What You Need to Know About Traveling to Hawaii During COVID

You'll have to bring proof of a negative COVID-19 test or quarantine for 10 days when you get there.

Jon Nickel-D'AndreaJanuary 22, 2021
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Hawaii has one of the consistently lowest COVID rates in the U.S., and the Hawaiian Islands opened back up to tourism in October. Southwest, American, Delta, United, Alaska and Hawaiian airlines all resumed flights to Hawaii from the mainland at that time.

But that doesn’t mean you can just hop over to Hawaii to enjoy the endless sun, beaches and mai tais. Here's what is helpful to know about Hawaii's COVID travel restrictions if you're thinking of heading there.

Hawaii's Safe Travels program

Before even booking your trip, you will likely want to have a strong grasp of Hawaii's travel restrictions for visitors.

If you’re arriving in Hawaii from the mainland, you’ll need to quarantine for 10 days if you haven't gotten a negative COVID test, registered with the state, answered a health questionnaire and taken some other steps outlined in Hawaii’s Safe Travels program.

Travelers from the contiguous U.S. who are heading to Oahu, Maui and the Big Island can avoid the 10-day quarantine requirement by following the steps below. Travelers to Kauai must complete these steps, plus meet some additional requirements.

Regardless of where you are coming from, all Hawaii visitors must:

  • Create a profile at the state's Safe Travels site.

  • Enter travel information for each leg of your trip.

  • Upload negative COVID test results from a Hawaii-approved testing facility no more than 72 hours before the last leg of travel (bring proof of your negative test to the airport).

  • Upload a recent picture (selfies are OK).

  • Fill out the Travel Health Questionnaire no more than 24 hours before departure.

  • Retrieve a QR code via email and put it on your phone or print it out.

  • Pass through screening at your arrival airport, showing your QR code, negative test results and other documents, and get your temperature taken via thermal screening.

  • Be prepared to present your QR code to staff at your hotel and rental car agency.

  • Wear a mask pretty much every public place you go except while eating, drinking or exercising safely away from others.

Travelers who don’t meet these requirements before they arrive will be subject to a mandatory 10-day quarantine. Travelers who quarantine still have to fill out the Safe Travels Form and, additionally, must do a daily quarantine check-in, following instructions that are sent via email.

Hawaii quarantining does not operate on the honor system — Hawaii state agents often knock on hotel room doors to ensure guests are complying with quarantine requirements. On our recent trip, we saw numerous different patrols that came to the hotel to make sure that people had not left their rooms. Plus, hotel staff or anyone else who sees you breaking quarantine can report you.

If you break quarantine, you can be fined up to $5,000, sentenced to up to a year in jail or both.

Special travel requirements for visitors to Kauai

The island of Kauai requires travelers to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival — even after going through all the steps above and supplying proof of a negative COVID test. However, a new Kauai “resort bubble” option can cut quarantine down to three days.

Travelers must stay at an approved “resort bubble” property, without leaving, then take a post-travel COVID test — in addition to the pre-travel test they took before heading to the islands. If the post-travel test comes back negative, the traveler will be allowed to leave the property.

The half dozen “bubble resorts” in the program include the affordable beachfront Hilton Garden Inn Kauai Wailua Bay and the sprawling Kauai Marriott Resort and Beach Club.

Because of these tough restrictions, some flights from the mainland to Kauai have been canceled, but there are still ways to get there, including inter-island flights.

How to get started

Register at Hawaii’s Safe Travels website

Before you travel, you must register at the state's Safe Travels website, where you’ll submit information about your COVID test, lodging in Hawaii, flight information and more. Once finished, you’ll get a QR code that you may be required to show to your travel providers. Do not delete or lose this QR code.

On a recent trip, when we checked into our hotels and picked up our rental cars, we were required to show the form so employees could document our whereabouts and confirm that we weren’t breaking quarantine.

Get a Hawaii-approved COVID test

You can’t go to just any testing facility or get just any kind of test to travel to Hawaii. You need to pass a nucleic acid amplification test administered by one of the state of Hawaii’s approved testing providers, including:

American Family Care American Samoa Department of Health Atlas Genomics Bartell Drugs Capstone Clinic Carbon Health CityHealth Urgent Care at OAK Airport Clarity Lab Solutions Color Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation Costco/AZOVA. CVS Health Discovery Health MD GoHealth Urgent Care Guam Dept of Public Health Kaiser Permanente UC San Diego Health University Medical Center of Southern Nevada University of Washington Medicine Vault Health Walgreens WestPac Labs XpresCheck

Submit negative results from one of these labs at the Safe Travels website and prepare to bring a digital or paper copy as well.

Pack your mask

You’re required to wear a mask in public spaces in Hawaii, with a few exceptions, such as when eating or drinking, exercising at a good distance from other people or engaging in a few other exempted activities. See this state of Hawaii webpage for specifics, including exemptions for children and for health reasons. If you don’t wear your mask when required, you could be fined or jailed.

What to expect at the airport

Arrival

No one at our departure airport checked our information, but as soon as we landed in Hawaii, we were escorted to a secure area to be checked.

Some travelers on our flight had not done the work ahead of time. They were sectioned off to finish their paperwork — a process that clogged the system, affecting other travelers. So do your paperwork before you fly.

Nerd tip: If you fly Alaska Airlines to Oahu or the Big Island, you can skip the screening process when you land by signing up for the Alaska Airlines Pre-Clear Program before departure. Because of this partnership, you can get a wristband that will allow you to skip the screening line at Honolulu or Kona airport. Alaska will send travelers an email prior to departure asking them to confirm that all adult travelers in their party have completed the required steps in Hawaii’s Safe Travels program.

The interview

If you’re not flying Alaska Airlines or you are and haven’t pre-cleared, you’ll need to head to an interview station to speak with a representative of the Hawaii Department of Health after you land. They’ll scan your QR code and make sure that you have all the required paperwork uploaded.

Photo by Jon Nickel-D'Andrea.

Approval

If everything is in order, a health department rep will give you a piece of paper showing that you are exempt from quarantine. Keep this paper with you through your journey. You will need to show it if you are asked to do so.

If you have not finished your paperwork or something is not correct, you must fill out a quarantine form. Then you must head directly to your hotel or lodging and stay there until you’ve completed your quarantine.

Frequently asked questions

If you don’t have your results before you go, you will have to quarantine for 10 days. “If test results are not available before boarding the final leg of the trip, the traveler must quarantine for 10 days or the length of the stay, whichever is shorter. Travelers will not be able to avoid the 10-day quarantine even if they receive a post-departure negative test,” the state warns.

If you don’t get a test before you head to Hawaii, a 10-day quarantine is mandatory and you may be checked up on randomly. You cannot get a test in Hawaii to exempt yourself from the quarantine. You can get a test, of course, but you’ll still have to quarantine for 10 days even if it comes back negative.

How to travel between islands

If you want to travel between islands in Hawaii, restrictions vary depending on where you’re headed and where you’re coming from. For example, if you first landed on Oahu, but then you want to head to Kauai, the Big Island or Maui, you must test again at your own expense before you move on to the next island. But if your first entry point is Kauai and you complete your quarantine requirements there, you can head to Oahu without retesting. Check the Hawaii Department of Transportation website for requirements for your specific islands.

Want to choose your island based on COVID risk? You can check the state’s COVID information webpage, where you’ll find that Oahu currently has a higher infection rate than the other islands.

So … should you travel to Hawaii during COVID?

In the COVID pandemic, all travel is a risk. But Hawaii’s strict requirements mean that many — or maybe all — of the people on your flight recently tested negative. At your destination, the people around you will have either tested negative or quarantined for 10 days, or they will be residents of a state with a relatively low COVID rate. And you’ll all be wearing masks.

But only you can decide. Weigh the possible benefits of a trip to a tropical destination against the risks of travel, especially through your home airport, keeping in mind that the safest option is to stay home until the pandemic is under control.

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