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11 March, 2021

All about "covid passports": will they open borders for travellers in 2021

"Covid passport" is a document that confirms that its owner has been vaccinated against coronavirus. It can be in paper or electronic form, or in QR-code format in a special mobile application.

Covid passports in Russia and Europe
Photo: Adobe Stock

Coronavirus PCR test results and dates can also be added to covid passports for the convenience of travellers.

By March 2021, there is no single international covid passport format. It is up to each country to decide in which form and what vaccination information to include.

Covid passport: an electronic version in a smartphone mobile app
This is what an electronic coronavirus vaccination certificate looks like

What covid passports are for

In 2020, the world economy has suffered from closed borders and a pandemic. States want to strike a balance of interests: remove restrictions as soon as possible, resume international air travel, and keep their citizens healthy.

Covid or vaccination passports can be used domestically and for international travel.

Within the country, vaccinated citizens are exempt from restrictions. With a covid passport, they are allowed to attend public events and public places: concerts, exhibitions, gyms, beauty salons, cafes and restaurants.

To travel abroad. Introducing a covid passport or vaccination certificate is the solution to open the borders to foreigners. Some countries already accept tourists who have been vaccinated against Covid-19, such as Georgia and Romania. But different governments have not yet reached a consensus on whether covid passports will become a requirement for international travel.

How a Russian can obtain a covid passport

The Russian government initially did not plan to introduce covid passports. In January 2021, Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matvienko spoke out against vaccination documents. In her opinion, covid passports are unnecessary in principle. Matvienko was cited by RIA Novosti.

But at the end of January 2021, Russians began to receive electronic vaccination certificates. The Russian Covid passport is a QR code with data on the vaccination against the Covid-19 virus passed. Vaccination information is stored in the registry of the Russian Ministry of Health.

You can get the document in two cases: if you have had the coronavirus or if you have been vaccinated. After the second shot of the vaccine, a certificate is issued with the dates of both procedures, the name and series of the vaccine and the doctor's signature. An electronic version of the certificate automatically appears in your personal account on the public services portal.

The QR code of the vaccination certificate can be saved on your smartphone. It is also available through the mobile application "State Services" and "State Services STOP Coronavirus".

Since February 5, 2021, covid passports have been issued in Bashkortostan. The certificate also represents a unique QR code. The holder of a covid passport is exempt from the "high alert" regime restrictions, can attend mass events, receive discounts in stores, swimming pools, restaurants and theaters in the region.

Other regions of Russia may also lift quarantine restrictions for vaccinated citizens. The decision is taken at the local level.

Countries that have already introduced covid passports

Countries that have already introduced Iceland, Israel, Greece and Poland already issue vaccination certificates to citizens who have been vaccinated against coronavirus. In Israel, the certificate is digital: it can be downloaded to a smartphone. And Poland issues an electronic certificate with a QR code.

Bahrain became the first country in the world to release a mobile application with covid passport functions. It shows the date of vaccination and vaccine brand, name, date of birth and nationality of the owner.

Hungary released its own digital anticovid passport on March 1, 2021. It differs from other countries' passports in that it does not specify the type and manufacturer of the vaccine used.

China has launched an electronic vaccine passport based on the social network WeChat. It is a QR code with information about the vaccination and the result of the Covid-19 test. The passport is designed for travel on public transport within the country and abroad. Chinese citizens can also get a paper vaccination passport for international travel.

Denmark plans to launch a digital Covid passport in the near future. With an electronic vaccination certificate, citizens will be able to visit public places and events: restaurants, museums, concerts and festivals.

Malaysia plans to issue smart vaccination certificates in April 2021. And Sweden will begin issuing electronic immunization passports with vaccination information by summer 2021.

The European Commission will develop a version of a single European vaccination certificate, the Digital Green Certificate. It will take about three months to prepare the technical basis. This means that the new document will appear by the beginning of the summer vacation season. This was announced by German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a press conference after an online summit of the European Union.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has confirmed the intention to issue a pan-European covid passport for travel within the region. Passport specimen and legislative basis for its introduction will be presented to the heads of EU states on March 17, 2021.

Countries that are not ready to introduce covid passports

The US and Thai governments have not made a final decision. The US is still considering options on how to implement the introduction of vaccination certificates. And the Thai government is waiting for a standard from the WHO.

Vaccinated Americans are already exempt from some restrictions within the country. They are allowed to meet with other vaccinated people without masks. They are also relieved of the requirement to take a coronavirus test and serve quarantine after contact with infected people.

The governments of France, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium oppose the covid passports. States note that vaccination rates vary widely from country to country. Privileges for international travel become an excuse to discriminate against those who, for whatever reason, cannot or do not want to be vaccinated.

At the same time, British residents are in favor of the introduction of covid passports if the document will allow them to travel around the world again. The measure is supported by 83 percent of the 2,000 Britons who took part in a survey by the online portal Skyscanner.

The Irish government intends primarily to follow the recommendations of the WHO and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. And they oppose the use of vaccine passports for international travel.

Opinion of countries on the introduction of covid passports for travel

Speakers in favor ofUndecidedSpeak out against
Cyprus USA Germany
Danmark Thailand France
Estonia  United Kingdom
Georgia  Netherlands
Iceland Belgium
Poland Ireland
Czech Republic

Opinion of international organizations and airlines

The World Health Organization and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control are also considering introducing covid passports - but at the international level.

The WHO plans to create standards for digital vaccination certificates that could be used by all countries in the world. But officials recommend that states not yet introduce free entry for foreigners with covid passports. By March 2021, the WHO doesn't have enough information on how vaccines affect the spread of coronavirus.

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control has opposed lifting quarantine restrictions for covid passport holders. Center experts believe that a certificate is needed, but only for medical use.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) will release electronic travel documents for travelers by the end of March 2021. The IATA Travel Pass mobile app will store coronavirus test results and vaccination data. We talked about this in the article "Covid Passports for Travel within the European Union".

Air Serbia will be one of the first airlines to test the covid passport from IATA. The testing will begin in April 2021. Passengers will have to present IATA Travel Pass when boarding flights from Belgrade to Zurich.

Malaysia Airlines, Malaysia's state carrier, will also test the IATA Covid Pass. Vaccination data will be added to the airline's official mobile app.

International airlines are responding positively to the vaccine passports. In November 2020, Australian carrier Qantas was the first to decide to allow only vaccinated passengers on flights.

Etihad Airways and Emirates are also going to check whether passengers are vaccinated through a mobile app from the International Air Transport Association.

Cathay Pacific, JetBlue, Lufthansa, Swiss Airlines, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic have signed an agreement with the developer of the CommonPass app. It will contain information about vaccination dates and the name of the vaccine.

The cruise companies want to be back in operation by the end of April 2021. To ensure passenger safety, they will check for the coronavirus vaccination. Saga Cruises, American Queen Steamboat Company, Victory Cruise Lines, Crystal Cruises and Royal Caribbean have already announced such plans.

Royal Caribbean's cruise ships will check for covid passports
Royal Caribbean is one of the largest cruise companies in the world. The company's 26 cruise ships sail to 300 destinations

How to travel with a covid passport

Russians can use a covid passport to travel to the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union. It includes Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan.

Before you travel, you need to install the mobile application "Travel without COVID-19". It can be downloaded from GooglePlay for phones with Android system or AppStore for iOS.

In the personal cabinet of the "Travel without COVID-19" application you need to enter the data on vaccination and the result of the test for coronavirus. Then the app will automatically generate a QR-code, which should be shown when passing the border control.

It is not yet possible to use the Russian covid passport to travel to other countries. To do this, the government will need to negotiate the recognition of the electronic certificate of the document at the international level.

Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that "so far there are no international agreements and they are unlikely to be possible. The reason is the lack of a unified standard for covid passports.

Ten European countries have already lifted restrictions on entry for foreigners with covid passports - fully or partially. The vaccination certificate is presented during check-in, boarding and at the border. Russians can use a paper vaccination certificate.

Georgia, Romania, and Poland allow unrestricted entry for those who have been vaccinated against Covid-19. The Portuguese island of Madeira accepts tourists with a certificate of vaccination or a certificate that they have had the coronavirus within 90 days before arriving on the island.

Greece will open the border to vaccinated tourists from May 14, 2021. Spain and Portugal also plan to allow free entry for tourists in May, and Cyprus and Iceland want to open the tourist season by summer.

Israel has also concluded agreements with Greece and Cyprus on free crossings between the countries for vaccinated citizens. A similar agreement is planned between Israel and Malta.

Conditions for entry on a covid passport

GeorgiaFree entry
RomaniaFree entry
Madeira, PortugalFree entry
PolandFree entry for EU citizens
IsraelFree entry for citizens and residents of Cyprus and Greece
EstoniaNeed to show a certificate with a negative test result for coronavirus
CyprusFree entry:
- For citizens and residents of Israel - from April 1, 2021;
- For citizens and residents of Great Britain - from May 1, 2021
IcelandFree entry for citizens of the European Union, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland - from May 1, 2021
GreeceFree entry from May 14, 2021
SpainFree entry - preliminary from May 2021
PortugalFree entry - preliminary from May 2021

How to travel the world during a pandemic

In March 2021, the Schengen countries, the UK and the US are closed to tourists. Entry is possible only in exceptional situations: for urgent business matters, to work or study, for medical treatment or to reunite with family.

Russians need a visa to travel to Europe or America. It is possible to get a Schengen visa only for travel to Greece. Other European states and the United States temporarily do not issue visas, so you cannot go there even in case of emergency.

A second citizenship or residence permit allows you to travel around the world despite restrictions.

Citizens of the five Caribbean countries and Vanuatu have the right to travel without a visa to the Schengen countries and the United Kingdom. With the passports of these countries in 2021 you can go to Europe if you have a good reason. 

A Caribbean passport or Vanuatu passport is issued by investment of $100,000 or more. The investor makes a non-refundable contribution to the state fund, buys real estate or government bonds, invests in local businesses.

A residence permit in a member state of the European Union allows you to return to your country of residence at any time. Residents also have the right to move around Schengen countries, subject to quarantine restrictions.

Portugal, Greece and Malta grant residence permits by investment. Investors tend to invest in real estate - this is the most popular option, because the objects are allowed to sell after 5 years and return the investment. Under the Malta program, buying a property on the island - a prerequisite.

EU citizens can return to their homeland at any time. The region also has internal travel rules during the pandemic: they are presented on the Re-Open EU website.

In February 2021, Malta is the only EU state that grants citizenship by naturalisation by direct investment. But candidates go through rigorous Due Diligence.

If the investor passes the check, they first receive a residence permit, and after a year or three years they apply for citizenship. If their application is approved, the candidate will invest at least €690,000 and become a citizen of Malta.

Immigrant Invest is a licensed agent for Caribbean and European citizenship and residence by investment programs. If you want the freedom to travel internationally even during a pandemic, seek advice from investment program experts.

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All about "covid passports": will they open borders for travellers in 2021