Navigating the New Rules for Traveling to Open Countries

traveling to open countries next year

At this time of year, travel magazines and blogs are usually putting out their silly “Where to Go Next Year” lists and publishing headlines like “18 Hidden Gems You Must See in 2021.” So if nothing else, we get to avoid those darts-at-a-map picks. As we approach a new year, this time it’s about traveling to open countries.

Where can we even GO next year? And what hoops do we need to jump through to make it happen?

Some people aren’t going anywhere they can’t drive to, even if they’re able, and that’s understandable. For maybe the first time since the Spanish Flu, sitting around on your sofa every day might be the best way to keep from dying. (Though you might want to go outside and get some exercise regularly. Otherwise, you’re trading one health risk for another.)

For those Americans or Europeans with itchy feet, however, you will be able to get beyond your borders.

Which Countries Can You Travel To?

For Americans, this was an easy question to answer in the days before pandemic shutdowns. We could spin the globe and pick almost any dot on it. For Brits it was easy also prior to the Brexit mess still being sorted. You just pulled up the info for where you were headed, see if you needed a visa, and then worked it out. Often you could just see at a glance whether you could just land at the airport and waltz right through. For information on who needs to obtain a Singapore visa in advance, for example, check here.

traveling to Singapore

For now though, it’s safe to say the rules will be changing every month on where and where you cannot go, depending on your country of origin, where you’re actually traveling from, and whether the destination you want to visit is open to anyone or not. There are a few travel sites trying to keep up with this, but it’s a thankless job.

In June there was almost nowhere Americans could go after the government botched its response to the virus so badly. Then some Latin American countries joined Mexico in letting us in. Some countries were even letting residents of some U.S. states visit, but not others. At this point though, you can hit points on the map stretching from Tijuana to Santiago if you follow all the requirements to enter, despite the spike in cases. If you want to drive to Canada or travel to France, however, forget it.

Europeans have been able to travel freely to some places in Europe, while there have also been regional bubbles where citizens of neighboring countries could visit each other but ones from outside there were not allowed. Some of those have gotten stricter again as case numbers rise.

Some countries in Asia have opened back up, but with daunting requirements involving hefty travel insurance, deposits put into a bank account, plus mandatory quarantines. Thailand has already changed its rules twice and, based on past immigration history, they’ll do it a few more times in 2021. For now though, the one upside there is you can potentially stay for 270 days at a stretch, a big improvement on the former border run days. Now if only Indonesia would follow suit when they open so it wouldn’t be so hard to live in Bali as an expat.

What Are the Rules for Traveling to Open Countries?

The rules for entry for travelers wanting to visit a country vary a lot between, say, Costa Rica and Cyprus. There are a few general tendencies though that are more common than not.

1) You will need travel insurance of some kind. 

In the past, travel insurance was some “nice to have” purchase that people thought that maybe they should get. But half the time they would forget or not bother, thinking the risk of something happening wasn’t all that high. Now many countries are making it a requirement because they don’t want their medical facilities on the hook if you get violently ill. It’s also smart to have anyway since most policies also cover flight delays, lost baggage, and other non-medical issues. I have an annual policy from Allianz (one of our advertisers), but other ones with a good reputation include SafetyWing and World Nomads.

2) You will need to prove you are virus-free.

Apart from Mexico and a few other outliers, any country allowing entry from foreigners right now is demanding that you show proof of a negative PCR test within the past 48, 72, or 96 hours—the swab test, not the rapid one. Getting results that fast isn’t easy in a lot of places, especially in the USA, but it’s getting better all the time and some airlines/airports are stepping in to pick up the slack. Check the rules carefully: in some cases, you present those results upon arrival, other times it’s upon departure, which can impact how far you need to count back.

3) You will need to do what’s right for the common good

If you’re on a libertarian soapbox about it being your right to walk around without a mask while possibly infecting others, then you should stay home. Only in the USA is this a political issue rather than a science/health issue and it’s just plain illogical to try to fight this requirement and remain maskless. Entering with a mask on is the current equivalent of “no shoes, no shirt, no service.” You can’t light up a cigarette in a store anymore either because it killed people. So get used to this minor inconvenience and don’t be a whiny wuss.

mask up for traveling to open countriesYou may also have to give up some privacy: some countries require you to download an app that can track your location (like your phone already does unless you never use GPS). Your temperature will be checked regularly. There will be a limit to your spontaneity: you may be limited to hotels that have passed inspection for their health procedures and your tour company may need a seal of approval as well. Many of the countries that fought this threat effectively did it through constant testing, enforced rules, and thorough contact tracing. They’re not going to stop all that because you are coming from a country where your own president didn’t care how many people died.

This summary of the Costa Rica rules from a blog post on where you can travel in Latin America gives you an idea of your new checklist pre-vaccine.

To enter Costa Rica, you first have to complete the online “Health Pass” epidemiological form from the government. Upon arrival, you must show proof of a negative PCR test for the coronavirus that’s been administered less than 72 hours before departure. You also much show proof of travel insurance. This can be either a pre-approved Costa Rican policy from INS or Sagicor, or “an international policy that covers COVID-19 medical expenses of at least $50,000 and $2,000 for lodging.”

You must have remained in an authorized country for at least 14 days before travel, so no country-hopping before you get there.

4) In 2021, you might need a jab or two before you can travel

Once a working vaccine is widely available, it will likely become a requirement to enter countries like Australia and New Zealand that have had very few cases of this virus. Some airline execs have already predicted that this will happen and you can’t blame health officials for playing it safe and only letting in the vaccinated tourists. If you’re an anti-vaxxer, you may have to take whole continents off your wish list for a few years.

If all this seems too daunting, you can be forgiven for wanting to rent an RV and head out into the countryside. Travel is much riskier than it used to be if you’re visiting anywhere that’s going to involve crowds, especially inside crowds. The good news is, those places that were prime examples of overtourism are now places you can visit in a rare period of emptiness. Seeing Machu Picchu while it’s capped at 30% capacity is like going back in a time machine. I’d love to see the Grand Palace of Bangkok when it’s mostly empty or only share the Ankor Wat ruins with a few other people. We’ve got to find the silver lining somewhere…

It’s hard to know which places will be in play in 2021 for traveling to open countries, but where are you hoping to go?



  1. Veronika December 1, 2020
    • Tim December 4, 2020

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