Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.
Since the world turned upside down, planning a vacation to a reopened Hawaii has proven quite difficult.
For months, the only option to enter Hawaii was with a mandatory 14-day quarantine. Then a reopening date with an option to test before travel to avoid the quarantine became a moving target as the islands battled a COVID-19 surge and the country as a whole dealt with a lack of reliable, rapid testing.
Next, the different islands began to have their own thoughts and rules surrounding the reopening.
Finally, Hawaii reopened on Oct. 15 with a pre-travel testing option. But, while tens of thousands of travelers have now arrived in Hawaii without quarantine, some travelers arrived with the wrong test. And starting Nov. 24, those planning on visiting Hawaii must have those *correct* test results in hand before departure to Hawaii, per an announcement from the governor. Gov. David Ige added that travelers from Canada would also be eligible for this option as of mid-December.
Now, the holiday travel season is upon us. And despite the CDC’s warnings to stay home for the holidays, people are traveling at some of the highest levels since the pandemic started.
With that crush of travelers has come a backup in the turnaround times for some of the tests that are accepted for entry into Hawaii without quarantine. Most notably, CVS, one of Hawaii’s “trusted” partners for testing, has advised travelers that it “cannot guarantee a specific turnaround time on the lab tests accepted by Hawaii.”
Hawaii has done much to promote its partnership with CVS as a way to ease the process of entering the state, but now it seems like that all has gone out the window with the pharmacy chain admitting it can’t guarantee you’ll get test results back within the required timeframe and thus making planning a trip very difficult.
With all of that being said, here’s the latest on what we know about traveling to a reopened Hawaii, and what you need to prepare for a successful trip.
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In This Post
Hawaii reopened to US travelers on Oct. 15
Hawaii reopened to U.S. travelers on Oct. 15.
As of this time of publication, international travelers from CDC-prohibited countries are still banned from entering Hawaii. However, those coming from Japan have a pre-travel testing option via approved testing providers that went into effect Nov. 6.
The state has launched a pre-travel testing program, which requires all 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. The latest update states that, “If test results are not available before boarding the final leg of the trip, the traveler must quarantine for 14 days or the length of the stay, whichever is shorter.” This applies to both domestic transpacific flights and international flights departing from locations in which the State of Hawaiʻi pre-testing programs are in place.
However, not every island in Hawaii has the same rules once you arrive.
Visit TPG’s guide to all coronavirus news and updates
Hawaii, the Big Island
Travelers to the Big Island who participate in the state’s pre-arrivals testing program to avoid a mandatory 14-day quarantine will have to take a second, free rapid antigen test at the airport upon arrival. A second negative result would allow the traveler to bypass mandatory self-isolation.
Currently, only the Big Island will require a second test upon arrival to avoid quarantine. Hawaii’s Lieutenant Governor told KHON2 news that of the first 6,100 follow-up tests performed upon arrival to the Big Island, two of those tests were positive.
Kauai will offer a voluntary second test three days after arrival, though it is not currently required. You have to pay for the test (unless you are a returning resident) but the island is offering a $150 gift certificate from a participating Kauai business for those who pay for and take this follow-up test.
Related: Hawaii approves the potential use of ‘resort bubbles’ for quarantined travelers
Maui’s plan is similar to Kauai’s in that a voluntary test will be offered three days after arrival on the island but the test is free in Maui where you’ll pay out-of-pocket in Kauai. In addition, those who fly to Maui from another county can bypass quarantine by submitting a negative PCR test result. Those that do take this voluntary second test are eligible for a discount card. Maui News reports that 200 of the first several thousand visitors arriving in Maui after the pre-travel program took effect have taken the voluntary second test.
What do I need to do to qualify for pre-aRrival testing?
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 5 or older must undergo an approved COVID-19 test with negative results through Hawaii’s trusted testing and travel partners
- 24 hours prior to departure, complete the health questionnaire on your Safe Travels account
- 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 to local officials upon arrival in Hawaii
Pre-travel testing will allow healthy tourists to avoid the mandatory 14-day quarantine with some exceptions if they have a qualified negative COVID-19 test no earlier than 72 hours before their final flight to Hawaii departs. Additionally, travelers arriving in Hawaii will have their temperatures checked upon arrival and must fill out a travel and health form. Travelers who don’t have proof of an approved negative test must quarantine for 14 days.
What does mandatory quarantine entail?
Hawaii’s current mandatory 14-day self-quarantine remains in effect for anyone who does not follow the pre-travel testing requirements. The state is serious about minimizing risk; this isn’t one of the island destinations 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.”
Beyond potential resort bubble programs that grant a little bit more freedom, travelers not cleared via the pre-travel program are not allowed to leave their personal quarantine space, such as a hotel room or Airbnb, unless they are seeking 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 it is a healthcare professional specifically checking on your health.
Tourists have been arrested for breaking quarantine early. Car rental agencies are banned from renting to anyone subject to mandatory quarantine regulations. Anyone who intentionally or knowingly breaks quarantine can be convicted of a misdemeanor. That could mean a fine of up to $5,000 or jail time of up to one year.
Related: Why we love Hawaii
What if I want to travel between Hawaiian islands?
Beginning Oct. 15, you’ll have more options to avoid quarantine when traveling between the Hawaiian Islands.
Those traveling to Oahu from another Hawaiian island do not have a 14-day quarantine or current testing requirement. However, those traveling to Kauai, Hawaii (Big Island), Maui, Lanai and Kalawao (Molokai) have been subject to a 14-day quarantine. Effective Oct. 15, those island hopping to Kauai or Maui will have the ability to participate in pre-travel testing done at an approved partner up to 72 hours before travel. This is virtually the same requirement as those coming from the mainland to Hawaii. This sort of program for inter-island arrivals to the Big Island is still being worked out.
If you just have a layover in Honolulu, then the negative test result you took to enter Hawaii before travel is good through to your final destination. However, if your break in Honolulu is more than a layover, then you are subject to new inter-island testing or quarantine requirements.
Testing facilities approved by Hawaii
As of this week, Hawaii has approved the following list of testing partners for the pre-arrival 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.
- AFC Urgent Care in Portland, Lake Oswego, Beaverton and Oregon City: $199 for the Rapid RNA Molecular test
- Bartell Drugs, $125, solely for Alaska Airlines passengers heading to Hawaii
- Carbon Health in Seattle; $135 for the Abbott ID Now rapid test
- CityHealth Urgent Care
- Clinical Laboratories of Hawaii for interisland travel, $150
- Color is working exclusively with United passengers flying out of San Francisco (SFO)
- CVS Health testing is available in 35 states and the District of Columbia; prices range from $0 to $139 (Note: CVS advises travelers not to rely on its services to guarantee entry into Hawaii)
- Diagnostic Laboratory Services (Hawaii) $125
- Discovery Health MD is available to passengers flying through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
- Hawaii Pacific Health for interisland travel, $150
- Kaiser Permanente is only available to members of this health plan
- Minit Medical located in Maui
- Quest Diagnostics has made the COVID-19 Active Infection Test available online, and can be picked up from 500 Walmart drive-thru pharmacy locations for a nasal swab test; $119 plus $9.30 physician fee
- Urgent Care Hawaii
- Vault Health is an FDA-authorized at-home saliva test with real-time audio-visual supervision
- Walgreens is providing COVID tests at drive-thru locations, so you don’t need to leave your vehicle; There is no cost for anyone meeting the CDC criteria for testing and tests are now available to those 3 and older.
Airlines and airports offering testing to Hawaii
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 partners with Carbon Health, Bartell and Vault (home saliva-based test). At Carbon, Alaska passengers can be tested from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. PDT. Test results will be ready within two hours at a discounted cost of $135. With Bartell, the cost is $125 and test results will be sent within 72 hours. Testing is available 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. PDT on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. PDT on weekends.
Video: Negative virus test required for Hawaii travelers (Associated Press)
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More information, including how to schedule an appointment, is available at alaskaair.com/hawaii-bound.
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.
Hawaiian Airlines partners with Worksite Labs to provide drive-through COVID-19 PCR testing near San Francisco International Airport (SFO).
Worksite Labs will offer the Droplet Digital PCR shallow nasal swab test for $90, with results within 36 hours, or $150 for “day-of-travel express service.” For now, the service is only available near SFO, though Hawaiian expects to roll it out to other U.S. gateways.
Passengers on Hawaiian can also order a $143 mail-in polymerase chain reaction (PCR) saliva test online through Vault Health.
The test kit, which is available for travelers of all ages including children, will be express mailed overnight to guests who will self-collect their sample with assistance from a testing supervisor in a video call. The kit is express shipped overnight to a lab, which will process and analyze the sample and provide travelers their results electronically within 24 hours of receiving the sample.
United is offering Hawaii-bound passengers rapid testing at San Francisco International Airport from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily, with results in 15 minutes. Travelers can make reservations before they arrive and the service costs $250.
Another option for those in 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 and the cost is $80, appointments required.
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 prior to departure, two Canadians airlines have agreed to help facilitate:
“Air Canada and WestJet will be identifying testing entities in Canada, with the Hawaiʻi 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.”
Some U.S. airports are also offering COVID-19 testing. Tampa, Hartford, Newark, New York-JFK and others offer on-site testing. Oakland Airport also offers preflight testing that, unlike most programs, comes with no out-of-pocket cost for those heading to Hawaii.
Related: You can now take a COVID test at the Tampa Airport
What is the airport testing process like?
As mentioned above, San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is offering United’s Hawaii-bound passengers with an option to take an approved rapid test at the airport before heading to Hawaii.
Your trip will need to originate from SFO, and you’ll be billed $250. At SFO, the testing site is in the International Terminal in Courtyard A on the lower level below where you check-in for your flight or go through TSA security screening.
You can make a reservation before you arrive, but they were also allowing walk-ins at the time of writing.
We recommend reserving a slot ahead of time when possible to save you time while at the airport. While it won’t let you skip the line, it will save you time from having to fill out the questionnaire on the spot.
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 some standard questions — including whether you have you been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 or if you have any symptoms.
From there, you head outside to the testing tent.
A healthcare worker will administer the test while on the other side of a plexiglass divider with holes for them to reach through to swab your nose. For those worried about the test itself — it’s not painful. You may feel a little discomfort, but it shouldn’t be anything unmanageable for the vast majority.
Then you’ll wait outside (they have socially distance chairs set up for those waiting) 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 in accordance to doctor and CDC recommendations.
All in all, the process is simple though the price tag is high at $250 per test.
Register with Hawaii’s Safe Travels system
If you decide to travel to the state, you’ll need to register with Hawaii’s Safe Travels system. Do this at least 72 hours before arrival, as it will speed your exit from the airport since you’ll be asked to show your registration confirmation page.
If you need to quarantine for 14 days, you’ll need to check in on the app daily to report the condition of your health if your trip is not a part of the pre-testing arrival plan. We wouldn’t be surprised to see the continued use of this app in some form in the future, even after the self-quarantine regulation expires.
Related: What it’s like to fly in the U.S. right now
Flight schedules have been reduced
As you would imagine, the 14-day self-quarantine requirement has done what it was designed to do: Convince travelers to stay home and avoid Hawaii in the short term. According to data provided by the Hawaii Vacation and Convention Bureau (HVCB), travel to Hawaii is down more than 90 percent compared to 2019 numbers.
This decline in passengers led airlines to suspend some flights between the mainland and the Hawaiian Islands.
However, with the reopening imminent, we expect airlines to add capacity back to their schedule as demand increases.
You’ll have to wear a face mask
On April 17, the governor of Hawaii issued an order requiring face masks in Hawaii in all public spaces and gatherings, including along beaches. So if you’re planning a trip to the islands, expect to pack a selection of those masks, too.
Related: Does my child need to wear a face mask while traveling?
Hotels are starting to reopen
While some hotels closed at the start of the pandemic, many popular hotels across the islands are starting to reopen, including some of TPG’s favorites such as The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua (Nov. 16), Disney’s Aulani (Nov. 1) and the Grand Hyatt Kauai (Nov. 1).
If you’re planning on a visit to Hawaii soon, check and double-check to make sure your resort of choice is open for your dates.
Related: TPG readers reveal their favorite points hotels in Hawaii
Should I book a trip to Hawaii?
There’s no question that Hawaii is a beautiful destination that is ripe for enjoying the great outdoors. As the pre-travel testing is put through its paces, much more will be known about the ease (or difficulty) in entering a reopened Hawaii. But as we have already seen with Lanai, things can change quickly for an island in the middle of the ocean with finite hospital capacity.
According to the Associated Press, more than 66,000 people were screened upon arrival in Hawaii in the first week of the new program from Oct. 15–22. Of those, 41,783 had the approved negative test and were allowed to skip the previously mandatory two weeks of quarantine. However, that means that over 20,000 did not. Some of those may have intentionally opted for a two-week quarantine, while others arrived with the wrong test.
The state has a limited number of pre-travel testing providers, though the list is growing. Note that some of the providers will not test children under 12, so do your research if you are traveling with children 5 or older who are required to test to avoid quarantine.
“Hawaii is ready,” said Hawaiian Airlines Jeff Helfrick.
“Hawaii has spent a lot of time and effort in preparing facilities, hotels, restaurants and setting up the beach chairs and all those kinds of things so that they are perfectly socially distant so that our guests can return. And while it probably won’t feel exactly the same, it’ll feel enough the same so that people will continue to love Hawaii and continue to make it a great vacation destination.”
That said, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1 million COVID-19 cases were reported in the United States in the week leading up to Nov. 19. The CDC website now states, “Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.”
Related: Getting a coronavirus test for travel is not always possible
Hundreds of thousands of would-be visitors have delayed or canceled trips to Hawaii during the pandemic. Now, they again have the opportunity to enter without quarantine as long as they can follow the testing procedures and present eligible negative results prior to departure — including travelers from Canada.
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, dates and timelines leading up to your trip. It also won’t hurt to familiarize yourself with airline, hotel and other travel cancellation and rescheduling policies in case something doesn’t go as planned given the surge in COVID-19 cases across the U.S.
- Airline COVID cancellation policies, a comprehensive list
- Hotel cancellation policies during the coronavirus pandemic
- Will travel insurance cover coronavirus-related changes?
Additional reporting by Victoria M. Walker, Katherine Fan, Madison Blancaflor and Andrea M. Rotondo.
Featured image of Honolulu by Timur Alexandrov/EyeEm/Getty Images
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