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These are the Central American countries US travelers can visit right now

July 21, 2021
12 min read
Beach in Cancun Mexico
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Editor's Note

This post has been updated with the latest available information.

Craving a getaway? Central America is nearby for U.S. travelers, and most countries in the region are open for tourism. This includes popular destinations like Costa Rica and Mexico. That said, entry requirements vary greatly throughout the region, so you should know what to expect before booking a trip.

In this article, we'll discuss everywhere you can go and what you should know before you depart.

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Belize — open, proof of vaccination or negative test required

Belmopan, Belize. (Photo by Getty Images)

Belize is now open to U.S. travelers, according to the U.S. Embassy.

Travelers arriving by air must provide one of the following items to enter the country:

  • Proof of being fully vaccinated.
  • A negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within four days of arrival.
  • A negative COVID-19 antigen test taken within two days of arrival.

If none of the above items are provided, a rapid antigen test is required, which will cost $50 in cash.

Also, travelers must book a “Gold Standard” hotel, according to the Belize tourism website. These hotels have received extra health and safety training and have been approved to welcome tourists. Proof of a Gold Standard booking will be needed when going through customs.

Take note that there is a nationwide curfew and that masks are required in many situations, such as when in businesses and riding public transportation. Restaurants and businesses in the country are mostly open with capacity restrictions.

The U.S. Department of State has issued a Level 3: Reconsider Travel advisory due to COVID-19.

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Related: 8 reasons Belize should be on your travel bucket list

Costa Rica — open, health forms and proof of insurance required

Costa Rica has reopened to U.S. travelers from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Those wishing to enter the country can enter by air or certain land borders and must follow a list of specific requirements.

National parks and beaches nationwide are open from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, according to the U.S. Embassy. Plus, businesses can operate between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. daily with capacity restrictions.

Related: Costa Rica is open to US travelers — and you don’t need a COVID test to get in

Surfers at sunset walking on a beach in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. (Photo by Getty Images)

That said, the country has some of the tougher entry requirements. Travelers must complete the following requirements:

  • Fill out the electronic health pass form before departure.
  • Produce a negative RT-PCR diagnostic test with results dated within 72 hours of departure to Costa Rica.
  • Show proof of traveler’s medical insurance, either purchased internationally or directly from Costa Rica through the National Insurance Institute or Sagicor.
  • For international insurance policies, tourists must request a certification from their insurance company, issued in English or Spanish, verifying at least the following three conditions:
  • Effectiveness of the policy during the visit to Costa Rica.
  • Guaranteed coverage of medical expenses in the event of becoming ill with the COVID-19 virus while in Costa Rica, for at least $50,000.
  • Minimum coverage of $2,000 for potential quarantine lodging expenses issued as a result of the pandemic.
  • Note that any emergency medical or dental coverage provided by credit cards such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve will not meet this requirement.
  • Have remained for at least 14 days in one of the countries to which Costa Rica has opened its air border.
  • Have no COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Of course, you’ll still need a valid passport to enter and proof of onward travel to exit Costa Rica to bypass tourist visa requirements for stays of 90 days or less.

The U.S. State Department has issued a Level 4: Do Not Travel advisory due to COVID-19.

Related: When will international travel return? A country-by-country guide to coronavirus recovery

El Salvador — open, proof of vaccination or negative PCR test required

You can visit Santa Ana and other major cities in El Salvador if you're vaccinated or test negative for COVID-19. (Photo by Henryk Sadura/Shutterstock.com)

El Salvador reopened for commercial flights to Oscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport (SAL) in San Salvador on Sept. 19. The country had been closed to international visitors since mid-March 2020 when the pandemic spread worldwide.

"Tourism is the industry that allows us to move around the world and we are focused on offering visitors the best destination experience, but above all, safe," said Morena Valdez, El Salvador's minister of tourism. "I invite you to cross borders and discover that El Salvador is an ideal place to visit, establish tourist operations, do business and live."

To enter the country, travelers must present either a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival or proof of full COVID-19 vaccination, according to the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador. The ability to enter with proof of vaccination is a relatively new policy, so the embassy recommends that passengers confirm that their airline has updated its own policies accordingly.

Local businesses are open with no restriction, and public transportation is operating.

The U.S. State Department has a Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution advisory due to crime and COVID-19.

Related: 7 destinations where you can be in 2 (or more) places at once

Guatemala — open, with specific entry requirements

Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. (Photo by Getty Images)

Guatemala is open to most travelers who follow the entry protocols.

Those wishing to travel to Guatemala must provide one of the following three things, according to the U.S. Embassy:

  • A negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test taken within 72 hours of arrival.
  • Proof of full vaccination.
  • Proof of recovery from COVID-19 within three months of travel to Guatemala.

Flights are operating to and from the country, and land borders are open. However, most travelers who have been in Brazil, South Africa or the United Kingdom in the past two weeks will be denied entry into Guatemala.

Travelers must pass through health checkpoints upon arrival, and those exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms might be denied entry into the country. Masks are required in most public places with fines for noncompliance. There is currently no curfew in the country, and public transportation is operating at 50% capacity.

The U.S. State Department has issued a Level 3: Reconsider Travel advisory due to crime and COVID-19.

Related: American Airlines debuts vaccine passport feature within mobile app

Honduras — open, proof of vaccination or negative PCR test required

The Honduras flag flying over the city of Tegucigalpa. (Photo by Manuel Chinchilla/Shutterstock.com)

Honduras reopened for tourists from all countries on Aug. 17. Entering visitors must complete a registration form from the government and present either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours before entry at the border. Foreigners who have been in or transited through the U.K. or South Africa in the past 21 days are restricted from entering Honduras, according to the U.S. Embassy.

The local health authority maintains the right to grant or deny final approval for entry based on their determination of risk of COVID-19 from any visiting travelers. Exiting travelers must also complete another pre-check form online and complete a health surveillance form, affidavit of clean health and customs form.

There is a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. in place until July 25. Thankfully, most businesses are open at 50% capacity, and public transportation is operating. Bars, nightclubs, gyms, sports complexes, convention centers, theaters and educational centers are currently closed.

Note that the U.S. State Department has issued a Level 3: Reconsider Travel advisory due to crime and COVID-19.

Related: Sweet Spot Sunday: Fly to Central America for 12,500 American miles or less

Mexico — open, no entry requirements

Visit Oaxaca and other Mexican tourist hotspots this year with few entry restrictions. (Photo by Kelli Hayden/Shutterstock.com)

Americans can travel by air to anywhere in Mexico with almost zero restrictions or entry requirements. The land border, however, remains closed to all but essential travel through at least Aug. 21, according to the U.S. Embassy.

The entirety of Mexico is now open to international tourists with no testing or vaccine requirements. You will be required to complete a health declaration form upon arrival.

There is a four-tier traffic light system in place that determines if businesses can open and gatherings can take place. The red tier signifies maximum restriction, orange limits capacity in public places to 30%, yellow allows businesses to open with "basic prevention measures," and green allows businesses to operate with zero restriction.

Tourists are strongly encouraged to wear their face masks in all social spaces, including on flights. However, firsthand accounts from TPG staff note that mask compliance is hit or miss.

The U.S. State Department has issued a Level 3: Reconsider Travel advisory due to COVID-19 and, in some areas, kidnapping and crime.

Related: 11 things you should know before visiting Mexico

Nicaragua — open, negative PCR test required

You can visit Nicaragua's many beaches so long as you have a negative COVID-19 test. (Photo by Bryce Jackson/Shutterstock.com)

Nicaragua never really shut down over the coronavirus pandemic, drawing censure from humanitarian organizations such as Human Rights Watch. Local reports claimed that the government actively discouraged Nicaraguans, including health workers and airport staff, from wearing masks.

The U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua states that a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival is required to enter Nicaragua. Additionally, travelers arriving from countries with a known yellow fever risk must present proof of vaccination against yellow fever. Travelers should be prepared for additional health screenings, although the embassy states that travelers are not required to produce any additional health documentation to enter the country.

Other than that, businesses — including bars and restaurants — remain open, and there is no curfew in place.

The U.S. State Department has issued a Level 4: Do Not Travel advisory due to COVID-19, and also notes "limited healthcare availability and arbitrary enforcement of laws."

Panama — open, negative PCR or antigen test required

Visit Panama City with a negative COVID-19 test. (Photo by Gualberto Becerra/Shutterstock.com)

Tourists can enter Panama so long as they bring a negative PCR or antigen COVID-19 test taken no more than 48 hours before arrival in Panama. Those who do not have a test can take one before airport customs for $50. Those who test positive are required to quarantine at a government-provided hotel for 14 days free of charge. All travelers must complete an electronic affidavit before check-in that states they agree to comply with COVID-19 restrictions and have not been in contact with a COVID-19-positive person in the past 14 days.

There are tougher restrictions for those who have been in (or transited through) South America, India, South Africa or the United Kingdom in the past 15 days. These travelers are required to take an $85 COVID-19 test upon arrival. If negative, they will be placed into a mandatory three-day quarantine at an authorized hotel. Then, the traveler will have to take another COVID-19 test on the third day of quarantine and can exit quarantine if the results come back negative.

Most of Panama’s requirements follow basic health protocols for COVID-19 prevention. Face masks are required on all forms of transportation and in public places. Travelers are encouraged to utilize electronic payment where possible, take advantage of hand sanitizer stations, submit to temperature checks by businesses and tourism operators, and use digital maps and menus to avoid cross-contamination through paper.

Most businesses are open in Panama, albeit at a reduced capacity. Restaurants are open and encourage reservations to avoid crowding. Further, there's a 50% capacity limit in shared vehicles and a 30% capacity limit on event spaces. Beaches are once again open for visitors.

The U.S. State Department has issued a Level 4: Do Not Travel advisory due to COVID-19.

Additional reporting by Jacob Harrison and Katherine Fan.

Featured image by A beach in Cancun. (Photo by SVongpra / Shutterstock.com)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
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Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

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  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
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Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023