These are the Central American countries US travelers can visit right now
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Editor’s note: This post was updated with new information on Guatemala
Craving a getaway? Central America is nearby for U.S. travelers, and some popular destinations have reopened for travel.
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Here’s where you can go, and what you should know.
Belize — open, with PCR test requirements
This popular tourist destination has reopened for foreign visitors after a false start earlier in the summer due to a resurgence of COVID-19 cases worldwide. As of Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, Belize began welcoming tourists from all around the world.
The local economy is heavily reliant on tourism, and the nation of more than 383,000 residents has only had 2,619 cases of coronavirus — a 0.7 percent infection rate — as of mid-October 2020, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers who have tracked global cases since the start of the worldwide pandemic.
Travelers should expect the following protocols and requirements in place:
- Obtain a certified negative PCR COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of departure
- Book approved lodging from this list of hotels
- Wear face masks when traveling to the departure airport
- Wear face masks and practice physical distancing at the departure airport
- Download and verify information on Belize Health App at least 72 hours before departure
On the plane
- Wear a face mask while on the plane
- Practice social distancing to the extent possible
- Continue to wear face masks and practice physical distancing
- Get a health screening
- Check-in daily on health app
Depending on the discretion of local health authorities, entering travelers may still be asked to take a second rapid test upon arrival in Belize, at the visitor’s expense. Travelers must stay within Belize’s approved “safe corridors” for tourists to keep visitors isolated from most local residents for everyone’s safety.
Costa Rica — open, with PCR test requirements and some restrictions
Costa Rica has been a tricky destination for U.S. travelers. Some people are allowed in, while others are subject to heightened scrutiny. It all depends on which state you come from, due to the vastly different health metrics, infection rates and safety protocols from state to state. This small country is one of the few in the world that has implemented guidelines governing visitors from individual U.S. states.
But that all changes on Nov. 1, 2020, when Costa Rica will once again welcome visitors from all 50 states.
Travelers from the following green-lit countries are allowed into Costa Rica on the following schedule:
- United States: Residents of Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Arizona, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Wyoming, California and Ohio
- By Oct. 15: Residents of Florida, Georgia and Texas
- By Nov. 1: All U.S. citizens and residents
- Canada: All citizens and residents
- Mexico: All citizens and residents
- The European Union Schengen Zone: All citizens and residents
- United Kingdom: All citizens and residents
- South America: Citizens and residents of Uruguay
- The Caribbean: Citizens and residents of Jamaica
- Asia: Citizens and residents of Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, and the People’s Republic of China
- Oceania: Citizens and residents of Australia and New Zealand
Costa Rica has stringent criteria for all travelers entering the country’s three international airports: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO), Daniel Oduber Quirós Airport (LIR) and Tobías Bolaños Airport (SYQ).
Travelers must complete the following requirements:
- Fill out the electronic epidemiological 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 pandemic COVID-19 virus while in Costa Rica, for at least $50,000
- Includes 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
El Salvador — open, with PCR test requirements and other safety concerns
The country of El Salvador reopened for commercial flights on Sept. 19, to Óscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport (SAL) in San Salvador. The country had been closed to international visitors since mid-March 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.”
Along with a number of other countries, El Salvador recently qualified to use the world’s first global safety and hygiene stamp, which certifies that participating destinations around the world have adopted standardized global health and hygiene protocols to help tourists experience safe travels.
The U.S. State Department maintains a Level 3: Reconsider Travel advisory for this small Central American country due to a heightened risk of kidnapping, terrorism and other violent crimes outside of COVID-19 concerns.
- Produce a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arrival
- Wear face masks and practice social distancing in all public settings, including at the airport
Guatemala — open, with test requirement
Guatemala reopened to neighbors Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Belize in mid-September, and according to the embassy, U.S. travelers are being allowed as of Oct. 5.
The U.S. embassy in Guatemala says on their website that, “Arriving passengers age 10 and over must present a negative COVID-19 PCR or Antigen test conducted no earlier than 72 hours prior to arrival, and must also complete a Heath Pass, available at https://sre.gt. Any non-resident foreigners presenting symptoms of COVID-19 upon arrival may be denied entry to Guatemala.”
Current protocols for entering travelers requires officials at borders to confirm the visitor’s negative coronavirus test result, conducted within 72 hours of travel time. Travelers arriving at La Aurora Airport (GUA) who cannot provide recent, negative test results must undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine under supervision by authorities from the Ministries of Public Health and Social Assistance.
Travelers must pass through health checkpoints upon entry, and soldiers are enforcing the mandatory use of masks, which has been the policy throughout Guatemala since the beginning of the pandemic.
Honduras — open, with PCR test requirements
Honduras reopened for tourists from all countries on August 17. Entering visitors must complete a registration form from the government, and have proof of a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of travel time. They will also be required to sign an affidavit and complete customs. Masks are required in all public spaces.
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, as well as complete a health surveillance form, affidavit of clean health and customs form.
U.S. flights enter Roatan (RTB) via Miami and Dallas through American Airlines; Atlanta on Delta; Houston on United; Miami, Tampa, and New York on Cayman Airways.
Mexico — tourist destinations are open, with minimal restrictions
Is Mexico open to U.S. travelers? It’s complicated. Many popular tourist destinations such as Cancun are wide open for tourists, with wildly discounted airfares available round trip, yet land borders between the U.S. and Mexico remain closed through at least Oct. 21.
You won’t need a negative PCR test result to enter Cancun, although you will be asked to fill out additional health information and pass through a quick health checkpoint.
While tourists are strongly encouraged to maintain their face masks in all social spaces, including on flights, firsthand accounts from TPG staff and travelers have reported that flight attendants occasionally struggle to enforce mask-wearing from recalcitrant passengers, and some vacationers go mask-free on beaches and in resorts. So until a vaccine is available, visitors to Mexico should calculate their own risk, speak with their doctors about potential exposure and health risks to themselves and others, and plan travel accordingly.
Nicaragua — open, with PCR test requirements
Unlike many countries in the world, 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, airport staff, and policemen, from wearing masks.
The U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua states that the Nicaraguan government has yet to officially impose any domestic travel restrictions or national quarantine policies as of Oct. 13. The embassy also states that U.S. travelers are allowed to enter Nicaragua, and a negative COVID-19 test result is required for entry. Travelers should also be prepared for additional health screenings although the embassy states that, officially, travelers are not required to produce any additional health documentation to enter or exit Nicaragua unless they are traveling from a country with known yellow fever risk.
Panama — open, with PCR or antigen test requirements
Panama reopened to travelers on Oct. 12, 2020, along with one of the most comprehensive reopening guides. Local health precautions appear to be just as thorough.
Rules and regulations in Panama
Most of Panama’s requirements follow basic health protocols for COVID-19 prevention. Face masks are required on all forms of transportation, and travelers are encouraged to wash hands, sanitize belongings frequently, cover nose/mouth with the crook of their arms when sneezing or coughing, and so forth, and visitors should expect stringent enforcement of all compliance by local officials. Travelers are also encouraged to utilize electronic payment where possible, take advantage of free hand sanitizer stations, submit to temperature checks by businesses and tourism operators, and to use digital maps and menus where possible in order to avoid cross-contamination through paper.
Additionally, many of Panama’s beaches remain closed to prevent crowding and spread of infection.
Travelers are encouraged to stay within a “social bubble” limited to their travel companions throughout the duration of their stay, as much as possible.
Restaurants are encouraged to accept reservations ahead of time in order to avoid crowds, and all tables must be separated at a socially distanced metric of six feet in each direction. Condiments will be offered in individual package sizes, and no buffets will be open. Menus will either be offered in stand form or digitally through the use of QR codes, and hand sanitizer will be available at the table or in high-traffic areas.
Tours and tour sites will be limited to 50 percent capacity in shared ground transportation vehicles such as cars and buses, and venues are limited to 30 percent capacity and a maximum four people per table. Capacity at the marina is reduced to 25 percent of full capacity to avoid crowds.
Panama has implemented stringent protocols for hotel and public safety. All hotel reception areas will have physical separation barriers such as protective glass or acrylic sheets, while lobbies and waiting rooms will be cleaned three times per day and elevators must be cleaned and disinfected every two hours. Everyone must comply with the maximum capacity limits on elevators, and wait for the next car if the limit has been reached. Hotels can no longer serve food buffet-style; only a la carte in hotel restaurants or via room service.
Travelers must comply with the following requirements:
- A negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test result taken within 48 hours of arrival time in Panama
- Completed electronic affidavit of health, agreeing to comply with all local health and sanitation requirements as outlined by the Ministry of Health of Panama; providing information regarding local addresses or whereabouts; and confirmation that the traveler has not been sick or exposed to someone with COVID-19 within the last 14 days. (The affidavit will be available beginning Saturday, Oct. 10, and can be found here)
- Health insurance is not a requirement for entry, but is highly recommended.
Upon arrival, travelers should expect:
- To wear surgical face masks throughout the airport except for momentary identification at security and immigration checkpoints. All face masks must be in optimal condition, and worn properly to cover both mouth and nose. Wet, dirty, or damaged masks must be replaced as soon as possible.
- Respect social distancing guidelines of six feet or more between people from different households
- Any PCR test results that are older than 48 hours by arrival time in Panama will require a second COVID-19 test to be administered at Panama’s Tocumen International Airport (PTY) at the traveler’s cost — about $30 to $50.
- If the rapid test results come back positive, the Panamanian government will quarantine the traveler at no cost to the visitor, for seven days, after which an antigen rapid test will be administered. If it comes back negative, the traveler can carry on but if it returns positive, then the traveler will remain in quarantine until the next result returns negative.
Featured photo is Iguazu National Park on the border of Panama, Brazil and Argentina. (Photo by SamyStClair/Getty Images)
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