As a region, the Americas have been especially hard hit by COVID-19, with South America home to some of the worst outbreaks in the world. Four of the top 15 worst outbreaks have taken place on the continent—in Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, and Peru—leading to drastic lockdowns and border closures. In Central America, the outbreaks were less severe, though economies shut down in much the same way—some, by choice, others, like Nicaragua, simply because international carriers shut off flight routes.
That said, some of the hardest hit countries have been among the first to re-open their borders, with Brazil resuming flights at the end of July, Colombia following suit mid-September, and Peru close behind in October. Some have since added more restrictions during second and third waves of outbreak—Brazil, for example, is now asking for negative tests upon entry, which it did not require initially. Central American countries like Costa Rica and Belize are welcoming tourists, with few restrictions on how travelers explore their countries and concerted efforts to bring more tourism dollars in.
As the continent optimistically reopens for travel, though, new COVID-19 strains are the main concern impacting new guidelines. Several countries, including Panama and Guatemala, are now banning travelers from the U.K. and South Africa, where new variants of the virus have been discovered. On the flip side, a new strain out of Brazil is currently making headlines, resulting in a U.K. ban on travelers from anywhere in South America.
Read on for the current travel restrictions in Central America and South America, from mandatory quarantines to pre-testing requirements. This guide currently covers 15 countries in the region, and we will be updating this regularly.
Costa Rica has been open to all travelers since November 1, who are no longer required to bring a negative PCR test or quarantine upon arrival. Travelers are instead required to complete the online Health Pass form within 48 hours of departure, and to have health insurance, or travel insurance from an approved list of Costa Rican companies. The full insurance requirements and the health form can be found here.
Belize has reopened to all travelers and flights have resumed. All visitors ages five and older are required to test negative for COVID-19—with the option to present a PCR test taken within 96 hours of arrival or be tested at the airport for $50—though some pre-tested travelers will be randomly selected for a second test upon arrival. Travelers can only stay at approved Gold Standard Hotels (list here), which offer full services and amenities for guests, including airport transport, isolated tours, pool or beach access, and in-house restaurants or food delivery. Though restrictions in the fall mandated that travelers stay within their hotels and approved “Safe Corridors,” visitors can now move freely throughout the country. Social distancing and masks are required in public.
To track the above, the government is using the Belize Health mobile app (mandatory for all visitors to download within 72 hours of entering the country), through which travelers are expected to upload hotel confirmations and test results and share location information.
Panama is requiring that all visitors present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours prior upon arrival or pay $50 for a test upon arrival. Travelers are also required to sign an online affidavit before checking in for their flight, which acknowledges their residence while in Panama, and that the individual has not exhibited symptoms or been in contact with a known COVID-19 case within the last 14 days. Note that starting December 21, the country has suspended entry for anyone who has been in the U.K. or South Africa, even in transit, within the past 20 days, regardless of nationality.
Guatemala is open to travelers, except those who originated or transited through any airports within the U.K. or South Africa as of January 6. All visitors ages 10 and older are required to present a negative PCR test upon arrival, taken within 96 hours of travel, or get tested at the La Aurora International Airport for $25.
El Salvador is allowing travelers entry with negative PCR test results taken within 72 hours of boarding. Some flights to Honduras resumed in August, though a national curfew was announced from January 10 to 17, from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m, and children are prohibited from entering commercial establishments at this time, according to the U.S. Embassy in Honduras. While Nicaragua never officially imposed any travel restrictions, most airlines have paused flight routes to the country. Delta, United, and American have yet to announce when they will resume service, though Spirit and Avianca have restarted with limited schedules.
Ecuador resumed commercial flights in early June, and U.S. travelers are allowed to enter the country with proof of a negative COVID PCR test taken within 10 days of arrival.
Colombia is requiring all international travelers to present a negative PCR test taken within 96 hours of flying to enter. Those unable to take a test before departure are required to “verbally state” this at the place of origin, and will then have the option to test upon arrival and quarantine until receiving results. Note that three areas of Bogota returned to strict confinement from January 7 to 17.
In Brazil, new December 30 guidelines require that anyone flying into the country must present a negative COVID test taken with 72 hours of boarding. Additionally, all travelers must complete a health form agreeing to sanitary measures for the duration of their trip. Land borders are effectively closed to tourists without prior written authorization from the Federal Police, though Brazilian citizens, permanent residents, and family members of Brazils are exempt from this restriction.
After keeping borders closed longer than their neighbors, Chile is now allowing travelers to enter. A mandatory 10-day quarantine is required for foreigners and Chilean nationals alike, as is a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of boarding. Those transiting through Chile for less than 24 hours are allowed to complete quarantine in their final destination.
All travelers arriving in Peru, including nationals and residents, must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Those planning to visit the country for fewer than 14 days must extend their stay to complete the quarantine. (Travelers spending less than 24 hours in Peru while connecting to a different destination are asked to complete the quarantine in their final location.) Face masks are required in all public places.
Bolivia restarted international flights on September 1, with only some categories of foreigners currently allowed to enter, including those with dual citizenship, diplomatic status, or Bolivian spouses. According to the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia, travelers can avoid quarantine with a negative PCR test taken within 3 days of travel if the flight is coming from a country bordering Bolivia; within 7 days if the flight originates elsewhere in South or Central America; or within 10 days if the flight is coming from North America, Europe, or Asia.
Argentina currently has a travel ban in place, with no announced date on when it will be lifted. Foreign travelers with direct Argentine relatives who meet certain criteria may be granted permission to enter the country, though official at ports of entry have the final discretion in permitting or denying entry. Neighboring Uruguay is only allowing a few categories of travelers to fly in (including humanitarians, pilots, and those with Uruguayan family members), and online sources report that the government plans to keep borders closed until January 31 at the earliest.
This article was originally published in September 2020. It has been updated with new information. We’re reporting on how COVID-19 impacts travel on a daily basis. Find all of our coronavirus coverage and travel resources here.
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