The US has generally been closed off to international tourism since March 2020, and even though much of the world has been welcoming American travelers this summer, it's unlikely that the US government is prepared to fully open its borders to international visitors without an essential purpose any time soon. Here's what we know so far.

On Monday, the White House confirmed that current travel restrictions in the US will remain in place for now, citing the highly transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant as the reason for maintaining a cautious approach to border controls.

"With the Delta variant, we will maintain existing travel restrictions at this point," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday. She added: "driven by the Delta variant, cases are rising here at home, particularly among those who are unvaccinated, and appear likely to continue in the weeks ahead."

"Nothing is indefinite," said Psaki, but no timeline was provided by the White House on when the current travel ban is likely to be lifted. However, it was made clear that any decision on resuming international travel would be guided by public health experts.

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The spread of the Delta variant among unvaccinated people is keeping borders closed ©Getty Images/iStockphoto

European countries were hopeful the US would implement a reciprocal travel arrangement after the EU eased its own restrictions on the US in June. The EU added the US to its "green list" and permitted arrivals of American tourists, regardless of their vaccination status. However, some countries, including Italy, require Americans to be fully vaccinated before traveling there.

England followed suit on Wednesday, when the government agreed it would open its borders to American tourists in August, provided they are fully vaccinated and can present two negative COVID-19 PCR tests; one before departure and another on the second day after arrival. The State Department, however, is advising American travelers not to travel to Britain, Spain, Cyprus or Portugal, and to reconsider travel to other parts of Europe.

Canada is also preparing to drop its restrictions on US visitors in August, but it's likely to remain a one-way system for now, with the US Homeland Security Department extending its closure of land borders with Canada and Mexico until at least August 21.

And while some governments have introduced vaccine certificates to facilitate safe travel, the Biden administration has said the US won't create a similar national framework of vaccine credentials for travel.

Read more: Do you need a visa to go to the USA?

What do current travel restrictions include?

The US currently bars most non-US citizens and permanent residents who within the last 14 days have been in the UK, the 26 Schengen countries in Europe, or in Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil. There are some "essential travel" exceptions to this ban, including most immediate family members of US citizens, as well as diplomats, people travelling to the US to help contain the virus and certain visa-holders—but, for the most part, travel from any of these regions is not permitted.

The US is also closed off to its neighbors to the north and south. The closure of the land borders between the US, Canada and Mexico has been extended until August 21, and even though air travel is allowed, a ban on non-essential travel remains in place.

There are also some additional public health measures in place for travel. Currently, all airline passengers traveling to the US aged two years and older must provide either a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure even if they are fully vaccinated, or provide an official health document that proves they have recovered from COVID-19 within the last three months.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends all unvaccinated arrivals quarantine for at least seven days upon arrival, and to take a COVID-19 test three to five days after arrival. Fully vaccinated travelers with an FDA- or WHO-approved vaccine don't have to quarantine but they are advised to take a COVID-19 test within three to five days of arrival too. See the full list of recommendations here.

If you're traveling within the US, be aware that individual states have their own quarantine and mask requirements, not to mention the CDC updated its mask guidance on Tuesday to recommend fully vaccinated people wear masks in "public indoor settings" with "substantial and high transmission" —so always check the latest advice before travel.

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