Traveling Safely During the Pandemic: CDC Guidance

Cindy R. Friedman, MD


May 06, 2021

Editorial Collaboration

Medscape &

Despite warnings to avoid travel, it is still a top priority for many Americans. According to a recent survey, 78% of American travelers say that they are actively planning travel, while 18% have already made travel bookings.

Since COVID-19 vaccines have become available, 60% of Americans reported in a survey that they are feeling optimistic that life will return to normal by August 2021. In the same survey, 82% said they would feel more comfortable traveling if they were vaccinated.

With increasing hope about life returning to normal, many patients visiting your practice may be getting ready to travel. As their clinician, you can play a vital role in helping them learn about getting vaccinated, how to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and how to travel safely.

First Step: Get Vaccinated

If your patients are planning to travel, there are steps they can take to protect themselves and others. If they are eligible for a vaccine and one is available to them, encourage them to complete their COVID-19 vaccine series at least 2 weeks before their trip. If patients are not eligible or a vaccine is not available to them, recommend that they delay travel until they can be fully vaccinated.

Once your patients are fully vaccinated for COVID-19, they can travel within the United States without testing before or after travel, or completing a period of self-quarantine after travel. However, it is important that they check state and local requirements before departing, as those may differ from CDC guidance.

Fully vaccinated travelers still need to take routine precautions while traveling within the United States or internationally. Patients should be advised to:

When Traveling Internationally

If your patients are fully vaccinated and are traveling outside of the United States, it is important to tell them about additional risks posed by international travel, including the spread of variant strains. Encourage them to check their destination's COVID-19 situation before they go. Many foreign destinations require testing and quarantine to enter their borders.

Before flying back to the United States, all air passengers, including US citizens and those who are fully vaccinated, are required to present a negative COVID-19 test result from a specimen collected within 3 days of travel or show documentation of recovery from COVID-19 in the past 3 months.

Currently, there is no standard system for verifiable vaccination credentials. The best record of COVID-19 vaccination in the United States at this time is the CDC-labeled white vaccination record card, though it may not be accepted as proof of COVID-19 vaccination for international travel. Travelers should check with the countries where they are going to learn about any proof of vaccination, testing, or other requirements.

Not Vaccinated but Still Traveling?

If your patients are not vaccinated yet, encourage them to delay their travel until they are fully vaccinated. If patients must travel and are unvaccinated, advise them to take the following precautions before, during, and after travel:

  • Get tested with a viral test 1-3 days before travel.

  • Get tested again with a viral test 3-5 days after travel and stay home and self-quarantine for a full 7 days after travel, even if the test result is negative. If not getting tested, stay home and self-quarantine for 10 days after travel.

  • Wear a mask over the nose and mouth when in public settings. Masks are required on public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and in US transportation hubs such as airports and stations.

  • Avoid crowds and stay at least 6 feet or 2 meters (about two arm lengths) from anyone who did not travel with them. It's important to do this everywhere — both outdoors and indoors — making sure to avoid poorly ventilated spaces.

  • Wash their hands often or use hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol).

  • Follow all state and local recommendations or requirements after travel.

  • Do not travel if they are exposed to COVID-19, are sick, are waiting for test results, or test positive for COVID-19.

Clinicians play a critical role in keeping their patients aware of the latest recommendations for reducing the spread of COVID-19, including during travel. Start the travel conversation with your patients now by encouraging them to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible and to delay travel until they are fully vaccinated. If they are traveling, encourage them to take all of the necessary precautions.


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