lower your risk of being severely ill from COVID-19.
Travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. If you're unvaccinated, staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. If you must travel and aren't vaccinated, talk with your health care provider and ask about any additional precautions you may need to take.
Remember safety first
Even the most detailed and organized plans may need to be set aside when someone gets ill. Stay home if you or any of your travel companions:
- Have signs or symptoms, are sick or think you have COVID-19
- Are waiting for results of a COVID-19 test
- Have been diagnosed with COVID-19
- Have had close contact with someone with COVID-19 in the past five days and you're not up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines
If you've had close contact with someone with COVID-19, get tested after at least five days. Wait to travel until you have a negative test. Wear a mask if you travel up to 10 days after you've had close contact with someone with COVID-19.