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What to Know About Visiting the Caribbean This Winter

How to make sense of COVID-19 rules and decide where it's safe to travel

Trunk Bay vacation destination beach in St. John, Virgin Islands

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St. John

En español | The Caribbean is home to hundreds of islands scattered across more than 1 million square miles, governed by more than 20 countries and territories of France, Great Britain, the Netherlands and the United States. That's resulted in an international soup of coronavirus-related health and safety protocols, many of which change frequently as infection rates spike or slow.

Despite this confusing patchwork of warnings and restrictions, travel agents report that many Americans are eager to head to the Caribbean this winter; it's a region boasting beautiful tropical islands and weather that allows for lots of outdoor activities (and, therefore, social distancing).

If you're among those thinking about a trip to the Caribbean this winter, expect to spend more time planning your journey and monitoring government websites for changing requirements and advisories for your destination. And make sure to know the rules in your home state, which may require you to quarantine for 14 days upon your return, depending on where you go.

Here are a few things to consider when planning a Caribbean vacation during the pandemic.

Official travel advisories

When choosing your Caribbean destination, you'll want to consider the complicated host of travel warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which provides risk ratings by country, from zero to level 3; and from the U.S. Department of State, which has travel advisory levels from 1 (exercise normal precautions) through 4 (do not travel).

While the CDC no longer warns against international travel entirely, it rates most of the world at level 3: “COVID-19 risk is high.” But several Caribbean countries are on the agency's no-risk and low-risk lists, including Anguilla, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Lucia.

Meanwhile, the State Department has rated much of the region — including Aruba, Barbados and Jamaica — at level 3, meaning “reconsider travel"; that's the same as for much of the world, including Italy, Mexico and the United Kingdom. The Dominican Republic, which does not require visitors to be tested for the coronavirus, is at level 4. The Bahamas has the same level 4 warning, though it has new stiff entry rules that require travelers to get tested for COVID-19 up to three times during their stay.

Some islands in the region have the lowest infection rates globally, including Saint Kitts and Nevis, which Johns Hopkins University of Medicine's Coronavirus Resource Center reports has had 19 cases and no deaths. Saint Lucia has had 54 cases and no deaths.

Outbound testing and travel requirements

Most Caribbean island nations require guests to have a COVID-19 test upon arrival. Those that do, including Antigua and Barbuda, Sint Maarten, St. Barths and most of the islands detailed below, specify a polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test that senses the genetic presence of the coronavirus.

For passengers flying from Miami to Jamaica or the Bahamas, American Airlines plans to begin testing at the Miami airport before departure, which will fulfill those destinations’ testing requirements (the exact implementation date has not been announced, though trial efforts began in October).

No matter where you go in the Caribbean, expect to provide contact information before or upon arrival, to help with contact tracing. Some islands require fees to cover testing (Anguilla's start at $300 a person); others mandate special medical insurance that covers infection while traveling.

More details on some popular islands’ requirements

The island officially reopened to visitors from the U.S. on July 10 but has restrictions for certain states. All U.S. residents must take a molecular COVID-19 test before traveling to Aruba. For residents of approved states, the test is also available at the Aruba airport for $75, but quarantining is required before the results arrive (it usually takes six to eight hours). All travelers must also purchase mandatory Aruba Visitors Insurance to cover them in case they develop the virus during their stay. The cost depends on the length of your visit and starts at $10 per person per day.

idyllic beaches of Paradise Island, Nassau, Bahamas

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Paradise Island

New policies in effect since Nov. 1 no longer require visitors to quarantine; instead, they must take a COVID-19 test no more than five days before arrival and submit the results in order to obtain a visa from the site Upon arrival, travelers will take a rapid antigen test, to be repeated four days later. (American Airlines will provide rapid antigen tests in Miami for Bahamas-bound travelers in place of the one normally required upon arrival.) Guests of the island will also need to fill out a daily online health questionnaire so their symptom status can be tracked throughout their visit. Starting Nov. 14, visitors will need to opt in to mandatory health insurance when applying for a Health Travel Visa ($40 or $60, depending on the length of your stay) that will cover them.

Americans traveling to Barbados must go online and submit the results of a negative PCR test that was taken no more than 72 hours before arrival, as well as complete an online Immigration and Customs form. Upon arrival, according to the Barbados Tourism site, “All incoming persons must undergo a health assessment which may include a temperature check and a brief interview by Port Health personnel.” You should also bring a copy of your test results to show. Guests must remain at their approved hotel, resort or rental establishment until a second test is taken, four to five days after the first one. With a negative result (typically received within 24 hours), travelers are free to explore the island.

Dominican Republic
Travelers to the DR do not need to take a COVID-19 test before arrival. Only those showing symptoms and a random sample of fewer than 10 percent of arriving guests will be subject to a breath test for the coronavirus. Everyone, however, may be subject to a temperature check. The government requires visitors to sign a Traveler's Health Affidavit declaring that they have not experienced any COVID symptoms in the past 72 hours; it is providing free travel assistance insurance through the end of the year to cover emergency treatment for tourists staying at hotels only.

This small island country has reported 28 cases of, and no deaths from, the coronavirus. American visitors must go online and enter pretravel information (including acceptance of the Waiver of Liability Agreement) and upload negative results from PCR tests taken within seven days of arrival, as well as provide proof of reservations and payment for at least five nights at an approved “Pure Safe” accommodation (there's a long list, including many villas, resorts and hotels). Once in Grenada, tourists must quarantine at their chosen location. On day 4, they may take another COVID-19 test. If the results are negative, they may travel across the island.

Before heading to the island, travelers must go online and submit negative results of a PCR or antigen test taken at a certified laboratory within 10 days of their scheduled arrival. A health screening upon arrival may require an additional test and quarantine of up to 48 hours while awaiting the results. Visitors are restricted to travel within its two “resilient corridors” covering the north and southwest coasts. Starting in late November, Jamaica will require health insurance that covers a traveler contracting COVID-19; the roughly $40 fee will be bundled into the required Travel Authorization application.

Puerto Rico
Visitors to Puerto Rico must either quarantine for 14 days (or the length of their stay, if less than two weeks) or show a negative COVID-19 test taken at an approved testing site within 72 hours of arrival. They must also complete an online Travel Declaration form.

St. Kitts and Nevis reopened to visitors on Oct. 31. Tourists must submit negative results from a PCR test taken within 72 hours of their scheduled arrival and complete an entry form online. The form will be reviewed for approval. Arriving guests will have their temperatures taken and, for the first week, must stay on the grounds of their hotel; they may also need to download a COVID-19 tracing app. Anyone staying long enough will undergo a COVID-19 test on day 7 ($100); if the test is negative, the visitor may take select excursions. Another negative test, on day 14 ($100), will allow foreign travelers to fully explore the area.

famous Pitons in St. Lucia

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St. Lucia

Saint Lucia
The State Department gives Saint Lucia, which has been open since June, one of its best ratings: level 2 ("Exercise increased caution"). Visitors must provide negative results from a PCR test taken no more than seven days before their arrival and must submit a travel registration form no less than three days before traveling. Guests are restricted to COVID-19 certified hotels and attractions for stays, activities, tours and excursions (listed online). After 14 days, they are permitted to visit beaches and fully explore the island.

U.S. Virgin Islands
This no-passport (for U.S. citizens) destination requires a negative result from a COVID-19 test taken no more than five days before travel; it should be submitted through the USVI Travel Screening Portal. Without the test, visitors will need to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Quarantines upon your return

Some states require or suggest 14-day quarantines for visitors or residents returning from certain states and territories or from international destinations. New Jersey, for one, currently has Puerto Rico on its 14-day quarantine list but not the U.S. Virgin Islands. (See our story on state quarantine rules for travelers.)

Many states don't explicitly list Caribbean islands on their quarantine lists, but the CDC recommends that Americans take safety precautions upon returning from any type of travel. These include staying at least 6 feet from those not in your household, wearing a mask, washing or sanitizing your hands frequently, being alert for COVID-19 symptoms and taking your temperature if you feel sick.

If you have visited a destination with the CDC's level 3 Travel Health Notice, such as Aruba or the Bahamas, the agency recommends that you take extra precautions for 14 days after you return — including staying home as much as possible, avoiding people at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and considering a coronavirus test.

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