What To Know About Traveling And Your COVID Vaccine Card

It's annoyingly larger than wallet-sized, but that doesn't mean you should leave your CDC vaccination card at home during a trip.
The rules are changing frequently and vary from destination to destination.
Blake Callahan via Getty Images
The rules are changing frequently and vary from destination to destination.

As COVID-19 vaccine access expands around the world, more countries have been opening their borders to international tourists. If our Instagram feeds are any indication, many Americans have been taking advantage of the opportunity to travel abroad again.

But given that we’re still very much living in a pandemic, international travel is inevitably going to look a little different right now. One new factor to consider is the all-important vaccination card.

Do we need to bring our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination cards abroad? What about domestic trips? HuffPost asked a few travel experts to share their insights and recommendations when it comes to travel and vaccine cards.

Do you need to bring the physical card abroad?

“Travelers should absolutely bring their physical proof of vaccination, like your CDC card, when traveling outside of the U.S.,” Victoria Walker, a senior travel reporter at The Points Guy, told HuffPost. “While carrying a photo copy of your vaccination proof on your phone is acceptable in some instances, we’re seeing destinations move away from this kind of verification to using apps or physical cards to demonstrate proof.”

Although there are a handful of countries that allow foreign travelers who have not been vaccinated, others require proof of vaccination to avoid quarantine, so it’s important to have that annoyingly-larger-than-wallet-sized paper card readily available during your journey.

And even if you travel to one of those countries that doesn’t require visitors to be vaccinated, you’ll still need to present proof of vaccination ― as well as a negative COVID test taken no more than three days before travel ― before boarding your return flight to the U.S. (Citizens who are unvaccinated must show a negative COVID-19 test result taken no more than one day before travel.)

Many destinations have digital vaccine verification processes that travelers must complete before departing.
d3sign via Getty Images
Many destinations have digital vaccine verification processes that travelers must complete before departing.

In many of these instances, photos of your card or digital vaccination verification might be accepted, but it’s best to have that physical proof as well.

“In the unlikely event your phone dies or malfunctions, the physical vaccination card will prevent you from delays to your trip or a quarantine,” said Phil Dengler, co-founder of The Vacationer. “Additionally, certain restaurants and other venues may require proof of vaccination with a physical card, so you should carry it at all times.”

What else do you have to do with it?

“It is important to read all requirements before traveling to a foreign country,” Dengler said, adding that he will be traveling next month to St. Lucia, where visitors are asked to carry their physical vaccination cards. “Some also ask you to upload a copy of your vaccination card to a portal before departing.”

Indeed, many countries and airlines have an online verification process in place and require travelers to share their proof of vaccination digitally ahead of their arrival. But with the evolving pandemic situation and countries’ changing policies, Dengler believes it’s best to be over-prepared.

“When traveling internationally, there is still a great chance you are going to have to produce at least one negative COVID-19 test, and that includes vaccinated travelers,” he explained. “Since the COVID-19 test is stressful enough for those who are traveling, I recommend being over-prepared for the proof of vaccination part. Use any digital certificates available, take a picture of your vaccination card on your phone, and bring the physical copy with you.”

“Always research the requirements in your destination before leaving home.”

- Molly Fergus, vice president and general manager of TripSavvy

Cheryl Nelson, a travel preparedness expert and founder of Prepare With Cher, recommends keeping your card in a sleeve to protect it.

“Don’t laminate it as you still may be adding to it with booster shot information,” she noted. “Like your passport, be sure to make copies of the front and back of the card and keep a spare copy in your luggage and at home.”

What about domestic travel?

Hawaii requires travelers ― including American travelers ― to upload proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test before flying to the Aloha State, but other states have not implemented such a stringent policy.

“City and state regulations vary wildly. Always research the requirements in your destination before leaving home,” advised Molly Fergus, vice president and general manager of TripSavvy.

“In New York City, for example, proof of vaccination is required to dine indoors, visit museums, attend concerts, or do almost anything indoors,” she added. “Out-of-state visitors can download the NYC Covid Safe app to store a photo of your ID and your CDC card. The app is considered sufficient proof of vaccination, and you won’t have to worry about losing your card.”

Still, Dengler advises bringing your physical vaccination card when traveling domestically just in case.

“While a digital copy or a screenshot may suffice in most situations, it is smart to have the physical card on you as another backup,” he said. “Your phone could die or malfunction at any time, which makes the physical vaccination card essential.”

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