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 has reopened its borders to travel to/from Central America. Flights have resumed again between Canada and various countries, including Costa Rica, Panama, and Belize. More flights will open up to/from the region as winter gets underway.

But it’s not as easy to enter Canada as it used to be, especially if you’re unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.

Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated 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, they must also take another PCR COVID test. At this time, they will also receive a home test to take eight days after arrival.

After this, they must quarantine for 14 days, having filled in their place of quarantine in the app mentioned above. Canada is super-strict about quarantine locations, so read the requirements carefully.

Please note that these rules apply to Canadian citizens/residents for the main part. If you’re not a Canadian citizen or resident, and you wish to enter Canada while unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, there’s a chance you might be denied entry.

Vaccinated travelers entering Canada have it easier.

All vaccinated travelers (with the last vaccine issued at least two weeks in advance of arrival in Canada) must download the ArriveCan app mentioned above. They must fill in their vaccine details into that app, and also provide a provisional plan for quarantine should Canada deem them unvaccinated/partially vaccinated.

Vaccinated travelers must still take a Covid test taken within 72 before arrival, or present the results of a positive test taken 14-180 days before arrival. They don’t need testing upon arrival in Canada, but should be aware they might be singled out for a mandatory, random test when they do arrive. Equally, they don’t need to take the day 8 test.

Does all this sound complicated? It is. Canada has some of the strictest, most restrictive rules in the world about entering its borders. We strongly recommend visiting the government site for up-to-date details.

It’s worth noting that from October 30, anyone departing from an airport in Canada must be fully vaccinated. So it stands to reason that anyone returning to Canada after that date must also be fully vaccinated.

United States
All travelers entering the United States must show proof of a negative COVID before entering the country. This applies to everyone; U.S. citizens, non-U.S. citizens, vaccinated, partially-vaccinated, or unvaccinated.

The CDC recommends vaccinated travelers take another test three to five days after arrival, and self-monitor their health. Unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated travelers arriving in the U.S. are recommended to self test and quarantine for 7-10 days. These are recommendations rather than rules.

From November onward, the U.S. is opening up more to international travel, for vaccinated travelers only. This means, that although citizens from Central American countries have thus far been able to travel unvaccinated to the U.S., with only the testing requirements in place, they might well be required to be fully-vaccinated going forward. Watch this space.

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 October 2021, El Salvador, Honduras, and Panama are Level 3, while Belize, Costa Rica, and Guatemala are Level 4. Nicaragua is “unknown”.

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.


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

Since June, 2021. France divides the world into red, orange, and green countries. 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 or red country, or fill in the form. A red country (Costa Rica) is still a no go for unvaccinated travelers. Unvaccinated travelers wanting to visit a red country can only do so under “pressing circumstances” which doesn’t include a vacation.

Unvaccinated 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 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 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.

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.

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.

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 He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.