Updated September 26th, 2020.
It’s a weird time for us backpackers. Coronavirus has forced many of us to cut our trips short, cancel future adventures and some of us have even got locked down abroad. I don’t know about you but I feel like my feet have never been on the ground for so long!
However, as lockdowns lift and we start to toy with the idea of backpacking again, you may find yourself wondering, ‘can I travel in South America yet’? It is a question there is no simple answer to so we’ve had an in-depth look at every country’s virus control measures and border restrictions to give you the lowdown on what is happening on the ground.
What has happened in South America?
The first confirmed case of COVID-19 occurred in Sao Paulo, Brazil on 26th February 2020. Whilst the virus didn’t initially spread as quickly as in other continents, by early April, all South American countries had reported at least one case. It was at this point that many countries began hard lockdowns, to try and limit the spread of the virus.
By the middle of April, coronavirus was rapidly taking hold. Brazil, Peru and Colombia topped the charts for the highest number of cases and deaths across the continent. On 22nd May 2020, the WHO announced that South America was the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was largely thanks to a rapid surge in infection rates across Brazil.
At the time of writing (2nd September 2020), South America has over 6.9 million confirmed cases and around 266,000 deaths. Whilst these numbers are shocking in their own right, there is also claim that owing to inadequate testing and insufficient medical facilities across the continent, the outbreak of the virus is much worse than the official figures demonstrate. As of 20th August 2020, Brazil is the second worst affected country in the world, sitting behind only the US in infection rates.
It is fair to say that this paints a bleak picture. However, policies and situations change quickly and knowledge is your best tool if you’re hoping to plan a trip to South America (or Southeast Asia) in the future. That and a crystal ball of course!
Our recommended travel insurance during the coronavirus pandemic is SafetyWing’s Nomad Insurance. It is one of the only travel insurance policies which offers COVID-19 sickness cover as a part of their International medical cover. It is better to be safe than sorry!
Current Status of Travel & Border Restrictions in South America
*This article is the result of many hours of research, however, coronavirus guidance across South America changes very quickly and often without notice. If you are planning a trip in the not too distant future, always check the advice from your government for the latest and most up to date information.*
Argentina’s borders are closed to non-residents and foreign nationals. Currently, the UK and US governments are advising against anything but essential travel to the country. Those who are returning from the country to the UK will need to self isolate for 14 days and provide their route and contact details.
The government of Argentina have announced that they will be extending their quarantine and social distancing policy until at least 20th September 2020. However, this has led to protests in the capital of Buenos Aires against the government’s continued lockdown. Currently, travel between provinces is still prohibited.
At the time of writing, no official date has been given to reopen borders to international tourists nor have potential travel restrictions (e.g. need for a negative COVID-19 test) been announced. This is reviewed every 2-3 weeks currently.
Currently, all of the land border crossings in Bolivia are closed however, it is now possible to enter and leave the country on an international flight. You can now fly to Bolivia if you produce a negative COVID-19 test, certified by a Bolivian consulate.
There is currently a national quarantine in force across the country which means that social distancing is compulsory and masks should be worn in public places.
Curfews are in force across the country, although they vary depending on where you are. Currently, in La Paz, curfews are alternating days, assigned to you depending on the final digits of your ID number. As of the week beginning 14th of September, there is no more weekend quarantine. On weekdays, you are allowed out from 6am-8pm and on the weekends until 4pm. Restaurants are now open for patrons to eat inside.
Buses are currently running between different provinces, however, only within the hours stated above. Therefore if you are planning to travel across the country, you must plan your journey accordingly.
Brazil hit the headlines early on into the pandemic and even six months on, the country and it’s COVID-19 numbers are never far from the news. It may surprise to you hear that despite being the worst affected country across the continent, it is business as usual for Brazil and their borders are open to international tourists. Brazil resumed international flights on July 27th 2020, despite the country’s infection rates continuing to soar.
As you would probably expect, both the US and the UK government are currently advising against anything but essential travel to Brazil and whilst there are no official quarantine requirements in Brazil, travellers from the UK are required to quarantine for 14 days upon their return from the country.
No negative COVID-19 test result is needed as an entry requirement into Brazil, however, travellers will need to have health insurance for the duration of their trip. Any traveller who begins to experience symptoms of COVID-19 during their trip should self isolate for 14 days.
When it comes to specific restrictions across the country, these vary from place to place. Wearing a face mask on the street, in public spaces or when using public transport is compulsory everywhere. Some cities have their own rules regarding social distancing, mandatory use of masks at indoor venues such as gyms and shopping centres. Access to the beach in Rio de Janeiro is restricted, solely for exercise.
One of our readers who lives in Brazil says, ‘Brazil is open for everyone, everything is open and working, people really forgot that corona exists.’
The UK and US government are currently advising against all but essential travel to Chile. On 18th March, Chile officially closed its borders to anyone who is not a national or a resident of the country. While no-one is allowed in for tourism purposes, there are still flights from capital Santiago to the UK, US, Spain and Brazil. If you are returning from Chile to the UK, you will need to provide your journey and contact details as well as self-isolate for 14 days.
Currently, Chile is in phase 4 of the outbreak, meaning transmission of the virus is still out of control and widespread. Because of this, the country has strict rules in place to try and curb infection rates. The country is under a nationwide daily curfew from 11pm to 5am. It is also mandatory to wear a face covering in all urban areas.
On June 16th 2020, Chile extended the existing state of emergency (introduced on 18th March) for a further 90 days. There is still mandatory quarantine in place for people over 75 and there are checkpoints for health inspections in Santiago and other major cities. These check the health of the person passing through and also make sure that those ordered to quarantine due to medical conditions are not flouting the rules.
Colombia has closed all of its sea and land borders to visitors until 1st October 2020 but as of September 21st, international flights will resume.
On 25th March 2020, nationwide isolation measures were put in place. These cover the enforcement of social distancing as well as restricting movement to carry out essential activities only. This includes the buying of essential goods, walking a pet or visiting the emergency services.
Visas which expire during the lockdown period have been automatically extended by the Colombian government for that period plus one month. For more information on extending your visa if you are stuck in Colombia, see the official website.
Colombia has introduced the ‘COVID-19 bioseguro’ which is a pioneering certification and the first of its kind in Latin America. This certification will be awarded to companies who have implemented strict hygiene and biosecurity protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
A National Sanitisation Emergency will remain in place until at least 1st November 2020.
Whilst the US and the UK are currently advising against anything but essential travel to Ecuador, the country began to allow commercial flights on June 1st 2020. Despite this, land borders are still closed.
Whilst a mandatory 14 day quarantine was in place for all visitors to Ecuador (at your own expense), this has recently changed. Now, if you can provide a negative COVID-19 test (has to be valid for a maximum of 10 days before you entered Ecuador), you no longer need to quarantine. The quarantine will still apply to visitors who either can’t get a test in advance or test positive. This move has been done to stimulate the tourism industry.
If you are unable to source a COVID-19 test prior to your arrival, you will be required to take a test at your arrival airport in Ecuador.
As of 13th September 2020, curfew restrictions are no longer in place. However, a national public health emergency was extended by 90 days on 13th September 2020. This means that use of face masks in public spaces are mandatory, public gatherings are not permitted and a nationwide tracing app has been rolled out within the country.
Non essential businesses are currently operating on reduced working hours and a curfew is in place from 8pm to 5am every day. Face masks are recommended in public places both indoors and outdoors.
Phase 3 of the Social Quarantine Plan has been extended in Asuncion and the central department until at least 20th September 2020. All other parts of they country (except Alto Parana) have moved into phase 4 of the plan.
Peru has been badly hit in the coronavirus pandemic, not in the least fuelled by illegal gatherings. With more than 600,000 cases of COVID-19, Peru has sixth-highest total in the world. At present, both the UK and US governments are currently not advising travel to Peru.
The international borders are closed except for agreed repatriation flights, mainly for EU citizens.
The state of emergency in the country has been extended to 30th September 2020. This has put several measures in place, including a nationwide curfew from 10pm to 4am Monday to Saturday and all day on Sunday until 4am on Monday. The use of face masks are mandatory outside of the home and social gatherings are prohibited.
If you wish to move from one region to another, the local government may require you to submit a negative COVID-19 test, to prove that you are not carrying the infection.
If you have returned from Peru on a repatriation flight to the UK, you will need to provide your journey and contact details, as well as self isolating for 14 days.
There are now some flights available to repatriate European citizens, however, these are filling up fast. You are advised to check with a travel agent to see whether seats are still available.
Unlike many other Latin American countries, there is currently no curfew in place across the country. However, people have been asked to respect social distancing rules, stay at home when possible and avoid public transport.
If you have any new information which is not in this article or see something that needs updating please let us know in our Facebook community!