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Will Expats Need a Covid Passport in 2021?

Home Blog Will Expats Need a Covid Passport in 2021?

Michael Lewars

Commercial Director

You may have heard that some countries are planning to introduce a COVID vaccine passport system (as proof of your vaccination for COVID-19) later this year. The European Union is set to make available its COVID-19 passport for all EU citizens and residents, as well as for specific categories of travellers from third countries, by July 1.

How and when will you be able to get your hands on these vaccine passports? How much freedom will they give you? Will you need one if you want to travel or move overseas? And how does it affect expats living and working in a foreign country? To help you keep track, we’ve created this handy summary.

What is a vaccine passport?

Before allowing travellers to enter, some countries require evidence that they have had certain vaccinations – for example, against yellow fever or polio.

A range of vaccine passports, also known as vaccine certificates or immunisation passports, exist for this very reason.

Vaccine passports are not a new concept.

In fact, they have been around since the 1930s. The first vaccine passport was introduced for yellow fever in 1935, this was followed in 1944, by certificates for typhus, smallpox and cholera.

These passports usually contain information about the traveller and their inoculation, including:

  • Inoculation names
  • The date(s) they were administered
  • The date(s) they’re valid until
  • The manufacturer
  • Batch number
  • An official stamp from the administering centre

If a person has a medical reason that prevents them from getting a vaccine, an immunisation passport may still be given with a note from a physician saying why the person is exempt.

How will a COVID passport work?

Each country has had a slightly unique approach to Coronavirus passports. Since this delicate issue is a crucial component in opening up international travel, it’s in everyone’s interests to find a solution quickly.

Unlike most traditional vaccination records, which have largely been paper-based, most countries are considering (or have already started developing) COVID-19 passports in a digital format too.

The biggest challenges most governments are currently facing in with these COVID passports are:

  • How to avoid discrimination: for example not everyone will be eligible for vaccination
  • Security: how to ensure certificates (along with any other sensitive medical information) are delivered securely
  • Which criteria to use: will passengers also be allowed to travel if they’ve recently tested negative, or have recovered from Coronavirus

Will I need a COVID passport to travel?

Whilst, not every country has confirmed they will be accepting or issuing COVID vaccine certificates, many have already confirmed they will need it as a requirement for entry. If you want to enjoy travelling without regular testing and long quarantine periods in the near future, it’s highly likely you will benefit from having a covid passport.

Since these passports already exist for other diseases, it’s likely COVID-19 will be added to the current list of vaccines required for international travel.

Will I need a covid passport to go out?

This will depend on the laws implemented by each country. It may also be up to the discretion of certain businesses.

Many countries have introduced stay-at-home orders. Currently, these orders impact everyone, including those who have already been vaccinated. However, under some proposed plans, people would be allowed to forego stay-at-home orders if they could provide evidence that they have been vaccinated.

Some countries are even considering whether to ask people to show COVID certificates in order to enter shops, restaurants, bars and other indoor venues.

As of yet, no country has taken this step, but it may become increasingly common as more people worldwide get their COVID-19 vaccinations.

The EU’s Digital Covid Certificate

Residents of EU member states, third-country nationals, and those permanently living in the EU are now allowed to apply for a covid vaccine passport. These covid certificates were proposed by the European Commission as a way to temporarily enable the safe, free movement of citizens within the EU during the pandemic. It’s now commonly known as the Digital Covid Certificate – but is a covid vaccine passport by any other name.

The certificate will be introduced in EU Member States. Countries can start issuing and using it already and it will become available in all EU Member States as of 1 July 2021.

Is it a digital or a paper certificate?

That’ll be up to the holder – you can choose from either. Both will contain a “digitally signed QR code” which can be scanned on entry to a country. It’ll be both in the national language of the country issuing it, plus English. Member states have agreed on a common design.

It will contain all the same information as a typical vaccine passport such as supplier and batch number, and can also store data about test results and previous history of COVID-19 infections/recovery.

The European Union is set to make available its COVID-19 passport for all EU citizens and residents, as well as for specific categories of travellers from third countries, by July 1.

The procedures for the launch of the certificate are completed on the side of the EU Commission, while it now remains up to the Member States to implement it within the next weeks.

When travelling, every Digital Green Certificate holder will have the same rights as citizens of the visited Member State who have been vaccinated, tested or recovered.
European Commission

These certificates will be available free of charge and available in both the member countries’ official language as well as English. Each issuing body (e.g. a hospital, a test centre, a health authority) has its own digital signature key. All of these are stored in a secure database in each country.

The EU Commission is planning on supporting member states with the development of software – not only to get them launched quickly but to ensure all the relevant authorities can process and verify the certificates across the EU. Read about what Brexit means for expats in our article.

Which countries have started issuing Covid Passports?

The countries which have already started to issue COVID-19 vaccination certificates included:

  1. Estonia
  2. Hungary
  3. Poland
  4. Bahrain

By June 8, the following countries in the EU and the Schengen Area have effectively connected and are also issuing and/or verifying at least one EUDCC (vaccination, recovery, negative test):

  1. Bulgaria
  2. Croatia
  3. Czechia
  4. Denmark
  5. Germany
  6. Greece
  7. Lithuania
  8. Poland
  9. Spain

The rest of the EU and Schengen countries are technically ready to connect to the EUDCC gateway, except for the following five, which are in the testing phase:

  1. Finland
  2. Hungary
  3. Malta
  4. Switzerland
  5. Norway

Of these, Estonia and Poland are already allowing visitors who can show proof they have been vaccinated, while Hungary is considering opening its borders to visitors later this year.

Which countries are accepting tourists with COVID-19 passports this year?

From 1 May 2021, Singapore became one of the first countries in the world to start accepting visitors with COVID passports. These visitors will need to hold a mobile travel pass containing certificates for Covid-19 tests, vaccination or recovery in the past 6 months.

Many other countries have already opened their borders or declared they will be accepting visitors who can prove they have been vaccinated. They include:

Countries accepting vaccinated passengers in 2021
Barbados Belize
Croatia Cyprus
Ecuador Estonia
France Georgia
Greece Hawaii
Hungary Iceland
Israel Lebanon
Lithuania Malta
Montenegro Poland
Portugal Romania
Portugal Romania
Seychelles Slovenia
Spain Thailand
Portugal Romania

Many other countries are expected to follow suit. Additionally, Emirates Airline was one of the first to trial a coronavirus travel passport at Dubai International Airport in April 2021.

Can I travel to another country if I have not been vaccinated?

Yes. The EU Digital COVID Certificate should facilitate free movement inside the EU. It will not be a pre-condition to free movement, which is a fundamental right in the EU.

Who is eligible for a covid passport?

EU citizens and their families, and legal residents, according to the official word so far.

However, an EU spokesperson has told CNN that the bloc expects to open the scheme up to non-citizens – including Americans. Access will depend on individual countries providing certificates for their visitors. More information is expected to be released before the official launch on July 1.
The UK is also reported to have been in negotiations. Travelers from the UK are not yet exempt from EU-wide restrictions, because of the Delta variant, first found in India, and now dominant in the UK.
The EU has also said that it is “working to make sure that the certificates can be compatible with systems in other countries,” for holders traveling outside the bloc.

Some countries also require health insurance for entry
learn more here

How can I get a COVID passport as an expat?

This will depend on the country you’re living in and where you received your vaccination. Every country has unique laws on travel during the coronavirus pandemic, so you may have to wait a while to see whether you’ll be offered a vaccine passport.

If you have resident status in a foreign country, you should have received or will be receiving, your vaccination from that country’s health authorities. In that case, it will be up to your resident country whether you receive a vaccine passport for COVID-19.

If you returned to your home country for your vaccination, or if you received your vaccination in a different country to the one you are now living in, then your immunisation passport may be offered by that country depending on its vaccine passport policy.

You probably won’t be able to ask for a vaccine passport from a different country to the one you received your immunisation from. This is because each country will have its own records of suppliers, batch numbers and so on.

The UK’s response to COVID and travel

Restrictions have eased to allow international travel to a limited number of countries. People travelling abroad from England can now use the NHS app to show they’ve had the COVID vaccine. Travellers from Scotland can also request proof of their vaccine status.

People who have had both doses of the COVID vaccine can use the NHS app at border controls to prove their vaccine status.

What is the NHS app? Can we call it a UK COVID vaccine passport?

The NHS app is separate from the NHS Covid-19 app, which is used for contact tracing. To use the app you need to be registered with a GP in England and aged 13 or over. The NHS is effectively what we can call a UK COVID passport. Over 1.3 million new people have registered to use the NHS App since the addition of COVID-19 vaccine status was announced on 7 May.

The app now contains a new section with information about your COVID vaccine status which is designed to be shown on request. You can also download a PDF copy or ask for it to be emailed to you. A full course is currently 2 doses of any approved vaccine.

In the future, the government says the app will also show your COVID test results.

Can people travel to the UK during COVID-19?

People can travel to the UK from the USA and other countries, but it’s recommended they only do this in exceptional circumstances. People in England can now travel to some countries without having to quarantine when they return.

If you’re travelling from or through a country on the UK government’s red list, you will not be allowed to enter the UK unless you are a UK or Irish national (in which case you will need to quarantine as above).

People who fail to provide accurate details about the countries they have visited in the 10 days before arriving in the UK could be fined up to £10,000 and imprisoned for up to 10 years.

What are the UK quarantine and travel restrictions?

There are currently very tight restrictions on travel and different rules depending on which part of the UK visitors arrive in.

Those arriving in England and Wales must fill in a passenger locator form through the UK government website and must also be able to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within the last three days.

Travellers must also self-isolate in a hotel for 10 days on arrival and will need to pay for a travel test package to be taken while in quarantine.

If you’re quarantining in England you may be able to take advantage of the Test to Release scheme. This allows you to end your quarantine early if you test negative after arriving.

Those arriving in Scotland must do all of the above, but their self-isolation must take place in a government-approved hotel. Travellers arriving in Northern Ireland must also quarantine for 10 days while also observing the country’s stay-at-home rule. They must not cross the border to Ireland after arriving.

Breaking any of the quarantine rules could result in a fine of £10,000.

Will other countries accept this?

Government guidance for England and Scotland acknowledges that not many countries allow entry on proof of vaccination alone, so most people will still need to follow other rules when travelling abroad, such as taking a pre-departure Covid test.

What is the ‘travel traffic light system’ in the UK?

The UK government has adopted a three-tiered system to determine which countries its residents can safely travel to and from, and what safety precautions must be taken in light of the COVID pandemic. However, it looks like that has done little to reassure the British public to travel internationally again soon, with only 30% saying they will feel comfortable travelling once the new restrictions are lifted.


This new system – commonly referred to as the ‘Traffic light system’ means that countries will be placed in one of three categories:

Green countries

The green list only took effect on the 17th of May (from 4am local time). You are now able to travel to and from the following:

  • Australia
  • Brunei
  • Falkland Islands
  • Faroe Islands
  • Gibraltar
  • Iceland
  • Israel and Jerusalem
  • New Zealand
  • Singapore
  • South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands
  • St Helena

Whilst you can now safely travel to these destinations you still need to follow guidelines on your return to England. Before travelling you’ll be required to fill out a form detailing your journey and contact details, you’ll need to take a COVID test, and book one for the 2nd day of your arrival.

Provided you test negative on both your pre-departure day two tests you won’t need to quarantine or take any additional tests.

Amber countries

Whilst you can return to England from amber countries, you’ll face an additional test and must self-isolate for 10 days in a designated quarantine hotel at your own expense. PCR tests on arrival should be taken on days two and eight. However, you may be able to take part in the new test to release scheme, which allows you to take a test on day 5 and end your quarantine period early.

Portugal has been moved from the green to the amber list.

Red countries

For red list countries, you will only be allowed to enter the UK if you’re a British or Irish National or have proof of residency.

As with amber countries you’ll need to be tested and must pay to quarantine in a hotel. You’ll have to undergo 10 days of managed quarantine in a designated quarantine hotel, which may be pricey. Currently, single adult travellers are charged £1,750 for their stay.

The government says you should not holiday in amber and red countries. If you do, quarantine rules apply and there are Covid tests before and after you return.

Similar rules apply in ScotlandNorthern Ireland and Wales.

Traffic light decisions are reviewed by ministers every three weeks, with the next decision due before 28 June.

Could COVID passports become compulsory?

The government says there will be some places where COVID passports will never be required – such as essential shops, public services, and public transport.

It has also said there will be exemptions for some people “for whom vaccination is not advised, and repeat testing is difficult”.

Will I need a COVID passport to go to the pub?

There is no legal requirement to have a COVID passport to be able to go to a pub or restaurant.

However, the government says it is legal for such businesses to ask customers for proof of COVID status if they wish to – as long as they do not break equality laws.

What else could a COVID passport be used for?

The government is piloting different ways to run large events in a range of venues across England at the moment, including concerts, nightclubs and sporting fixtures.

The trials are considering how social distancing, ventilation and mass testing can be used to keep people safe.

Other common questions

Here are some other common questions about COVID passports and travel during this difficult time.

This depends on the laws on international travel in your home country.

During the pandemic, many countries have altered their rules to restrict or deny entry – even to their own citizens.

Some countries, including the UK, require that all international arrivals – including British citizens – must take a COVID-19 test and quarantine on arrival at their own expense.

For this reason, many nations are advising their citizens to remain abroad until they receive further instructions. The UK government has published guidelines to British citizens who are waiting to return home.

Absolutely, as they are two different things.

While a COVID-19 vaccine passport will allow you to move about more freely, international health insurance covers you and your family for health issues while you’re living as an expat in a foreign country.

It can provide cover for treatment for most diseases, including COVID-19, as well as cancer. Still not sure which insurance you might need?

Domestic, international and travel insurance explained

This depends on the laws of the country in which you’re resident.

Generally speaking, no one should be forced to receive a vaccine if they don’t want one. However, this choice may prohibit them from taking part in certain activities, including doing their job, on the grounds that they present a risk to colleagues or customers.

COVID-19 vaccinations are widely considered safe and everyone is being encouraged to get them.

Planning your expat employees safe return to work

Yes. Our underwriters would need to review the medical information provided on your application and any relevant reports, but having a vaccine would not prevent them from offering terms for an international insurance policy.

What do you need to know about COVID-19 and insurance?

Whilst travel is still heavily restricted in most countries – there are often exceptions for those who need to travel for work or other exceptional circumstances. It’s always worth checking the local government website for the county you’re planning to move to well in advance. Many countries are accepting people who are relocating or work in specific industries/job roles.

Read about how COVID-19 pandemic has impacted William Russell insurance plans