The establishment of the COVID-19 virus as a global pandemic halted international movement for travelers around the globe since March. Countries across regions enforced varying levels of restrictions on incoming travelers, particularly for non-essential travel, as host governments attempted to restrict additional sources of infection through extraordinary means. Now, an increasing number of countries and regions are working together to bridge the once necessary divide by developing networks of “air bridges” and “travel bubbles” to allow cross-border travel where the virus appears to be under control. “Air bridges,” “air corridors,” “travel bubbles,” or “travel corridors” are reciprocal agreements between any number of countries that allow for non-essential travel, generally without requiring a self-isolated quarantining period upon arrival and return.

A.    Which Countries Are Exploring Travel Exemptions?

The following list details notable changes in international travel policies as of July 12, 2020.

I.  The Baltic Travel Bubble

In May, the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania announced the creation of a travel bubble, by which residents of the three countries can freely travel to the others without restriction. Estonia and Lithuania have also recently expanded the list of countries from which they will except non-essential travel after the European Union delivered its list of travel restriction-exempt countries earlier this month. Visit The Mobile Workforce blog for our most recent post on the EU Travel Recommendation.

ii.  The Trans-Tasman Travel Bubble

Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern agreed in early May to begin the development of a trans-Tasman travel bubble, which would provide an exemption to self-quarantine requirements for travelers between the two countries. However, in the wake of a reported surge of new COVID-19 cases in the state of Victoria over the weekend, Australia has decided to halve the number of citizens allowed to return from overseas destinations each week, likely stunting the possibility of such a travel bubble. For now, all incoming travel to Australia by non-Australian citizens and non-residents remains restricted.

iii.  India Air Bridges

India’s Aviation Ministry announced in late June that it had been considering the creation of air bridge agreements with the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France. However, India’s July 11 weekend jump to the country with third-highest number of COVID-19 cases may make such agreements a challenging process. India’s international air travel remains restricted to repatriation until further notice.

iv. South Korea-Taiwan Travel Bubble

Taiwan has recognized its support for a potential travel bubble agreement with South Korea. Taiwan’s Minister of Health and Welfare and head of the Central Epidemic Command Center mentioned last week that such an agreement is dependent on the success of the country’s current “business bubble,” which allows for business travel from a select list of countries. Taiwan and South Korea will revisit the prospect of a travel agreement after the Taiwan-Korea Tourism Summit scheduled in August.

v. The United Kingdom

England has published a list of travel corridors for which the country has lifted self-quarantine requirements. The list is effective as of July 10, and includes seventy-five countries and territories from which individuals may travel to England without restriction. Incoming travelers to England will continue to be required to complete a passenger locator form upon arrival to determine whether self-quarantine is required. Officials in Wales and Northern Ireland have announced that England’s list of travel corridors will also apply to their respective countries, effective July 10.

Scotland has published a similar list of travel corridors, which includes fifty-seven overseas destinations as well as the fourteen overseas UK territories. These exemptions also became effective on July 10. Scotland will next review its list of travel corridors on July 20. The full list of Scotland’s travel corridors can be found here

vi.  Other Prospective Travel Policy Changes

In late June, Indonesia President Joko Widodo proposed the idea of a southeast Asia travel corridor to the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Thailand previously mentioned interest in the development of travel bubble arrangements with countries including China, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and South Korea. Israel has expressed interest in the creation of travel agreements with Greece and Cyprus. The Japanese government expressed its intention to begin discussions in mid-July regarding the reintroduction of business travel to China, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, and Mongolia. However, spikes in new COVID-19 cases across these countries have likely placed progress on such agreements in a holding pattern.

Governments exploring the possibility of reciprocal travel agreements are continuing to review travel policies on an ongoing basis. As countries continue to bear the economic burden of declining rates in tourism and domestic marketplace production, new forms of travel agreements are becoming more appetizing for governments searching for economic relief. The best prospects for new travel agreements are those countries with historically interwoven economies and those that remain in apparent control of the pandemic. However, the record numbers of new COVID-19 cases reported over the weekend have slowed the prospect of new international air bridges and travel corridors. Volatility across the globe has made it important for all travelers to remain informed of changing cross-border travel restrictions—up to the minute—as new policies continue to be announced daily.

For up-to-date travel restrictions, please view Mayer Brown’s COVID-19 Global Travel Navigator.

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And for any legal questions related to this pandemic, please contact the authors of this Legal Update or Mayer Brown’s COVID-19 Core Response Team at FW-SIG-COVID-19-Core-Response-Team@mayerbrown.com.