En español | The Hawaiian islands were just beginning to welcome back the travelers that fuel their tourism-based economies when the new omicron coronavirus variant emerged this fall. The state is still welcoming visitors, but to prevent the spread of this highly contagious COVID-19 strain, it is continuing to maintain strict entry requirements for travelers, as well as infection-prevention measures on the ground.
The latest rules for visitors from the U.S. and its territories include COVID-19 vaccination and testing requirements: Travelers need to offer proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or, if they aren't vaccinated, present a negative Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT) result to avoid a mandatory 10-day quarantine. The state calls these the Vaccine Exemption Program and the Pre-Travel Testing Exemption Program. And all U.S. travelers must create a Safe Travels account, explained below. (Rules for international visitors or U.S. visitors arriving from other countries follow the general U.S. guidelines; they'll need to have proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 24 hours of departure to the U.S.)
Once in Hawaii, visitors will find social gathering and restaurant capacity limitations, though they vary from island to island. On Oahu, Maui, Molokai and Lanai, for example, proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result is required for indoor dining.
The state still requires mask-wearing in indoor public spaces, regardless of vaccination status, and asks people to socially distance on beaches. The Island of Hawaii also requires face coverings in outdoor areas with crowds of more than 10 people and where 6 feet of social distancing cannot be maintained. (Note that everyone, vaccinated or not, also still needs to wear a mask in airports and on planes and other public forms of transportation across the U.S.)
These rules needn’t dissuade you from visiting — the islands are undeniably gorgeous and fantastic destinations. But a smooth and safe trip will require careful planning, respect for local regulations and a little patience.
1. Make reservations as soon as possible
Airfare sales and hotel deals may seem plentiful, but tourism has been roaring back to the islands (it's too soon to tell if omicron's emergence will reverse that trend). Finding a rental car can be particularly difficult and pricey. Ride-booking options like Uber and Lyft are reduced and, when available, can come with long waits. Consider making dinner plans and tour bookings before you arrive.
2. Get vaccinated
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asks people to delay travel until they are fully vaccinated (two weeks after receiving your second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or two weeks after receiving the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine). COVID-19 booster shots are encouraged, but not currently required.
3. Register on Hawaii's Safe Travels website
Each traveler age 18 and older should create his or her own account through Hawaii's Safe Travels site in the days or weeks before departure, with a username and password. You can enter your flight information now, if you have it. (You’ll upload your COVID-19 vaccination information or negative test results here later.)
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4. Complete the state's online health form and upload your documentation
All travelers must complete a health questionnaire and submit their proof of vaccination on the Safe Travels site 24 hours before departure. As noted above, if you aren’t vaccinated, you'll need to take a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departing on the last leg of your trip to Hawaii, and submit the negative test result. It must be a Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT) and be administered by one of Hawaii’s Trusted Testing and Travel Partners. Children under 5 are exempt from these rules. If you do need to quarantine, it will be at your own expense — and note that vacation rentals of less than 30 days don't qualify as acceptable self-quarantine locations.
Once you’ve answered the questions and uploaded your information, a QR code will be emailed to you. This is what you'll present to screeners for scanning either at your boarding gate before your flight to Hawaii (you'll be given a wristband indicating that you've been approved for entry) or upon arrival. Make sure the information you submit matches your photo ID, to avoid any confusion.
Along with printing a copy for peace of mind, know your Safe Travels website password and practice accessing your account on your phone, tablet or laptop. And make sure that device is charged — you’ll need to have it handy at the airport, and many hotels require guests to log into their account when checking in. Bring your paper vaccination card as well.
5. Stay on top of evolving COVID-19 restrictions
The pandemic is anything but predictable, and related restrictions can change quickly. Check the latest rules, before and during your vacation, at gohawaii.com.
Editor's note: This story was originally published on June 22, 2021. It's been updated to reflect new information.
Dana Rebmann lives in Sonoma County wine country and writes about travel, nature and wine. Her work has appeared in Hemispheres, Delta Sky, TheTelegraph.com and more.