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Above all the usual concerns like budgets, securing vacation time or actually picking a place to go, there’s one thing holding international travel back more than virtually any other. It’s testing.

People remain rightfully worried about the risks of testing positive just before a trip and being forced to cancel, or worse, testing positive during travel knowing they may be unable to come home, or could be forced into unpleasant isolation facilities.

After tinkering with the concept earlier this summer, Europe is continuing to alleviate those worries by dropping testing requirements to visit many countries, allowing many people to move much like they did before the times of covid-19.

As the trend catches on and increasingly becomes the new norm in a post-pandemic, now endemic world, people don’t quite know how to feel about it. It seems like some countries don’t either.

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More Countries Drop Travel Testing

In the summer of 2021, a handful of European countries dropped testing requirements for all fully vaccinated visitors and numbers don’t lie.

These countries, like Spain, have done remarkably better with inbound tourism than those which kept testing requirements for the fully vaccinated, and they managed to do so without significantly changing the trajectory of the covid pandemic.

That’s bringing new confidence to other countries that it might be the best approach going forward, as economies look to recover.

From February 11th, the UK will follow suit and officially end testing requirements for fully vaccinated visitors. You won’t need a test before travel or after you arrive, and it’s as close to life as it once was, once you get in.

Sweden and Switzerland are also dropping all covid-19 travel testing for fully vaxxed visitors. Cyprus is too. The European Union, for its part, is also in rapid pursuit of a new simplified travel plan, which would end testing requirements in more nations ASAP.

Far away in Asia, even Singapore is dropping testing requirements for people who are both vaccinated and recovered, in a bid to regain confidence in the travel experience.

In the Caribbean and Latin America it’s harder to find countries which do require a test than those which don’t.

Most epidemiologists now agree that cases simply aren’t as meaningful a statistic in the bigger picture of the covid-19 pandemic as they once were, and therefore the risks and roadblocks associated with tracking each and every case may no longer be worth the economic and social peril that a slow tourism recovery can bring.

By summer, international travel could really be back to simply grabbing a passport and jetting off. Here’s a look at how to keep track at every country’s changing restrictions.

Oddly, The USA Isn’t There Yet

This puts the United States, which still requires a covid-19 test before travel, and even recently tightened the timing of these pre-travel tests, at somewhat peculiar odds with many mostly European countries which aren’t often regarded as allowing as many civil liberties and freedoms as the good ole’ U-S-A.

By keeping these pre-flight testing requirements, the US is making it harder for its own citizens and residents to travel abroad than most. The risks of getting stranded abroad, unable to board a flight back to the US after a positive covid-19 test are just too high for most people.

This means business travel, which has always been a vital lifeline to airlines, hotels and the hospitality industries will remain indefinitely slow. This could have a knock on effect as more businesses are forced to close, or reduce workforce.

The updated US requirements have also frustrated many who see no benefit to being fully vaccinated, since pre flight testing rules for un-vaxxed US citizens reentering the country are exactly the same.

Due to these ongoing risks to international travel, Americans are continuing to prioritize domestic trips which don’t require testing. Until covid-19 testing measures are dropped for all fully vaccinated visitors, or citizens entering the US, not much will change – for better and worse.

People Don’t Know How To Feel About Testing

After years of officials telling everyone to get tested, tested and tested, reversing the message about whether it matters for travel is stirring mixed emotions.

Discussions on Twitter show both instant anger and confusion when countries announce drops to travel testing and that’s made even harder by the fact that testing sounds great as a soundbite of “protecting the people”.

Because it sounds good, people draw a conclusion that it must be good, even if it’s actually almost entirely ineffective. Therefore they’re less happy to give up that opinion when pushed on the issue, because they feel invested.

Speaking to travelers, people seem to be in two minds: happy they don’t have to test anymore to go places, yet worried about all the worst case, doomsday scenarios of a new variant sneaking in.

And that’s where perspective is huge. Now that vaccines, treatments and research are helping to reduce the likelihood of outcomes requiring hospitalization, the process of normalizing covid-19 to something “like the flu” or other seasonal illnesses is starting.

It’s not easy changing public perception to the notion that there’s no point in testing asymptomatic people, or tracking cases, and that simply monitoring the overall health picture in a given country makes much more sense. People are excited and afraid.

Years of conditioning means people can’t zoom out to a world where people die every day of heart disease, cancer, pneumonia and a never ending list, and in many places now, in far greater numbers than covid-19.

Testing has become a stress ball of life, giving comfort whenever a scratch or tickle appears in the throat, and telling people that it’s longer needed to enter any given space like a plane, or to enter the country can sound worrying.

The End Of Travel Bans And Testing?

The travel bans imposed on Africa amid Omicron were a flash point. Even risk averse epidemiologists were writing op-ed’s saying that travel bans are pointless. By the time a variant is found, it’s already everywhere.

In countries where infection rates continue to remain high, health professionals often tend to point out that nothing really changes with pre-flight testing. Some people will be sick and others will not, but that’s already the case in the country, so what does all the hassle help to achieve? And at what cost?

The next few months will be the most fascinating time of the travel recovery since it all started. Countries are rapidly dropping travel testing and that means barriers to get on planes are disappearing. A real recovery could actually start, in response.

People will remain in two minds for a while, but the sooner people feel the confidence to travel without worrying about worst case isolation and positive test rules, the more likely it will be that the next recovery will be a sustained one.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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21 Comments

    1. Sherpa and Kayak both do, but you should verify with the country’s official website. I’d say they’re about 80% accurate.

  1. When boarding a return flight to the US, it gives me comfort to know that the people seated next to me recently tested negative, just as I did.

    The reason to rejoice for the end of testing requirements is because you want people to be able to fly with covid. I can’t agree with that.

  2. Mexico should laughing at the rest of the planet now. They haven’t had any requirements in a year and a half, and never do we hear about issues there. Sure they probably took a risk on it back in 2020 when they opened up fully but now it seems like they were the only smart ones in all of this. Tourists have been flocking there from NA, SA and Europe the last year and a half.

  3. Thank you, this article makes all the sense in the world. Without testing, I would travel and spend much more.

    1. Um, no. Most of the EU has relaxed requirements. Most of Central America and the Caribbean already dropped testing. It’s a large part of the world without it. I’m just illustrating key countries which have joined in, in the last week.

  4. I’ve been a huge fan of testing requirements. Some of my most enjoyable trips have been over the past two years to countries with strict testing requirements and as a result relatively few foreign tourists. I fully understand all the risks described above and would happily take those on and pay a small toll that is a COVID test for a more relaxed holiday. In that regard, Asia remains the last happy refuge and where I’ll be spending my free time this year.

    1. until the moment your on-arrival test comesout positive and you will be confined to a field hospital without any comfort for 10 days, even if asympomatic. I was due to fly to Thailand this saturday, but cancelled as I couln’t justify the risk of being locked up for 10 days in case of testing positive. Once Thailand will drop the on-arrival testing requirement I’ll be the first one on the plane

      1. As I mentioned, I have considered the risks including the scenario you described above and decided to go to Thailand in December. It was a wonderful trip. In Bangkok, where I arrived, people testing positive are not placed in field hospitals. They generally go to reasonable modern facilities. Everybody is required to have travel insurance to enter the country so there is no economic incentive to put people in substandard housing. Axa was picking up the bill if I became ill. Bangkok has ample supply of quality facilities. Would I arrive in Phuket? Absolutely not. Quality of healthcare infrastructure is not great. Would I go to Bali, probably not. Would also note I take much longer trips during COVID – often several weeks – which are feasible due to remote work. I don’t want to spend a week in hospital but if that ever happened it wouldn’t consume all of my trip. Everybody will make their own choices but I do not view risk of a positive test result (real or false positive) as an equally important concern in all locations. Context matters.

  5. Before vaccines were widely available, testing made sense. Now that millions of us are double vaxxed and boosted, testing mandates should be dropped, as Hawaii has done.

    I was first tested in Vietnam in March 2020 and last tested in the US in January 2022. I have tested negative five times, even though I had multiple symptoms twice. Tests provide zero protection against infection or spread but so provide false negatives and false positives.

  6. As great as it may be to know that you’re possibly on a covid-free flight, the testing requirement is most definitely holding me back for the reasons you mentioned here. As someone who is fully vaccinated, it really isn’t necessary. We do not know what other infections or diseases people who get on planes so this shouldn’t all that different. I just personally feel far too much anxiety knowing that if a potential positive test result does come back, I’ll be confined and unable to return home. Not all countries are going to the foot the bill for that as well so there is unknown added costs on top of the trip. It’s far too much uncertainty for my comfort. I was previously taking at least 3-4 international trips a year before this started. I haven’t taken any since March 2020.

    I suppose each person has their own comfort level with the uncertainty, but I would imagine that the majority of people who have put travel off feel just like I do in this regard.

    I’d truly feel much safer if there was simply a vaccination (or recent recovery) requirement before being allowed to board a plane. We could end the testing requirement as even if someone does have covid, as long as everyone on board is protected via the vaccine, it wouldn’t be a big deal. We could also end the on-board masking which is a major discomfort for long transatlantic flights. I think that is a much more reasonable approach than continuous testing, which as many places have now realized, is not proving to be very effective at preventing this spread. Let those who get protected enjoy a more normal life.

    1. In several of the countries I have visited with testing on arrival requirements an important concern is the ability to identify fake vaccine certificates or the authenticity of pre-departure test results. As someone vaccinated in America, I will acknowledge our pieces of paper are basically worthless as a credible vaccine certificate. Verifiable international standard for vaccine certification would go a long way toward doing away with testing on arrival in at least some countries. Doing it is a political problem; make it known to public officials that more robust certification is important. I respect all of the people that can suspend disbelief and trust all/most of those pre-departure test results are authentic. Anecdotes of dozens of people testing positive on arrival from one flight suggest fake test results may well be more common than we would like to think.

      1. Vaccinated people can get Covid and they can spread Covid and they can end up in hospitals. Not testing vaccinated people only doesn’t make sense. But also why is natural immunity only accepted for 180 days? A recent Italian study showed that people who got Covid had immunity 18 months later. The study lasted for 18 months, so probably natural immunity is even longer than that. In a couple of months we have achieved heard immunity everywhere so let’s move on with our lives without vaccine cards and testing requirements.

  7. I was living in Portugal. took a brief trip up to London. While there, a PCR test showed that I had contracted Covid. I was forced to isolate in my hotel for 10 days. When it was over I booked a trip to Portugal. I had a doctor’s letter called a Covid Recovery Certificate stating that I had recovered and that I should not test as I could still test positive. I was denied boarding because Portugal would not accept the letter. A few days later I tried again as I was now testing negative on lateral flow tests. Again, I refused entry to Portugal. Only a PCR test would be accepted. Yet the NHS told me not to take a PCR test because if it came back positive I would have to isolate for 10 more days. The Portuguese Embassy in London refused to help me. They were cracking down and only allowing essential travel. I finally gave up, booked a flight back to the USA where I lived with relatives. All of my belongings are still in. Portugal. I got so pissed off that I decided never to return there, so I hired a company that is going to my apartment in Portugal. packing up all my stuff and shipping it to me in the US. It is costing me a fortune. So I will now look for a new home in the US. My life has been turned upside down. I will never go back to Portugal again. They were unhelpful and unsympathetic to my plight. And I will not travel again until Covid is a long distant memory.

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