The Status and Outlook of International Travel in 2021

In the first quarter of 2020, global travel was severely disrupted due to the emergence of the COVID-19 virus, the subsequent declaration of a global pandemic, and the gradual implementation of international travel restrictions by nearly every country. Throughout the remainder of the year, most countries took a guarded approach to reopening their borders. Various countries acted to partially ease their entry restrictions and some exceptions were made for certain traveler populations, primarily business travelers, diplomats, and some international students. Most countries, however, still barred casual travelers from entry or required all travelers to provide a negative COVID-19 test and quarantine upon arrival. Now in 2021, such circumstances are still the status quo.

Countries have increasingly required new international arrivals to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival or prior to boarding a flight. The United States, while not previously maintaining such a policy, will require all new international arrivals to present a negative COVID-19 test prior to boarding flights as of 26 January 2021. Initially, the United States enacted this restriction for those with recent travel to the United Kingdom due to the discovery of a highly contagious strain of COVID-19 in that country; however, after the new COVID-19 strain was discovered in several other countries, the United States expanded this requirement to all international arrivals.

Many other countries were also quick to impose similar enhanced restrictions, barring entry for all foreign nationals due to the emergence of this new strain. While such measures may cause disruption in the short-term, the long-term intention is to eventually allow countries to fully reopen their borders and eliminate restrictions by limiting the spread of COVID-19.

Even as some countries have enacted new restrictions in response to the emergence of the new strain of COVID-19, other countries are moving forward with plans to establish ‘travel bubbles.’ Essentially, travel bubbles are ways in which pairs or groups of countries can safely allow restriction free travel. Notably, Australia and New Zealand are still planning to implement the Trans-Tasman travel bubble by April 2021. As both countries maintain exceedingly low COVID-19 transmission rates, it’s believed that the risks of permitting travel between the two countries would not be high. Other countries have established similar arrangements specific to certain travel demographics such as reduced or restriction free travel for businesspersons or students. As travel barriers are eliminated over the course of 2021, it is not unlikely that there will be an establishment of additional travel bubbles and an incremental expanding of traveler groups and regions allowed to partake in these travel bubbles.

The easing and eventual elimination of travel restrictions is also linked to how quickly countries can develop, approve, produce, and distribute COVID-19 vaccines. As of early 2021, several vaccines have been developed and are already in use. While high-risk populations and medical workers are primarily being targeted in the first wave of inoculations, the wider global population will likely have access to vaccines as early as the second quarter of 2021. The success of vaccination programs will likely be tied to the easing of travel restrictions with many countries likely requiring new arrivals to present proof of their COVID-19 vaccination prior to being permitted entry.

Trends heading into 2021 indicate that countries are eager to eliminate travel restrictions. While there are certainly several variables at play when considering vaccination timelines and the emergence of new strains of COVID-19, countries have shown that travel can resume when the right precautions are taken from a duty of care perspective.  These precautions include gaining an expert perspective on the current travel risk landscape as well as having the right resources and programs in place to help protect those who decide to travel during this time. To learn more about On Call’s unique duty of care solutions for travelers in the new normal, contact us today.


For over 25 years, On Call International has provided fully-customized travel risk management and global assistance services protecting millions of travelers, their families, and their organizations. Contact us today and watch our video to learn more. You can also stay in touch with On Call’s in-house risk management, travel health and security experts by signing up for our quarterly Travel Risk Management (TRM) newsletter.

*The information provided within this post has been compiled from a multitude of available sources, and is based on the current news and situational analysis at the time of writing.