Why I ‘broke’ quarantine in Chile — and what it’s like entering the country now
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With COVID-19 travel restrictions constantly in flux, even the best-laid plans can go awry.
In the days leading up to a dream trip to Chile, the rapid spread of the omicron variant — especially in the New York City area — put my entire journey at risk.
But ultimately, omicron proved to be less of a concern than expected. That’s because my entry into Chile was marred not by the pandemic, but rather by an administrative issue that generated an incorrect vaccination status on my mobility pass to enter and travel around the country.
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Due to that, and unbeknownst to me, the country’s vaccine database indicated that I should quarantine for seven days upon arrival, which would render my entire eight-day trip moot. Yikes.
Luckily, that’s not what ended up happening. Here’s what transpired with my entry into Chile, how and why I technically “broke” quarantine and what you’ll want to look out for if traveling here is on your agenda.
A bit of background
As a fully vaccinated U.S. traveler with a negative COVID-19 test result on arrival, I should have been free to roam around Chile. Yet throughout my travels, an incorrect vaccination status proved to be a thorn in my side.
Thankfully, I was still able to undertake a journey within the country (and had an incredible time doing so), but it wasn’t without some stress along the way.
Before we get into my specific saga, though, let’s walk through Chile’s COVID-19 requirements.
Overview of Chile’s entry requirements
There are several steps to take to gain entry into Chile as an international visitor, and you’ll want to get started on them as soon as you have firm trip plans since it can take some time for everything to process. While these access requirements are accurate as of publication, you’ll want to check for the latest information here.
To travel freely within Chile, you must be fully vaccinated. The online process to have your vaccination status verified by the country’s health ministry prior to arrival can take up to 30 days (but anecdotally, it is much shorter).
You’ll also need a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure along with a travel health insurance plan with a minimum of $30,000 in coverage.
What’s more, you’re required to fill out a “traveler’s affidavit” form within 48 hours of departure. This is where you’ll upload your negative PCR test and travel insurance information online.
While your pre-arrival checklist may be complete, there are still a couple of requirements once you land in Santiago.
First, you’ll take a mandatory PCR test on arrival at the airport (free of charge) and must quarantine until a negative result is sent to your email. This can take anywhere from six to 12 hours.
Additionally, you’ll have to respond to a daily health questionnaire that asks if you are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.
My issues entering Chile
As previously mentioned, to avoid quarantine in Chile for anyone over the age of 6, you must submit proof of vaccination online prior to departure. It’s recommended that you do so as soon as possible since the registration can take weeks to come through.
Thankfully, my vaccination verification only took a matter of several days, but this can vary greatly from traveler to traveler.
Once approved, visitors will be granted a digital vaccine mobility pass that displays a QR code to be used for travel to and within Chile and for activities like indoor dining and attractions. It should display the number of doses and dates of your vaccination.
Packing my negative PCR test and what I thought was my valid mobility pass, in addition to completing my traveler’s affidavit, I headed to the airport for my flight to Chile, eager to explore the streets of Santiago and the wilderness of Patagonia. My documents were verified by American Airlines agents at the airport, I boarded my flight and I was on my way.
Time: 11 a.m.
Here’s where I first ran into trouble.
Even though both Pfizer shots are displayed on my official U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-issued vaccine card that I uploaded online, unknown to me, Chilean health authorities only registered the first dose on my pass. How this was possible, I still do not know to this day.
After an overnight flight from New York (JFK), I landed in Santiago (SCL) late in the morning. It was only at this point that I realized the extent of my predicament.
I presented my paperwork — including the digital vaccine mobility pass, the traveler’s affidavit form, a negative PCR test result and my travel insurance receipt — to a health representative at the airport.
“You’ll need to quarantine for seven days,” she said. The reason? My second dose did not appear on the vaccine form (pictured above).
With my vaccine card physically in hand, a card that showed two Pfizer doses and an additional booster, I felt confident this piece of evidence would remove any confusion.
However, the airport health official and several other supervisors I spoke with insisted that the only way for me to avoid quarantine was to have my vaccination card approved online and a mobility pass with both my doses listed.
The official statement from airport authorities I spoke with was that there was no single person with the power to change my records within Chile’s vaccination database.
Confused and more than a bit anxious, I continued through the airport to take my PCR test on arrival.
However, I knew I would have to figure out a plan once I arrived at my hotel. On the bright side, the testing process at Santiago International Airport was quite straightforward and well organized, taking mere minutes.
Once I made it through immigration and exited the airport, I immediately uploaded my vaccine card online for the second time hoping that someone at the health department would update my mobility pass to show that I’d received two doses of the vaccine.
At this point, I also began the process of reaching out to the U.S. Embassy in Chile and any contacts that I could find to get my situation sorted out or, if that proved unsuccessful, to expedite the approval of my second Pfizer dose.
An automated recording with the U.S. Embassy referred me to a generic email address. All the while, the only person who I could reach by phone at Chile’s Ministry of Health told me there was no way to speak with the department that handled vaccination verifications.
In fact, the representative stated that my only course of action would be to see if I could speak to someone not from Chile but instead from the U.S. He mentioned that dozens (if not hundreds) of fully vaccinated travelers from around the world were being denied Chile’s digital vaccine pass due to a backlog of requests.
Receiving my PCR test result
Time: 7 p.m.
Meanwhile, I waited for my PCR results to come through. I took an Uber to my hotel and quarantined there for the rest of the afternoon. All travelers, regardless of vaccination status, must remain in place until a negative test result is given.
By the evening, about seven hours after I was first tested at the airport, I received an email with the outcome of my test. Negative.
While I was in the clear for COVID-19, I didn’t have the green light yet because of my incorrect vaccination status.
With no response from the U.S. Embassy or the Chilean Ministry of Health, I was still considering what exactly to do as I went to bed that evening.
My second dose approved
Time: 7 a.m. (next day)
Somewhat miraculously, I received an email early the following morning with verification of my second Pfizer dose.
At this point, both doses appeared on my digital mobility pass, and this one-day headache was seemingly over.
Indeed, my pass now had both doses visible (previously, there was only one), and I accepted this email as proof. Therefore, I believed I was in the clear to venture out of my Santiago hotel room, continue with my Chilean adventure and, most importantly, leave quarantine.
My quarantine inspection
Or so I thought.
While exploring Santiago and during my first few days in Patagonia, several restaurants and attractions asked to see my mobility pass at the door. In all instances, my pass was scanned and I was allowed to proceed into the establishment. Perfect.
Additionally, my hotels — both in Santiago and in Puerto Natales — requested to see the pass at check-in. At no point during my trip did I have issues with entering restaurants, hotels or attractions.
For my domestic flight within Chile between Santiago and Puerto Natales (PNT), I was never even asked to present proof of vaccination.
The email from the Ministry of Health
Imagine my shock, then, when several days later, while already three hours south of Santiago by plane in Puerto Natales, I received an email in Spanish from Chile’s Ministry of Health.
Although I don’t speak much of the language, I could tell what it said almost without reading it. Earlier that day, a health official conducted an inspection of my original hotel in Santiago and found that, well, I wasn’t there.
Included in this email was a link to upload documentation of my whereabouts and to explain why I was no longer quarantining.
I thought my Chilean entry saga was behind me, but now with this email, I had newfound worries about what I was to do exactly. The main concern that swirled at the back of my head: Did I actually break any laws by exiting quarantine, and would I be detained at the airport in Santiago upon departure from the country?
Both my Chilean friends and the hotel staff that I spoke with reassured me that this was a misunderstanding and assisted me in uploading my proof of full vaccination along with the negative PCR result I received upon arrival in Santiago.
Still, it was certainly a bit nerve-wracking to receive an email of this nature in a foreign country, especially one where you don’t speak the language.
I had a long journey back from Patagonia, but thankfully, it was smooth sailing.
I took a three-hour bus ride from Puerto Natales to the Patagonian town of Punta Arenas. Once there, I caught my domestic flight to Santiago.
Again, similar to my journey from Santiago down south, my mobility pass and vaccination status were not checked while en route to Chile’s capital.
In Santiago, I spent another 24 hours exploring the city before departing for the U.S. After a relaxing afternoon by my hotel pool, it was time to make the trip back to the airport.
Throughout the check-in, immigration and boarding process to New York-JFK, I wasn’t asked about my quarantine or vaccination status. In fact, my departure from Santiago back to the U.S. was incredibly easy. The only COVID-19 protocol required was a negative test within one day of departure to the U.S.
While I have no idea whether I’ll have issues reentering Chile in the future, I can tell you with certainty that I had no problems exiting.
I’ve visited eight countries during the pandemic, but my entry into Chile proved to be the most daunting.
Upon arrival on the ground in Santiago, I was impressed with how streamlined the PCR testing process was, and the digital vaccination form ensured that Chile stayed safe for both visitors and residents alike.
However, the online pre-arrival process was much less clear, and I was frustrated that I couldn’t find a person who had the authority to fix an obvious administrative mistake while on the ground.
Nevertheless, I truly enjoyed my time in Chile. It’s a naturally beautiful nation with a vibrant capital and incredibly friendly people. (More on my time in Patagonia to come.)
A word to the wise to anyone traveling to Chile: Make sure you are methodical about the entry process and, most importantly, have all of your vaccination doses clearly shown on your forms prior to departure. If you don’t, you may deal with the stress of “breaking” quarantine or worse, be denied boarding when trying to return to the U.S.
Once you receive an email from Chile’s Ministry of Health about an approved vaccination, check that both doses (for Pfizer and Moderna) appear. If not, resubmit your vaccination card until you are fully approved.
Featured photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy.
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