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Visiting Hawaii now: Safe Travels to stick around as restrictions ease

The Points Guy logo The Points Guy 10/17/2021 Summer Hull
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.

Hawaii’s Safe Travels, the digital COVID-19 health system required for use by all visitors of the Aloha State, has officially been in use for one year as of October 15, and it will likely stick around through the holidays. Under the system, travelers must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test in order to avoid quarantine on arrival.

Related: Desperate warnings from Hawaii

Although the state’s lieutenant governor said in a recent interview with Hawaii news outlet KHON2 that he expects restrictions could be loosened soon, planning a vacation to Hawaii continues to be a challenge.

It’s a lot of information to keep track of, and it changes often. So, here’s the latest about traveling to the Aloha State right now and what you need to prepare for a successful trip.

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In This Post

The latest

Safe Travels to remain through year’s end

On October 15, the day Hawaii’s Safe Travels program turned 1 year old, Lieutenant Governor Josh Green — who is also a medical doctor and serves as the state’s liaison on all things COVID-19-related — told KHON2 in an interview that the program is likely to be around through the holidays.

“The reason for that is that there’s a higher COVID rate on the mainland, and we’re still adjusting to the prospect of bringing international travel here. So, we wouldn’t want to kind of make too many large changes all at once.”

Green also told the outlet the state is evaluating how best to adjust its policies given the White House’s announcement that the United States will reopen to foreign visitors beginning Nov. 8.

Easing of some restrictions

On October 8, Hawaii Governor David Ige tweeted infographics showing the latest round of walk-backs on statewide restrictions.

Effective that day, the sale of liquor at bars and other establishments was extended until midnight.

On October 13, the following went into effect:

  • Outdoor sporting events are allowed at 50% capacity with a 1,000-person cap. All attending must be vaccinated, wear masks and practice social distancing.
  • Golf tournaments are allowed if all participants are vaccinated.
  • Road races and triathlons are allowed with a 500-person limit. All participants must be vaccinated, and they must be staggered in heats of no more than 25 people at the start. No post-event gathering is allowed unless it falls within the guidelines for gatherings.

The following will take effect on October 20:

  • Outdoor weddings will be permitted to resume at 50% capacity with a limit of 150 people. Food and beverages will also be allowed, along with masked mingling, but all attendees must be vaccinated.
  • Indoor seated entertainment will be given the green light to resume, with theaters limited to 50% capacity and a maximum of 500 people. Everyone in attendance must be vaccinated, and mask-wearing and physical distancing must be observed.

On October 14, Green told news outlet KHON2 that restrictions could ease further soon since the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations is down and the state has surpassed its goal of a 70% vaccination rate.

Restrictions at indoor establishments

In August, Oahu became the first major island to require proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test to eat at restaurants and bars beginning Sept. 13, 2021.

“Given the continued high #COVID19 rates on O‘ahu and the strain to our hospital and emergency medical systems, we want to create safe spaces for employees and customers so they can feel confident the people around them are safe,” said Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi on Twitter. Per USA Today, Blangiardi said the measures would be intact for at least 60 days.

People entering establishments to pick up take-out or spending less than 15 minutes per day in said establishments are exempt from the new requirements.

Restaurant and bar-goers can show proof of full vaccination by showing a state-approved vaccination card (hard or photocopy) or a state-approved digital device confirming full vaccination status, defined as two weeks after the final dose of an FDA-authorized or approved COVID-19 vaccination.

The updated guidance also applies to certain entertainment and recreational settings, including bowling alleys, movie theaters, museums and indoor gyms and fitness centers, including activity-specific studios, among others.

The state as a whole eased some restrictions on gatherings and restaurants in early July; however, Gov. Ige announced restaurant and bar capacity would be reduced to 50% due to an increase in positive cases on Aug. 10.

The following restrictions went in place on Aug. 10:

  • Social gatherings are limited to no more than 10 people indoors and no more than 25 outdoors.
  • Guests in restaurants and bars must remain seated and practice social distancing between groups (with maximum groups size of 10 indoors and 25 outdoors); there will be no mingling.
  • Masks must be worn at all times except when actively eating or drinking.

Currently, more than 70% of Hawaii residents are fully vaccinated, according to state vaccine data.

Who can travel to Hawaii

an island in the middle of a body of water: (Photo by Pierre Leclerc / Shutterstock.com) © The Points Guy (Photo by Pierre Leclerc / Shutterstock.com)

Fully vaccinated travelers no longer have to get pre-travel testing or quarantine upon arrival. Under these guidelines, individuals vaccinated anywhere in the U.S. can skip testing and quarantine, starting on the 15th day after completing their vaccination.

Out-of-state visitors who are not vaccinated can skip the mandatory 10-day quarantine that’s part of Hawaii’s travel requirements with proof of a negative COVID-19 test from a trusted facility.

Vaccinated travelers must:

  • Create an online account and register with the State of Hawaii Safe Travels Hawaii web program.
  • Affirm they are fully vaccinated and that the uploaded CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card is accurate and authentic.
  • Upload a PDF file or digital image of a correctly filled CDC Vaccination Record Card to the Safe Travels Hawaii web program.
  • Travel with a digital image and the original CDC Vaccination Record Card in case it’s requested.

International travelers from CDC-prohibited countries are still banned from entering Hawaii. However, travelers from Japan have a pretravel testing option via approved testing providers. Travelers from Canada are also eligible for this program.

The state’s pretravel testing program requires all non-vaccinated visitors to take a nucleic acid amplification test, such as a PCR test, from an approved testing partner within 72 hours and obtain results before departure to Hawaii. If you’re not fully vaccinated, that’s the only way to bypass the state’s mandatory 10-day quarantine.

Additionally, some transpacific travelers participating in the Safe Travels program will be randomly selected to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival. The tests administered by the state will be given to approximately 25% of the passengers at all three airports at no cost to travelers.

Maui entry requirements

a group of lawn chairs sitting next to a palm tree: (Photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy (Photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy)

If you’re headed to Maui, you will also be required to participate in mandatory contact tracing by downloading an app on your phone. Children under the age of 5 traveling with a parent or guardian who has tested negative for COVID-19 are exempt from quarantine and post-arrival testing.

Related: Here’s what it is like to visit a reopened Hawaii

Current mask requirements


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Masks are required indoors, but the state relaxed rules on outdoor mask-wearing in late July.

Related: I visited a reopened Kauai in Hawaii — 5 things to know before you go

The latest on vaccine passports

text, letter © The Points Guy

The state of Hawaii said the only documentation it will accept is the CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card or a printout from the Vaccination Administration Management System.

And you still have options if you want to use a digital way to prove your vaccination or COVID-19 test status. The state partners with two companies (Clear’s Health Pass and CommonPass) on digital health passes.

What do I need to do to qualify for prearrival testing?

a boat sitting on top of a building: (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

If you decide to travel to Hawaii, you’ll need to register with Hawaii’s Safe Travels system. It would help if you did this at least 72 hours before arrival, as it will speed up your exit from the airport since you’ll be asked to show your registration confirmation page.

Additionally, some travelers arriving in Hawaii may have their temperatures checked upon arrival and fill out a travel and health form. Unvaccinated travelers who don’t have proof of an approved negative test must quarantine for 10 days.

Unvaccinated U.S. travelers must complete the following steps before entering Hawaii’s participating islands:

  • All U.S. travelers 18 and older must register through the mandatory Hawaii Safe Travels online program.
  • Within 72 hours of departure time, each traveler five or older must undergo an approved COVID-19 test with negative results through Hawaii’s trusted testing and travel partners.
  • The negative test result must be in hand when boarding your final flight leg to Hawaii.
  • Complete the health questionnaire on your Safe Travels account 24 hours before departure.
  • Comply with all social distancing and mask requirements during travel, including in flight.
  • All incoming Hawaii travelers must pass thermal temperature checks and facial-imaging technology upon arrival.
  • Produce the Safe Travels QR code for local officials upon arrival in Hawaii.

What does mandatory quarantine entail?

a bedroom with a large bed in a hotel room: (Photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy (Photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy)

Hawaii’s current mandatory 10-day self-quarantine remains in effect for anyone who is not vaccinated or does not follow the pre-travel testing requirements. And this isn’t a destination where you can roam freely at your property of choice.

“Hawaii is our home,” said Jeff Helfrick, vice president of airport operations at Hawaiian Airlines. “So it’s important not only that we take care of our island home, but also that we do it right.”

Travelers not cleared via the pretravel program cannot leave their personal quarantine space, such as a hotel room unless they seek medical care.

All public spaces, including any on-site resort pool, fitness center or restaurant, are off-limits during this period, which means delivery and room service only. Visitors are also not allowed unless this person is a health care professional explicitly checking on your health.

Anyone who intentionally or knowingly breaks quarantine can be convicted of a misdemeanor — and tourists have been arrested for breaking quarantine.

Related: I spent 3 days quarantine with a tracking bracelet in Hawaii — Here’s what you need to know for Kauai

What if I want to travel between the Hawaiian islands?

a body of water with Diamond Head in the background: (Photo by okimo/Getty Images) © The Points Guy (Photo by okimo/Getty Images)

Interisland travel is permitted, and travelers can now fly between the islands without any testing, vaccination or testing requirements.

Related: Why we love Hawaii

Testing facilities approved by Hawaii

Hawaii has approved the following list of testing partners for the prearrival approval program. You may have to pay out of pocket for the voluntary COVID-19 test, so be sure to check with your insurance provider before proceeding.

Airlines and airports offering tests

a person standing in front of a building: (Photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy (Photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy)

Multiple airlines, including United, Hawaiian, Alaska and American, have developed a testing system available to travelers flying to Hawaii from certain hub airports or via an at-home kit.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines partners with various providers, including Carbon Health and Costco, which provides a home saliva-based test. At Carbon, Alaska passengers can be tested from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. PST. Test results will be ready by the next business day (some results within two hours) at a discounted cost of $135 to $170.

More information, including how to schedule an appointment, is available at alaskaair.com/hawaii-bound.

Alaska Airlines passengers bound for Hawaii will no longer have to be checked upon arrival in Hawaii. Instead, those formalities will be done at departure. The gate agent will verify that your Safe Travel profile is updated and give you a wristband that will entitle you to skip airport arrival screening in Hawaii.

Note that your lodging and car rental company may still need to verify the QR code from your Safe Travels profile.

More information about the Hawaii Pre-Clear program can be found here.

American Airlines

If you’re flying on American Airlines from Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) to Honolulu (HNL) or Maui (OGG), you’re eligible to take a $129 at-home nasal PCR test administered by LetsGetChecked; an in-person test at a CareNow urgent care location; or a preflight rapid test at DFW administered by CareNow.

More information about testing with American can be found here.

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines partners with Worksite Labs to provide drive-through COVID-19 PCR testing in select cities, including Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco.

Worksite Labs will offer the Droplet Digital PCR shallow nasal swab test for $90, with results within 36 hours. Passengers on Hawaiian can also order a mail-in PCR saliva test online through Vault Health for $119.

More information about testing with Hawaiian Airlines can be found here.

United Airlines

Travelers flying on United Airlines to Hawaii can arrange for a mail-in PCR COVID-19 test. Travelers will receive results 24 to 48 hours before travel, and the cost is $119.

United offers Hawaii-bound passengers rapid testing at San Francisco International with results in 15 to 30 minutes for $250. Another option for San Francisco is drive-up testing administered by Color at a testing facility located at the United technical operations facility parking lot. Results are provided within 48 hours for $105.

Those departing Denver (DEN) and Newark (EWR) to Hawaii on United can also do testing at those airports for $200 per person.

More information about testing with United can be found here.

Air Canada and WestJet

As part of the governor’s latest announcement about travelers from Canada being eligible to avoid quarantine if test results are provided before departure, two Canadian airlines have agreed to help facilitate:

Air Canada and WestJet will be identifying testing entities in Canada, with the Hawaii State Department of Health’s approval, for purposes of the pre-testing program. Canadian residents should look to these Canadian-based carriers for the testing options in their country.”

What is the airport testing process like?

a group of people standing in a room: (Photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy (Photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy)

Some U.S. airports are also offering COVID-19 testing.

Tampa International (TPA); Bradley International (BDL) near Hartford, Connecticut; New York-Newark (EWR), New York-JFK and others offer on-site testing. Oakland Airport (OAK) in California also provides preflight testing that comes with no out-of-pocket cost for travelers heading to Hawaii, unlike most programs.

Related: You can now take a COVID-19 test at the Tampa Airport

SFO offers United’s Hawaii-bound passengers the option to take an approved rapid test at the airport before heading to Hawaii. You should make an appointment and register ahead of time.

Your trip will need to originate from SFO, and the testing site is in the International Terminal in Courtyard A. Allow extra time before your flight as you’ll need to wait for your turn, then 15 minutes or so for results, and ultimately head back through security and to your departure gate.

Once registered and checked in:

  • You’ll be given a packaged swab for your test and escorted to a screened-off area for a short virtual visit with a doctor.
  • You’ll be asked whether you have been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 or if you have any symptoms.
  • A health care worker will then administer the test while on the other side of a plexiglass divider.

Then you’ll wait outside for your results. If you test negative, you’ll be good to head back upstairs for your flight. If the test comes back positive, you’ll sit down to talk with the doctor via a virtual visit as they explain the results and answer any questions you may have. Then you’ll need to self-isolate per doctor and CDC recommendations.

Should I book a trip to Hawaii?

a view of water and a mountain in the background: (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

There’s no question that Hawaii is a beautiful destination perfect for outdoor exploration. But, as we’ve often seen, things can change quickly for an island in the middle of the ocean with finite hospital capacity.

The state has a limited number of pretravel testing providers. Some providers will not test children under 12, so do your research if you’re traveling with children 5 or older who are required to test to avoid quarantine.

But while travelers returning is excellent for the tourism and hospitality industries, it’s also put a strain on resources.

Rental cars are challenging (and expensive) to find, and top sightseeing locations are crowded. Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino has even requested that airlines help curb the number of visitors to the island.

A trip to Hawaii right now could mean massive crowds, understaffed hotels and fewer options on what you can see and do. And more importantly, overtourism can negatively impact the local communities in the state.

Related: Getting a coronavirus test for travel is not always possible

Bottom line

Hundreds of thousands of would-be visitors have delayed or canceled trips to Hawaii during the pandemic. For now, travelers can enter Hawaii without testing or quarantine if they are fully vaccinated.

If your family plans to join the thousands of visitors again entering Hawaii each day without quarantine, be sure to triple-check all documents, deadlines, test requirements and timelines leading up to your trip. It also won’t hurt to familiarize yourself with airline, hotel and other travel cancellation policies if something doesn’t go as planned.

Related: 

Additional reporting by Ashley Kosciolek, Caroline Tanner, Chris Dong, Victoria M. Walker, Katherine Fan, Madison Blancaflor, Clint Henderson, Nick Ellis, Andrea M. Rotondo and Ashley Kosciolek.

Featured photo of Honolulu by Timur Alexandrov/EyeEm/Getty Images.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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