Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Ed Perkins on Travel: What's with ‘Health Passports’?

Ed Perkins on Travel: What's with ‘Health Passports’?

  • 0

Person using digital health passport app in mobile phone with an unidentifiable QR code for travel during COVID-19 pandemic.

If you travel, there's a "health passport" in your future. Unfortunately, nobody has yet to settle exactly what a health passport is, how it should work, and who will officially recognize it. Still, it's happening, and you need to start figuring what you have to do.

The basic idea is simple: for the indefinite future you'll need documentation verifying your COVID status: vaccination, recent test, or post-infection recovery. This requirement is likely to be permanent, covering any health issues that arise post-COVID. You would need it to board an airplane or cruise ship, to enter a foreign country, and to return a home country without having to re-test or quarantine. Obviously some such documentation is virtually necessary if the world is to return to anything close to normal post-pandemic. Equally obvious is the need for the travel industry and various governments to agree to accept one or more documentation forms and systems. Three sets of data are in play:

-- Records of recent (72-hour) COVID tests on departure and/or arrival.

-- Records of ongoing immunity conferred either by vaccination or documented recovery.

-- Test results, status information, and verification data that individual countries, airlines, and cruise lines require as a condition of boarding and entry without the need for additional testing or risk of quarantine.

Although reliance on one-time pre- and post-trip COVID-19 tests can get you through some immediate problems, that approach is not a viable long-term solution. Ongoing immunity, rather than repeated one-time testing, is the obvious long-term solution. And three documentation approaches are currently under consideration:

Paper is the obvious default, paralleling the yellow cards that readers of an age may remember for Yellow Fever records. Test results are available in hard copy, and at least for now, the primary record issued for vaccination by CDC is a small paper card. The problem with paper is that it probably isn't secure enough to satisfy all of the carriers and national agencies involved.

The main current focus is on digital passports — more specifically, apps on smart mobile devices. AOK Pass in testing with Air France; the IATA Travel Pass developed by the International Air Transport Association; and VeriFLY, under test at American Airlines and British Airways, and a few others seem to be able to combine one-time test data with entry/boarding requirements in systems that are robust enough to be acceptable to the carriers and governments involved. They can also upload and store copies of paper documents. They're capable of melding the personal and requirements data to display a simple "go, no-go" result in real time. Common Pass, in test with United Air Lines, seems also to be structurally capable of handling immunity status data, as well as one-time test results. At least for now, the test systems don't seem to have actual links to CDC, the many agencies that administer vaccinations, or personal medical records. But if key players accept digital images of a CDC card as adequate proof of vaccination, they're ready to go.

Long term, an integrated system of personal ID, verified health records, and carrier/national rules is likely to be built on face recognition or some other form of biometrics. You won't have to carry or present anything other than your face.

So where do we stand right now? I have three take-aways:

1. The long-term solution to post-COVID travel is a requirement that all travelers show immunity, either through vaccination or recovery. One-time pre- or post-departure tests will likely become obsolete.

2. A workable and robust system to support travel by immune travelers will almost surely be based on a device app, at least to start — paper isn't secure enough and biometrics are still a few years away.

3. What's missing right now is widespread agreement among carriers and national agencies about exactly what they need in the way of immunity verification. Once they agree, several systems currently being tested are ready for general use.

Thus, it's a "wait and watch" game. But you need to keep watching; developments will come along pretty fast. And, at least for now, they'll be based on smart-device apps.

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at Also, check out Ed’s new rail travel website at

Need to get away?

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

More people are being vaccinated everyday and travel is already top of mind. Suddenly, the whole world feels in reach again, even if travel restrictions haven’t quite been lifted yet. Most travel experts expect travel to re-open incrementally rather than all at once. We’ll see some countries loosening restrictions early on and others late to […]

One of Singapore’s most famous actors, Chin Han has also found success in Hollywood. Currently based out of Los Angeles, the acting veteran’s movie credits include “Captain America: Winter Soldier,” “The Dark Knight” and “Ghost in the Shell.” He also portrays Shang Tsung in the new “Mortal Kombat” film. “He’s a powerful sorcerer from Outworld, bent on conquering Earthrealm,” Han said from L.A. “He is a shapeshifter, who consumes souls to stay immortal. But most enviable is his ability to create portals for interdimensional travel — anything to get by lines at customs and long TSA checks.” Fans may stay in touch with him via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, where his username is @thechinhan.

As we’ve had to postpone our travels because of the pandemic, I believe a weekly dose of travel dreaming can be good medicine. Here’s one of my favorite European memories from the Netherlands — a reminder of the rich experiences that await us at the other end of this crisis.

Canadian mixed martial arts (MMA) champion Georges St-Pierre has dabbled in acting since 2009. But after appearing in 2014’s Marvel film, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” St-Pierre is kicking it up at notch. He’s reprising his role as Georges Batroc in the Disney+ series, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” “I can’t share much,” said St-Pierre. “But I can tell you that I had more screen time and I am in more scenes then when I appeared in (the film).” His martial arts training has been helpful in his physically demanding roles, he said. “Karate made me gain confidence,” said the actor. “I believe you need confidence with everything you do. If you have skills to do something but no confidence, it is like someone who has a lot of money in his bank account but no way to access it. You need both for the magic to happen.”

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


Breaking News