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A big change is coming for any travelers who want to come to the U.S., due to the pandemic.

USA TODAY

Countries have begun vaccinating citizens against COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean they’re letting their guard down – or opening their borders – just yet, especially after a deadly winter and the emergence of variants of the coronavirus in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil.

In the past two weeks, the United States has tightened entry restrictions. Visitors and Americans flying into the USA from abroad are required to present a negative coronavirus test taken within three days before their flight or show proof they’ve recovered from COVID-19 within the past three months. In response, a growing number of hotels in Latin America and the Caribbean have offered on-site testing to departing guests in an effort to discourage them from canceling trips to tourism-dependent areas.

“With the pandemic worsening and more contagious variants spreading, this isn’t the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Jan. 25 at a briefing, explaining the justification for President Joe Biden reinstating travel restrictions that had been lifted by outgoing President Donald Trump. Biden also imposed a ban on travel from South Africa.

After nearly a year of working from home and enduring lockdowns and travel restrictions, some Americans are eager to use their passports, despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advice against travel. 

COVID-19 travel restrictions by state: See testing, quarantine requirements

Which countries are safest to visit? Well, “safe” is a relative term. After all, compared with the U.S. tally of more than 26.4 million cases and 448,000  deaths, every other country has a lower infection rate.

We’ve focused on destinations open to Americans where new COVID-19 cases were generally declining and in the low-three-digit range (or lower) per dayfor the past month. Thankfully, travelers won’t have to go far since most are in the Caribbean. Though the countries don’t require tourists to quarantine, many require a negative coronavirus test.

We’ve noted each country’s travel advisory level from the U.S. State Department and CDC. The latter has classified many countries as Level 4, citing a high risk of COVID-19.

There are no European countries on the list. Most European Union countries have not reopened to U.S. residents (some that did, such as Croatia, have temporarily stopped or reinstated quarantines because of the winter case surge and virus variants). ScottsCheapFlights.com founder Scott Keyes bets that will change by this summer.

“I would be surprised if summer vacations to Europe did not happen this year for Americans,” he tells USA TODAY.  He says bargain hunters bent on going there need to investigate how flexible their airline and hotel choices are, given rapidly changing restrictions and circumstances. They need to be willing to book now but know the trip may not happen until later.

“Two things are true today,” Keyes says. “1. You can’t go to Paris. 2. You probably haven’t been vaccinated yet. But if you wait until both those things are no longer true and wait until they announce when they’re going to get rid of the travel restrictions, you’re not going to see deals, especially for summer travel.”

Destinations with low or declining COVID-19 case rates that allow Americans

Aruba

Visitors to Aruba need a negative coronavirus test and must purchase health insurance to cover the cost of any medical care while in the country. (Photo: sergey02, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Test required for entry? Yes. All visitors 15 and over must have a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test no earlier than 72 hours before their flight. Results must be uploaded at least 12 hours before departure. People who tested positive two to 12 weeks before travel but are no longer symptomatic are exempt.

Are there places to get tested before returning to the USA? Yes.

Other entry requirements: Visitors must fill out an embarkation/disembarkation card online and purchase mandatory Aruba Visitors Insurance, a measure the country says is designed to help cover medical expenses of up to $75,000 for visitors who test positive during their stay. Premiums vary by length of stay and age, with a $30 per-person charge for visitors ages 15-75 who stay for seven days. The insurance can be bought only online, which must be done within 72 hours of departure.  

Details: Aruba Tourism Authority

CDC travel advisory threat level: 4 (very high)

State Department travel advisory level: 3 (reconsider travel)

Current situation: The rate of new COVID-19 cases per day did not exceed 159 in January; see the most recent data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Bahamas

Americans who stay in the Bahamas for at least four nights and five days can use the result from their mandatory retest to reenter the USA as long as the test is taken within three days of their return. (Photo: tomalu, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Test required for entry? Yes. Visitors 11 and older must have a negative PCR test result no earlier than five days before arrival. 

Are there places to get tested before returning to the USA? Yes, there are testing sites available. If you are staying longer than four nights and five days, you can use the rapid antigen test provided under your Bahamas Travel Health Visa as your reentry test as long as it’s within 72 hours of your return.

Other entry requirements: A negative test result is required to proceed to the next step: completion of the Bahamas Health Visa application, which takes up to 48 hours to process and must be presented upon arrival. The application fee includes mandatory COVID-19 health insurance good for the duration of the tourist’s stay.

Details: Bahamas Ministry of Tourism

CDC travel advisory threat level: 3 (high)

State Department travel advisory level: 3 out of 4 (reconsider travel)

Current situation: The rate of new cases per day remained in double or single digits in January; see the most recent data from the WHO.

Belize

Visitors to Belize must book their stays at COVID-19-safe, state-approved lodging facilities. (Photo: Michael Conlin/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Test required for entry? Yes, visitors need a negative result from a PCR test within 96 hours of travel or select rapid tests taken within 48 hours.

Are there places to get tested before returning to the USA? Yes, the U.S. Embassy reports that results come back reliably within 72 hours. It lists several labs that provide same-day rapid test results and the cost for each.

Other entry requirements: Visitors must book their stays at state-approved Gold Standard establishments and download the Belize Health app.

Details: TravelBelize.org

CDC travel advisory threat level: 4 (very high)

State Department travel advisory level: 3 (reconsider travel)

Current situation: New cases per day remained below 100 in January; get the latest data from the WHO.

Bermuda

Visitors to Bermuda will be retested on Day 4, Day 8 and Day 14, depending on the duration of their stay. They can probably use their final test to satisfy a new CDC testing requirement on the way home. (Photo: Hamilton Princess Bermuda)

Test required for entry? Yes. Travelers age 10 and older must have a negative PCR test result within five days before arrival. They will be retested on Days 4, 8 and 14, depending on the duration of their stay.

Are there places to get tested before returning to the USA? Yes, and because Bermuda retests visitors on Days 4, 8 and 14, the final result could qualify as a reentry test.

Other entry requirements: A negative test result is required to apply for a travel authorization, which must be submitted 1-3 days before departure. Travel authorizations must be approved before departure. A PCR test will be given at the airport, and visitors must quarantine until they receive a negative result, generally within 24 hours. Visitors will be required to wear a wristband for the first 14 days of their stay. Removing the wristband could result in a $500 fine, home quarantine and electronic monitoring.

Details: Government of Bermuda

CDC travel advisory threat level: 4 (very high)

State Department travel advisory level: 3 (reconsider travel)

Current situation: In January, new cases per day remained below 20 in January; see the most recent data from the WHO.

Curaçao

To enter Curaçao, visitors need a PCR test less than three days old, a Passenger Locator card and adequate medical insurance to cover care incurred on the island. (Photo: Renaissance Curacao Resort & Casino)

Test required for entry? Yes, tourists age 7 and up need a PCR test from an accredited lab taken no more than 72 hours before departure.

Are there places to get tested before returning to the USA? Yes.

Other entry requirements: Visitors must complete an online Passenger Locator Card and keep the printout, as well as a hard copy of their test result, with them at all times during travel. Travelers must have adequate medical insurance to cover any care while in Curaçao. Anyone who does not fulfill these conditions will be quarantined at their own expense upon arrival.

CDC travel advisory threat level: Unknown 

State Department travel advisory level: 3 (reconsider travel)

Current situation: After a spike in December, Curaçao didn’t see 100 new cases on any day in January and generally stayed in the low double-digits; get the latest WHO data.

Details: Curacao.com

Jamaica

The rate of new COVID-19 infections in Jamaica has fallen to the three-digit range, but visitors must stay within the country’s “Resilient Corridor.” (Photo: narvikk, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Test required for entry? Yes. All visitors ages 12 and up from the USA and a handful of other high-risk countries must have a negative PCR or antigen test from an accredited lab taken no earlier than 10 days before date of travel.

Other entry requirements: Visitors must obtain a travel authorization, which includes a health risk assessment. Guests who stay outside the COVID-19-safe “Resilient Corridor” are subject to quarantine.

Are there places to get tested before returning to the USA? Yes. According to the U.S. State Department, travelers are responsible for costs of testing, which range from $60 to $100 for antigen tests and from $150 to $230 for PCR tests.

Details: Jamaica Tourist Board

CDC travel advisory threat level: 4 (very high)

State Department travel advisory level: 3 (reconsider travel)

Current situation: New cases didn’t exceed 200 per day throughout January; get the latest WHO data.

St. Lucia

Visitors to St. Lucia may stay only in properties certified by the government as COVID-19-safe and may leave their lodging only to participate in certified activities or patronize certified businesses. (Photo: oriredmouse / Getty Images)

Test required for entry? Effective Feb. 10, all visitors age 5 and up must have a negative result from a PCR test administered no more than five days before arrival, a change from the previous time frame of seven days.

Are there places to get tested before returning to the USA? Yes, the St. Lucia tourism site provides contact information for labs on its website.

Other entry requirements: Tourists 18 and up must submit travel registration authorization and health screening forms. Visitors may stay only in properties certified by the government as COVID-19-safe and may leave their lodging only to participate in certified activities or patronize certified businesses.

Details: StLucia.org

CDC travel advisory threat level: 4 (very high)

State Department travel advisory level: 3 (reconsider travel)

Current situation: Cases are on the rise, increasing from a few dozen per day in early January to more than 200 by early February; get the latest WHO data.

Saint-Martin/St. Maarten

Americans who visit St. Martin may run into problems trying to get a COVID-19 test result back within 72 hours of returning to the U.S. (Photo: Divi Resorts)

Test required for entry? Yes. To visit either the Dutch (St. Maarten) or French (Saint-Martin) sides, visitors need a negative result from a PCR test no older than five days before departure or a select antigen test no older than 48 hours before the flight to the island. Travelers may be subject to retesting at their own expense if they don’t have the correct type. Children ages 10 and younger are exempt.

Are there places to get tested before returning to the USA? Yes,the U.S. consulate has a list of labs to choose from on its website.

Other entry requirements: Travelers must complete an online health declaration form. Visitors must purchase COVID-19 health insurance. The fee is $30 for visitors ages 15 and up and $10 for children under 15 for visits lasting less than 180 days. Temperature checks are conducted at the airport.

Details: Government of St. Maarten and St. Martin Tourist Office

CDC travel advisory level: 4 (very high) 

State Department travel advisory threat level: 3 (reconsider travel)

Current situation: According to the World Health Organization, new cases remained in the low two-digit range per day for much of January on the Dutch side. On the French side, January saw stretches of several days with no new cases punctuated by others in the high double digits per day.

US Virgin Islands (St. Thomas, St. John, St. Croix)

The new CDC testing requirement does not apply to tourists returning to the mainland from the USVI since it is a U.S. territory. (Photo: sorincolac, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Test required for entry? Yes, all visitors age 5 and up need a PCR or rapid test result no older than five days (or an antibody test taken within four months if recovered from COVID-19) before travel to the U.S. territory.

Are there places to get tested before returning to the USA? The new CDC testing requirement does not apply to tourists returning to the mainland since the USVI is a U.S. territory.

Other entry requirements: Travelers cannot board a flight without a travel certification from USVITravelPortal.com.

Details: U.S. Virgin Islands tourism website

CDC travel advisory threat level: 4 (very high)

State Department travel advisory level: There is no travel advisory as the Virgin Islands is a U.S. territory.

Current situation: New cases per day typically did not exceed 40 in January; get the latest WHO data.

Contributing: Rasha Ali, Dawn Gilbertson

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