What Is an Immunity Passport—and Do I Need One to Travel?

Airlines have toyed with the idea of asking passengers to provide “immunity passports.”

In mid-April, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said on a call with investors that the airline was considering requiring travelers to show a certificate of good health, suggesting “immunity passports” would soon become ubiquitous. He may not be wrong.

At present, airlines like Emirates are performing temperature checks prior to letting passengers on airplanes, and visitors to most countries are expected to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. But airlines and destinations know these aren’t long-term solutions: Some COVID-19 carriers are asymptomatic, and no one goes to Vienna just to see it from their hotel window, after all. 

Already, a number of governments—the U.S. and U.K. included—are in talks to develop immunity passports. But what exactly is one, and how does it work? Better yet, how do you get one? Let’s dive in.

What is an immunity passport?

There is no one-size-fits-all immunity passport. At a basic level, “immunity passport” refers to a digital or paper certificate or card that allows people to show that they’ve had (and healed from) the virus. Countries and officials have also been calling them “immunity certificates,” “licenses,” and “COVID passes”; the phrase “release certificates” is also starting to gain popularity, after the World Health Organization warned countries about using the word “immunity.” (More on that later.) 

How does an immunity passport work?

Immunity passports use antibody testing to establish antibodies specific to SARS-CoV-2, which indicate the subject has fended off the coronavirus, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

On a practical level, just how a “passport” works depends on the company and country. One company, London-based Onfido, submitted a proposal to the U.K. government in early May, and says they are now in the “brainstorming” state. Under Onfido’s proposal, reports Politico, you would use an app to take a photo of your face and a government-approved I.D. This would then be matched with information about an antibody and antigen test. At checkpoints, the app would generate a QR code based on your data, showing the gate-keeper (a receptionist or border patrol agent, say) whether or not you are clear to proceed. 

Which countries or places require them?

In Chile, the government is slated to start issuing certificates to those who have finished a mandatory quarantine after testing positive for coronavirus. Despite earlier phrasing, health officials note they will no longer “make any pronouncement with respect to immunity,” reports Reuters.

Since midway through the coronavirus crisis, China has been having the majority of its citizens use a color-based system with QR codes to show health status: a green QR code means people can travel within their immediate province, yellow suggests the person may have come in contact with someone infected, and red is for those diagnosed with the virus, or who are suspected to have it. The system—called the “Alipay Health Code”—also appears to share that information with police, leading to concerns about privacy and surveillance, according to the New York Times

Other countries—including Italy, France, Germany, and Switzerland—are also considering immunity passports. 

How do I get an immunity passport?

Immunity passports rely on antibody testing, which is not yet widely available. If you’re planning on traveling sometime soon, consult this list of country-specific rules and see if the destination country has implemented any such systems.

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