Tourist travel restrictions / Photo by ConvertKit on Unsplash

What Happens When I Come Home? (A Guide to the Quarantine Requirements for Returning Travelers)

We’ve been talking for months about tourism in Central America during this pandemic. But we never focused on the requirements for travelers returning home from Central America. We’ll address that here.

It’s one thing traveling to Central America to explore our rainforests, beaches, and culture. The weather’s getting better and for the most part, our individual COVID curves are on the right track. But it’s something else altogether to face the prospect of travel bans or quarantines when you get home.

That’s the kind of thing to make anyone hesitate, no matter how tempting the prospect of some tropical sun can be after a terrible year.

Each Central American country has its own entry requirements and COVID protocols for incoming tourists. But one thing we often overlook is that so do most other countries, and these protocols can affect us as we try to boost tourism again.

It’s worth us, here in Central America, knowing which countries and regions are doing what.

Because this affects tourist flow as much as our own protocols, and determines factors like which airlines are coming in or not. And for their part, potential travelers need to know what’s in store for them when they return.

For that reason, we’ve created a guide to the rules governing travelers returning home to other countries. For the sake of this article, we’re only looking at North America and Europe. These are the regions from where Central America receives the vast majority of tourists. Travelers from elsewhere should check with authorities in their individual countries.

We’ll do our best to update this guide as and when info changes.

North America:

Canada
The first thing to know is that no Canadian airlines are flying to or from Central America at this time. Travelers can, technically, come to and from Central America through the United States for the time being (abiding by the United States’ own entry restrictions, of course).

All travelers returning to Canada must enter the country through four airports only: Montréal-Trudeau International Airport, Toronto Pearson International Airport, Calgary International Airport, and Vancouver International Airport. No matter where you’re traveling to in Canada, you must enter through one of these airports.

Travelers seeking entry to Canada must provide negative results of a COVID-test taken within 72 hours of boarding their flight. They must also download the ArriveCAN app and fill in the required info. Upon arrival in Canada, at one of the four airports listed above, they must also take another PCR COVID test. At this time, they will also receive a home test to take eight days after arrival.

Before that, though, they will have to stay three nights at a government-approved hotel while they wait for the results of this second test (the one taken upon arrival in Canada). If the test is negative, they can leave their hotel and go home. If positive, they must stay in quarantine. This hotel stay will be at the travelers own expense.

Travelers allowed to go home after their second test will still need to quarantine for 14 days. On Day 8 they must take the home kit test they were given upon arrival. If negative, they can then stop quarantining after Day 14.

From July 6, 2021 (well, 11:59 PM on July 6), Canada will allow fully vaccinated travelers to forgo the above quarantine and repeat-testing requirements.


United States
All travelers entering the United States will need to show proof of a negative COVID before entering the country. This was announced by the CDC on January 12, 2021. The Biden Administration has issued an executive order recommending travelers returning to the United States quarantine as per CDC guidelines. At this time, the CDC recommends a seven-day quarantine for travelers arriving with a negative COVID test.

In the meantime, different states can impose their own restrictions on travelers entering or returning to them, especially from countries deemed Level 2 or higher by the Center for Disease Control. As of June 9 2021, only Belize is below Level 2. Costa Rica and Nicaragua are Level 4 (“avoid ALL travel”), Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama are Level 3 (“avoid nonessential travel”), and El Salvador is Level 2 (‘avoid nonessential travel if you’re at increased risk of severe illness”).

Mexico and the rest of North America
There are no current travel restrictions or protocols for travelers returning to Mexico. If you’re from elsewhere in North America, please check with your individual country.

Europe:

For the sake of brevity, we’ll only count the “larger” European countries from where most travelers to Central America come from.

France
France has now divided the world into red, orange, and green countries effective June 9. All of Central America is designated “orange” except for Costa Rica, which is red. Orange means that non-vaccinated travelers need to present a valid reason to leave France, and fill in an “Exempted International Travel Certificate.” Vaccinated travelers do not need to justify their trip to an orange country, or fill in the form. A red country (Costa Rica) is still a no go for French travelers, vaccinated or not. Travelers wanting to visit a red country can only do so under “pressing circumstances” which doesn’t include a vacation.

French citizens and legal residents who have been in Central America (apart from Costa Rica) can still enter France. They need to take a PCR test within 72 hours of arrival in France or a rapid antigen test within 48 hours. They also need to fill in the International Travel Certificate. Without these measures, they won’t be allowed to board their flight into France.

Upon arrival, travelers need to present their negative test and travel certificate, and once home, quarantine for seven days. After seven days, they must take another COVID test.

Vaccinated travelers can forgo the quarantine, but still must present the tests and fill in the form to enter France.

Travelers from Costa Rica must take the tests as mentioned above (this time, both PCR or rapid must be within 48 hours) and fill out the Travel Certificate. Vaccinated travelers must then quarantine for seven days while non-vaccinated travelers must quarantine for ten days while “supervised by security forces” (whatever that means).


Germany
Travelers returning to Germany from Central America must present a negative covid test before board their plane – A PCR test taken within 72 hours or a rapid antigen taken within 24 hours. They must also fill out a Digital Registration on Entry form and quarantine for ten days.

Italy
Italy has broken the world into five categories, A through E. Right now, all of Central America is at E meaning arrivals back into Italy must present a negative COVID test (PCR only) taken within 72 hours prior to entry. They must also quarantine for ten days under supervision of health authorities. Arrivals must also call the COVID-19 hotline after arrival to inform authorities of their arrival.

Netherlands
Travelers returning to the Netherlands from Central America (Costa Rica excluded) must provide proof of a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours of boarding their plane (PCR) or 24 hours (rapid antigen). They’re then good to go.

Travelers arriving from Costa Rica, which is on the Netherlands list of “very high risk countries” must quarantine for ten days. They can take another test on Day 5 and end their quarantine if negative.

Spain
All travelers arriving in Spain must present a negative COVD test taken within 72 hours prior to arrival. No quarantine is required unless the traveler shows signs of illness at their airport health check. Travelers must also fill in the Spanish government’s FCS health control form.

Switzerland
The simplest way to explain returning to Switzerland is to look at the chart below from the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health. Right now, the only Central American country on Switzerland’s risk list is Costa Rica.

Switzerland accepts PCR tests carried out within 72 hours of arrival and rapid antigen tests within 24 hours. The quarantine period (if applicable) is ten days. You can find the entry form here.

United Kingdom
The UK is another country with a red, amber, and green system based on Covid risk. Right now, Panama and Costa Rica are both red list countries, while the other five Central American countries are amber.

All travelers entering the UK from Central America need to take present a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours before boarding their flight. The UK accepts both PCR and rapid tests.

Travelers returning to the UK from Central America must fill in a “passenger locator form” (within 48 hours of arrival) and if they’re coming from an amber list country, must quarantine for ten days at home. They will need to take another test on Day 2 and a third on Day 8 before ending their quarantine. Travelers coming from a red list country (Costa Rica or Panama) must quarantine in a hotel for ten days at their own cost, during which time they must take two Covid tests, on Day 2 and Day 8.

Travelers who fail to quarantine are subject to a £10,000 (approx. $14,100) fine. Those who lie on their passenger locator form about having been in a red list country are also subject to £10,000 fine or ten years in prison.

If you’re from another European country, please check on your own individual entry rules.

That wraps up our latest update on the restrictions travelers face when returning to their home countries from Central America.

We hope you found it useful. We’ll continue to update this as much as we can throughout the remainder of the pandemic.

James Dyde is the editor of www.centralamerica.com. He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.