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The World is Opening Back Up Again (If You Have Your Shots)

For travelers, this has been a rough couple of years. Sure, exploring your own backyard is fun for a while and I love a good road trip too, but remember the good times when you could scour the cheap flight deals and take off to wherever that led you? Now you have to worry about whether the place you want to go is opening back up again or it’s still got the doors locked for foreigners. 

open countries

As I write this, global COVID-19 deaths are passing the 5 million mark, a number equivalent to the entire population of Ireland, Costa Rica, or New Zealand. So naturally, most governments have been cautious about letting in foreign visitors, despite the economic cost a crippled tourism industry has had on unemployment and tax revenues.

As vaccination levels pass 50, 60, and 70%+ in most developed countries, however, the gates are creaking back open again in more locations. Here’s where you can go, if you meet the requirements, as of October 2021.  

Welcome to the USA

The big news last month for the rest of the world is that the USA is opening back up to a lot of countries that were excluded as of early November. Check here for the current US travel restrictions and understand that the easing only applies to the vaccinated (and they will still need a negative test in hand to board the plane). If you’re still holding out for some reason, you won’t be allowed in, even to transit to another country via the airport. 

“We will move to this much stricter global system, so we will have a consistent approach across all countries, it will require foreign nationals to be vaccinated, to prove they’re vaccinated, and then to go through the testing and contract tracing regiments,” said White House COVID coordinator Jeffrey Zients. Yes, that last part means you need to give up your e-mail and phone number when entering.

This is great news though for travelers who were excluded before, even if vaccinated, from countries like the UK, China, and the EU nations. Unfortunately, US theme parks and beaches have already been packed this year, as have the national parks, but it’ll mean more incoming travelers when we’re traditionally headed into the off-season in most U.S. states. 

Europe is Open Again for Travelers

Europe opened back up to vaccinated travelers this summer and despite threats to cut off us Americans when variant cases were spiking, we’re still allowed in all European countries except the cheapest one–Bulgaria–as we head into the off-season. 

The rules aren’t really consistent across the EU, then you have countries that are in Europe but not part of the EU, so check the local requirements before booking a plane ticket. There are some oddball rules here and there, like in Croatia where they say you have to pay for all your accommodation in advance but if you’re going to multiple places, that only applies to the first stop. So it’s better to move on after arrival. 

Assume, however, that you’ll need proof of vaccination and a negative test on top of that no matter where you’re headed. Only a few will let you in without proof of immunization. If you’re transiting through countries, it can be doubly complicated, so don’t book any tight connections if you can’t go direct. Once you’re in Europe and traveling overland, however, it seems to be rather lax, with few checks at borders. 

Oh, Canada Again! 

traveling in Canada

Our neighbor to the north has been locking us out since this whole mess started and you can’t really blame them considering how much more adult-like their behavior has been in keeping virus numbers under control. They took a while to get the vaccine rollout going, but once they did, they soon passed the USA in the percentage who were protected: at close to 80% as I write this in early October. 

The land border is still not open, however, so forget seeing both sides of Niagara Falls on one car trip. You’ll need to wait until at least late November for that option. The number of airports you can fly into is almost back to normal, though be advised there are still some restrictions on traveling from province to province. Check the latest rules on that. 

Also, don’t head north if you haven’t gotten your jabs. You’ll need a negative PCR test plus proof of vaccination and it doesn’t stop at the border. According to The Points Guy, “Some provinces, including Ontario and Quebec, have begun requiring proof of vaccination for dining in restaurants, entering museums, and other activities.”

Mexico and Central America Are Ready for You

Mexico never closed its borders, required a negative test, or required proof of vaccination and whether you agree with the wisdom of all that or not, their tourism industry has recovered faster than any other nation’s in terms of international visitors, at the beach resort areas anyway. They have combined this open-door policy with much better mask enforcement and more frequent temperature tests than any of the U.S. states that border Mexico. Most of the country is now “yellow” on the stoplight map. 

The Central American countries were some of the first to open back up to foreign visitors and now are all welcoming Americans, albeit with varying degrees of requirements for vaccinations and testing. As far as I can tell, none of them are requiring a quarantine anymore for the vaccinated and Panama even announced a plan to offer vaccinations to visitors who have not been able to get ones in their own country. (Around 70% of Panama’s residents were fully vaccinated as the announcement went out.) 

Costa Rica travel

Costa Rica is not requiring a test to enter and if you’ve gotten your jabs at least two weeks ago, you just have to fill out a health form. If you haven’t gotten shots though, you need to buy some very specific health insurance that has a guaranteed $50,000 for medical expenses and $2,000 for lodging expenses. More than 2/3 of the locals are fully vaccinated and of course you can eat outside all over the country. 

I’m headed to Belize myself this December and will just need to show my vaccination certificate and a negative rapid test. You can wait and take a test upon arrival, but if you test positive you must go into quarantine. The country has been doing things right, keeping case numbers low, though they’re just now getting to a 50% vaccination rate of their own citizens. 

I wouldn’t trust any of the news coming out of dictator-led Nicaragua these days. Case number information has been laughable underreported and it appears that most of the vaccines they’re using are from Russia, China, or Cuba. Proceed with caution. Unfortunately, Guatemala and Honduras have very low vaccination rates as this story goes live, both struggling to pass the 1/3 level. You can enter either with a test and/or vaccination proof though. 

Finally, Some Good News From South America

Colombia has been open for a year, though they haven’t exactly been getting throngs of visitors, thanks to news about protests and case spikes both. Now half the population has gotten their shots though and you’re able to enter with no restrictions, the same as Mexico. 

Ecuador is a little complicated: you don’t need to arrive with a negative test if you are fully vaccinated, but you do need a test if you’re headed to the Galapagos (where 100% of the adult population is vaccinated already). Ecuador also requires a Yellow Fever vaccination, something the anti-mandate people seem to forget has been required in many equatorial countries for decades. 

Peru opening back up again

As I mentioned in this article about my various visits to Peru, this is a great time to visit Machu Picchu without the crowds and see the Sacred Valley of Peru half-empty. The tourists haven’t come back because, in part, Peru’s case numbers have spiked dramatically several times. The country is the world leader in Covid deaths per million people, a frightening achievement. They’re closing in on a 50% vaccination rate now though. If you’re vaccinated, you can enter without restrictions. If not, you need to arrive with a negative test. 

For Brazil you need to show a negative test, but should you go? The country has been a world leader in case numbers and deaths per capita according to the World Health Organization and while the deaths have slowed to “only” 4,000 or so per week, the country has the second-highest number overall at close to 600,000 as I write this. That’s still behind the USA, but with 2/3 of the population. The president was one of the leading skeptics in the world for most of 2020, trying to outdo the angry orange one in writing it all off as nothing to worry about. 

The good news lately is that Argentina and Uruguay are finally opening back safeup in November after being closed this whole pandemic. For both of them, you’ll need vaccination proof to enter unless you like the idea of going into quarantine. Everyone needs a PCR test as well for Uruguay, then another 7 days after arrival. Hey, they’re being careful because they’ve handled this better than anyone in South America and their vaccination rate is at almost 80%. 

In theory, Chile is back open to visitors this month, but there are so many hoops to jump through that it’s doubtful many travelers will take them up on the offer. The worst is a mandatory 5-day quarantine, regardless of vaccination status and after arriving with a negative PCR test. Soon after realizing nobody was booking flights or hotels with that requirement in place, the government announced that after November 1, vaccinated travelers arriving with a negative test will no longer be required to quarantine.

At this point, it seems rather silly to require that anywhere for the vaccinated. After all, according to data released by Chile’s Ministry of Health, from November 23, 2020 to September 30 this year, “only 0.7% of travelers who entered the country through Santiago Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport showed a positive result for Covid- 19.” I’m supposed to go to Patagonia in March, so I’ll post then on how all this works out. 

Thailand and…Not Much Else in Asia

In the good ole days, budget backpackers would spend most of their time blissfully bopping around the countries of Southeast Asia, enjoying cheap eats, cheap places to stay, and bargain transportation without getting back on a plane. All of that went out the window during this pandemic. Thailand, which formerly had the most-visited city in the world in Bangkok, saw its tens of millions of visitors locked out and revenues plummeted. 

So it probably makes sense that the country was the first in Southeast Asia to open back up to foreign visitors without quarantine, though in a very controlled, specific manner. As I outlined in this earlier post, at first you could only visit Phuket and you had to stay put for 14 days and stay in an approved hotel. Eventually, they reduced that to 7 and added in other destinations like Ko Samui. Last week they finally opened Bangkok back up, along with Chiang Mai, Chon Buri, Phetchaburi, and Prachuap Khiri Khan. More are coming in November and December, after the government gets the vaccination rate of locals above 70% in those areas.

In all cases though, you need to arrive with a negative PCR test and be vaccinated. With no shots, there’s a 14-day mandatory quarantine. 

Nepal opening to travelers

Nepal is one of the few other Asian countries you’d actually want to go that is opening back up, but you must be vaccinated and arrive with a negative PCR test, plus you might want to bring a few extra masks: “Failure to wear a mask may result in arrest and a fine.” You also need to have good travel insurance that covers Covid, like an annual policy from Allianz. Then Nepal is a bargain after you get there. 

Oddly enough, Uzbekistan is open to visitors and Korea is if you’re willing to go into quarantine for two full weeks… 

Parts of Africa Are Open, but With Few Shots Administered

traveling in Morocco

Much of Africa is open to visitors who arrive with vaccination proof, a negative PCR test, or both. Be advised that local vaccination rates are some of the lowest in the world, however, at 5% in Kenya, for example, and a mind-boggling 0.6% in Tanzania, for two of the most popular safari destinations

Egypt is open to visitors who arrive with a recent negative PCR test and as with Peru, this presents a great opportunity to have some of the world’s most iconic tourist sites mostly to yourself. It’s a buyer’s market there for hotels and Nile river cruises, with rates at historic lows (and they were already low before). 

You can travel to Morocco without needing a PCR test if you’ve gotten your shots and again, don’t wait too long if you like the idea of visiting Marrakech without the crowds. The country is doing well on vaccines, passing the 60% mark at this point

Most of the other countries you may have wanted to visit are open, with the exception of Malawi and Madagascar. 

That’s mostly it for now, though some expensive Caribbean Islands are open, more of them if you’ve gotten your shots. On a more budget-friendly note, you can enter Jordan without test results if you’re fully vaccinated.

I’ll come back in a couple months and update this when more countries are (hopefully) open to travelers. 

Julia Hubbel

Tuesday 19th of October 2021

Thanks as always for a great update. For those heading to Kenya and TZ, I just got back. Each country now requires an online health questionnaire which you MUST fill out in advance. Kenya requires the QR code at entry. There is also some kind of frequent traveler form that Kenya is building which was problematic for my tech. These forms are not always phone friendly, and payments don't always go through. A five week trip bouncing back and forth between the two countries ended up costing me what I am calling the Covid override: $600 total in testing fees. Half that was the cost of a pre-travel PCR Test in Eugene. Those costs are going to come down but right now there's plenty of gouging. When you plan to travel will drive the expense; if you have to get the test at the last minute due to lab site closures, plan to have the price double as it did with me, Advanced planning becomes really important. That said, with the exception of distant Leshuto, everyone was masked and I felt very safe.

Tim Leffel

Wednesday 20th of October 2021

Thanks for sharing your experience Julia. These multiple tests, even for vaccinated people, need to go into the travel budget, along with once-optional travel insurance that is often required now.

Yun Yuan Sims

Monday 4th of October 2021

What is China's future for travel to and from?

Tim Leffel

Friday 8th of October 2021

They have still not announced anything for tourists.

K Green

Monday 4th of October 2021

Great article on such a moving target. UAE is open with vaccines and PCR tests and we just bought tickets to Jordan for beginning of December:) Slowly, slowly.

Tim Leffel

Friday 8th of October 2021

Have a great time in Jordan! I haven't been there for a long time, but I really enjoyed it.

John Q

Sunday 3rd of October 2021

Such a bummer that most of Asia is still closed. Looks like it's a good time to take a less crowded overland trip from Mexico to the bottom of South America though. As best I can tell, there's a clear path from Mexico all the way down to Patagonia after November without getting on a plane. Just lots of swabs up the nose along the way. .