Foreign tourists not allowed.
After the coronavirus hit last year, the shutters went down around the world. After 18 months, the scenario looks different. Countries are cautiously welcoming travelers and relying on a variety of safety measures, including quarantine, test results, and vaccine certificates. It has been a whirlwind of what’s open and what’s closed, with countries going back into lockdowns after a surge in cases, banning travelers from high-risk zones, and coming up with new plans of phased openings and travel bubbles.
But there are a few nations in the world that have remained out of bounds for most international travelers. Even residents need a permit to leave the country on humanitarian grounds or essential travel and they may not be allowed back in easily. These governments are still strategizing on how to open the economy while keeping their citizens safe.
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The island country has been one of the rare successes in the face of the pandemic. The borders were swiftly shut on March 19, 2020, after the pandemic spread around the world and only Kiwis could enter but with difficulty. Following a zero-COVID policy, it imposes severe lockdowns every time a case is reported—the country has been in lockdown since August 17, 2021. In July, it ended the travel bubble with Australia after the Delta variant appeared in the neighboring country, leaving many stranded and locked out.
New Zealand is not going to allow foreign nationals for the rest of the year. It’s planning to reopen in early 2022 in phases after a sizable population gets vaccinated. Vaccinated travelers from low-risk countries may get to bypass mandatory quarantine, but those from high-risk countries will have to go through a 14-day institutionalized quarantine. New Zealand has yet to announce details.
Australia, too, followed a zero-COVID policy, firmly shutting its international borders in March 2020. It’s been 18 months and only Australian citizens and permanent members are allowed to enter, but even they have to jump through hoops to get in.
The country is struggling to control the Delta variant and amp up inoculations. New South Wales has been under lockdown since July, along with other parts of the country. However, Christmas may bring good news for travelers and borders may reopen for trade and tourism.
Another country in the Pacific that has been strict about entry is Fiji. Since March 2020, most foreign travelers—business and leisure—have had limited access to the islands. It ran two programs that let travelers arriving on private jets and private yachts to enter.
The country is looking for a November opening after 80% of their adults get their jabs. Fully vaccinated travelers on their green list won’t have to undergo mandatory quarantine, and New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Singapore, Korea, and parts of the USA are on the list.
Tough restrictions have kept Singaporeans at home and foreign travelers out since last year. Ignoring quarantine rules can result in fines or jail, or both. But the country is finding a new approach after conceding the zero-COVID strategy. It has recently started green travel lanes with Germany and Brunei that allows fully vaccinated travelers to fly into the country—the list of requirements is long, though. U.S. travelers are still not allowed in.
China also has a zero-tolerance policy and it effectively shuts down cities when a case emerges—as has happened recently due to Delta flare-ups. The borders have been closed for more than a year and it’s likely that it won’t open borders for another year. There are few exemptions to people who can find their way into the country, but they have to go through mandatory quarantines that last two to three weeks.
However, the country is hosting the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in February, so it will bring in athletes and journalists in a limited capacity. It is expected to go to great lengths to avoid a superspreader Olympics event, more severe than Tokyo.
Meanwhile, some of the strictest restrictions were adopted by the semiautonomous region of Hong Kong, which shut out foreign travelers in March 2020. It, too, follows a zero-COVID policy. Fully vaccinated residents and non-residents are now allowed to enter from some countries (including the U.S.), but the quarantine can last up to three weeks at the traveler’s expense, so it discourages travel. (See full details here.) Travel bans and flight cancellations are common, and the plans to form a travel bubble with Singapore have been scrapped too.
The Southeast Asian nation reported no deaths in 2020 after it closed the borders in April. This year, cases started to spike in February when four Chinese nationals broke quarantine and led to a community spread. E-visas and visas-on-arrival are still suspended and only diplomats and officials are allowed to enter. However, Cambodia is planning to reopen in November and may even forego or lessen the 14-day mandatory quarantine rule for vaccinated travelers. It is doing exceedingly well with vaccine distribution—Phnom Penh is one of the most vaccinated capital cities in the world.
International travelers aren’t allowed to enter Malaysia. There are very few exceptions and even in the country, the movement is restricted. From October 1, the country will be removing restrictions on spas, zoos, and forest parks if the staff and visitors are vaccinated. The domestic travel bubble is also instituted with Langkawi, Tioman Island, Genting Highlands, and Melaka state.
The South American country has stayed inaccessible for foreign nationals with limited exceptions since 2020. The country plans to ease some restrictions in November, now that cases have fallen.
The Asian country was badly hit by the pandemic and remains closed to foreign visitors since last year. Travelers with a resident permit or diplomatic visas can enter. Bali, which depends largely on tourism, may allow foreign tourists in October from low-risk countries. This decision, however, will depend on the pandemic situation in the country.