The United States’ new international travel policies are just weeks away from going into effect.
On Monday, the White House announced new details related to air travel, addressing some of the questions raised by the announcement more than a week ago that a wide reopening of the US to fully vaccinated foreign travelers would begin on November 8.
US borders with Canada and Mexico will also reopen on November 8 to vaccinated visitors for tourism and other nonessential travel. More details related to travel across land borders will be available “in the coming days,” according to a White House fact sheet.
Here’s everything we know so far about what the new policies will mean for travelers:
The policies allow fully vaccinated noncitizen, nonimmigrant travelers to enter the United States, replacing a patchwork of bans and restrictions that have been in place since the start of the pandemic.
That means foreign nationals arriving from countries that have been subject to bans — China, Iran, Europe’s Schengen area, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Brazil, South Africa and India — will soon be allowed under the policy that applies to all international travelers.
The vaccination requirement goes into effect November 8.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed that all FDA-approved and authorized vaccines (Moderna, Pfizer —BioNTech, J&J, BIBP, Sinovac) , as well as vaccines that have an Emergency Use Listing from the WHO, will be accepted for entry into the United States.
That means the AstraZeneca vaccine, used in places including Canada and Europe, will be accepted. The Sputnik V vaccine developed in Russia has not been approved by the World Health Organization or the Food and Drug Administration. The travelers vaccinated with Sputnik V will not be able to travel to the United States
People are considered “fully vaccinated” by the CDC two weeks after their second dose in a two-dose series, or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine.
The CDC recently updated its definition of “fully vaccinated,” confirming that mixed-dose vaccinations will be accepted.
Individuals are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receipt of the last dose of “any combination of two doses of an FDA approved/authorized or WHO emergency use listed COVID-19 two-dose series,” the guidance reads.
Unvaccinated Americans can still enter the United States but will face more stringent testing requirements for air travel.
Unvaccinated US citizens, legal permanent residents and any unvaccinated foreign nationals exempt from the vaccination requirement “will need to provide a negative test taken within one day of traveling,” per the White House fact sheet.
The announcement about Mexico and Canada land borders on October 12 did not specifically address unvaccinated Americans, but the vaccination requirement is directed at “inbound foreign national travelers.”
Children younger than 18 are exempt from the vaccination requirement, according to the White House fact sheet. They are subject to testing (see below).
There are a few other rare vaccination exceptions, the White House fact sheet said.
Those include “certain Covid-19 vaccine clinical trial participants, those with medical contraindications to the vaccines, those who need to travel for emergency or humanitarian reasons (with a US government-issued letter affirming the urgent need to travel), those who are traveling on non-tourist visas from countries with low-vaccine availability (as determined by the CDC), and other very narrow categories.”
The administration recognizes that the availability of vaccines varies widely, “so there will be exemptions specifically for countries that have insufficient vaccines to have persons fully vaccinated,” a senior administration official said Monday, referring to about 50 countries where less than 10% of the entire population is fully vaccinated.
However, travelers’ reasons for entering the US from those countries must be compelling. “They need to have a specific, compelling reason. So, tourist visas will not qualify for that,” another senior official added.
Yes, testing will still be required for vaccinated air travelers and will become more stringent for unvaccinated air travelers.
Fully vaccinated air travelers, regardless of citizenship, are required to test negative for Covid-19 within three days of their flight’s departure for the United States, in line with the current testing rule.
Unvaccinated US citizens, legal permanent residents and any unvaccinated foreign nationals exempt from the vaccination requirement will be required to take a Covid-19 test within one day of their departing flight.
Children younger than 2 do not need to test. Those from ages 2 to 17 are required to take a test before departure, the White House fact sheet said.
If traveling with a fully vaccinated adult, unvaccinated children can test three days before departure. Unvaccinated children traveling alone or with unvaccinated adults will be required to test within one day of departure.
Both digital and paper proof of vaccination will be accepted as long as the documentation meets US requirements for being fully vaccinated, officials said.
According to the White House fact sheet, airlines will be responsible for determining that the record “was issued by an official source (e.g., public health agency, government agency) in the country where the vaccine was given.”
Airlines will also be charged with reviewing the information presented to determine that it meets the CDC’s definition of “fully vaccinated” (see above).
Airlines already have systems in place to collect the testing information required of air travelers.
“The airlines will verify vaccination status in the same way they have been and will continue to do with the proof of a pre-departure negative test result,” a senior administration official said.
Airlines will also be required to collect contact information for all inbound air travelers, per a CDC contact tracing order. That information must be turned over to the CDC when it’s needed to follow up with travelers to mitigate the spread of disease.
More details are forthcoming for travel across land borders, officials said Monday.
However, a senior administration official said on October 15 that vaccinated individuals crossing for nonessential reasons should “be prepared to attest to vaccination status and to present proof of vaccination to a CBP (Customs and Border Protection) officer upon request.”
The new international travel system largely bars unvaccinated foreign nationals from entering the United States.
Unvaccinated travelers coming from countries not affected by travel bans who currently are allowed to fly into the US (from Mexico and Canada, for example) will no longer be allowed entry as of November 8.
At land borders, the vaccination requirement going into effect on November 8 applies to nonessential travel such as tourism and visits with friends and family.
Individuals traveling for essential reasons, including truck drivers and students, will still be allowed across borders until early January, whether they’re vaccinated or not.
In early January, a vaccination requirement will go into effect for all foreign nationals crossing the borders by land or ferry.
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