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Your COVID vaccine certificate for travel questions answered

Times are tough for travellers. But with the world preparing to reopen in 2021, we're here to keep you dreaming and planning for your next adventure - whether that's a staycation or flying off to parts unknown. Until then, we've got the latest COVID-19 travel advice and updates to keep you up to date and ready to go.

As the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine accelerates worldwide, so is the discussion of a COVID vaccine certificate for travel. How will the vaccine certificate look? What health information will be shared and stored? Will the certificate come in digital or paper form? Which countries will require vaccine certificates for international travel in the near future?

We have listed the latest information on COVID vaccine certificates for travel below, but please note that this is a rapidly changing situation and the official guidance on this topic in Canada and abroad may change at any time. Always check the latest guidelines before booking any type of travel.

This page was last updated May 2, 2021. To our knowledge, the information on this page was correct at the time of publication. For further, up-to-date information on vaccine travel certificates, please visit the Government of Canada website.

What are COVID vaccine certificates for travel?

COVID vaccine certificates for travel are an official paper certificate or digital certification which states that you have been fully inoculated against COVID-19. Some airlines and governments may require the certificate to be shown at the airport check-in, when trying to enter a country, or even when booking a flight to an international destination.

Having to show you’ve been vaccinated to enter certain countries is not a new concept when it comes to travel planning. Many countries already require a vaccine certificate to prove that travellers have been vaccinated against diseases such as yellow fever, rubella, and polio. You can even see an image here of an Italian health pass made for travel during the times of the plague, dating back to 1722! While these certificates are traditionally in paper format, some countries are starting to issue COVID vaccine certificates for travel in digital format.

It was announced at the end of April that the nation of France will reopen its borders to international tourists by the summer, beginning with residents of other EU member countries, and followed by citizens of the U.S. and others who’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 or tested negative for the virus. Travellers’ health status, President Macron stated, will be provided through a “special pass”.

Effective March 2021, China launched an electronic COVID-19 vaccination certificate for its citizens planning any cross-country travels, and Spain is planning to allow European Union residents restriction-free travel through the upcoming Digital Green Certificate. Certificates would display the holder’s coronavirus vaccine information, as well as any COVID-19 test results. Also referred to as the “Green Pass”, this is scheduled to be ready anytime between May 17th and June 1st, 2021.

The nation of Estonia is working with the World Health Organization to develop a digitally enhanced International Certificate of Vaccination, also referred to as a “smart yellow card.” And the WHO also released an interim guide to developing a Smart Vaccine Certificate in late March.

Having a vaccine certificate may allow travellers to bypass a country’s COVID restrictions, such as any quarantine requirements and COVID testing for travel. While there aren’t any certifications available to Canadian travellers at this time, the discussion about implementing vaccine certificates for travel continues to evolve.

man holding a smartphone, walking on a downtown street, holding a carry on bag and wearing a mask. To travel international in 2021, will vaccine certificates be required?
Will vaccinate certificates be required for international travel in the future?

How are vaccine certificates different from vaccine passports?

Please note that the terms “vaccine passport” and “vaccine certificates” are sometimes used interchangeably.

Vaccine passports have been one of the many hot topics of discussion this past year. Essentially, this is a document which digitizes an individual’s paper vaccination cards and testing information into internationally recognized passes, providing evidence to authorities that the individual has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Vaccine passports can potentially link official COVID vaccination certificates, as well as COVID test results and/or documented evidence of a previous recovery from COVID-19.

Most of the vaccine passports being developed are digital—something you can pull up on your smartphone as an app. This process is not dissimilar to the ArriveCAN app, which is being used by more Canadians in 2021 to streamline their arrival process at the airport.

Organizations like the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) believe that one-time-use health passes are the way forward.

“It will take a significant amount of time to vaccinate the global population, particularly those in less advanced countries, or in different age groups, therefore we should not discriminate against those who wish to travel but have not been vaccinated,” reads a statement from the WTTC, which recommends health passes alongside testing and hygiene measures.

“Testing for non-vaccinated travellers, along with mandatory mask wearing and enhanced health and hygiene protocols, would allow the safe resumption on international travel [and] avoid the risk of transmission.”

illustration of a suitcase for travel during covid, with hand sanitizer, masks, pills, shoes, and packing cubes with Skyscanner logo above
COVID vaccine certificates for international travel: What are the challenges?

How can I get a COVID vaccine certification?

Once you’ve been fully inoculated against COVID-19, the provider should give you a physical vaccination card which becomes part of your official medical record. For example, the Health Minister of Ontario has said that the province will give people who complete their COVID-19 shots proof of vaccination in case they need it to travel.

As more digital vaccine certificates continue to be developed, you will be able to link your COVID vaccine card into an internationally recognized pass that you can show to airlines and border security, for example via a scannable QR code.

When will vaccine certificates be available?

There is currently no timeline or estimate when COVID-19 vaccine certificates will be potentially available to Canadians, but the possibility of receiving one will also depend on when you get your vaccinations. If you don’t receive a record when you have finished receiving the full vaccination for COVID-19, many Canadian provinces allow you to request your immunization records through the health authorities.

In an interview with the CBC this past week, Canadian Health Minister Patty Hadju spoke about coming to an agreement with other countries in the G7 on the best way to move forward with a possible vaccine certificate to facilitate international travel. “I am meeting on a regular basis with my G7 counterparts and this is an ongoing conversation about how that might look and how we might be able to have some sort of standardized approach to this.”

What are the potential benefits of vaccine certificates?

It’s possible that the widespread use of vaccine certifications could help speed up the travel and tourism sector of many countries, an industry which has suffered immensely throughout the pandemic. It could allow travellers to explore international countries while bypassing quarantine requirements (most likely pending they have a negative result).

How do I prove my vaccine status in the meantime?

Because healthcare is managed at the provincial level, it’s unclear how you can prove your vaccine status if you aren’t given a certificate when you complete your vaccination. However, many provinces allow you to request your immunization records through the health authorities. In many cases, these records can be accessed digitally—but because of concerns around vaccine certificate fraud, it’s unclear if this would be enough for travel purposes.

Where else can I use a vaccine certificate?

Vaccine certificates will not only be for international travel—they can also be used throughout your local region in order to enter public spaces. There have been talks of Canadians getting vaccine certifications in order to attend summer concerts in 2021 and to enter places like bars and clubs once lockdowns are lifted.

New Yorkers, for instance, are now able to download an “Excelsior Pass”. Issued by New York State, users can get their QR code scanned to enter sports venues, concerts, and bars throughout the state. The code from the pass has their COVID vaccine information as well as all COVID-19 test results. Some universities in the U.S. are also asking for proof of vaccinations from incoming students for the fall semester 2021, so there is a possibility that these passes can be used for school, the workplace, or any space where people gather in large numbers.

What is a health pass?

A health pass is a digital app that captures a traveller’s health status (vaccinations, COVID test results) in order to assist them with entrance into a country or a public space in their home region. One of the current examples of a health pass is the new Excelsior Pass. The main use is to store testing data digitally, and the pass can expire once the results are out of date. They can also be used to capture vaccination status.

Health passes also allow travellers to keep all their health data in one place as well as streamline the pre-screening process for airlines and countries once travel opens up.

Who or what companies are providing them?

Several versions of COVID vaccine certificates are being worked on by airlines and technology companies.

IATA Travel Pass

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), an airline trade association representing 290 airlines worldwide, is one of the leading organizations developing a digital COVID-19 vaccine passport for travellers. The travel pass would inform passengers on what tests, vaccines and other measures they require before travelling, provide details on where they can get tested, and give travellers the ability to share their tests and vaccination results with airlines and border control when entering countries.

Both Etihad Airways and Emirates have stated they will start to use the digital travel pass developed by IATA to help passengers manage their travel plans and provide the airlines with proof they have been vaccinated or tested for COVID-19.

CommonPass

CommonPass is another being developed by The World Economic Forum and the Commons Project Foundation. It would allow travellers to access testing or vaccination information and generate a QR code that could be shown to authorities. They have partnered with several airlines, including Cathay Pacific, JetBlue, Lufthansa, Swiss Airlines, United Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic.

IBM Digital Health Pass

IBM has also been developing its own Digital Health Pass that would give individuals a way to present proof of vaccination or a negative test to access public locations. The company has also developed New York’s Excelsior Pass.

VeriFLY

Daon, headquartered in the U.S., has developed VeriFLY as a way to store necessary international travel documents in one app, which includes COVID tests. It is currently being trialled on transatlantic British Airways flights to the United States, and on some American Airlines international routes.

illustration of a man outside wearing a mask and in a wheelchair. a couple holding hands behind him.
Follow the discussion around COVID vaccine certificates for travel

Will a vaccine certificate for COVID open up travel faster?

In order to restart the global tourism industry, governments around the world need to be confident that they are effectively mitigating the risk of importing the COVID-19 virus into their countries. This means having accurate information on passengers’ COVID-19 health status, which vaccine certifications and health passes could provide.

Another point made in the discussion around COVID vaccine certificates is that they could eliminate the need for quarantine and testing on arrival when entering countries, a policy that is standing in the way of the return of international tourism. 

Which countries currently require vaccine certificates?

In recent weeks, several nations have announced that travellers can bypass some quarantine and testing requirements with proof that they have been fully inoculated against the COVID-19 virus. Many of the guidelines state that the vaccine must be one of the approved WHO vaccines, and travellers must present a “valid international certificate” to prove you’ve been fully inoculated.

Please note that the requirements for travellers vary from country to country, so we advise you to always check the latest local government guidelines before planning any type of travel.

  • Bahamas: Travellers to the Bahamas will no longer have to show proof of a negative PCR test to enter, as long as they’ve been fully vaccinated and it’s been at least two weeks since they received their last dose.
  • Belize: Travellers can enter Belize if they show proof of their COVID vaccinations from at least two weeks prior to departure.
  • Croatia: Has lifted their restrictions to vaccinated tourists, and travellers from outside of the EU will have to show proof of their hotel stay or any similar tourism activity. You can read the details concerning “third-country nationals” and entry requirements here.
  • Cyprus: Starting May 10th, Cyprus will open to travellers who can show proof of their COVID vaccinations.
  • Georgia: The Republic of Georgia was the first to accept fully-vaccinated travellers to the country back in February 2021. Travellers must enter via air.
  • Greece: Starting May 14th, travellers to Greece who’ve been fully vaccinated will be able to bypass any testing requirements.
  • Guatemala: Travellers can bypass any testing and quarantine requirements if they can show proof of their COVID vaccinations from at least two weeks prior to departure.
  • Iceland: Beginning March 18th, all travellers (regular visa requirements apply) can travel to Iceland if they can provide a certificate that they’ve been fully vaccinated against COVID -19 and/or a document of previous COVID infection. Certificates can be in digital or paper form.
  • Maldives: Beginning April 20th, travellers with their vaccine certificates won’t be required to show proof of a PCR test.
  • Malta: Travellers to Malta from ‘Amber list’ nations can bypass the current restrictions if they can show proof they’ve been fully vaccinated, which is to show a negative PCR test result 96 hours before departure.
  • Panama: Vaccinated tourists can enter Panama and bypass all testing and quarantine restrictions.
  • Seychelles: Vaccinated travellers to Seychelles won’t be required to quarantine, but they must still show proof of a negative PCR test from 72 hours prior to departure.

You can find out the latest countries open to Canadians as well as vaccinated traveller exemptions here on our travel restrictions page.

What are the current challenges?

There are many challenges when it comes to COVID vaccine certifications for travel. One of the main challenges is the ethics behind it. Some human rights groups have said vaccine passports could be discriminatory against those who have not had a vaccine.

Many countries have not yet begun vaccinating a majority of their population, giving an unfair advantage to those from other countries who’ve been given access to the vaccine. On the other hand, some believe those who have been fully vaccinated should have more freedom, including travel, if they don’t pose a health risk to others.

There are also concerns about the danger of categorizing individuals according to their health status, which could lead to a divide between the vaccinated and non-vaccinated.

Then there are technological challenges. Sales of fake negative test results are becoming more widespread, which is one of the reasons the industry is trying to develop digital passes that are secure. However, a digital pass brings up concerns about privacy and data sharing.

Lastly, all of the different health passes and apps being developed need to work with one another, or else they will not be helpful in an international setting. 

close up of a person holding their baggage at baggage claim with passport in hand at the airport
Your COVID vaccine certificate for travel questions answered

Will you need a COVID vaccine certification to travel?

As more people are vaccinated against COVID-19 around the world, there is also a possibility that more countries might soon require proof of the COVID-19 vaccine from travellers to enter without quarantines and testing.

The prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, stated in his address to the nation last week that “certificates of vaccination are a part of international travel to certain regions and are naturally to be expected when it comes to this pandemic and the coronavirus.” And, on March 31, 2021, the Government of Canada released a report on Scientific Considerations for Using COVID-19 Vaccination Certificates that outlines topics that they are currently discussing regarding certificates.

The CBC has also reported that the minister of intergovernmental affairs is working with international partners to develop a program to verify that incoming travellers to Canada have had their full doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

With that being said, we will likely continue to see rapid developments in COVID vaccine certifications for travel and the development of digital health apps in 2021. We will continue to provide you with up-to-date travel information about these topics so you’re ready to get out there when the world opens up again.

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