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With the Omicron wave receding, the world finally feels ready to reopen. Still, at any given moment, another surge could re-trigger every traveler's mandated possession of a certified 'vaccine passport' for dining in restaurants, booking hotels, boarding public transit, and more.

The renewed vaccine passport requirements would continue to pose a particular challenge for anyone vaccinated in the United States, where the absence of a national database deprives COVID-19 vaccine recipients of the ability to verify their risk status abroad.

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The CDC Card Vs. The EU Digital COVID Certificate: What's The Difference?

Understandably, many world governments regard the vaguely detailed, easily alterable, handwritten CDC card as dubious proof at best.

To make matters worse, poor regulatory enforcement and genuine uncertainty among border patrol can cause delays for travelers vaccinated in the United States, even in countries that recognize the CDC card as valid proof of vaccination.

Those vaccinated in the European Union fare much better by comparison. Of the myriad vaccine certification systems available worldwide, the EU Digital COVID Certificate is arguably the most sophisticated and influential.

Recognized in the vast majority of countries worldwide, this pass is free and can be downloaded directly to one's iPhone wallet.

  • Member countries participating in the EU Digital COVID Certification program: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden.
  • Non-member countries participating in the EU Digital COVID Certification program: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Benin, Cabo Verde, Colombia, El Salvador, Faroe Islands, Georgia, Israel, Iceland, Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Panama, San Marino, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia, Togo, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the Crown Dependencies (Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man), Uruguay, Vietnam, and The Vatican.

Many individuals vaccinated in the United States assume they are ineligible for the EU Digital COVID Certificate. In fact, this is hardly ever the case.

Most individuals who have received sufficient doses of an EU-approved vaccine in the United States are eligible for an EU Digital COVID Certificate, provided they take additional steps to verify their vaccine record.

Many governments already issue temporary, country-specific vaccination certificates to tourists who lack the EU Digital COVID Certificate, and a significant number of these governments accept the CDC card as valid proof of vaccination.

When a US-vaccinated traveler is issued a country-specific vaccine certificate from any such nation, identifying details and vaccine data from the individual's submitted CDC card are integrated into the new certificate's QR code.

With this code, a US-vaccinated traveler can receive a valid EU Digital COVID Certificate.

Related:Vaccinated Travelers Can Go to Madeira: Here's What You Need to See

Step 1: Select Country For Touristic Vaccine Certificate Issuance

In order to be considered compatible with the EU Digital COVID Certificate, a country-specific vaccine certificate must meet all the following requirements:

  • It is certified by the government of either an EU member nation or a non-member nation participating in the EU’s vaccine certification initiative
  • It lists the traveler’s full name and date of birth
  • It lists all relevant information (date, type, dose number, country of administration) related to each COVID-19 vaccinations
  • It includes a valid (scannable) QR code

To find the best national body through which to exercise the CDC card conversion loophole at any given time, a traveler should first research what countries are currently requiring detailed vaccine certificates for tourists.

This is often the most difficult step since many participating governments periodically restore or remove the vaccine certificate application link from their websites as needed. As such, many travelers can only apply during surges. The situational landscape is forever shifting as a result.

It is practically certain, though, that in the event of another surge, countries like Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland will resume providing EU-compatible vaccine certification services for tourists and citizens alike.

To monitor the availability of Tourist Vaccine Certificate applications in relevant nations, it is helpful to check online databases like iVisa, which provide detailed and up-to-date lists of necessary entry documents by country.

In addition, some government websites provide samples of the issued vaccine certificates, and others state explicitly whether the document is EU-compatible or not.

If once these factors have been analyzed, it is still unclear which countries are issuing EU-compatible certificates, the key is to identify a country with an application process that requires a full copy of one’s medical vaccination record for verification.

Step 2: Apply For A Country-Specific Vaccine Certificate For Tourism

Enter all traveler information according to the application instructions and submit supporting documentation. Be sure to include clear photocopies of the front and back of your CDC card.

Pay the application fee (usually between $10 and $40, depending on the government of issuance). The country in question then issues a digital vaccine certificate, typically in a week or less.

Most applications will ask for precise dates of travel. Since this information is used solely to determine the validity period for the certificates' QR code, any date(s) can be entered. Whether a traveler actually uses the vaccine certificate to visit the country in question is entirely a matter of choice.

Related: What Can You Do When Your Family Has Been Vaccinated?

Step 3: Convert Country-Specific Certificate To EU Certificate

Go to the EU’s online registration portal. Upload and submit your newly acquired, EU-compatible, country-specific vaccine certificate.

Further to a QR code scan, your EU Digital COVID Certificate should be automatically generated. Save a copy of this document to your phone.

Your new EU Digital COVID Certificate will identify all of your vaccine doses as having been administered in the United States. Besides that, the pass is indistinguishable, in both functionality and appearance, from the certificates issued to travelers vaccinated within the EU.

There you have it. In three steps, with your CDC card and some savvy, you can unlock the enhanced travel opportunities afforded under the superior EU COVID Digital Certification system.

Safe travels!