Countries around the world have eased entry requirements for international travelers, but many still require coronavirus tests or proof of vaccination to enter. And for some, not just any proof will do.
Depending on where you’re headed, showing a vaccination card from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may not be enough. You may need to take extra steps before your trip to set up a “vaccine passport” that can be digitally verified.
Below, experts detail how vaccine passports work, how to get them and where you might need one now.
What are vaccine passports?
Vaccine passports are digital or paper documents demonstrating that you have been inoculated. “You could think about a yellow card showing yellow fever vaccination as a vaccine passport,” said Scott Weisenberg, medical director of the Travel Medicine Program at NYU Langone Health. That example refers to the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis, which he said all countries accept.
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But not all governments agree on what constitutes acceptable proof of a coronavirus jab. “This is a new virus, and we don’t have well-established requirements,” Weisenberg said. “Each country is setting its own guidelines.”
While places like the U.K. accept CDC cards in addition to certain state records, such as New York’s Excelsior Pass Plus, others do not. Many state governments have banned vaccine passports within their borders, but residents can still use them for foreign travel. The European Union has a free digital coronavirus certificate for member states, and Italy has its own Green Pass required for hotels and public transportation (through March).
“Right now, the definition [of “vaccine passport”] that matters is the definition of the person in front of you helping you go through immigration,” Weisenberg said.
To ensure your definitions match, he recommended that travelers check with the airline or look on websites for their destination’s embassy or consulate as early as possible. Then continue to check to make sure requirements don’t change before a trip.
How do vaccine passports work?
Vaccine passports often create a digital version of your coronavirus certificate to display at various points throughout your trip, typically on arrival to bypass testing or quarantine requirements.
Many coronavirus passes generate corresponding QR codes that can be scanned to verify your vaccination status.
Jack Ezon, founder and managing partner of luxury travel agency Embark Beyond, said “almost all” airlines offer some kind of technology that allows you to upload proof of vaccination before your flight. He said the airline will typically send travelers an email asking them to upload any necessary documents before checking in.
Customers can use apps such as VeriFLY, which American Airlines uses on a range of flights, and United Airlines’ Travel-Ready Center.
Betsy Ball, co-founder and partner of the travel agency Euro Travel Coach, said airline prompts are based on the requirements of the destination and create a smoother travel experience. “It’s more convenient to upload it digitally before you get to the airport so you have it all very easily accessible,” she said.
Where do I get a vaccine passport?
The United States does not have a national vaccine passport. However, a number of U.S. states – in addition to Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico – offer digital proof of vaccination using the SMART Health Card system, which can generate a QR code. Many medical providers and health systems will issue a SMART Card, as will pharmacies, such as Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid.
The Docket app is available to residents in Minnesota, New Jersey and Utah. California, Colorado and New York have their own digital offerings. CLEAR, a biometric screening company, also allows users to create a vaccine passport using its Health Pass. Travelers can also use digital health app CommonPass to store and show proof of their vaccination record.
Ezon notes that in countries like France, travelers can get a digital vaccine pass by visiting a local pharmacy; however, the country will soon lift vaccine passport requirements for many venues that made navigating the country more complex for travelers from outside Europe, whose proof of vaccination did not have a compatible QR code, according to Forbes.
What popular destinations require digital vaccine passports?
Travelers headed to the United Arab Emirates must show a vaccination certificate with a QR code for entry. Otherwise, they will need to have a negative PCR test or a medical certificate showing recovery from the coronavirus within a month before their trip, also with a QR code.
Similarly, Aruba requires visitors 12 and older to have a digitally verifiable QR code that shows proof of vaccination and a booster shot to bypass testing requirements, unless they have recently recovered from the coronavirus. Boosters are optional for children ages 12 to 17. Paper CDC cards are not accepted, nor are photos of the cards.
Louisa Gehring, owner of the luxury travel agency Gehring Travel, said she is finding that the main places requiring “some sort of an additional step that are most popular right now are in the Caribbean.”
Sint Maarten, for instance, accepts government-issued vaccination cards, but it requires all fully vaccinated travelers to upload their proof of vaccination as part of an Electronic Health Authorization System.
Gehring encouraged familiarizing yourself with these rules in case there’s a hiccup. “And if [someone] is saying, ‘Oh no, I’m sorry, you can’t enter,’ you can say, ‘No, I’ve gotten this QR code or this proof of acceptance or whatever,’ and just having that to be able to vouch for yourself,” she said.
And with the unpredictability of COVID-19-era travel, your destination’s policies could be scrapped or get stricter at any given time. Ball recommended staying vigilant and downloading the appropriate apps or digital passes accordingly.
“I would have all my vaccine documentation available and be very aware that things can change,” she said.