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The State of Travel, Part 2: Which countries are winning the war on COVID?


Author: Anna Blekhman

Since February, we’ve watched as the deadly coronavirus pandemic has thrown the world into turmoil. We saw how different countries handled the spread of this pandemic, with some managing to come on top, despite the many challenges.

For the second post in our State of Travel series, we’ll be looking at the countries that are most likely to be safe travel destinations.

In this post:

Where are we and how did we get here?

In the early months of the pandemic, as case volumes spiked across the world, the goal of most governments and public health organizations was “flattening the curve.” To accomplish this, restrictions on travel and public gatherings, including dining, entertainment and sporting events, were implemented. Supporting this, many countries reinforced the need for regular hand washing, while guidance on mask-use changed as we learned more about COVID-19 and how it spreads.

After some success managing and reducing the coronavirus’ infection rates, the U.S. and many European countries relaxed their restrictions on dining and travel.

In October, cases began to surge again, with infection rates reaching record highs. While a relatively low proportion of cases result in hospitalization or death, the high number of infections mean hospitals and ICU units are being overwhelmed again, as governments struggle to find ways to reduce the virus’ spread.

To help you figure out whether now’s the right time for you to travel, we’re going to explore what winning looks like, what some common mitigation practices are in popular travel regions, and how those regions are performing against our criteria.

What does winning look like?

For our purposes here, “winning” the war on COVID means a location meets several important criteria.

Those criteria concern:

  1. Local transmission patterns show low or falling new daily cases
  2. Mandatory measures have been implemented to mitigate the spread of the virus, such as mask use, track and trace, self-isolation.

These criteria can help inform your personal risk assessment for any travel you need to do. The World Health Organization is clear in its COVID-19 travel advice, providing the following guidance on July 30:

There is no “zero risk” when considering the potential importation or exportation of cases in the context of international travel.

We recommend following the COVID-19 guidance laid out by international organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO), along with national and sub-national organizations like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), even if that means staying home.

Please be sure to thoroughly research the location you’re planning to travel to. Using the criteria above will help you minimize your chance of contracting coronavirus during your stay in a region, but if you do get sick, you’ll have a good understanding of whether local medical services have the capacity to treat you until you’re well enough to go home.

Common travel restrictions for popular destinations

Wherever you’re headed, the rules for where you’re going to might be different from restrictions where you’re coming from.

Since 2020 has been an understandably quiet year for travel, we’ve listed some of the most popular travel destinations from 2019 below. Click the link to see current restrictions for these destinations.

AmericasEuropeRest of the World
Las Vegas
New Orleans
New York
Costa Rica


When you travel, whether it’s to a foreign port of entry or through a checkpoint on the highway as you cross state lines in the U.S., you may be required to provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 molecular test dated within a specific time frame before your arrival. As a rule, you should plan to test 1-3 days before you leave, and be prepared to self-isolate from the time of your test until you travel.

COVID-19 tests can either check for antibodies, where a positive result would indicate you’ve had the virus, or a viral diagnostic test where a positive result would indicate you currently have the active virus in your body.

The viral test can be one of two additional test types: molecular tests (RT-PCR tests) or antigen tests. Both types of test may be able to return a result in an hour or less, depending on the testing center. You can find more information about COVID-19 diagnostic testing on the Food and Drug Administration website.


If you’re unable to provide a negative test result, or if you test positive following a rapid test as a condition of entry to your destination, you’ll be expected to follow local regulations for what to do next. Failing to comply with these requirements could see you refused entry at your destination.

According to the CDC’s guidance on travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, “Local policies at your destination may require you to be tested for COVID-19 before you are allowed to enter the country. If you test positive on arrival, you may be required to isolate for a period of time.”

Additionally, if you’ve spent time or even had a layover in a country deemed to be high risk potential by the government of your destination country, you may be required to self-isolate in an approved location for a period of time after you arrive. Be aware that you may have to pay the full cost of staying at a hotel for an additional two weeks.

Travelers who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to take precautions mandated in the region they’ve traveled to. This may include actions like self-isolating, assisting with track and trace efforts or quarantining.

How are these destinations performing against the criteria for winning?

On the topic of mitigation measures, most countries have implemented some rules to prevent the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, enforcement is inconsistent, and in some areas the population is resistant to these new regulations.

The news on viral transmission is worse, though. Data on the website suggest that very few countries are winning the war on COVID-19.

New Zealand and Thailand have transmission more-or-less under control and new daily cases at – or close to – zero. But from the list of popular travel destinations above, only Bangkok, Thailand, is currently in’s green zone for safe travel.

Ultimately, all governments would like to open their borders and welcome global travel to their countries again, but with steadily worsening waves of the pandemic hitting an already-exhausted population, many countries are seeing a tightening of restrictions as infection rates continue to climb.

Photo by Michael on Unsplash

Should we travel to “winning” countries?

At the moment, the best policy is to stay home unless travel is necessary.

Depending on where you’re planning on traveling to, you might find that entry from your country of origin has been prohibited.

Whether your journey is international or interstate, check any applicable restrictions for each leg of your journey before you leave. Use TripsGuard to review the latest COVID-19 regulations in effect in your destination.

The U.S. Department of State advises U.S. travelers to consult the relevant embassies or consulates in the countries they will be traveling through in addition to their destination.

For travelers from the European Union can consult the European Commission’s guidelines on travel during the coronavirus pandemic.

Guidance for United Kingdom citizens is provided on the webpage for Foreign Travel Advice, while Australian citizens should visit Smartraveller.

Wherever you’re planning to visit, please check with local authorities to ensure you’re aware of all restrictions that might affect you. If you’re traveling through other countries, or have a layover, be sure to discuss specifics with officials in your destination country so you can properly prepare for your journey.