CDC Updates COVID Travel Guidance for 120 Countries Ahead of Summer

Mom and child on a flight wearing face masks.

Images By Tang Ming Tung / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its COVID travel guidance for more than a hundred countries.
  • The CDC classifies travel to each country by level of COVID-19 risk.
  • Infectious disease experts say it's relatively safe to travel internationally now, provided you're vaccinated and avoid high-risk countries.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued new COVID-19 travel guidelines for more than 120 countries.

The updated advice offers detailed information on specific countries for travelers who are vaccinated and for those who aren't. The CDC specifically assigns risk levels to each country based on the number of cases per 100,000 people.

To use the new guidance, travelers can search by the name of the country they’re interested in visiting and then learn whether its COVID-19 risk is very high, high, moderate, low, or unknown.

The CDC also offers detailed advice on what to do to stay safe in that particular country, broken down by whether you’re vaccinated or unvaccinated.

The new guidance arrives as COVID-19 cases dip to low levels previously seen at the start of the pandemic in March 2020. As vaccination increases and cases drop, travel among Americans is picking up speed.

Just days after the CDC's updated guidance, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced that it screened more than 2 million passengers on the same day for the first time since March 2020.

What the Risk Levels Mean

The CDC divides up countries based on four levels of risk.

Level 4: Very High Risk

Countries that are classified as very high-risk have more than 500 new cases per 100,000 people over the past 28 days. The CDC recommends against traveling to these countries, which currently include Brazil, India, and Iraq.

Level 3: High Risk

These countries have 100 to 500 cases per 100,000 residents. The CDC specifically recommends avoiding nonessential travel to these countries—including Mexico, Russia, and Iran—for people who are unvaccinated.

Level 2: Moderate Risk

Level 2 countries have 50 to 99 cases per 100,000, and currently include Finland, Cambodia, and Kenya. The CDC suggests that people who are unvaccinated and at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 avoid these countries.

Level 1: Low Risk

Level 1 countries are nations with less than 50 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, and include Australia, Israel, and Singapore. The agency still recommends that you get vaccinated before you travel to one of them.

What This Means For You

The CDC breaks down which countries are considered high and low risk for travel right now. If you decide to travel internationally, first check the risk level of the country you’re interested in visiting, and don’t forget to wear a mask on your journey.

Is International Travel Safe Right Now?

Infectious disease experts say your safety depends on your vaccination status. “For a fully vaccinated individual, international travel is low-risk,” infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Verywell.

“If you’re fully vaccinated, I think international travel is OK,” Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells Verywell. “But one should be a little more cognizant of countries that have variants of concern, like India.”

While Russo says that “the consequences for fully vaccinated individuals might not be as bad” as they would be for those who aren't vaccinated, there is still a chance that they can bring the variants back home after traveling. “We’re trying to minimize importing those strains,” he says.

But there are “issues related to air travel in general,” Stanley Weiss, MD, professor of medicine at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, tells Verywell. “There is the issue of yourself and those near you, in screening areas, waiting areas, and on the plane."

Weiss points out that you can be exposed to COVID for long periods of time on international flights. And there's “a considerable period of time” where everyone may not always be masked.

Ultimately, “the decision to take an international trip currently is really a risk/benefit consideration that is dependent upon one's own risk tolerance,” Prathit Kulkarni, MD, assistant professor of medicine in infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine, tells Verywell.

He recommends being mindful of the risk level of the country you’re interested in visiting. “If it is possible to defer a trip to a country with very high transmission currently until transmission slows down a bit, that is likely preferred,” Kulkarni says.

It’s important to keep in mind that “you may not be able to get reasonable healthcare if you get sick” while visiting a higher risk area, John Sellick, DO, an infectious disease expert and professor of medicine at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells Verywell.

Adalja agrees. “Traveling to a very high-risk area, even when fully vaccinated, probably is not going to be a very fun trip if a country is spiraling out of control because of COVID-19 cases and hospitals in crisis,” he says.

How to Stay Safe When You Travel

“Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances necessitating travel; In this case, prevention steps are the best way to reduce risk,” Kulkarni says. That includes wearing a mask in the airport and on the plane and practicing good hand hygiene, Sellick adds.

Be aware, too, that you may have to get tested or quarantine—even if you’re fully vaccinated—because of regulations in place in other countries, Adalja says.

Weiss recommends bringing extra masks along for the trip and keeping a spare on you at all times. “You need enough with you to enable you to change them,” he says.

Overall, public health experts stress the importance of getting vaccinated before you travel. “It’s the most important thing you can do,” Russo says.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How CDC determines the level for COVID-19 travel health notices.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 travel recommendations.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Trends in number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the US reported to CDC, by state/territory.

  4. Transportation Security Administration. TSA surpasses 2 million daily travelers screened.

By Korin Miller
Korin Miller is a health and lifestyle journalist who has been published in The Washington Post, Prevention, SELF, Women's Health, The Bump, and Yahoo, among other outlets.