Paper cards and mobile apps: Understanding vaccine passport requirements at home and abroad

Oct 12, 2021

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Vaccine passports are widely seen as a way to restart travel safely, and proof of vaccination is quickly becoming a requirement for cruises, tours and entry to certain international destinations.

The White House has said there will be no federal mandate for vaccine passports or plans for a vaccine database, so individual states can decide whether they want to roll out vaccine passports — or not. Some states have already introduced exclusive digital health passports with assistance from the private sector, while others have avoided or disavowed the concept entirely.

But this discrepancy means you may not be able to participate in activities such as indoor dining in destinations like New York City if you can’t show proof of vaccination. (New York will accept either a paper copy or a photo of your vaccination card, as well as a number of apps.) In a different state, those activities may be open to all regardless of vaccination status.

And now, some countries, like Singapore, have said they won’t even accept paper vaccination cards for entry. The fact that the U.S. doesn’t have a centralized digital vaccine passport like the European Union means that traveling is about to get even more complicated — if not impossible — for some Americans.

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Singapore city skyline at sunset. Photo by Pham Le Huong Son/Getty ImaIt’s

Singapore is reopening to vaccinated travelers, including Americans, beginning Oct. 19.

But there’s one huge caveat that travelers need to know: Singapore will not accept your paper vaccine card from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The only proof of vaccination accepted in Singapore at this time includes:

  • EU Digital COVID Certificates
  • National Health Service (NHS) COVID Passes on the NHS mobile app
  • Vaccination status on the BruHealth app
  • Smart Health Cards (SHC) by issuers in the United States and Canada on the CommonTrust Network

Smart Health Cards are part of the CommonTrust Network that verifies and tracks health data for companies and countries and are only issued in a limited number of states. Those states include:

On its website, the Singaporean government said it was “currently working” on accepting digital vaccination certificates by other issuers and that details would be shared later. For right now, it appears that if your state isn’t enrolled in the Smart Health Cards program, you will be unable to travel to Singapore.


California has launched a digital way to get access to vaccination records.

Unlike New York’s Excelsior Pass (more on that later), the vaccine record is not a standalone app. Instead, people vaccinated in California can enter their information such as name, birthdate and an email or phone number associated with their vaccination record. If there’s a match, they will be texted or emailed a link to the record in the form of a QR code.

But the state said the digital COVID-19 vaccine record isn’t a vaccine passport.

“You are not required to obtain a digital COVID-19 vaccine record,” the state’s website reads. “It is an optional means to obtain your COVID-19 vaccine information and is the digital version of your paper vaccine card. It is one of the options to show proof of vaccination. [California] will not be implementing a mandatory passport system ….”


Florida has taken executive action against vaccine passports, with Gov. Ron DeSantis calling the idea “completely unacceptable.”

But several cruise lines have moved ahead with requiring proof of vaccination for sailings departing from Florida, with Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line and Disney Cruise Line saying proof of vaccination is required to board.


(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

Hawaii’s Smart Health Card is a form of digital proof to access businesses and venues with COVID-19 vaccination requirements. If you’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine in the state of Hawaii, you can use the Smart Health Card if it’s been 14 days since your last dose.

The program is only available to people vaccinated in Hawaii, so you can’t use the program just yet if you were vaccinated elsewhere. According to a FAQ explaining the program, Smart Health Cards may be used in other states that issue or permit them.

In the meantime, as long as you can show proof of vaccination, out-of-state visitors can skip the mandatory 10-day quarantine that’s part of Hawaii’s travel requirements. And you still have options if you want to use a digital way to prove your vaccination or COVID-19 test status. The state is partnering with Clear’s Health Pass and CommonPass on digital health passes.


In early April, Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed an executive order banning any governmental entity in Idaho from requiring vaccine passports to receive public services or access facilities.

“Vaccine passports create different classes of citizens. Vaccine passports restrict the free flow of commerce during a time when life and the economy are returning to normal. Vaccine passports threaten individual freedom and patient privacy,” Little said in a statement.


Illinois will not create a state vaccine passport, according to its governor.

According to NBC Chicago, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said, “We want to make that available if it’s something people desire, “but otherwise it’s not something that we would require.”


Butte, Montana 2020. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

Vaccine passports won’t be coming to Montana. Gov. Greg Gianforte issued an executive order earlier this year banning the use of vaccine passports in Big Sky Country.

New York

(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

New York was the first state to offer a vaccine passport.

It partnered with IBM and used its technology to create the Excelsior Pass. If you’re a New Yorker, you can use the Excelsior Pass if you have been fully vaccinated in New York state, and it’s been 14 days or longer since your final shot. You can also use it if you had a negative PCR test administered in New York within three days or if you took a negative antigen test in New York in the previous six hours.

The app has been tested at major sporting events and other large gatherings where users showed their recent negative COVID-19 test or vaccination status as part of admission.

You’ll need to show proof of vaccination to participate in many indoor activities in New York City, such as dining indoors or attending a Broadway show. In addition to the Excelsior Pass, visitors can use the NYC COVID Safe App, the city’s vaccination record, or show their CDC-issued vaccination card (or a photo) or another official immunization record from outside New York City or the U.S.

Related: Your guide to vaccine passports


Texas Gov. Greg Abbott banned government-mandated vaccine passports in the state, saying that requiring them would “tread on our personal freedoms.”


Like several gubernatorial colleagues, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed a law banning the state government from requiring vaccine passports — but private companies can still require them.

Bottom line

State vaccine passports have been a huge talking point as travel continues to pick up. But not all states agree on using them, which means you may travel to one state using a vaccine passport and then another where their use has been banned.

What is clear is that the decision to leave digital vaccine passports up to individual states may complicate international travel for some people, as countries like Singapore only accept certain digital vaccination credentials.

Featured image courtesy of Clear. 

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