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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 vaccine for COVID-19 rollout starts to accelerate worldwide, so is the discussion about 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? Will proof of vaccination be required 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 may change at any time. Always check the latest guidelines before booking any type of travel.

This page was last updated March 18th, 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 card 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. While these certificates are traditionally in paper format, some countries are starting to issue COVID vaccine certificates for travel in digital format.

Effective March 2021, China has launched an electronic COVID-19 vaccination certificate for its citizens planning any cross-country travels. The certificate would display the holder’s coronavirus vaccine information, as well as any COVID-19 test results. The nation of Estonia is working with the World Health Organization to develop a digitally enhanced International Certificate of Vaccination, or a “smart yellow card.”

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 certification requirements for 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
Will vaccinate certificates be required for international travel in the future?

How are vaccine certificates different from vaccine passports?

Vaccine passports have been conceptualized since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and are rapidly gaining popularity around the world.

Vaccine passports digitize individual countries’ paper vaccination certificates and testing information into internationally recognized passes, providing evidence to authorities that a traveller 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 is similar to the ArriveCAN app, which is being used by more Canadians in 2021 to streamline the arrival process at the airport.

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 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.

What is a Health Pass?

A health pass is a digital app that captures a traveller’s health status – such as recent COVID-19 test results – in order to assist them with entrance into a country or even a public space in their home region. 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 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.

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 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 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.

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 can provide.

In addition, COVID vaccine certifications can 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. 

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

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 begun vaccinating 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 countries might soon require proof of the COVID-19 vaccine from travellers to enter without quarantines and testing.

The European Union is working towards having a digital green certificate in place this summer that will facilitate safe and free movement during the COVID-19 pandemic within the EU. Nations like Denmark and Sweden have already stated they are developing a vaccine passport proving its citizens have been fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

However for Canada, no plan has been put forward yet. According to Global News, The Canadian government has not specified what they are doing in relation to vaccine passports for Canadians who have gotten their COVID-19 vaccines.

The prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, has echoed concerns that these could create unfair roadblocks for those who are unable to get vaccinated, but did say that a vaccine passport program could be implemented for international travel to curb transmission risk.

The CBC recently 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 vaccine passports rapidly gaining notoriety around the world, we will likely continue to see rapid developments in COVID vaccine certifications for travel and the development of digital health apps. 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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