If you haven’t traveled in a while, then your packing skills may have gotten rusty. There are plenty of new items to add to your packing list — like a smartphone power bank since more restaurants mandate mobile ordering.
But there’s one more thing that you might bring on your next trip: Your COVID-19 vaccination card.
For international travel, you’ll almost certainly need it, as most countries require vaccination proof or a negative test result to avoid quarantine restrictions (note that some countries, regardless of your vaccine status, require proof of a negative COVID-19 test). Some countries will require you to upload it into a vaccine passport system of some kind before your departure. Be sure to check the rules specific to the country you are flying to.
But should you pack your COVID-19 vaccination card for domestic travel?
The case against packing your COVID-19 vaccination card
It’s impossible to say for sure whether you’ll need proof of vaccination while traveling domestically within the U.S. Rules vary by state, county, city and individual business. But in most circumstances, you won’t need it.
At national parks, masks are required for unvaccinated people (based on the honor system) indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces. They’re also required for all visitors (vaccinated or not) on public transportation or in health care settings. Walt Disney World, Las Vegas casinos and major U.S. hotels, such as Hilton, have similar policies.
If you don’t need proof, then you might not want to bring it. It’s just one more thing that could get lost or damaged.
The case for packing your COVID-19 vaccination card
But if you’re a just-in-case person who is more at ease by packing your vaccination card, then bring it. You’ll be prepared for any situation when you may need it.
The Biden administration has said that there will be no federal vaccination database or mandate that requires U.S. citizens to obtain a vaccination credential — and most Americans don’t want that, either. Only 33% of Americans think digital vaccine passports should be required, according to a February 2021 J.D. Power survey of 1,500 air passengers. Meanwhile, 35% of Americans in the same survey said vaccine passports are a bad idea.
But most experts agree that federal laws don’t block individual businesses from asking about, or requiring, vaccination status. Plus, proof is sometimes required at state and local levels.
“As a matter of federal law, it is not prohibited,” says Glenn Cohen, a law professor and bioethics expert at Harvard University. When people say HIPAA, the federal medical information privacy law, forbids it, they are mistaken, he notes.
Where proof of vaccination might come in handy
To that end, packing your COVID-19 vaccination card could make sense, especially given that the following destinations or travel experiences will require it.
Sports events and concerts
A few small, private venues ask for vaccination proof, but it’s more likely to be required at larger venues. In California, attendees of indoor events with 5,000 or more people are required to prove they’ve been vaccinated or have a negative COVID-19 status.
Other venues offer unvaccinated and vaccinated sections. While vaccinated guests are permitted to sit in unvaccinated sections, it doesn’t work in reverse. Proof of vaccination not only unlocks more seat options, but allows you to avoid wearing a mask inside. Unvaccinated sections also typically come with mask requirements that vaccinated sections don’t.
You’ll definitely need your COVID-19 vaccine card for certain types of travel, including cruises, though you’ll likely be aware of the requirements well before booking. Without proof of vaccination, you’ll likely experience limitations or be prevented from that type of travel entirely.
Most major cruise lines, including Disney Cruise Line, Holland America and Norwegian Cruise Line, require vaccination proof for some or all voyages. Some even require both proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test. While some cruise lines accept digital proof, others require the original physical copy. Check with your cruise provider before departure day.
Heading to the Aloha State? Hawaii has had some of the strictest restrictions since the onset of the pandemic, requiring a 10-day quarantine unless you show proof of a negative test taken from an approved test provider. But as of July 2021, Hawaii allows travelers entering from (and who were fully vaccinated in) the U.S. to bypass those requirements by uploading documentation online.
You must present either your printed-out vaccination record document or a hard copy of your vaccine card upon arrival.
Alternatives to packing your vaccination record card
Depending on the nature of your trip, you might be required to flash your physical, original vaccination record. But other vaccine passport initiatives are underway, meaning you might be able to prove your status digitally rather than by carrying your physical card.
- State-specific passes. Some states have rolled out technology that shows digital proof of vaccination or negative test results, like New York’s Excelsior Pass and California’s Digital COVID-19 Vaccine Record. While those passes won’t substitute for situations requiring hard copies, downloading them to your device can be a happy medium in showing proof without risking losing your original.
- Privately run apps. Some companies have created digital vaccine cards, which may prove useful if your state of residency doesn’t offer digital versions (or you don’t want to share that information with your state). Many, though not all, places that require proof of vaccination accept these apps. For example, Clear, which is primarily used for security in airports, rolled out a program called Health Pass, which is used by programs like Hawaii’s Safe Travels.
- A photo. In some situations, a simple photo might be proof enough. It’s not a bad idea to have a photo of your vaccination card saved to your phone, just in case. You won’t have to download any apps, and you won’t have to worry about another company potentially storing your data.
With these alternatives, you will have peace of mind knowing that you have some sort of vaccination proof should you need it.
If you’re considering packing your COVID-19 vaccination card
Unless you might buy last-minute concert tickets, domestic travelers will likely need proof of vaccination only for certain types of trips where the requirements should be made clear to you well in advance — like flights to Hawaii and cruises.
For most types of domestic travel, you’re usually OK leaving your vaccine card at home. But if you’re planning an international trip, you will almost certainly need to provide proof of vaccination in whatever form your destination requires.
Just in case, you might want to save a photo to your camera roll — it could come in handy in a pinch.