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Everything Canadians need to know about travelling with a 'vaccine passport' this summer

Here are the countries that have plans to welcome tourists with proof of vaccination this year.
Canadians may need to show a vaccine passport or IATA Travel pass for international travel in 2021 and several countries are already accepting them.

Are you excited to pack your bags for a holiday in the near future?

While you may not be thrilled to hug a stranger anytime soon (or ever), the prospect of sipping a cocktail on an endless, glistening white sand beach while you watch the ocean waves gently lap the shore might not sound like the worst idea. 

At this point, most Canadians who have abided by travel restrictions feel hungry for travel — even if it's just across the country or south of the border. 

But not everyone feels thrilled about the prospect of hitting the road early. 

Not only will travellers have to contend with new protocols in resorts and on cruises, but they will also likely have to carry a vaccine passport (depending on where they are headed, of course).

Vaccine passports are already required upon entry for several countries around the world; many countries that don't require proof of vaccination plan to in the coming weeks and months, too.  

And that's good news for travellers hoping to avoid quarantine. 

Travel without quarantine requirements

While not all countries will lift the quarantine exemption, several of them have stated that travellers may skip quarantine requirements with proof of vaccination. 

For example, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) recently announced that Phuket will be the first destination in Thailand to reopen to vaccinated foreign tourists without quarantine requirements starting July 1. 

Countries in the European Union have also released EU Digital COVID Certificates on June 1. According to the European Commission, this document will become available in all EU Member States as of July 1 and facilitate safe free movement of citizens in the EU. However, it "will not be a pre-condition to free movement, which is a fundamental right in the EU."

Some countries are also already accepting foreign tourists with vaccine certificates without quarantine requirements but still require them to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test.

Barbados now allows fully vaccinated tourists who come with a valid negative COVID-19 PCR test, carried out no more than three days prior to travel; they will also have a standard or Rapid COVID-19 PCR test on arrival at the airport or their approved accommodation.

Is there a standard vaccine certificate?

Countries around the world are issuing vaccine certificates to their citizens, but there isn't a global standard. 

According to The International Air Transport Association (IATA), the trade association for the world’s airlines, one of the significant issues future travellers will face with vaccine passports is added time to their journeys.  

"Current data indicates that airport processing times have ballooned to [three] hours during peak time with travel volumes at only about [30 per cent] of pre-COVID-19 levels," explains a news release. 

IATA found that the most significant increases in travel time happened at check-in and border control (emigration and immigration) "where travel health credentials are being checked mainly as paper documents." Modelling suggested that these wait times could increase to over five hours without improvements, too. 

To improve air travel efficiency, the association has created the IATA Travel Pass: a mobile app that helps travellers to store and manage their verified certifications for COVID-19 tests or vaccines.

IATA says "It is more secure and efficient than current paper processes used to manage health requirements (the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis, for example)." This is important given the potentially enormous scale of testing or vaccine verifications that will need to be securely managed.

The IATA Travel pass is being tested by over 30 airlines globally and aims to "facilitate a global registry of health requirements." Passengers will also find accurate information on travel, health and testing requirements for their journey. 

To date, no Canadian airlines have signed on to participate, however, the test phase does include several airlines that serve Canadian airports, including Qantas, British Airways, and Japan Airlines.

britishairways-travel-pass-june-1-2021.jpgBritish Airways commenced its IATA Travel Pass trail on June 1, 2021. Photo via British Airways

There are some ethical considerations with vaccine passports, however. The World Health Organization (WHO) cites vaccine inequality as one of the reasons why they shouldn't be required for entry. That said, the WHO Smart Vaccination Working Group is developing standards for a digital vaccination certificate that would serve current and future requirements.

Reuters reports that there is also growing opposition against the use of vaccine passports within the United Kingdom. 

Where to travel in 2021 

The Government of Canada continues to advise against travel outside of the country, so it isn't a good idea to book a holiday overseas right now.

But if COVID-19 cases continue to trend down and vaccination levels increase, Canadians might be able to start thinking of travelling outside of the country by the late summer or early fall.

Here are some of the countries that have shared plans to use proof of vaccination to ease tourism in summer 2021. 

  • Barbados
  • Belize 
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus 
  • Ecuador 
  • Estonia 
  • France 
  • Georgia 
  • Turkey
  • Greece
  • Hawaii (USA)
  • Hungary 
  • Iceland
  • Lebanon 
  • Lithuania 
  • Malta
  • Montenegro 
  • Poland 
  • Portugal 
  • Romania 
  • Seychelles
  • Slovenia 
  • Spain
  • Thailand

Note: This is a working list for 2021 that may change over the coming months due to the pandemic.