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The Testing and Quarantine Rules for Traveling to Hawaii During the Pandemic | Frommer's Maridav/ Shutterstock

The Testing and Quarantine Rules for Traveling to Hawaii During the Pandemic

A guide to untangling Hawaii's knotty rules for quarantine, testing, resort bubbles, and inter-island travel

Hawaii has the most complicated pandemic travel rules in the United States by far. As an island state, it would be in grave trouble if the hospitals became overwhelmed, so local governments have wisely adopted a conservative set of standards.

Things started out simply enough: From March to October of 2020, all visitors, even those who came from elsewhere in the U.S., were required to complete a 14-day quarantine upon arrival. And the state actually enforced the measure, arresting and expelling several tourists for violations over the summer.  

Though the quarantine rule remains in effect (with a slight decrease in the required self-isolation period from 14 to 10 days), Hawaii implemented a new testing-based workaround last fall.

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Under the Safe Travels program, visitors to the islands can bypass quarantine by obtaining negative Covid-19 test results before travel.

Sounds pretty straightforward so far. Many Caribbean nations and other places still accepting tourists amid the pandemic follow similar procedures. 

What complicates matters in Hawaii is whether your plans include inter-island travel—starting out on Oahu, say, and hopping to Maui or the Big Island or, trickiest of all, Kauai (pictured above).

For visitors determined to have a multi-island vacation, new planning hurdles arise in the form of additional testing and quarantine rules that vary slightly from island to island. 

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The safest course of action is to postpone nonessential travel until enough of the U.S. population has been vaccinated to persuade the CDC to give us the long-awaited green light to travel. 

But if you absolutely must go to Hawaii before then, here are the entry regulations you need to know. 

Pre-Travel Testing Requirements

In order to bypass Hawaii's 10-day quarantine requirement for incoming visitors, the first thing you should do is create a Safe Travels Hawaii account via the state's online portal. 

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You'll need to enter your traveler information and trip details to complete the application. 

After approval, each traveler over age 5 must receive negative results from a Covid-19 nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT), taken no more than 72 hours before the scheduled flight departure. Travel agency Hawaii Aloha Travel has an online calculator to help you figure out to the minute how soon and how late you can get tested and still meet the requirement, based on your flight time.

Hawaii accepts certified lab results from its "Trusted Testing and Travel Partners" only (listed here).

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Once you get your negative test result, upload it to your Safe Travels Hawaii account.

Twenty-four hours before your scheduled departure time, you'll get a notification to complete the mandatory Travel and Health Form via your Safe Travels account.

With that done, you'll receive an email containing a QR code to present to airport staffers during your journey. (Print out hard copies of all these documents, too, just in case.)  

Fail to meet any of the above requirements and you're looking at a mandatory 10-day quarantine when you get to Hawaii. 

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Post-Arrival Testing

Depending on where your plane touches down, you might be in for another round of testing after arriving in Hawaii. 

A second test is not required on Oahu, home of Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) in Honolulu. 

The Big Island—which has two major airports, Hilo (ITO) and Kona (KOA)—randomly administers rapid tests at no extra cost to about 25% of new arrivals. 

On Maui, where Kahului (OGG) is the main airport and Kapalua (JHM) serves some local flights, voluntary free testing is available three days after arrival, presumably for inter-island travel, which we'll get to next. 

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On Kauai, meanwhile, a post-arrival test is required after 72 hours on the island. In the meantime—and until negative results arrive—visitors must stay on the grounds of one of the island's so-called "resort bubbles." See Kauai's local government website for a list of pre-approved properties and other restrictions. 

Inter-Island Travel Requirements

One patch of paradise not enough for you? Frankly, you're starting to sound greedy. 

As with the requirements for tests after arrival in Hawaii, the rules for island-hopping differ according to where you're hopping to. 

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The easiest option is Oahu. Those who arrive there from other Hawaiian islands are under no burden to get another test or endure another quarantine. 

Those entering the Big Island from any other Hawaiian locale have two choices: 1) Get another test upon arrival on the Big Island and remain in quarantine until negative results arrive; or 2) Go through the original pre-arrival testing requirements all over again (with another negative test taken no more than 72 hours before departure for the Big Island and everything uploaded to the Safe Travels site), only this time you have to find a certified lab in Honolulu or Maui or wherever you are before leaving for the Big Island. 

For inter-island travel to Maui, your options narrow further: You must repeat the same steps followed before you left the mainland—and download the AlohaSafe tracing and notification app besides. 

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As usual, Kauai puts up one last obstacle. To travel to that island from another Hawaiian spot, you'll need to get a second negative Covid-19 test no more than 72 hours before departure for Kauai; then, upon arrival, you'll need to complete the 3-day resort bubble quarantine and get yet another negative test before you can leave your hotel. That's three tests altogether.

On the bright side, you won't need a Covid-19 test to return to the mainland U.S., per a CDC order effective January 26.

If you remain undaunted by all this red tape, you can get started on applying for the Safe Travels program at HawaiiCovid19.com/travel.

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And for help planning the fun parts of the trip, Frommer's has guides on Hawaii, the Big Island, Maui, and Oahu in print and e-book editions.  

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