Airlines reimpose ticket-change fees. Countries' COVID-related entry requirements.

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 4 of the July 2021 issue.
A Hoffman’s two-toed sloth — Costa Rica.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 544th issue of your monthly worldwide travel magazine, keeping you abreast of your travel possibilities… and of travel news you might find of interest.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, many US airlines, including all of the big three (American, United and Delta), made it possible for travelers to change all tickets or get refunds without having to pay fees. This was especially appreciated by people whose plans were constantly changing, especially for international travel, due to the evolving situation on the ground.

Unfortunately for travelers, in May of this year, most airlines reestablished change fees and cancellation fees in some fare classes on both domestic and international flights. As of June 1, tickets purchased from any US airline in basic economy class (or whatever the lowest-fare class is called by that airline) are subject to these fees again or, in some cases, the tickets are simply entirely non-changeable or non-refundable. Just like old times!

Clearly, airlines are sensing that people are traveling with more confidence and that border-crossing rules are, or are soon to be, more clear and dependable. With fewer people unsure whether they will be able to travel, fewer will need to rely on open-ended tickets.

Count it as a lose/win. While airlines are reintroducing the fees and penalties of pre-pandemic days, it’s a sign that things are getting back to normal!

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic is still a concern in most places. Fortunately, the number of vaccinated people is increasing, and countries around the world are beginning to slowly open up to travelers, with varying levels of restrictions and rules.

ITN thought it would be helpful to have a general idea of where people can and cannot travel at the moment and, loosely, what each country’s COVID-related entry requirements are, so we did some research. Since most ITN subscribers live in the US, the following information is specific to Americans, though much of it will also apply to our subscribers in other countries.

Of course, the regulations and restrictions are continuing to change, so look at this roundup of rules as simply a snapshot in time, but, using information gleaned from the US Department of State and US embassies — and including every country and nonsovereign territory that could be found by searching on the State Department’s travel website following are COVID-related entry requirements for leisure travelers as posted on May 14, 2021:

(Just a note before I move on — at press time, anyone entering the US, including any returning US citizen, had to present proof of a negative result on a COVID-19 test taken no more than 72 hours before arrival.)

The following countries have no COVID-related restrictions for entry at all: Albania, Bahrain, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Kosovo, Liberia, North Macedonia and Philippines. (Although Kosovo and Philippines will allow anyone to enter the country, those without proof of a negative test will be required to quarantine.)

US travelers who present a negative test can visit the following countries and nonsovereign territories WITHOUT needing to quarantine: Armenia, Aruba, Belarus, Benin, Bermuda, Bonaire, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Belize, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cape Verde, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Curaçao, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, eSwatini, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lesotho, Malawi, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, Mozambique, Namibia, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, the Bahamas, Togo, Turkey, Turks & Caicos, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The following countries and nonsovereign territories are allowing US travelers to visit with proof of a negative COVID-19 test; however, a quarantine is mandatory: Angola, Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Bolivia, British Virgin Islands, Cambodia, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Colombia, Cuba, Northern Cyprus, Dominica, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Gabon, Grenada, Honduras, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Lebanon, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Peru, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Saba, São Tomé & Príncipe, Solomon Islands, South Korea, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, St. Lucia, Saint-Martin/Sint Maarten, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Taiwan, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, The Gambia, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.

Thailand is allowing US travelers with negative COVID tests into six of its states, but whether or not a quarantine is required depends on which state is being visited.

Though India is allowing Americans to enter with negative test results, the US government has banned all flights to and from India and is denying entry to anyone who has been there in the last 14 days, regardless of what country they are coming from.

Saudi Arabia is admitting US travelers with negative tests but not directly from the US. Each visitor has to first spend 14 days in any one of a bunch of approved countries before being allowed in.

The following countries are open to vaccinated travelers only (and in certain cases also require proof of a negative COVID test): Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Iceland, Israel and St. Kitts & Nevis. (More countries are expected to be added to those this summer.)

On May 19, a spokesperson for the European Union stated that, by late May, it expected its 27 member states to open to travelers under certain conditions, though a few EU countries had already been at least partially open. At press time, however, many EU countries were reporting that they would not revisit border openings until at least June 9. Those EU countries that are open to Americans are listed above.

It should be noted that each nation in the EU sets its own border rules, so, depending on the country, there may be additional requirements and restrictions that will still prevent US travelers from entering at all. Also, for those countries in Europe not allowing US travelers to enter, a traveler cannot travel to a neighboring country that is allowing Americans in and then cross by land. Travelers attempting to do that will be stopped at the border.

The following countries and nonsovereign territories CANNOT be visited by American leisure travelers: Anguilla, Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Comoros, French Polynesia, Guadeloupe, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Libya, Switzerland, Macau, Madagascar, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Martinique, Mauritius, Micronesia, Montserrat, Morocco, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Norway, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, Russia, Samoa, Saint-Barthélemy, Sint Eustatius, Suriname, Tonga, Trinidad & Tobago, Tuvalu, Uruguay and Vietnam.

Four countries’ land borders are closed and all flights in or out have been suspended because of COVID, but they will allow US travelers to enter once they reopen: Algeria, Bangladesh, Kiribati and Timor-Leste.

The border status of some countries is unclear. For example, Andorra, San Marino and Vatican City are not members of the EU, but their borders are controlled by EU countries, so presumably they are following the rules of those countries.

Likewise, Liechtenstein’s borders are controlled by the non-EU-member Switzerland, so it probably won’t open again until Switzerland does.

Nauru is allowing Americans in, but the only flight to the island is from Australia, which is completely closed to Americans, even those just transiting.

The Cayman Islands, Singapore and Mongolia might let Americans in, but the application instructions were not available from the US State Department at press time.

Laos is not processing new visa applications, but anyone with a valid visa already in their passport apparently can go there.

When ITN compiled this list, the State Department was not providing concrete COVID-entry information for four countries with which the US has no diplomatic relations: North Korea, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen. There also was no, or there was conflicting, information on traveling to Afghanistan, Bhutan, Sierra Leone and Vanuatu.

Note that it’s not just border closures that travelers have to be aware of at this time. There have been other changes as well. Some countries that previously could be visited visa-free, or even with a visa-on-arrival, now require prior permission to enter, even just for tourism.

As I mentioned, COVID-linked entry requirements around the world are subject to change on short notice. It’s important to check with the US Department of State or with an embassy or consulate of any country you wish to visit before making plans.

A CORRECTION to note —

We had a “Travelers’ Intercom USA” page in last month’s issue and it included the letter “Alaska Adventures” by subscriber Steven Sugar. Unfortunately, a typo placed him in the wrong state. He lives in Tenafly, New Jersey. ITN apologizes for the error.

Last month, I passed along an info request from your fellow ITN subscriber Joaquin Ho of Orlando, Florida: “What dishes or types of food have you enjoyed most on your travels and what was it that you liked about each?” Tell us about some of your favorites (outside of the US) plus where you found them and approximately when.

Email or write to Favorite Foods, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Include the address where you receive ITN (or your billing address).

• Randy Keck’s “Far Horizons” column is not in this issue, but I am taking on his request for tips on Travel Etiquette. Share a cultural insight about a particular destination that you were surprised to learn while researching your trip or about which, during your trip, you ended up saying, “I wish I’d known.”

For example, in Islamic households, it is considered offensive to expose the soles of your shoes or feet to anyone, so try to keep them both firmly on the floor, and do not point at anything with your foot.

Send your cultural etiquette tips to ITN at the address above (and include your address). Let’s all be sure we’re on our best behavior when we’re invited back overseas.