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Hawaii is our family’s all-time favorite destination. But, travel to Hawaii during COVID has changed dramatically.

Travelling to Hawaii during the COVID pandemic can be complicated. Be prepared with  everything you need to know about testing, timing, flying and vacationing on the islands.

Our family loves to travel to Hawaii at least 2-3 times a year. We love all the islands! You can read about my favorite beaches or top sights on each island. We even love to go to Hawaii for only one day.

Hawaii’s Response to COVID for Travelers

Once COVID hit the fan and all leisure travel to Hawaii ground to a complete stop, we were devastated. We know a large percentage of jobs and livelihood for Hawaiians come from tourists so we worried what would happen to the people there. Travel to Hawaii during COVID was bound to open to support the economy and livelihood of so many residents.

the sunrises over Diamond Head craters on Waikiki beach in Honolulu, Hawaii
The view of Diamond Head from Waikiki Beach at Sunrise

For months, Hawaii required a 14-day mandatory quarantine for travelers. (This has recently changed to only 10 days of quarantine). Since we go to Hawaii only for a day or 2 this would never work for us. Travel to Hawaii during COVID was impossible for us.

In October, Hawaii began allowing visitors to bypass the 14-day quarantine rule by showing a negative COVID test! Finally, travel to Hawaii during COVID could begin again!

In Kauai, the rules is all incoming persons must quarantine for 14 days regardless of COVID test results. If you don’t want to quarantine, travel to Maui, Oahu or the Big Island.

Being allow to bypass the quarantine rule on Maui, Oahu and the Big Island is great news! But it does get complicated to get it all done in the right timing. We definitely can’t run off to the islands within minutes like we did once! Travel to Hawaii during COVID takes deliberate planning and precision.

I’ll walk you through exactly how to travel to Hawaii during COVID without needing to quarantine.

Palm tree with blue sky background and the moon
Keep dreaming of looking up on the palms trees sway in the ocean breeze

1. Create an Account with the State of Hawaii

Create an Account with Hawaii Safe Travels. While this is a straightforward and easy process, it will take time to fill out for all the adults and adding any children to the account.

After creating an account for you and any children in your party, add a trip to your profile. You will need to give all of your information, including your flight number, driver’s license or passport number, and the hotel you are staying in upon arrival.

Fill out the health check questionnaire within 24 hours of your flight. Once you fill out the health questionnaire, you will get an email with a QR code. This is the code that needs to be scanned upon arrival in Hawaii. If everything is done in advance, the process will be quick and painless.

After arriving in Hawaii, you are asked to send a daily report of your health to the Safe Travels profile.

2. Take a COVID Test from Hawaii’s Trusted Travel Partner

Here’s the basics

  • COVID test must take within 72 hours of the final leg of your flight to Hawaii.
  • Negative COVID test results must be in hand and uploaded to SafeTravels account before your last leg of your flight or you must quarantine for 10 days.
  • COVID test must be NAAT (Nucleic Acid Amplification test) PCrand approved by the Trusted Travel Partners of Hawaii
  • *Only Tests from Trusted Travel Partners Will be accepted by Hawaii

You must get a negative COVID test before you board the flight to Hawaii in order to bypass the mandatory 14-day quarantine. If your test results don’t arrive in time, and you get them after landing, you will unfortunately still be required to quarantine for 14 days. So plan to take the test in enough time to get it back

You must take the test through one of Hawaii’s Trusted Travel Partners. There are only 17 approved partners. As I looked I could only find 3 that were operating in Texas where we live – Walgreens, CVS and CareNow.

Green grass in front of the green moss coverent jagged mountains on oahu, Hawaii
All the views are worth the effort!

Kids under 5 do not need a test.

The test must be NAAT (Nucleic Acid Amplification Test) and PCR.

What if I Don’t get my Results in Time?

You are required to quarantine for 14 days if you don’t get your test results before you flight to Hawaii. Even if you get your result later in your trip, you are still under quaratine

The hotels and police can check up on you at anytime. There can be a $5000 fine and up to a year in Jail for failing to follow the quarantine order. This seems very severe for America’s typical freedoms, but its strict enough that I don’t want to cross the line.

A young girls with a plumeria in her hair at the Lai'e LDS temple in Hawaii.
Plumeria in hair at the Temple in Laie, HI

What to know about Walgreens COVID Testing

Tests at Walgreens cost $129 (unless your insurance will cover it). Only a few Walgreen locations offer COVID testing. You must have an appointment for a test. There are limited appointments available everyday. They typically open up new appointment slots 72 hours in advance.

Fill out the information for everyone who needs a test. This will take time. for the 6 members of my family it took about 45 mins to enter all of our information over and over.

Pick your location and an appointment time. There are limited Walgreens that offer the testing and appointment times can be limited. Book as far in advance as you are able.

You can move your appointment time if needed. My aunt scheduled her appointment a week in advance and then moved it to within 72 hours of her flight once that became available.

Once you get to Walgreens, you get in the drive through line and wait. We had to wait about 20 minutes for our turn and with the 6 of us, it took 20 minutes to do.

Be sure to show up on the right day and time for your appointment.

The test is self-administered through the nasal cavity. You need to insert the swab about 2-3 inches and turn it 5 times around. This was very uncomfortable and hurt our sinus for hours after the process. But it wasn’t too big of a deal. I just hoped we got a good enough sample to get the test done.

A young girl swinging at Kahana Bay Beach Park swing
A tiny nose swab for relaxing paradise… you’ve got this!
What to know about the Mailed/Online Test Option

There is also an option to be mailed a test, self-administer at your house, mail it back and get 72 hour results from Vault Health. This is a saliva test. You receive a small box in the mail and can hold onto it until you need to take the test within 72 hours of your flight.

When you are ready to take the test you enter an online waiting room and be paired with someone to show you are administering the test to yourself. and then mail back the prepaid package.

You should get results in 48-72 hours. It costs $119 (including shipping)

Rapid Testing Available at Airports

All of my family got negative covid tests from Walgreens within 2 days of taking the test (and a full 24 hours before our flight!)

Unfortunately, my test was return ‘inconclusive’. This means that none of our family could go! It was too late to take another test.

Luckily, the Airlines offer rapid testing at the airport of their major hubs (DFW, LAX, SFO and others). The rapid test through Care Now is costly ($250/person) and will add 30 minutes to your travels.

Due to the timing, we had to take a later flight so I could have time to complete the rapid test. Luckily, there was no line. If the result comes back inconclusive, they will continue to test until they get an accurate result.

After 2 COVID tests, I received my negative and my family was free to fly!

The sun on the horizon creating an orange glow sunset on Waikiki while a boogie boarder floats in the water
Just keep imagining the sunsets over the ocean.

3. Upload your COVID test results (PDF) to Safe Travels Account

You MUST upload your covid test results to your Hawaii safe Travel account. It must be in PDF form.

Getting a PDF form was a bit complicated as CareNow only gave me a piece of paper to confirm my negative. I found an app that converted a photo to a PDF and made it work. If you can upload from a computer at home before going to the airport, the process will be easier.

Waterfall on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu

4. Check Into the Airport

From checking to my flight to boarding, not a single person asked for my COVID test or Safe Travels Hawaii account. This means, that some travelers may be arriving in Hawaii with the wrong COVID test, or not test at all.

This actually happened to the man who sat on the plane next to me. He took 2 COVID tests and flew to Hawaii. They didn’t accept either one and told him he had to quarantine. So he flew straight home, took another ‘approved’ test, and bought another ticket to Hawaii, and flew back. This is crazy, but Hawaii is serious about keeping you quarantined unless you live by all their rules.

A young girl boogie boards on Lanikai beach on Oahu, Hawaii

Checking in, going through TSA checks and getting on the flight were all just normal and just like any other flight.

Make sure to have your mask on (and a backup). The whole flight you will be required to have the mask on unless actively eating. Bring some snacks to eat very slowly.

5. Deplane and Be Cleared for Travel in Hawaii

Once you deplane, you (and everyone else on your flight) will be funneled into the check out zone. I saw about 10 stations, so plan on a bit of a wait as they shuttle people through. Have your QR code and ID available.

At the station, they will scan your QR code and confirm your negative tests have been uploaded (and all the children on your travel account). After all the hassle and anxiety, you will be free to travel about the state of Hawaii without a mandatory quarantine.

6. Know the COVID Rules and Precautions in Hawaii

Once you are cleared to travel without quarantining, there are still very strict rules to prevent the spread of COVID in Hawaii.

A list of rules for hotels, pools, beaches and more in Hawaii
Here are the currently Covid precautions in Hawaii (Dec 2020)

Refer to this list of what is currently allowed. The 5-person limit rule includes people who are living in the same household. So technically, our family of 6 wasn’t legally allowed to hike, be on the beach or swim in a pool together. However, with masks on and socially-distanced, we were never questioned about being in a party of 6.

At one point in Hawaii, a police officer came up to us. I felt vulnerable and nervous. But instead of questioning us for our COVID tests or our ‘party of 6’, he warned us about property stealing that happens in tourist cars. He was out to protect us, not to pursue us.

Mom and Daughter Masked up at Matsumoto's Shave Ice in Haleiwa, Hawaii
Masks are required everywhere you go… unless you are eating shave ice!

Once in Hawaii, I didn’t feel that it was any different than living in Texas. Some indoor dining was still closed. But most of the state was operating like normal.

In our experience on Oahu, we found a few of our favorite sites were closed or changed. The PCC (Polynesian Culture Center) is closed. Hanauma Bay is only allowing 720 people (120 / hour) unlike the usual 6000 so expect a long wait! Some dining places are still completely closed (like Cheeseburgers in Paradise).

Most hotel hot tubs/ spas are closed. Pools are only allowing 5 people to swim. Masks are supposed to be worn at all times, including when not swimming on the beach. However, all the people I saw on the beach were mask-less and trying to distance.,

Waikiki is still crowded and still, I didn’t see many masks on the beach. Walking in the downtown Honolulu area, most are wearing masks. All stores require masks to enter.

Hawaii Travel and Covid What you need to know before going to Hawaii during the COVID pandemic

Complications and Blessings of Flying Standby during the Pandemic

If you fly standby, the empty seats (and especially the empty first-class seats) are probably screaming at you to jump on. It’s not often Hawaii has this many open seats for a nearly confirmed trip to and from the islands of paradise. If you take your test within 72 hours of several flights, you can have a few options for getting to the islands.

However, now open seats are the least of your concerns about going to Hawaii. You wont have a crazy time trying to get home like this experience. You need to actually try to plan in advance to get your COVID test within 72 hours.

For us, it was worth the hassle and extra money. We got all of our family in first class in both directions and we had a magical time on the island of Oahu.

For a large family, the cost of COVID tests can be outrageous, especially since a positive test will ensure all your travel plans are cancelled. But most likely, you will get a negative and be able to have a great time.

Hawaii Vacation

If you do make it to Hawaii, don’t forget these valuable guide books!

Don’t miss these helpful articles for travel on the islands

I hope this guide helps answer your questions about traveling to Hawaii right now!

Please comment with other questions you might have.

Everything you need to know about traveling to Hawaii during the COVID pandemic.  Testing, timing and quarantining questions all answered.

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