Central America travel restrictions / SJO Airport, Costa Rica / Photo by Josue Isai Ramos Figueroa on Unsplash

When Will Central America Reopen? An Updated Guide to the COVID Travel Restrictions

Updated on March 23, 2021:

When will Central America reopen? An occasional country-by-country guide to the current guidelines during the COVID-19 crisis. Compare your Central American country to its neighbors. (And yes, although the original timestamp on this article is June 17, we’ve been updating it as things change since then.):

Belize (currently open):

Belize opened its Philip Goldson International Airport on October 1

All nationalities allowed to visit Belize before the pandemic are welcome again now, as long as they follow the following protocols: Provide a negative (PCR only) Covid test performed within 96 hours of arrival. Belize also accepts the results of rapid antigen tests, although they need to be taken within 48 hours of travel.  

Effective March 2, 2021 travelers to Belize can now forgo the above-mentioned Covid tests if they’re vaccinated. Note: Vaccination needs to have taken place at least two weeks prior to arrival in Belize.

So let’s recap that for clarity:

  1. You can provide a PCR test taken within 96 hours prior to traveling.
  2. You can provide a rapid antigen test taken within 48 hours prior to traveling.
  3. If you’re vaccinated against Covid (with either a one-dose or two-dose vaccination – only the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is single-dose at this time) and bring along an official vaccination card showing you received your vaccination at least two weeks prior to traveling, you can enter Belize without a test.

Unvaccinated travelers arriving without the test can (must) take a rapid test upon arrival in Belize at their own expense. This costs $50. Travelers who test positive upon arrival will need to quarantine for a minimum of 14 days at a government-approved facility. For this reason, Belize advises travelers to buy insurance, although it’s not mandated.

If the result is negative, they can carry on with their trip. 

Visitors need to book their accommodations in advance, staying in “Gold Standard” hotels.  They need to book these hotels before traveling and also download the Belize Health App so authorities can contact trace them while in-country.

Belizean citizens and residents no longer need to quarantine upon arrival, although they too, must download the Health App. 

Land borders with Guatemala and Mexico and maritime borders remain closed until further notice.

Guatemala (partly open):

Guatemala finally opened its La Aurora International Airport on September 18 and ended its State of Calamity on October 1.

There are no restrictions on who can enter Guatemala, except for travelers from the UK and South Africa as of December 22, 2019 (or, we should say, travelers who’ve been in the UK or South Africa 14 days prior to arrival in Guatemala). Everyone else can enter as long as they present a negative COVID-19 (PCR or antigen) test taken within 72 hours of arriving in the country.

Travelers fully vaccinated against Covid, with the final vaccine administered at least 14 days prior to arival can also enter Guatemala without a test if they have proof of vaccination with them. Also, if you’ve had (and recovered from) Covid within three months of arrival, you can forgo the test.

Guatemalan citizens and legal residents arriving without a COVID-19 test will have to quarantine for two weeks under the supervision of the Health Ministry. Tourists arriving without a COVID-19 test, proof of vaccination, or proof of recovery will be denied entry.

All travelers to Guatemala need to fill in an online health form before entering the country. 

Land borders with Mexico, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras are open, while the Belize border is closed.

Those entering Guatemala by land also need to provide either a negative PCR or antigen test. This test can be waived, however, if the traveler is only coming to Guatemala for 72 hours or less (applicable to Guatemalan citizens and legal residents only).

El Salvador (partly open):

El Salvador reopened its airport for visitors on September 19. Then on December 20 it closed its borders back down to travelers from the UK and South Africa, and to anyone who’d been in either country since November 21. 

The only requirement is a negative (PCR only) COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of arrival. People traveling without a negative test will not be permitted to board the plane. 

Citizens of any country allowed to enter El Salvador before the pandemic can enter again from September 19 (except for anyone who’s been in the UK or South Africa within 30 days prior to arival). 

Land borders with Guatemala and Honduras are open.

Honduras (currently open):

Honduras opened its international airports on August 17. Those who travel to Honduras need to register online with Honduran Immigration before boarding their flight. They will receive a confirmation email that they must print out and carry with them to Honduras.

They also need a negative (PCR or antigen) COVID-19 test issued within 72 hours prior to arriving in Honduras. Honduras also accepts travelers with the results of a rapid antibody test.

Citizens of any country permitted to enter Honduras before the pandemic are permitted to enter Honduras now. Travelers who’ve been in the UK or South Africa within 21 days of arrival in Honduras must quarantine for 14 days.

Anyone departing Honduras will need to fill in the same immigration form as they did when they arrived. Again, they’ll receive a confirmation email which they must print out and carry with them.     

Land borders with El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala are open.

Nicaragua (currently open):

Nicaragua is the one country in Central America that never truly closed its borders in the first place. There is no ban on entry to Nicaragua for foreigners, although most airlines have stopped flying into the country.

At this time, only Avianca and Copa are flying into Nicaragua. It’s less of a question of COVID-19 restrictions and more of one about onerous government requirements of the airlines. 

Anyone can enter Nicaragua as long as they have a negative (PCR only) COVID-19 test issued within 72 hours of arrival.

The land border with Honduras is open while the Costa Rica border remains closed.

Costa Rica (currently open):

Costa Rica opened up to some tourists and non-citizen/resident visitors on August 1. San Jose (SJO) and Liberia (LIR) airports are open, although land borders remain closed until April 5.

All countries can now enter Costa Rica. This includes all states of the United States.

Tourists entering Costa Rica from the authorized countries/regions need to fill in the online health pass and buy travel insurance to cover any COVID care they may need and any possible quarantine.

Tourists who arrived in Costa Rica after December 19, 2019 have leave to stay in the country until June 2, 2021. That date may or may not change. In the meantime, in order to stay until June 2, tourists staying in Costa Rica must buy insurance and provide proof of said insurance by emailing the policy to seguros@ict.go.cr.

Costa Rica is now the only Central American country to not require a COVID test to enter.

Panama (partly open):

Panama opened its borders to international travelers and tourists on October 12. On December 21, it banned entry to those who’d been in the UK or South Africa anytime in the 20 days prior to arrival in Panama. This restriction to travelers who’ve been in the UK or South Africa within the past 20 days is still in effect.

All travelers entering Panama (including citizens and legal residents) need to produce a negative COVID test (either PCR or antigen) taken within 48 hours of arrival in the country. Travelers arriving without this test will need to take a rapid test (antigen) at the airport at their own expense ($50). The results of this test will take 30 minutes, after which the traveler can pass through immigration. 

If the test is negative, the traveler will need to quarantine for a minimum of seven days at a government approved “hotel hospital”.

Land borders are now open.

This was just a brief overview of Central America travel restrictions during this pandemic.

We’ll keep this updated as and when situations change – and we know it’s an ever-changing situation. If you’re in Central America, please feel free to advise us in the comments of any changing regulations so we can stay as up-to-date as possible in real time.

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