Underwater photographer Erik Lucas has regularly traveled to the Philippines since 2014, using those trips to teach workshops on capturing the Pacific country's vibrant marine life. Then the pandemic hit, and Lucas waited years to return. "The moment they announced that they were reopening without quarantine, I booked tickets," Lucas says.
The Philippines began welcoming fully vaccinated international travelers from approved countries in February. On April 1, the archipelago will reopen to fully vaccinated travelers from all countries.
While there are covid-specific entry requirements to get to the Philippines, Lucas felt the end result was worth the additional effort, and he encourages other travelers to visit. "Absolutely go," he says.
To prepare for your own trip, By The Way collected advice from recent visitors and travel experts on how to navigate a pandemic trip to the Philippines.
Know the basic travel requirements
Fully vaccinated travelers must provide proof of immunization (your white CDC card will do) as well as A negative RT-PCR result from a test taken within 48 hours of departure to the Philippines. This timeline excludes layovers as long as travelers stay within airports.
Children under 12 are exempt from the vaccination requirement if they are traveling with a fully vaccinated parent.
Visitors who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or whose vaccination status can't be confirmed also have to provide proof of a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours of their flight to the Philippines, in addition to other quarantine requirements.
All travelers must register with the One Health Pass (OHP), apply for an e-Health Declaration Card (e-HDC) and show that they have purchased travel insurance that includes COVID-19 treatment with a minimum coverage of $35,000. Lucas used the Squaremouth platform to find the travel insurance he needed to meet the Philippines' entry requirements.
Once you've arrived, there may also be specific domestic travel restrictions depending on the destination. Check to make sure if you need an additional coronavirus test before taking trips within the country.
Keep track of travel restrictions online
As with all trips during the pandemic, it is critical to watch for updates to travel restrictions ahead of your trip.
"It changes all the time," says Pow Belgado, who visited the Philippines in March to see her family in Manila and Batangas. She turned to the Facebook page of the Philippines' Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF). "They're very up to date," she says, adding that the page made understanding travel restrictions more manageable with easy-to-read graphics.
Belgado also recommends checking for news through the Philippine embassy and contacting its staff if you have any confusion. "I had a question and they emailed me back on a Sunday," she says. "I was quite surprised."
Hans Van Der Sande, treasurer of the casino and resort complex Okada Manila, relied on updates from the Philippine Airlines website. Its COVID-19 Travel Guide offers information for passengers flying to, from and within the Philippines.
You can also visit the official tourism website or the Department of Health's website.
Anticipate fewer flight options
Daniel Robbins booked his flight to the Philippines as soon as he heard about the reopening plan. Because Robbins was so early, there weren't great flight options to get from Los Angeles to Manila; airlines are still ramping up services to the country.
"[I got] like the only [flight] available before it started getting very expensive," he says. "I had to fly from California to Hawaii, Hawaii to Guam, Guam to Manila. It took forever."
While planning for his 2 1/2-week trip to Manila and Cebu, Norman Villaroman - a native of the Philippines and founder of the family travel blog Go Places With Kids - also noticed tickets were more expensive than before the pandemic.
As demand rises for flights to the Philippines, the cost of tickets should go down, and options should increase. Villaroman says travelers should make sure the flight is flexible in case they need to cancel or reschedule based on the results of a coronavirus test.
How to prepare for your travel day
Travelers will have to present their essential documents - such as proof of vaccination and OHP QR code - at their departure airport when checking in for their flight, again before they board and upon landing in the Philippines. They will also be asked to show their travel insurance and test results before departing.
"They check every step of the way," Lucas says, noting that he was surprised how thoroughly they reviewed his travel insurance policy.
Robbins arrived at the airport much earlier than usual, giving himself four hours in case something went awry. Before he left home, he made sure he had multiple copies of every required document for his trip. "I didn't want to rely on them only being on my phone," he says.
What happens when you land
Visitors will have to show their essential travel documents when they arrive in the Philippines. The process is smooth, Belgado says, but she recommends sitting as close as you can to the front of the plane so you can be one of the first to the counters for your document review.
Once you have gone through immigration and coronavirus procedures at the airport, you are free to leave and begin your adventure. Just make sure you keep track of your vaccination card throughout your trip - most hotels require guests to provide proof of vaccination to enter and check in.
"Having your vaccine card is almost as important as having your passport," Van Der Sande says.
Aside from vaccine requirements, Van Der Sande says the only other major coronavirus precaution is that masks are required in public places.
Otherwise, there aren't many restrictions limiting a traveler's experience in the Philippines. Bars and restaurants are open, but they may have limited capacity. Belgado says she went to the beach, malls and casinos, and "it felt normal."
Robbins enjoyed the reduced capacity on his snorkel excursion. Although that meant customers had to wait a little longer for their turn to board a boat, people weren't packed in together like they would be before the pandemic.
Remember to plan your coronavirus tests to get home
As a reminder, anyone coming to the United States must get an approved test within a day of their flight.
Belgado says people staying in Manila should have no problem finding and arranging a coronavirus test, but if you're staying in a smaller or more remote destination, plan your test with more care. While staying in Batangas, she didn't realize the testing lab needed to send out her sample to another facility, so getting results took much longer than she expected. She had to splurge on a second test to make sure she could get the results in time.
When planning your own tests, Belgado says, ask the lab how long they will need to process a test within your travel window.
To cut the stress of finding a test locally, Villaroman packed an at-home test that is approved for U.S. travel restrictions. Should you go this route, note that tests must be approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and be taken over a video call with real-time supervision from a telehealth service. Some options include Qured's antigen self-tests and BinaxNOW's kit (not the over-the-counter version found at drugstores; you have to order the COVID-19 Ag Card Home Test online and make sure it includes video-call support). Detect's coronavirus test uses the same technology as a PCR lab test and delivers results in about an hour.
"I also brought some extra at-home tests for peace of mind just so I could test myself if I had symptoms," Villaroman says, echoing advice from many coronavirus experts.