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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. In late december 2019 my wife and I booked a trip to the UK for the first three weeks of September. Right now I’m assuming we won’t end up going, but it would be great if things improve enough to make the trip not also possible but also fun. We’ve rented a small house, so if we end up going we can hole up and cook all our own meals, and do a lot of hiking in the area, hopefully.

    The likely hardest decision will be in late July, when we have to decide whether to cancel the booking for the house. It’s about $2000, and if we cancel, as things stand now we’d lose about $600 in the form of a nonrefundable deposit. Right now the company that handles these bookings is letting people cancel without losing this deposit for bookings before June 4, so there’s a chance they might extend this date into September if things stay bad, or if there’s a second wave of infection.

    Kinda wish I hadn’t collected so many United miles though!

  2. The U.S. has the most COVID-19 cases… of the countries that don’t lie about their case numbers..
    There, fixed it for you.

  3. @jose – of course US numbers are understated due to lack of testing, in many places if you’re sick enough they know you have covid you don’t get a test and if you aren’t very sick you don’t qualify for a test so…

  4. @Gary. Do you really believe China? They’ve clearly lied like they always do. I wouldn’t be surprised if China’s real death count is in the millions.

  5. I also wonder if after having a reason to cut international business travel for basically a year if companies will go back to sending people half way across the world for meetings that could be done remotely after the dust settles on this.

  6. More tests conducted = more identified cases, that just math. Other countries, such as China, state that they don’t report asymptomatic cases. The WHO says they can only go by what numbers each country reports with no power to challenge.

  7. There is no way of knowing for sure that the U.S. has the most cases. The fact is, China Lies. And when they get done Lying, they Lie some more. I visited Red China in September and enjoyed the sights. However I will never go back again. The average everyday people were very nice but the Red Chinese government is a Monster. I hope 80% of all China flights Never come back.

  8. I manage a team of software engineers in Wuhan so I think about this a lot. I normally visit there 2-3 times per year. Will I go this year? Part of me wants to be on the first China Southern flight from SFO to Wuhan. On the other hand, I want to be safe. And maybe China wouldn’t even let Americans in without a long quarantine.

  9. Once this is all over, the world must come together to severely punish China for spreading their awful Wuhan Flu to every corner of the earth.

  10. @Alan why all the a Weird random Capitalization? Not Proper nouns are capitalized. Not a lean don words like Lying, etc.

  11. I think that later on countries will actually ease up on visa requirements. A lot of countries will want tourism income. Of course that will have to be balanced against the risk of new infections and depends on when vaccines are available or other treatments.

  12. That’s OK. Air travel, particularly in the premium cabin, are major contributors to climate change. The Earth needs a break. If you think Covid-19 is bad, it’s nothing compared to what’s coming with a warming planet. Covid-19 is just nature’s way of fixing what we’ve screwed up. Maybe the lockdown will stave off the disasters to come for a year or two. If we reduce travel for only essential reasons, maybe we can stave it off even further.

  13. Do you really think countries will require a vaccine? One it’s available, the amount of time it will take to disperse to everyone before travel will be very long.

  14. The question of restrictions rests on weighing tourism revenue versus continuing to advance the pandemic fraud. The countries which realize that bringing in tourism dollars is greater than the advantage of perpetuating this hoax, will “flip the switch” much sooner.

  15. To the reader who is considering travelling to Scotland in June, bad idea, cancel. We just flew from Arizona to the UK two weeks ago, we are now sick we think we picked up the virus on the flight home to the UK, Avoid air travel. We have a flight back to Arizona in September, after being so sick I doubt we will go, maybe in 2021.

  16. There’s no doubt that China has lied, is lying and will lie again in the future, but I don’t think we should be quite so quick to discuss the lies of other countries when we have a commander-in-chief for whom lying is a force of habit and who has lied on a significant number of occasions about this particular crisis. We should probably address our own shortcomings before venting so freely about others.

  17. @jose – i have written extensively on the chinese data, that they do not consider asymptomatic positives to be positives, that death tolls are 20x what’s reported, that they pay local jurisdictions to report no infections

  18. I think the COVID-19 virus is highly contagious and has quickly spread around the world. Ultimately, only the most remote places will likely be spared.

    Statistics can be useful. However, until and unless every citizen of each country gets tested with accurate tests to minimize false negative and false positive results, we really won’t know penetrance of the percent of population infected or the raw numbers in any country.

    China … well, I’ll leave that for others to argue while at the same time admitting my skepticism about their reporting.

    Personally, I am not convinced that the massive lockdown has not been an overreaction on the part of governments. Yet, I recognize the difficult decisions they had to make and respect their good intentions.

    The virus is highly infectious but not highly lethal. Yes, some persons are more vulnerable, and some much more so, but by far most people with the infection will suffer little to no symptoms.

    So, I am left with a desire to ultimately resume international travel for leisure. Ultimately, I hope to be tested for the antibody to get a sense of my immunity. Let’s assume that the test is negative. Once international travel resumes somewhat in earnest and tests show that I’m not infected and have no immunity to the virus, even given my personal feelings, do I want to travel?

    A long winded reply to your post to reach my point: I trust the U.S. healthcare system to provide me with top-notch medical care should I become infected and require care and/or hospitalization. Do I, even with travel medical insurance, have that same level of trust in the healthcare system in the location(s) on my travel itinerary?

    I think that lingering doubt and uncertainty will also play a large role in the decision of many to travel internationally.

  19. Way over thinking it. Whats going to happen when #20,21,22 23…. come along. Vaccinations do not mean a thing if ghere no effective. Considering how fast they are pumping testing through the system i doubt that the batch that first comes out will be effective. This snowball has started down the hill and ramifications of the results no one knows whats going to happen. The only for sure thing is that they have destroyed economies of many countries.

  20. It seems likely that efforts to flatten the curve will result in random flare-ups around the world as governments misjudge the situation and let up their guard prematurely. This is a strong possibility with the current US leadership, but just as likely elsewhere. Once restrictions start lifting we could witness a ping pong effect as the virus bounces from place to place.

    Before I will get on a plane here are some questions I will be asking:

    What kind of treatment can I expect if I contract COVID19 in another country and my condition becomes extreme?

    What are my chances that government rules will change while I am in transit, resulting in denied entry or even worse, mandatory quarantine either abroad or when returning home?

    What are my chances of getting stranded abroad, as many people are today?

  21. Good lord Gary, I have no idea why your blog now gets so many Flat Earth society, knuckle dragging, mouth breathing, Alt Right adjacent, MAGA types in recent months…really bizarre

  22. I’ve asked this question on other threads pertaining to air travel and I’ll ask it here as well: Will the current corona-virus crisis prompt a re-design in the way passengers are processed–and how future terminals are modified or built? I’m thinking about how the wave of hijackings made such airport terminals as Dallas-Fort Worth and Kansas City obsolete out of date before the airport terminals were rebuilt. Dallas-Fort Worth had to be modified extensively and Kansas City is rebuilding its passenger terminal from scratch. Moreover, the need for security has influenced the design of such terminals as Denver, Atlanta and Pittsburgh. Thoughts?

  23. @UA-NYC unfortunately that’s partially a view of how many there are out there…they stay in their bubble alot, but there is a reason why so many people vote that way, and why Chinese Restaurants even in NY couldn’t stay open during this. 🙁 As with everything, we need to educate, and not hate. There is a reason why anti-vac, flat-earth, etc all are flourishing, and we need to grab it by the horns before its too late.

  24. At the end, we can say if Covid 19 was more deadly than seasonal flu, not sure given the annual death toll given by the WHO. On the other hand, currently goods hardly travel from one country to another and even less from one continent to another. In the stores there is “almost no shortage”. Ultimately, it would be good to be aware of it. For international travel, they will resume slowly, but airlines will have disappeared. Our tickets may be more expensive. But before finding an open border as we have known, it will take a long time.

  25. @joelfreak – well said…sad that the country’s “leadership” have brought them out of their dark holes in recent years (since, of course, Nov ’16), but I do think they will go back underground once there is a change in the WH and the responsible adults are back in charge.

    All you “it’s a hoax” a-holes…have a look at some of the metro NYC hospitals and cold storage trailers out in front of them.

  26. @UA-NYC. Are you enjoying all the normal people in New York City out of work? If UA-NYC and his ilk can just blame the carnage on Trump, then happy days are here again. To make an omelet (socialist hive mind takeover of the USA), you have to break a few eggs (recession, normal Americans out of work). UA-NYC, you make me SICK. For this reason, instead of Manhattan Waterbug, your new AKA is now Anti-American Sicko.

  27. @James N So, James, what “hoax” are you talking about exactly? Be specific! We need to know precisely what you mean and the substantive basis for why you believe a “hoax” exists

  28. Yeah, I guess if Obama would have been in charge would have just been another SARs moment eh? Typical, never let a crisis go to waste.

  29. UA-NYC, joelfreak, Ron–I’m with you on all that.

    What we really need is the antibody test, and we need it now. If I have the antibody test and it shows I’ve already been exposed, I will feel confident in traveling and will be making travel plans. Multiply this by millions and the economy gets up and running again, fast. People return to lives of semi-normalcy, and institutions and organizations will be able to make forecasts based on percentile of immune individuals.

    That so-called “immunity passport” is the key to freedom.


  30. Right, they have not even tested a half a million yet, let alone the “working public” what makes you think that if you get the test for 19, that you will not have to get a test for ever “virus” that comes down the road. They are not all the same and there will not be a vaccine for any for 18 months at best and even that will be suspect since it was rammed thru so fast.

  31. @Other Just Saying The bad faith, ad hominem arguments you’re making are unhelpful. Trump is not responsible for the pandemic, but he is responsible for downplaying the severity of the threat and failing to properly prepare for what was to come. Trump wasted two months and we are now all paying for it

    As far as the economy goes, what exactly do you propose we do? Do you honestly believe that we can reopen society as things currently stand, when deaths are still surging and we have no idea how many people are or were infected? The idea that we can go back to business-as-usual while the pandemic rages around us is completely unrealistic

  32. The infamous Other Just Saying, the site’s Token Racist, has made an appearance!

    Must be hard not watching biracial athletes playing right now as you can’t claim they are “white” (a la Patrick Mahomes).

    It’s sad that his ilk and a lot of these other trolls can’t or won’t even defend the Cheeto anymore – they just rage against the “MSM”, AOC, anything else that doesn’t confirm to their idealistic 1950’s America.

  33. Ron said: “Personally, I am not convinced that the massive lockdown has not been an overreaction on the part of governments. Yet, I recognize the difficult decisions they had to make and respect their good intentions.” I agree. However, I think that is all water under the bridge. We cannot change the past.

    I am concerned that the shutdown is impacting actual workers the most. For example, colleges have not laid off professors and administrative staff. They can go on and intellectualize about the shutdown. Instead the food service workers have been laid off at the same institutions. The food service workers have to find some other way to pay their bills including buying food. People I know, are mostly working from home. Further, they have significant savings in the bank. It is the restaurant workers, store clerks, theater workers and so forth that are taking it on the chin. Big companies can ride this out. Government workers will still have jobs. Ordinary people and small businesses are having serious problems.

    Therefore, I think there has to be real urgency in getting people back to work (as safely as possible), real soon, before the standard of living of the average American is permanently negatively impacted. Sadly, I do not always hear empathy for normal people coming out of the political class.

  34. In regards to Scotland: I go to Edinburgh every year for a festival they have there called “The Fringe” – It’s roughly from August 3rd to August 30th, and it’s a HUGE deal to the city and local economy.

    They canceled it about a week ago. Which is relevant, because it gives you an idea of how long THEY expect virus based precautions and problems to be going on for. I wouldn’t even consider a June trip.

    I usually spend about 5 weeks overseas around August, and I’m currently debating if I’m going to do that this year. Not because I’m worried about the virus, but more because of various shutdowns, potential Visa/quarantine issues, and the like. I still have time to decide, but perhaps a 5-week exploration of America’s 2nd cities and such is in order…..

  35. If people want to be part of UA-NYC’s Anti-American Sicko gang, go for it.

    Personally, I am proud to be an American.

  36. @ Other Just Saying: you are so right.

    @ Every “modern day socialist” – you would not survive a week in a true socialism, with communal apartments, one-and-only brand of salami (called…’salami” :), one-and-only airline (naturally, without premium class), deficit of most basic necessities, “subbotniks”, etc, etc, etc.

    Proud to be American!

  37. Thanks everyone for questions and suggestions wrt travel under COVID-19.
    I have two travels scheduled –
    one is to Grand Ruction, CO from DC in May 4 – May 10. The travel to Grand Junction, CO is to drive to Utah near Hanksville where there is no COVID-19 occurring so far. I will stay there whole time and drive back to Grand Junction to catch a flight back to DC.
    The other is to Venice, Italy during the Mask Festival in January 30-February 16, 2021 which I will combine to Iceland travel for another 2 weeks before or after.
    Any suggestions or warnings would be greatly appreciated.

  38. X-Soviet – there isn’t any socialism in the US. Unless you call the endless governmental support “socialism” which you ironically probably can.

    OJS – you are true filth…quite a pathetic individual (and you got your a$$ handed to you in your financial debate, lol). Typical MAGA thinking you are the only ones allowed to “wear the flag”. Enjoy the final 7 months – will you support America when there is newly competent WH leadership?

  39. International travel is part of my career – I expect to be back on the road later this year. I am a defense contractor and the ethos in our industry is “get it done.” Video conferencing does not work well at all and will never replace the need to get on a plane and hash out a deal.

  40. I am confused. What does the question of whether or not China lies about its coronavirus data have to do with whether or not Americans will be able to fly to places like Scotland in August? I’m trying to decide when to plan my next trip to Europe, and quite frankly, I don’t factor Chinese truthfulness or lack thereof into the calculation of the risk.

  41. “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.”

    Out where? Everything not coming from a politician’s mouth is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Hell, I find most predictions to be overly pessimistic.

  42. I’m wondering if cautious seniors like me will want to travel internationally before there is a vaccine which means probably not before Fall 2021. I’d be curious to know if someone was willing to throw caution to the wind if there is anywhere an American can travel now with no issues upon arrival.

  43. @José — Question: what difference can it possibly make to you, personally, whether China is lying or not about the number of Covid-19 cases within the PRC? Well, perhaps you are a statistician working for the CDC or WHO or a university somewhere and you need accurate numbers for modeling purposes. OK. I get that. But otherwise…

    I do not know FOR A FACT whether the Chinese are lying about the number or not. I PRESUME THEY ARE. So are the North Koreans, the Iranians, the Russians, and so is practically every other nation on the planet. No country knows how many Covid-19 cases there are within their national borders. There are who-knows-how-many deaths that are being chalked up to other causes because the deceased was never tested for the virus and, in some countries, the bodies are being cremated as soon as possible and so you will never have accurate figures! So when the President or the Governor of New York State or when Johns Hopkins reports “the latest figures,” 1) they are not accurate; 2) they know they are not accurate; and 3) it doesn’t affect my life one way or the other. Do you think I am going to be less vigilant about social distancing, hand washing, and all the rest because official figures show “only” 22,000 people have died from Covid-19 rather than whatever the real number is which shall never be known?

    The fact is Covid-19 is not a hoax. It is real. It doesn’t matter one whit the actual number of people who have died from it — the point is people are dying!

  44. @Gary —> At the moment, I have travel plans (booked mostly on points) to go to Spain and Greece the end of September and early October, in part to celebrate with friend who is having one of those “monumental” birthdays. As it stands now, I am dubious the trip will ever happen, but I also think it’s far too early to think about cancelling anything…just in case.

    Having been under stay-at-home orders since March 13th, I’ve already had to cancel two trips and four hotel reservations, with more looming on the horizon. But as of now, I just cannot “see” past June….

  45. It is human nature to fear hidden diseases, but readers here are massively overstating the risk of COVID-19. Fun fact: the disease has killed more people over 100 than under 30 worldwide! It simply is not very dangerous to anyone who is healthy and under 50 (and probably under 60). Yes, you could be an exception, but you can also die unexpectedly young from hundreds of other risks that you never think about. Over time, this realization will hit as the virus “grows old,” and people will stop panicking as much. It’s just human nature.
    The reality of the disease will cause people to return to their normal lives faster than most people currently realize. It won’t be immediate, of course. Only a few will feel safe “venturing out in May. By June, travel won’t seem particularly dangerous. By July, it will seem almost normal. Mind you, it will take some time (perhaps a year or more) to return to anything approaching pre-virus levels. But life will slowly return to normal. Personally, I would have no problem booking domestic travel — if I got a great deal — for July. International travel is trickier because of borders and general xenophobia (you won’t trust foreigners to be virus-free). I think most places will be OK to travel in August, and September should be easy. Obviously, you should only book future travel if you’re getting an absolutely fantastic deal. Otherwise, just wait to see what happens — both in the world and with your own emotions. There should be plenty of empty airline seats and hotel rooms for quite some time.

  46. Nice post, Gary.

    A vaccine is hopium. So…the world will just have to get used to living with a heightened amount of deaths. In the long-run antibody tests are useless as well…look up re-infection.

    Less flights, life is a risk. Educate yourself and just suck it up.

    Thailand Medical News is a nice source…of course, if you are brave…go on Reddit.

  47. One caveat to my previous statement: don’t plan on cruising this year (for obvious reasons) and, if you’re over 65 and therefore in the real risk group, you should probably postpone making travel plans to see how things pan out. Everyone else should pay attention to the science and try to suppress their natural but unnecessary anxieties.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *