Traveling During Omicron? Expert Advice on How and Where to Travel Safely
Omicron is quickly spreading across the world, with many countries facing unprecedented numbers of COVID cases. Governments, and travelers, have been caught off guard by the variant's rapid rise. To keep the virus at bay, nations are closing borders or reinstating strict testing and quarantine protocols.
Travel guidelines vary widely. There’s no universal guidance on where you can go safely. What destinations are still open? How can you protect yourself and others when traveling? And are all of our precautions for naught now that Omicron has landed in over 100 countries?
We’ve compiled information from the CDC, the WHO, and local travel authorities to help you weigh the risks and rewards of travel during Omicron.
Do the travel bans really help?
Yes and no. Let’s consider how rapidly Omicron is spreading. The World Health Organization confirmed that Omicron has outpaced Delta, and is already responsible for most new infections in the US. Over half of US COVID cases are now caused by Omicron. It is also the dominant strain in the UK, Portugal, South Africa, and Denmark.
Since Omicron was identified in November, it has touched almost every corner of the globe, with more than 100 countries reporting cases. In recent days, Spain, the US, and the UK reported the highest number of new COVID cases since the start of the pandemic. The WHO says Omicron cases are doubling every three days.
Does that mean travel restrictions are not effective?
Clearly, travel restrictions cannot stop Omicron. But they may slow the spread down by a few weeks. This gives countries precious time to administer more vaccines, staff and supply hospitals, expand quarantine measures, and implement other disease control measures. The extra time is critical, given that one study estimated a fourth of US COVID deaths were caused by depleted and unprepared hospitals.
Is Omicron in the Philippines?
So far, the Philippines DOH has confirmed three cases of Omicron. All of the patients are quarantining at home. Former health advisor Dr. Tony Leachon urged the IATF to completely shut the Philippines' border. Tens of millions of Filipinos suffer from comorbidities, putting them at higher risk of severe illness from Omicron. To date, the IATF has tightened its quarantine control and banned eight countries. But Filipino citizens, OFWs, and many long-term residents are still allowed to enter the country. It is only a matter of time before we see the numbers increase.
Is It Still Safe to Travel?
Many travelers are reconsidering their travel plans in the wake of the Omicron surge. The new variant has swept across the globe, pummeling major tourist destinations, such as London, Italy, and Paris. Political leaders are giving mixed signals about whether it's safe to travel. The grim reality is there's always risk involved when entering a crowded space, such as an airplane, bus, or boat. But there are ways to reduce your risk of infection.
Get Fully Vaccinated and Boosted
The most effective way to protect yourself and those around you is to get fully vaccinated. A booster shot will provide even more protection against the Omicron variant.
In an interview with The Washington Post, virologist Dr. Paula Cannon stated, "I actually think you'd be crazy and immoral to fly if you are not vaccinated. Ideally boosted but certainly vaccinated."
Get Tested Before Travel
Get a COVID test before you travel-even if your destination doesn't require it. Omicron can infect both vaccinated and unvaccinated people alike. In vaccinated people, the variant seems to be very mild. However, you can still become infected and pass the virus to someone else. Getting tested is the only way to know for sure that you're COVID-free. Before visiting family, especially infants and elderly relatives, add an extra layer of protection by getting tested. At-home testing can make this a quick and painless step in your travel plans.
Invest in Better Masks
Mask production has finally caught up with demand. There's no need to rely on single-layer cloth and paper masks anymore. If you're traveling, now's the time to invest in a KN-95 or N95 for better protection. At the very least, layer two or three masks. A single layer may have been sufficient for the original COVID strain, but it’s not enough to protect you from Omicron. Be sure your mask is securely fitted to your face for the entirety of your journey.
Consider an Antibody Test
Vaccine inequity is still a problem for developing nations. Millions don't have access to the recommended booster shots for COVID-19. If you cannot get a vaccine booster, consider having your antibody levels tested. An antibody test can detect the strength of your immunity against COVID infection. If your immune response is low, it's best to delay your travel plans for now.
Consider Local Conditions
If COVID-19 is surging at your destination, consider canceling your travel plans. The CDC has created a travel advisory of risk. Countries are scaled from high to low depending on the rate of infection per 100,000 people. The levels are as follows:
You can use the CDC Risk Levels in conjunction with local advisories when evaluating your travel safety in a particular destination.
What Does the WHO Say?
The WHO says Omicron is likely in most countries even if it hasn’t been detected yet. If you’re in an area declared “low risk” you should still take every precaution to prevent infection. The World Health Organization also advises against travel for high-risk populations. People over 60, with chronic health problems, or otherwise poor health should not travel during the Omicron surge. Naturally, if you’re feeling sick–do not travel.
Omicron Travel Restrictions: Where can I travel?
Countries all over the world are imposing tougher travel restrictions on visitors, regardless of vaccination status. Most countries have imposed bans on passengers from the African countries of Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. As cases soar in the UK, many countries have also banned Britons from entry. You can find the travel guidelines for popular travel destinations across the globe below.
Countries that have closed their borders
AUSTRALIA: The country has loosened some of its travel restrictions, though most tourists are still banned from entry. Exceptions are currently made for citizens of Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and New Zealand. The country has also reopened its borders to international students and skilled migrant workers.
ISRAEL: Only Israeli citizens are permitted to enter Israel. Foreigners may enter only after securing a special entry permit from the Exceptions Committee. Israeli citizens have been banned from traveling to 58 countries.
JAPAN: Foreigners are not permitted. Japan will continue strict border control indefinitely.
MOROCCO: The Moroccan Government has suspended the entry of foreigners until at least December 31, 2021.
NEW ZEALAND: All New Zealand borders are closed, for both air and sea. If you are a non-resident of NZ, you will need special permission from New Zealand Immigration before traveling to the country.
VIETNAM: The country’s borders have been closed for most of the pandemic, with exceptions made for those with diplomatic or official duties.
Countries Imposing Tighter Travel Restrictions
Each country below is open to at least some tourism. We’ve listed the most current travel restrictions, however, conditions are changing rapidly. Always consult your airline and local travel authority before traveling. Take note of the CDC Travel Advisory for each country. The Center for Disease Control advises against many of these destinations at this time.
ARGENTINA: Fully vaccinated travelers only. A negative PCR test is required no more than 72-hours before arrival. Argentina is a Level 3 high-risk country.
BAHAMAS: Fully vaccinated travelers only. A negative PCR or Antigen test is needed no more than 5 days before arrival. The Bahamas is a Level 2 moderate-risk country.
BRAZIL: Requires proof of vaccination and a PCR test 72 hours before boarding, or an antigen test performed 24 hours before boarding. Brazil is a Level 3 high-risk country.
CANADA: Travel to Canada requires a pre-entry test along with a test upon arrival. You must be fully vaccinated and also have a quarantine plan in case you test positive for COVID. All documents must be uploaded to the ArriveCAN website before travel. Canada is a Level 3 high-risk country.
CHILE: Fully vaccinated travelers only. A negative PCR test is required no more than 72-hours before arrival. Children under the age of 6 are exempt from the vaccine mandate. Travelers must take a second PCR test upon entry and quarantine until a negative result is released. The country also requires travel insurance for up to USD 30,000 for COVID-related expenses. Chile is a Level 3 high-risk country.
COLUMBIA: Only fully vaccinated travelers. The second dose must be at least 14 days before travel. Columbia is a Level 3 high-risk country.
COSTA RICA: Full vaccination is recommended but not required. Unvaccinated travelers will need travel insurance that covers all COVID-related costs, including quarantine lodging and medical expenses. All visitors must also complete a health pass online 48 hours prior to arrival. Costa Rica is a Level 3 high-risk country.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Restrictions are lax. Unvaccinated travelers without a negative coronavirus test may be subject to a COVID-19 breath test at random at the airport. The Dominican Republic is a Level 3 high-risk country.
MEXICO: Mexico has some of the loosest restrictions in the world. You don’t need a test, vaccination certificate, or quarantine. A health declaration form is sufficient. Mexico is a Level 3 high-risk country.
UNITED STATES: Unvaccinated foreigners are prohibited from entering the US. Testing restrictions now require a negative COVID test within one day of departure. The CDC does not rate the US in its travel advisory. Most countries consider the US to be high-risk.
CHINA: Foreign nationals with valid visas are allowed under very limited conditions. A negative COVID test and at least 14-days of quarantine is required for allowed visitors. China is a Level 1 low-risk country.
INDONESIA: Foreigners from Denmark, Norway, and the UK are prohibited. All incoming passengers are subject to a 14-day quarantine. Indonesia is a Level 1 low-risk country.
MALAYSIA: The country has barred travel from nations that have cases of Omicron, including the US, UK, and Australia. Plans to reopen the country for tourism in January 2022 may be delayed. Malaysia is a Level 3 high-risk country.
PHILIPPINES: The Philippines has now opened its borders to tourists, subject to conditions. All travelers must have COVID-related health insurance. The Philippines is a Level 2 moderate-risk country.
SINGAPORE: The country has stopped selling bus and air tickets to travelers from over two dozen countries. Travelers who already possess tickets will be exempt from the travel freeze, but must be quarantined for 14 days. The freeze lasts until at least January 20, 2022. Singapore is a Level 4 very high-risk country.
SOUTH KOREA: Travelers must receive a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of travel. Passengers from all destinations are subject to a ten day quarantine, regardless of vaccination status. South Korea is a Level 3 high-risk country.
THAILAND: The country suspended its quarantined-free travel pass system. All travelers will be subject to a 7-10 day quarantine depending upon their country of origin. Thailand is a Level 3 high-risk country.
AUSTRIA: The country has just ended its lockdown and only vaccinated travelers are allowed. If you haven’t received your booster shot, you will also need a negative test before entry. The Austrian government is currently considering a travel ban on all Britons. Austria is a Level 4 very high-risk country.
FRANCE: Non-essential British tourists have been banned from entering France. There is now a testing requirement for both vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers. Unvaccinated arrivals from orange and red-listed countries will be tested before and after arrival, alongside a quarantine of 7-10 days. Visitors may note that much of France’s nightlife will be banned until at least January, 2022. France is a Level 4 very high-risk country.
GERMANY: All British tourists have been banned from entering Germany. German citizens and residents coming from the UK must quarantine for 14 days, regardless of their vaccination status. Unvaccinated arrivals from France, Norway, and Denmark must quarantine for five days. Approved tourists must be tested 48-hours (rapid antigen) or 72-hours (PCR) before travel. Note, unvaccinated travelers are banned from going to all but the most essential businesses. Germany is a Level 4 very high-risk country.
GREECE: Travelers must submit a negative COVID test result taken within 72 hours of travel. Proof of vaccination is also required. Greece is a Level 4 very high-risk country.
IRELAND: Vaccinated and recovered travelers can enter with a negative antigen test 48-hours before travel, or a negative PCR test 72-hours beforehand. Unvaccinated travelers can enter only with a negative PCR test. Note, the country is curbing nightlife with an 8PM curfew for pubs and restaurants. Hospitality venues shut at 5PM. Ireland is a Level 4 very high-risk country.
ITALY: Italy permits entry to most EU countries and those nations listed on its “D List”. Those countries include: Saudi Arabia, Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Chile, United Arab Emirates, Japan, Jordan, Kosovo, Israel, Kuwait, New Zealand, Qatar, Rwanda, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Republic of Korea, Singapore, United States of America, Ukraine, Uruguay, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao. Travelers must present a negative test, regardless of vaccination status. Unvaccinated travelers must quarantine and are not permitted to circulate in public places. Italy is a Level 4 very high-risk country.
NETHERLANDS: The nation is in lockdown, with all non-essential shops, restaurants, nightlife, cinemas, and gyms closed until at least January 14, 2022. A maximum of two guests are allowed in the home. Travellers from outside the EU must provide a negative test. Travelers from very high-risk countries face a mandatory self-quarantine, regardless of vaccination status or negative test. The Netherlands is a Level 4 very high-risk country
PORTUGAL: A mandatory negative test is required within 72-hours of travel along with a vaccine certificate. Only tourists from approved countries are allowed entry: EU, Brazile, UK, USA, and certain countries with a reciprocal travel arrangement with Portugal. Note, the country is curbing nightlife by banning nightclubs and bars, and also issued a mandate to work from home. The restrictions may extend past the holiday season. Portugal is is a Level 4 very high-risk country.
RUSSIA: Travelers must have a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken 72 hours or less before arriving in Russia. Travelers may be subject to random tests at the airport as well. The test result must be in English or Russian. The government is considering a QR code pass for entry into public spaces beginning in February 2022. This could significantly limit tourists mobility in the country. Russia is a Level 4 very high-risk country.
SPAIN: If you are traveling from a country Spain deems low-risk, you can travel without a test or vaccine certificate. If you are traveling from a very high-risk area, you most likely need a vaccine card, with some exceptions made, such as doctors, diplomats, and students. Spain is a Level 4 very high-risk country.
SWEDEN: Non-essential travel is banned for most countries outside the EU/EEA. Foreigners with a residence visa are still permitted to enter. For allowed visitors a negative test 72 hours before arrival or EU certificate of vaccination must be provided. Sweden is a Level 3 high-risk country.
SWITZERLAND: Vaccinated travelers need a rapid antigen test 24 hours ahead of travel or a PCR test 72 hours ahead of travel. Switzerland is a Level 4 very high-risk country.
TURKEY: All travelers need to take a PCR test 72 hours before arrival and show they have been vaccinated at least 14 days before entry. Travelers from Afghanistan and Pakistan require a ten day quarantine. Travelers from Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Nepal or Sri Lanka must quarantine at a government-approved hotel for 14 days. A negative test is required to be released from quarantine. Anyone from the UK, Egypt, Iran and Singapore must undergo a second test upon arrival in Turkey. Turkey is a Level 4 very high-risk country.
UK: Testing requirements have been tightened in the UK as the country faces an Omicron surge. Even fully vaccinated travelers face two tests and a brief quarantine. An antigen of PCR test must be conducted two days before travel. A second PCR test must be taken two days after arrival, while you self-quarantine until results come in. Unvaccinated travelers must test before their travel, then again at day 2 and day 8. A ten day quarantine is mandatory. Travelers should not that the UK Health Minister has not ruled out a lockdown in the near future. The UK is a Level 4 very high-risk country.
Is the Philippines Open for Tourism?
Yes. The Philippines has reopened for travel with conditions. Tourists must provide proof of vaccination, a negative COVID test, travel insurance for COVID-19 related health conditions, and an onward ticket.
Travel and Quarantine Guidelines for the Philippines
Here’s an in depth look at the current travel requirements for citizens, OFWs, and residents of the Philippines.
Can OFWs Return to the Philippines?
Filipino citizens may return to the Philippines as long as they follow the conditions of entry (listed below). If an OFW or balikbayan is returning from a red-listed country, travel is limited to government repatriation and NGO repatriation flights or Bayanihan flights. The current red-listed countries are:
What are the Entry Requirements for the Philippines?
Strict testing and quarantine protocols are in effect for eligible travelers. Entry requirements differ for vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers.
Requirements for fully vaccinated eligible travelers:
- Negative RT-PCR test taken within 72 hours prior departure.
- 3 days of facility-based quarantine.
- Swab test on the 3rd day (RT-PCR test).
- Covid-negative patients are then released for home quarantine until the 10th day from arrival.
Requirements for unvaccinated and partially vaccinated eligible travelers:
- Negative RT-PCR test taken within 72 hours prior departure.
- 7 days of facility-based quarantine.
- Swab test on the 7th day (RT-PCR test).
- Covid-negative patients are then released for home quarantine until the 14th day from arrival.
- Note, unvaccinated persons are not allowed to leave their home in Metro Manila.
Do you need to quarantine 14 days?
Yes, if you are unvaccinated or partially unvaccinated you must quarantine for 14 days. The first seven days you must quarantine in a government-approved facility. The second week of quarantine may take place at home.
Is it safe to travel to the Philippines?
Risk is currently considered moderate. However, local health officials in the Philippines are warning they expect a surge of Omicron cases soon. In the capital city of Manila, citizens are under an Alert Level 3. This means reduced occupancy at entertainment venues, food establishments, and tourist attractions. Alert Level 3 still allows for interzonal and intrazonal travel, subject to local restrictions. Popular destination of the north, Baguio, has suspended tourist applications for now.
There’s a risk-benefit calculation that every traveler needs to make before travel. The safest option is to stay home. But it’s a hard choice after nearly two years of social isolation and staying home. If you do travel, follow the expert advice to keep yourself safe. Check back here for frequent updates as your departure date nears.