It has now been over a year since borders around the world closed to international travelers due to the coronavirus pandemic. While certain destinations have slowly begun reopening, the majority of the world’s borders still remain closed to international travelers to a certain extent.
Where Can I Travel Right Now?
The positive news of people receiving vaccines is colliding with negative news of new variants of the virus emerging around the world. Due to the unpredictable nature of the COVID-19 virus, no one can say for sure when borders will open around the world. For U.S. citizens, much of Europe, Asia, and Oceania are still off limits, but travel within the western hemisphere is generally open with safety precautions such as testing or vaccine verification in place.
While this isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, I’ll give an overview of some popular destinations around the world where borders either are or may open to tourists in 2021, and what the governments are saying must happen in order for this to happen. For the most up-to-date information on official entry requirements, always consult the U.S. Department of State — Bureau of Consular Affairs Covid-19 Traveler Information page with links to each embassy’s updates on the local COVID-19 situation.
Editor’s note: The CDC recommends delaying international travel until you are fully vaccinated. The United States is still requiring a negative COVID-19 test for returning international travelers (even fully-vaccinated ones).
Countries Open for Tourists: Several, including Mexico, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Colombia, Peru, Brazil, and more.
Mexico, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic are the least restrictive in this group. These countries opened their borders to travelers in 2020 and do not currently require testing for entry, though the CDC always recommends testing before travel and it is a requirement upon returning to the U.S.
Most other countries where travel is allowed will require a negative COVID-19 test and/or proof of vaccination. Several Caribbean islands are welcoming travelers and many have extensive safety measures in place that have allowed travel to resume. Expect these measures to stick around throughout the year.
Countries That May Open in 2021: Canada, Chile
The U.S./Canadian border is the longest international border in the world and it has remained closed to non-essential travel ever since March 2020. The border closure seems to get extended on a monthly basis and will likely continue through mid-2021 at the very least. Like the U.S., Canada’s vaccination campaign is looking promising and Prime Minister Trudeau has said that all Canadians who want a vaccine should be able to get one by the end of September, or earlier. However, Canada is currently facing a major COVID-19 surge, with new lockdown measures in place. The situation in Canada is so bad that the CDC recently placed it on a Level 4 advisory, warning against all travel to Canada (even for vaccinated travelers).
What this means for opening the border is unclear. In March 2021, Trudeau stated, “We’re all eager to be able to travel again, but I think we’re all going to wait patiently until such time as the health situation allows us to loosen border restrictions internationally. That’ll be eventually, but not for today.”
I would guess that Canada will slowly begin to reopen its border by the end of summer. It may only allow travelers from certain countries at first and it is likely that strict safety measures will be in place, which may even require a short quarantine and/or testing upon arrival.
Chile had opened its borders to international travelers with strict protocols in November 2020. However, as of April 5th, 2021, the country has, once again, closed its borders at least through the end of April. The Chilean government is aiming to vaccinate 80% of its population by the end of June. For now, there is a daily curfew and no set date as to when borders will open again. It’s fairly likely that we’ll see Chile’s borders open again in 2021, but it may not be until the end of the year.
Countries Open for Tourists: Albania, Croatia, Georgia, Greece (May 14), Iceland, Turkey
Only a few European countries are currently open for tourism. Croatia had opened last summer, then closed again, and reopened as of April 1st. In March, both Greece and Iceland announced plans to reopen. As of April 6th, vaccinated travelers can visit Iceland, and Greece plans to open its borders to travel on May 14th. To enter Greece, you’ll either need proof of vaccination, antibodies, or a negative Covid-19 test. Albania, Croatia, Georgia, and Turkey are allowing travelers with a vaccination record and/or testing requirements. (Note that Georgia is only allowing in visitors who arrive via air.)
Countries That May Open in 2021: United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Poland, and more.
Currently, U.S. citizens are technically allowed to enter the U.K. and Ireland, but there are long mandatory quarantines in place that are highly restrictive to tourists. The European Union has been considering some sort of vaccine certificate for universal travel, but due to the slow rollout of vaccines within Europe, it has not yet come to fruition.
The E.U. has a set criteria for its own member states that don’t allow travel restrictions within Europe as long as countries fall within specific case numbers and positivity rates. A similar scale could be put in place for international travelers outside of the E.U., and if U.S. numbers continue to see improvements after its vaccination efforts continue, I could see more European nations begin to lift restrictions for U.S. travelers at some point in 2021.
Africa & Middle East
Countries Open to Tourists: Several, including Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Seychelles, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, and more.
Africa and the Middle East are regions that are both fairly open to tourists. Plan on taking a COVID-19 test before traveling to these countries and/or showing proof of vaccination. Some destinations, such as the Seychelles, may require visitors to stay only in certified hotel properties.
Countries That May Open in 2021: Israel, Algeria
While Israel remains closed to U.S. travelers, it’s expected that travel will resume once more people are vaccinated. In February, Israel and Greece signed a deal to allow tourists with vaccination certificates to travel freely between the two countries.
In an article published by Travel Market Report, Canada’s consul tourism director for the Israel Ministry of Tourism stated, “Tourism will start sooner than others will expect, Thailand and Greece have opened to tourism, and there are more and more vaccines being administered. It’s a very positive sign.”
With new nonstop flights to Tel Aviv on American Airlines from New York and Miami starting in May and June, respectively, it seems the airlines are counting on tourism to resume in Israel by the start of the summer.
Countries Open to Tourists: Maldives, Nepal*, South Korea*, Sri Lanka, Thailand*
If you’re looking for a remote island escape, the Maldives is currently open for tourism with standard Covid safety protocols in place. Sri Lanka is open, but requires visitors to remain in a “travel bubble”, which means you’ll need to stay within designated tourism zones.
*While there are a few other countries in Asia that are technically open for tourists, Nepal, South Korea, Thailand, and some others still require some sort of quarantine for visitors. Thailand has plans to waive the quarantine requirement for vaccinated travelers to certain cities, such as Phuket, in July, but a recent uptick in cases could derail those plans.
Countries That May Open in 2021: Indonesia, Singapore
The Indonesian government has announced that, starting in July, they will open certain “green areas” in Bali where international travelers can visit. It’s not clear yet where exactly these will be or which country’s citizens will be allowed to travel, but infection and vaccinations rates will play a factor.
in a BBC interview in March, Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong stated, “I hope if that many countries can have substantial proportions of their populations vaccinated by later this year, we will be able to have the confidence and to have developed the systems to open up our international borders to travel safely again.”
Singapore has plans to vaccinate all of its citizens by the end of the year and the country hopes to make sure Changi Airport remains an international hub for the Southeast Asia region. Regarding opening its borders, Lee continued to say, “Hopefully by the end of this year or next year, the doors can start to open, if not earlier.”
Other popular destinations in Asia, such as Hong Kong, India, and Japan, have unclear timetables for reopening. Hong Kong Tourism Board’s executive director, Dane Cheng, recently said, “We consider it unlikely Hong Kong will see a full resumption of cross-border travel in the next three to six months.”
Japan still plans to host a delayed 2020 Summer Olympics this year (in 2021), but international spectators will not be allowed as Japan does not plan to be open for tourism this summer.
The Oceania region is the most restrictive when it comes to borders being open during the pandemic. Both Australia and New Zealand closed their borders to international travelers early on and kept strict quarantine measures for all returning citizens. The Australian government is seeking advice from a panel of medical experts on what preconditions are necessary to reopen its borders.
Australia’s flag carrier, Qantas, plans to resume international flights to most destinations starting October 31, 2021, which could be just a hopeful move that Australia will be ready to open its borders by the time Australia enters its summer season. The leaders of both Australia and New Zealand have stated that borders will remain closed to most international travelers until the majority of its citizens are vaccinated.
French Polynesia opened its borders in July 2020, but has since closed again until further notice, as of February 3, 2021. Fiji still has a strict lockdown as well. In fact, Fiji Airways is currently only flying repatriation flights through August 2021 on long-haul routes.
International borders will eventually open again across the world, but it is likely not going to happen everywhere by the end of 2021. There are still a lot of unknowns and the situation could become better or worse at any moment. As long as the vaccines keep rolling out across the world and they are effective against new variants, I think we’ll see a majority of countries around the world open their borders by the end of this year, with the rest opening sometime in 2022.