It was February and I was struggling. After months of saying I was okay living alone during a pandemic, my words finally caught up with me — as they usually do. I was “fine” by definition, but I hit a wall… hard.
At the same time, my friend experienced a loss that caught her by surprise. We talked about wishing we could travel, and after a weekend of extensive research we had a final destination…
Hawaii is open to tourists through the Hawaii Safe Travels Program. It’s the only way onto the islands without doing a 10-day quarantine. A state that takes COVID-19 seriously? Coming from Georgia, that sounds like paradise to me. But the process is a little complex. After many frustrating days and nights, I thought I’d explain the details more clearly for any friends who want to go. Or for those who are just curious.
Before You Go
Getting there is the hardest part. Read the rules for your specific island when you book your flight because missing a step could turn your vacation into a staycation.
- You must have a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours before your final leg to Hawaii. Time zone matters. My final leg departed Seattle at 12:05 p.m. PDT on March 15, but I live in Atlanta. That meant I could get my test no sooner than March 12 at 3:05 p.m. EST.
- The test must be a Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT). The standard COVID-19 test doesn’t qualify. I recommend the 15-minute rapid PCR test.
- You must get tested at an approved State of Hawaii Trusted Partner lab. If you live outside of Alaska, Washington, California or New York, your only option will likely be American Family Care. Nationwide drugstores like CVS and Walgreens are Trusted Partners, but at the time of this writing, their labs are too backed up to turn around results within the 72-hour window for Hawaii.
- Insurance does not cover tests for traveling purposes, so you’ll pay out of pocket. My test was $150 and my friend’s test was $75.
- You’ll get a printed copy of your test result with the state of Hawaii seal. Bring this paperwork with you on your trip.
Create an account through the state of Hawaii’s Safe Travels website. You can find it by visiting Hawaii.gov. You’ll be asked to enter your flight numbers, booking confirmation number and other personal information.
Upload your negative COVID-19 test results to your account. It has to be a PDF (a photo of your paperwork won’t work). Some apps convert photos to PDFs. I downloaded an app with a free trial and unsubscribed as soon as I uploaded my results.
The health assessment is available via your account 24 hours before departure, and you’ll get an email notification when it’s ready. You’ll be asked questions about whether you’ve had a temperature, flu shot, etc. Once you complete your health assessment, you’ll be emailed a QR code that you’ll present when you arrive in Hawaii.
Ask your rental host or resort about their refund policy in case of a positive COVID-19 test result. Typically, they won’t extend a full refund if you cancel within 14 days of your booking — this made me nervous with a test looming.
My Airbnb host offered a full refund in case of a positive test result. My friend’s host offered flexible rescheduling at a later date if she were to test positive. We were both negative, but I recommend asking ahead of time for peace of mind.
You’ll need to show the following to clear Kahului airport:
- The airline will give you an agriculture form to fill out while you’re on the plane. Bring a pencil or pen.
- Your negative COVID-19 test results paperwork.
- Your Hawaii QR code in your email. You’ll get this once your entire Hawaii Safe Traveler’s account is completed and all documents are uploaded.
- Your ID.
I sat by the plane door so I was second in line at the airport and it took me less than 5 minutes to clear everything. I’ve heard the average time it takes to get through the airport is about 30 minutes.
You’ll need to show the following to get your rental car (I highly recommend a car on Maui):
- Negative COVID-19 test result paperwork.
Precautions on the Islands
You’ll get an alert on your phone asking you to opt-in for contact tracing. Basically, you’re agreeing to let them track your phone while you’re on the island — something I had no problem with at all. If they think you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, you’ll be notified that you’re at risk.
For example, if your phone is at a restaurant at 7 p.m. on Thursday and someone with COVID-19 was also there at that time, better get tested.
This may all sound extensive, but it isn’t difficult. Once you’re on the island, the atmosphere just feels lighter. You know that everyone had to take a COVID-19 test or quarantine to be there. Nothing in life is foolproof, but the safety measures make it easier to relax.
Hopefully, soon you can also say, “Aloha!” Or as my friend put it as she flew away from the mainland… bye bitches.