Expect A Lot Less International Travel For A Long Time

There’s this idea out there that ‘once this is over’ (whatever this is, the first phase of lockdowns or the immediate virus threat) travel will turn back on like a light switch. I do not expect that to happen.

More travel will start back up domestically. Even there we might see some restrictions, since certain parts of the country will get through the virus faster than others and there will be a desire not to re-infect the ‘clean’ places and to avoid spreading the virus again from ‘dirty’ places. There wil be some pent up demand but also fear that holds people back.

International travel will take a lot longer to recover. Some parts of the world won’t get through the virus as quickly as others. It’ll take longer for some governments to lift restrictions than it will for others.

However lifting of outright bans alone won’t mean it’s as simple to just buy a plane ticket and go, provided you have a passport, the way it was before for many destinations.

  • The U.S. has the most COVID-19 cases. Some countries could retain restrictions on Americans longer than for some other nationalities.

  • Expect new visa requirements, and hurdles to get a visa, because countries will want to make sure visitors aren’t bringing in the virus.

  • initially we may see some combination of mandatory 14 day quarantines on arrival or proof of current health and prior illness (so there’s an assumption of retained immunity for a period of time and thereefore little risk of bringing an infection)

  • Once there’s a vaccine expect vaccination to be mandatory for travel. You’ll likely have to provide proof (whether for visa in advance or on arrival)

  • One challenge will be demonstrating the authenticity of documents, so people from countries that are less vaccinated (poorer countries especially) are more likely to have to submit documents for a visa in advance, or will still require either quarantine or testing on arrival

  • There will also be fewer people visiting the U.S. either out of fear (virus epicenter) or due to heightened restrictions placed on travelers coming here, just as we’ll see for travel abroad.

This is my basic framework for what to expect as international travel begins to return, and why I think it will return slowly – fewer flights with fewer passengers for longer than most people think.

Reader T.C. asks about traveling to Scotland in June for his mother-in-law’s 80th birthday. He says the family in Tucson is “her last remaining family.”

My question….do you think flights will resume to Scotland from the US by June? Should we risk buying tickets now? If we do, and flights don’t resume, will we be out the money?

There are transatlantic flights now, it is possible to get to Scotland. There will even be some flights added to the schedule.

If you buy tickets and flights are cancelled you should get your money back. The US Department of Transportation is insistent on that. And you could file a credit card charge back if otherwise.

I think the risk is more travel restrictions – that you can buy tickets for flights that operate but that you might not be permitted to enter at least without arduous conditions. I would wait and see how international restrictions unfold especially for a trip as close-in as June.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. My daughter, wonderful German husband and only grandchildren live in Germany permanently. We generally go over 3 x a year to visit, and they come to the U.S. once a year. That and the internet are the only reasons we are OK with this arrangement besides the fact that the whole social system is so much better there, and no worry about school shootings, and the health care system is great. We are so depressed that they will probably have to cancel their summer vacation here, and that we may not be able to go again until fall. We will go again as soon as humanly possible, and as soon as the very rational and wise German government will let us in.

  2. I totally agree with your assessment Gary , travel will change and here is an example already . I am British , stranded in Hong Kong and locked out of Cyprus where we live and have residence for last 20 years . ( Republic of Cyprus , an EU country in Mediterannean ) But I cannot get back to my home without applying for a certificate issued by the Cyprus Government. This is done by me registering on a website , and sending them copies of my passport , my residence permit , my flight ticket out from Cyprus . Once they issue the certificate and flights start via Qatar or Dubai , I will be able to fly Hong Kong /Larnaca .

  3. I am nervous to say this but I will, my business staying afloat involves nonstop travel. I’ve been considering chartering private. Does anyone think that affluent business owners will opt to travel private to feel safer for quite some time? Even I feel nervous to board a flight in first class- too risky.

  4. I foresee an “immunity passport” requirement for overseas travel, something like a Yellow Fever card.
    And my hunch is that a medical certificate might be required in the future, one which lists all vaccinations, as required by individual countries.

    An antibody test for Covid-19 is crucial. Yes, there are reported reinfection cases, but there are also questions about if these are dormant infections that once again spring to life (like a Herpes virus) or whether these are infections that haven’t fully run their course yet, is, a full 6-8 weeks to clear the system and no longer show as an active case.

    What is clear and evident is this: no nation can remain under lockdown for another 12-18 months.

  5. We have an Airbnb for five days in Paris in July. Six people- all family. What should I do and when? What are my options? Also six flights purchased last September.

  6. @chopsticks…Some people love to play the odds, and frequently travel to places like Las Vegas to do just that. Other people look at the fact that people are dying in every age group, with or without underlying conditions, and aren’t really looking forward to “spinning the big wheel” to see if it lands on them. Different strokes…

    The only problem with playing the odds, of course, is that the House always wins.

    That doesn’t mean we are all going to die. Far from it, most of us will never get Covid-19; and most people who *do* get Covid-19 will survive. But some won’t, and those who have died from Covid-19 are from ALL age groups, ALL ethnicities, and with and without “underlying conditions.” Does it strike older people at a higher rate than younger? Yes. Does it strike — at least here in the US — African-Americans and Hispanics at higher rated than caucasians and Asians? Yes. But in terms of future travel plans, we ALL bear some degree of risk, and that translates to “Do you feel lucky? Do you?”

  7. What impact do you foresee this having on the European Union? Until now, they’ve proudly promoted “open borders” amongst members. Will we now start seeing land borders again as a result?

  8. @Ray – this could certainly be an issue that causes the schengen area’s open borders to break down, we could see another country mirror brexit, but i am not predicting that yet

  9. Open the borders!! Please 🙂 I really hope this doesn’t turn into a big pulling back of globalization which could easily happen here – the rhetoric out of Washington and Beijing and most places isn’t exactly friendly right now.

    Basically my whole summer travel plans have been ruined now, I’m not sure I can even get a full refund on my recent cancellations. I’m going to be a lot more careful when booking in the future. Venting!… after being stuck in quarantine for the last few weeks 😉

    So how do we begin traveling ASAP? I like the concept of immunity passports, but as I was doing research for my recent article on this subject, immunity passports don’t seem to be reliable enough yet,


    If we do develop immunity to COVID-19, how long is it going to last?
    To what extent can high levels of antibody protect someone from re-infection?
    Will the virus mutate to a new form that evades the immune system’s protective memory?
    Can people who are “immune” to COVID-19 still pick up the virus and transmit to others?
    What determines if someone develops high, low or undetectable antibody levels?

    These questions all need to be answered before we can really move forward with immunity passports or something along these lines.

    If anyone is interested to learn more about this subject here is the article I wrote on it:

    Take care everyone and hopefully we can all be traveling again soon.

  10. The US is a country with a free press and free drive through virus testing. Of course we’re the epicenter because we test young, old, rich, and poor. BTW the dollar is stronger than ever.
    Americans may not be the favorites of the world but our money is somehow always accepted.

    Your liberal talking points ruin your poor article.

  11. @ben we’re not testing like other countries, but you probably didn’t know that since you also think this article is peddling liberal talking points.

    Don’t bring politics into this.

  12. KimmieA said:

    “I foresee an “immunity passport” requirement for overseas travel, something like a Yellow Fever card.
    And my hunch is that a medical certificate might be required in the future, one which lists all vaccinations, as required by individual countries.”

    One thing I like about the expanded Yellow Card proposal is it would also put a stop to these recurring measles outbreaks in various First World countries that are inevitably traced back to an anti-vaxxer traveling abroad to some country where measles is endemic and bringing the disease back home to their community as a souvenir. International travel is NOT a right, so the anti-vaccine crowd could wail about how unfair that is to their hearts’ content, and it would change nothing (just as it changes nothing with the current Yellow Fever vaccine travel requirements). Want to travel abroad? Fine – get your required shots, or other countries aren’t going to let you in.

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