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News COVID vaccine certificates for travel: your questions answered

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COVID vaccine certificates for travel: your 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.

What are COVID vaccine certificates and how will they affect travellers? We have the answers below.

This is a rapidly changing situation and official guidance may change quickly, so be sure to check your local government’s advice prior to booking or planning travel. 

This page was last updated on 16 July 2021. To our knowledge, the information on this page was correct at the time of publication. For further, up-to-date information, please visit the UK government’s advice page.

What are COVID vaccine certificates for travel?

COVID vaccine certificates are being proposed as a way to open up travel.

A COVID vaccine certificate is physical or digital proof that you have been vaccinated against COVID-19. There has been a lot of talk about COVID ‘vaccine passports’ as one of the solutions being proposed to open up travel. However, the term is misleading: it refers to physical or digital proof that you have been vaccinated, as opposed to vaccine certificates which can be used for travel.

On 17 May, some international leisure travel began to resume to green list destinations, which don’t require any self-isolation on returning to England. The list is reviewed every three weeks, most recently on 14 July. From Monday 19 July there will be 29 territories on the green list in total. Mandatory quarantine and a ban on non-essential travel to the remaining amber and red list destinations still applies – and the whole system currently relies on pre-departure and post-arrival COVID testing, whether you’ve been vaccinated or not.

However, several countries have indicated that they plan to accept British holidaymakers if they can show proof that they have been vaccinated or have immunity against COVID-19. Also, from 19 July, fully vaccinated travellers won’t need to quarantine when coming back from amber list countries – but they will still need to take a pre-departure test and book a private PCR test on day two of arriving back home.

Around the world, inbound travellers already have to show proof of vaccination against some other diseases to enter certain countries. For example, many countries in sub-Saharan Africa require travellers to show proof of vaccination against yellow fever before they are allowed to enter. It’s possible that comparable requirements could be put in place for COVID-19.

The UK transport secretary Grant Shapps is advocating for international standards for vaccinated travellers heading to ‘green list’ destinations who show digital proof of vaccination, a negative test or proof of immunity at passport control.

Using the NHS England health app as proof of vaccination for travel

Vaccine certificates could enable travel to some countries.

Since 17 May, the NHS England health app has been available for use as proof of vaccination in order to travel.

For vaccinated travellers, this opens up the possibility to travel without having to take COVID tests on arrival in countries which have announced they will welcome vaccinated travellers without the need for additional testing. Madeira’s regional government and Spain have both stated that anyone who has had both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at least 15 days prior to arrival will be exempt from having to show proof of a negative test. The US (currently on the UK’s amber list) also relaxed entry restrictions for vaccinated travellers, in April.

The NHS England app won’t be able to prove negative test results, the government has said, although they hope to add this feature at a later date. And remember that the UK border still requires PCR testing rather than proof of vaccination, for entry. However, since 10 July Virgin Atlantic and British Airways have been trialling fast-track lanes at Heathrow border control for passengers from four select routes that can prove their vaccination status via the NHS app, CDC card, US state-level digital certification or the EU digital Covid certificate.

How can I get a digital COVID vaccine certificate for travel?

At the moment, governments around the world are working out how to allow people’s vaccination or immunity status to allow them to travel internationally. While the UK government has updated the NHS England health app to function as a way to show vaccine certification, the EU has rolled out its Digital Green Certificate to facilitate quarantine-free travel, since 1 July.

When can I use the NHS England app to show proof of vaccination for travel?

The NHS England health app can now be used as proof of vaccination against COVID-19, and has been available for vaccine proof to and from England since 17 May: the date that some international leisure travel resumed to green list countries.

Ministers in Westminster are working with Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland to make sure everyone in the UK can use the same technology.

What are the potential benefits of digital vaccine certificates and health certificates?

COVID vaccine certificates could potentially open up international travel more quickly.

At the moment, there is a lot of discussion amongst governments around the world and travel industry bodies about how the use of digital vaccine certificates, health apps and travel certificates could be used to open up international travel more quickly.

The use of digital vaccine certificates and health certificates has the potential to help speed up the recovery of the travel and tourism sector, which has been hit hard by COVID restrictions. They could also allow international travel without the need for quarantine. Domestically, the use of COVID health certificates has been discussed as a way to enable the return of large indoor events and mass gatherings without an increased risk of disease transmission, however the UK government is not currently proposing this.

In January 2021, the International Air Travel Association supported proposals for a pan-European digital green certificate, saying it would be ‘an important step towards giving governments the confidence to safely open their borders, and passengers the confidence to fly without the barrier of quarantine’.

How do I prove my vaccine status?

The NHS digital app can be used as a vaccine passport to provide proof of COVID vaccination status for English travellers. If you don’t have access to a smart phone you can call 119 to order a letter from the NHS that proves your vaccination status.

Where else can I use health apps to prove my vaccination status?

The UK government is currently investigating the use of ‘COVID status certificates’ to speed up the reopening of domestic venues. These certificates would record whether an individual has had a vaccination, a negative COVID test or has natural immunity to COVID after testing positive for COVID in the past six months. A trial in April and May looked at the use of COVID certification at several mass events. 

Potentially, such vaccine certificates could be used to allow people to enter pubs or concerts, but there’s no evidence that this will come into play.

What companies are providing health passes?

Health passes could be used to store health information for travellers.

A number of different companies and organisations are offering certificates to record COVID-19 tests and vaccinations, in addition to the NHS health app. Some of the main examples are given below.

Digital Green Certificate

On 1 July the EU released a health pass called the Digital Green Certificate or Green Pass, which provides evidence that a traveller has been vaccinated against, recently recovered from or tested negatively for COVID-19. It’s designed for all 27 EU member states, with a QR code to be scanned at border control. The EU wants to include some non-EU countries such as Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, and officials have revealed that vaccinated travellers from the US may also be able to visit Europe this summer.

CommonPass

CommonPass is an app developed by a non-profit public trust called The Commons Project in conjunction with the World Economic Forum. It’s been involved in trials at London Heathrow airport and with travel brands around the world, and is already downloadable in the iOS App Store and Google Play Store.

The idea behind CommonPass is that the app can store all of your health data, including COVID tests and vaccination records. Then the app can generate a QR code that can be scanned at border control to verify you have satisfied the criteria to enter the country, a bit like a digital boarding pass.

ICC AOKpass

The ICC AOKpass is a similar app to CommonPass. It securely stores your medical records using blockchain technology, and your health information is saved locally on your phone rather than in a central database. It’s being developed by a private company based in Singapore and is backed by the World Tourism Organisation of the United Nations.

IATA Travel Pass

The IATA Travel Pass is being developed by the International Air Transport Association, and it is broadly similar to CommonPass and ICC AOKpass. As with the others, the aim is to securely store information on vaccinations and tests, and provide it in an easily readable format. It is currently being trialled on several airlines, including Singapore Airlines, ANA and Qantas.

VeriFLY

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

Which countries have said they will accept COVID vaccine certificates?

Cyprus was the first EU country to say it would potentially abolish quarantine for travellers who could prove they had been vaccinated against COVID.

Cyprus was the first EU country to say it would potentially abolish quarantine for travellers who could prove they had been vaccinated against COVID.

Several countries have declared they will potentially accept tourists without the need for quarantine if they can prove they have received the COVID vaccine.

  • Barbados has welcomed vaccinated travellers since 8 May, although all arrivals still have to take two PCR tests
  • Belize was the first Central American country to welcome vaccinated travellers with no need for testing
  • Croatia is open to travellers who can present a COVID-19 vaccine certificate 
  • Cyprus has allowed vaccinated British travellers without quarantine since 1 May
  • Estonia has been open to quarantine-free travel for vaccinated holidaymakers since February
  • France is open to UK travellers who have been fully vaccinated, but quarantine and testing measures are in place for non-vaccinated arrivals
  • Greece does not require testing or quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers – just a Passenger Locator Form
  • Iceland has been open to vaccinated travellers since 6 April, although testing and a short quarantine on arrival is mandatory
  • Israel began to welcome fully vaccinated tourists from 23 May, but in small tour groups at first
  • Poland is waiving quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers
  • Portugal doesn’t require fully vaccinated arrivals to test or quarantine on arrival
  • Seychelles has dropped quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated arrivals.

What are the current challenges?

When it comes to COVID vaccine certificates and digital health certificates, the main problem at the moment is that airlines, countries and travel organisations will have to agree on common standards and practices.

And while many countries are beginning to open their borders to vaccinated travellers, these countries still need to be put on the UK government’s green list for leisure travel, in order for British travellers to go there on holiday. 

There are also some ethical concerns tied up with the idea of digital vaccine certificates. Some have raised privacy concerns over the sharing of health data through apps, and others are worried that the whole idea of only permitting travel for people who have been vaccinated is discriminatory, for example against people with allergies, pregnant women or young people who haven’t been vaccinated yet. Then there’s the potential for discrimination if these certificates are only accessible on certain kinds of smart phone. Some industry experts have called to make COVID testing for travel free or subsidised, in order to address this.

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