The New COVID-19 Vaccine Passport: Your Ticket to Travel?

June 29, 2021 Lucy Halse

As COVID-19 rates fall worldwide, countries are beginning to ease health-related restrictions and reopen their borders. Simultaneously, they are introducing “vaccine passports” to give individuals more freedom and flexibility to travel, provided they have been fully vaccinated or can prove full recovery from COVID-19.

Vaccine passports have historically been used to demonstrate vaccination against certain illnesses such as cholera, rubella and measles. In 2021, travelers can use vaccine passports to demonstrate vaccination against COVID-19.

Although some consider COVID-19 vaccine passports to be a ticket to freedom for international travel, many questions remain about their scope and application.

What is a COVID-19 vaccine passport?

COVID-19 vaccine passports are essentially health cards issued by participating countries. They are supported by governments, nonprofits, industry groups and airlines. Many are digital, but some countries may issue vaccine passports in paper form. A vaccine passport certifies that an individual has either received a full dose of COVID-19 vaccinations or has recovered from infection. 

Are vaccine passports mandatory?

COVID-19 vaccine passports are not currently mandatory. However, they can make travel easier for people who are planning a trip outside of their home country. Additionally, travelers should note that countries they plan to visit may still have COVID-19 entry restrictions or requirements in place. Therefore, it’s recommended to check for existing restrictions prior to travel. 

Is travel permitted for people who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine?

Since vaccine passports are not mandatory, international travel is still permitted for individuals who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine. Provided they meet all other entry requirements, people can still travel abroad. However, they may need to prove negative COVID-19 test results, recovery from the virus or abide by a country’s quarantine requirements upon arrival.

What are the advantages of a vaccine passport?

According to Jana Shaw, MD, MPH, Professor of Pediatrics, SUNY Upstate Medical University, vaccine passports offer health and even economic benefits for societies. The vaccine passports also provide qualified individuals with fewer restrictions when traveling abroad.

For instance, proof of vaccination can allow individuals to bypass regular COVID-19 requirements such as providing proof of a negative COVID-19 test or quarantining upon entry. 

What are the disadvantages of a vaccine passport?

Although many people have a favorable opinion of COVID-19 vaccine passports, according to Forbes, they also draw criticism from others. Some individuals are concerned with the risk of data breaches from the vaccine passports, as they contain sensitive personal information.

Others are concerned that the vaccines create a disadvantage for individuals who choose to not become vaccinated or cannot otherwise receive a vaccine. Additionally, COVID-19 vaccines are not universally accessible around the world, which may put some prospective travelers at a disadvantage.

Do all countries use a vaccine passport?

At this point, vaccine passports are voluntary. Countries are not obligated to require vaccine passports, but many are adopting use of them as an easier and more convenient way of screening travelers upon arrival. Recently, the European Union (EU) officially adopted the use of a COVID-19 travel pass.

The travel certificate takes effect on July 1, 2021. It is an EU-wide policy that allows citizens of an EU Member State to travel freely throughout the EU if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The EU COVID-19 vaccine certificate is a digital certificate that will be issued individually by each Member State.

As noted by the BBC, some countries are forming vaccine alliances to create reciprocal travel opportunities for citizens traveling between the two places. Israel, for instance, has a reciprocal travel agreement with Greece that permits fully vaccinated travelers from either country to travel to the other one. China also has a vaccine passport system for travelers. Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland are other countries that have announced plans to adopt a vaccine passport system for travel this summer.  

Are any countries opposed to using a vaccine passport?

While many countries have adopted the use of vaccine passports for international travel or are planning to do so in the near future, not all countries are on board with the plan. One is the U.S., which the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) reports will not be using a vaccine passport for travel in 2021.  

Where can I get more information?

Information about COVID-19-related entry restrictions and vaccine passports continues to evolve, and Envoy will provide more details as they emerge. You can also visit our COVID-19 Resource Center for complete information regarding current COVID-19 guidance around the world.

Envoy is pleased to provide you this information, which was prepared in collaboration with Brendan Coggan, who is the SVP of Global Services at Envoy Global, and Catherine Gillespie, who is a Supervising Attorney at Corporate Immigration Partners (https://corporateimmigrationpartners.com), Envoy’s affiliated law firm.

Content in this publication is not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult an Envoy-affiliated attorney or another qualified professional.

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