As of two days ago, COVID vaccines are being administered in the United States – hallllelujah!! The end is a long way away, but we’re starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
With a vaccine here, we can now start looking at what international travel could look like in 2021 and beyond.
When do I think we’ll start to see borders opening to U.S. travelers?
“Public health officials estimate that 70 to 75 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated before people can start moving freely in society again. If things go well, life could get a lot better by late spring and early summer. ‘It depends on the uptake of the vaccine and the level of infection in the community,’ Dr. Fauci said.” (from Answers to Your Questions about the New COVID Vaccines in the U.S., NYT, Dec.14)
I am imagining that borders will begin to open to U.S. travelers, without requiring a significant amount of quarantine or negative PCR test, in the early Summer. They will likely require proof of vaccine instead.
I am imagining this timeline, keeping in mind that this could all change if the vaccine proves to not be as effective as hoped.
- May / June – some countries will slowly start to open to U.S. travelers with proof of vaccine
- July / August – more and more will open if the U.S. reaches the 70 to 75% vaccination goal
- September / October – a relatively open “world” while still providing proof of vaccine, wearing masks, and social distancing
Do I think vaccines will be required for international travel?
100% yes. I think in most countries it will be required to show proof of COVID vaccination for years to come. This could change if an effective treatment is introduced, but for now, I imagine this proof will be here to stay.
We will soon see the rise of “health passport” apps, like CommonPass, which will allow customers to show proof of COVID vaccination electronically — and this will likely be adopted at airports, entertainment venues, businesses, etc. Alternatively, people can show the slip of paper given to them at the time of vaccination (personal record card).
Read more about the potential health app processes here: Vaccinated? Show Us Your App. (NYT, Dec. 13)
Will hotel and flight prices skyrocket to make up for lost revenue?
I think this would be a bad business move, and I don’t think it will happen because the market is too competitive (which is good). Many companies are offering extremely flexible cancellation and modification policies to allow for unsure travelers in 2021, so I imagine this will be reflected in their rates as well. For the cheapest rates (like Basic Economy), there will likely be stricter cancellation policies to help preserve their income, and I think they’ll be really strict with these, no exceptions!
What’s the best way to keep an eye on which countries are doing better than other with infection rates?
The test positivity rate will be the best indicator to watch. This number is the percentage of overall tests given in a community that come back positive. The lower the number, the fewer new cases and the less likely you are to cross paths with someone who has the virus.
I like this interactive map from Our World in Data.
Is it too early to start making plans?!
It’s never too early, and hotels and airlines would love you to start planning! BUT BE. FLEXIBLE. Know that if you book a flight, that airline now has your money, though they are flexible with changes and extensions. But you won’t be getting cash back. Book flexible accommodations, tours, activities that you can cancel until last minute.
If you have low tolerance for disruptions and/or your emotions would be connected to this trip and you’d be devastated if it had to be changed or cancelled, I’d hold off for a little bit and wait to watch the effectiveness of the vaccine.
What will be open in other countries?
If their test positivity rate is super low – and if they’re allowing international visitors again – then I imagine most attractions and sites will be open with masks and social distancing.
Will masks still be required while traveling, after I’ve gotten the vaccine?
Yes! At least for all of 2021. Until we’re seeing a worldwide curbing of the virus, expect masks and social distancing to be the norm while in transit, and while at your destination. Airplanes, airports, trains, restaurants, attractions, etc.
This is because we don’t know some things yet — for instance, after we get the vaccine, we don’t yet know if that means that we can’t host the virus (like in our nose) and pass it on to others. Even if it doesn’t make us sick, it could still kind of hang out on our nose and get sneezed onto other people. Gross, but reality.
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