A grandparent hugging a grandchild while they sit on a couch

If you’re already fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or will be soon, go ahead and book that summer vacation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced today that fully vaccinated people can travel—both domestically and internationally—with few limitations.

This advice builds on guidance the CDC issued in early March, which cleared the way for fully vaccinated people to safely gather indoors and unmasked without physical distancing with small groups of other fully vaccinated people. Visits between vaccinated people and a small number of low-risk unvaccinated people from a single household are also acceptable.

As a result, fully vaccinated grandparents, for example, can travel to see their unvaccinated children and grandchildren, and hug them as long as none of the unvaccinated people are at risk of severe COVID-19 because of factors such as heart disease, pregnancy, and obesity. 

Guidelines for Travel

The new guidelines reflect the latest evidence and science on the real-world effects of vaccination, the CDC said in a statement. The risk to a fully vaccinated person from traveling is low.

People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after they’ve received their last required vaccine dose—after a second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, or after one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. At that point, according to the CDC, people are much less likely to develop symptoms of COVID-19 and may be less likely to spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 to others.

“With millions of Americans getting vaccinated every day, it is important to update the public on the latest science about what fully vaccinated people can do safely now, including guidance on safe travel,” the CDC’s director, Rochelle Walensky, MD, said in a statement. “Vaccines can help us return to the things we love about life, so we encourage every American to get vaccinated as soon as they have the opportunity.”

According to the CDC, for travel within the U.S., you don’t need to be tested for COVID-19 before or after your trip, or to self-quarantine after your return, provided you take the standard precautions while traveling: Wear a mask, practice social distancing, avoid crowds, and wash your hands frequently.

The situation for international travel is slightly more restrictive because of the possibility of spreading variants of the virus and the differences in disease rates and vaccine status in other countries.

The CDC says you don’t need to get a COVID-19 test before going abroad unless the area you’re visiting requires one. But you must be tested and have a negative result before you fly back to the U.S. Self-quarantining post-trip isn’t necessary unless your state and city require it. But you should get tested again three to five days after you return. The same COVID-19 precautions apply throughout your trip.

The CDC’s travel advice hasn’t changed for people who aren’t fully vaccinated. Those traveling within the U.S. should be tested one to three days before their trip and again three to five days after travel. Even if the test is negative, you should stay home for seven days (10 days if you don’t get tested). The CDC advises unvaccinated people to avoid international travel.

Heading Back to Normal

For many people who have spent the past year avoiding contact with friends and family outside their household bubble, the new guidance is a sign that though precautions are still needed, there’s an end in sight to at least some restrictions.

“This is a step toward normalcy for those who have been vaccinated,” says Gregory Poland, MD, a professor of medicine who studies vaccine response in adults and children, and directs the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic.

This guidance may also help demonstrate the benefits of getting fully vaccinated against COVID-19 once vaccines are readily available to all.

More on COVID-19

“The guidance is risk-based,” says James Dickerson, PhD, chief scientific officer at Consumer Reports. “If you are vaccinated and engaged with a small group of people, then your likelihood of spreading or catching the virus is probably low,” he says. When more people get vaccinated, Dickerson expects the guidance to change. “As time goes on, we will learn more about how long these vaccines are effective, so don’t be frustrated or concerned if the guidance gets updated,” he says.

For most of the past year, the CDC has advised that people interact with those outside their household bubble indoors only while wearing a mask and practicing social distancing, and it has encouraged people to keep interactions outdoors as much as possible. 

Guidelines for Socializing

The CDC’s guidance shows how vaccines will change those interactions.

No masks or social distancing precautions are needed for small indoor gatherings—generally considered six people or fewer, though that may vary depending on household size—where:
• Everyone is vaccinated, such as a dinner with friends who are also vaccinated.
• Vaccinated people meet with one other household of low-risk, unvaccinated people.  

Masks, social distancing, and meeting outdoors or in a well-ventilated place are still needed in public settings and for gatherings where:
• Any unvaccinated person in attendance is at high risk of severe COVID-19 or lives with someone at high risk.
• More than one unvaccinated household is involved.
• A large or moderate number of people—generally six or more—attend. 

In addition, because the risk of developing COVID-19 is lower for vaccinated people, CDC guidance says that vaccinated people don’t need to quarantine after being exposed to someone with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 as long as they don’t develop symptoms, though they should monitor for symptoms such as fever, cough, body aches, and shortness of breath for 14 days. Though it’s rare, some vaccinated people may still contract COVID-19, so if a vaccinated person develops symptoms after exposure, they should isolate and be evaluated and tested for COVID-19.

Some individuals may still want to take additional precautions, Poland says. For example, if a person is immunocompromised, they may still want to wear a mask and practice social distancing even after they’ve been vaccinated, he says. 

As more people are vaccinated, interactions will become safer. More than 2 million people are now receiving vaccines each day, Walensky says.

The CDC says that this guidance will continue to be updated based on the levels of community spread of the coronavirus and the percentage of the population that’s fully vaccinated, and as we learn more about variants of the virus that are emerging.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated to include information about travel guidance. It was originally published March 8, 2021.