How to manage vaccine certifications and COVID-19 passports for travel

Proving you’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 when you travel is becoming increasingly complex. How do the new set of vaccine passport apps work, and what are some of the tips and tricks to ensure that you have proof of your vaccination status when you need to? Here’s what you need to know. 

Should I carry the original vaccination certificate hardcopy when I travel abroad?

After your passport, your proof of vaccination is the most important piece of travel documentation that you’ll have with you this year—and maybe for a while. Keeping it safe is strongly recommended, and whether you’ll need it when you travel depends on where you are from. 

If you have access to a digital, printable version that can be authenticated—like Europe’s digital COVID-19 certificate—then it’s best to print a couple of copies and bring them with you. Stash one in your wallet, one in your carry-on and one in your hold luggage, as well as in your email. In Europe, if you have the digital version on your phone, and some printed back-ups, you should be fine to leave your hardcopy safe at home. 

However, if you’re in the US, all you’ll likely have is the CDC card with the scribble of whoever vaccinated you. You’ll need to bring it when you travel internationally—but treat it with the same care and importance as you do your regular passport. Lose it and you’ll have a headache trying to replace it. 

What if I lose my vaccination certificate?

If you have a digital, printable version, just hit print again. But if you’re in the US, the CDC doesn’t hold a national database. Instead, there’s a patchwork of state and city authorities with Immunisation Information Systems (IIS) that may hold a record. 

It might be a smart idea to take your card with you the next time you go to your primary healthcare provider, general practitioner or family doctor. They can verify that you have indeed been vaccinated and you can ask them to write a letter—on their letterhead, signed and ideally stamped—confirming your vaccination details. You’ll want to get a couple of copies, digitise one, and keep the other very safe.

How do I convert my certification to the local system when I travel? 

More countries are not only requiring vaccination certificates for entry, but also to access restaurants, cultural sites and more. But converting your proof of vaccination to another country’s⁠ (or even another US state’s⁠) system will depend entirely on where you’re coming from and where you’re going. 

There’s no international standard yet, and things change on a daily basis, so check these three key places: your home country’s embassy in your destination country; your destination country’s embassy in your home country; the destination country’s health ministry; and local news sites, especially if there’s an expat community site.

A policeman checks the health pass of a customer at a bar in Bordeaux.
France requires proof of vaccination © PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP via Getty Images

While in some countries like France and Germany it’s relatively simple to get the exchange done, in others it may simply be easier to pop into a pharmacy every few days for a quick antigen test, which in most cases can be used instead of showing proof of vaccination (if you test negative, of course).

Is there an international system I can use to make things simple? 

There isn’t yet an international system for proving your vaccination status, nor is there a true international standard. The closest is the EU’s Digital COVID Certificate (EU DCC), which is a standard for interoperability between various countries—so Dutch certificates work in Finland, for example. 

It’s possible that the EU DCC standard will be the one that other countries adopt moving forward. That’s already happening in some ways: systems in Switzerland, San Marino and Vatican City became interoperable in July, while Turkey, Ukraine and North Macedonia joined in August, and additions so far in September have included Andorra, Monaco, Israel, Albania, Panama, Morocco and the Faroe Islands.

If you’re planning a lot of travel over the next year, or planning a multiple-country trip to Europe, consider making an early stop at one of the countries where converting an overseas COVID-19 vaccination certificate into an EU DCC version is easy. 

On balance, France is probably the easiest—the TousAntiCovid vaccine certificate wallet app is available in international app stores and there’s an online process to convert international certificates. Germany’s a close second place, but its CovPass app isn’t available for Apple accounts not billed in Germany, which can be a hassle.

What do my kids use if they aren’t vaccinated? 

The rules for unvaccinated children vary between countries—as do the age boundary at which the children’s rules and adults’ rules apply. Often, the rules for children depend on the vaccination status of their parent or guardian.

For example, Germany says: “Given the uncertainty surrounding vaccination for young people, unvaccinated children under 12 years of age are allowed to enter Germany if they travel with at least one fully vaccinated parent.”

In France: “The measures applicable to vaccinated adults also apply to any minors accompanying them, whether they are vaccinated or not. You can therefore travel with your underage children, whether they are vaccinated or not, and they will not need to self-isolate.”

Check carefully before you travel.

How do I keep my vaccine card/data secure? 

If you only have a paper vaccine card, guard it like you would your passport and keep copies safely at home and with you when you travel.

If you have a digital version on your phone, then taking basic security hygiene measures—like a strong password, fingerprint or face recognition, and perhaps even keeping any pictures of it you’ve taken in a password-locked or biometric-locked note—should suffice.