Some COVID-19 restrictions are still in place for international passengers traveling to the United States. While most rules have been lifted, foreign arrivals must present proof of vaccination to enter the country.

However, starting May 11, international arrivals will no longer be required to be fully vaccinated, the White House announced this week.

The decision to lift the ban comes as the US prepares to end its nationwide coronavirus public health emergency on May 11.

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Arriving travelers wait for ground transportation at Orlando International Airpor
 The US is one of the few countries still imposing COVID-19 measures at its borders ©Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Why is the US scrapping the rule now?

"Our COVID-19 vaccine requirements bolstered vaccination across the nation, and our broader vaccination campaign has saved millions of lives," the White House said in a press release.

Now that the tide has turned, with the virus and hospitalizations related to COVID-19 having dropped by almost 91%, the government said that these long-standing border measures are no longer necessary and will permit entry to all travelers without requiring them to provide proof of vaccination.

The requirement for non-US citizens to present proof of vaccination to enter the country was one of the few pandemic restrictions still in place in the US. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking the rule had already been scrapped, considering most countries dropped similar measures at their borders last year. The rule was first applied in the US in November 2021 and now the US and China are among the few nations still imposing such measures. 

A pooled PCR testing site for COVID-19 variants at a new test facility at Tom Bradley International Terminal
A pooled PCR testing site for COVID-19 variants at a test facility at LAX to keep an eye out for new coronavirus variants by swabbing foreign travelers as they arrive at US airports © Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Will the policy update have a significant impact on US inbound tourism?

It's hard to say. It could have a positive impact but it's unlikely to create a significant boom. Vaccine uptake worldwide is pretty high anyway with about 67% of the global population fully vaccinated by now. When the US dropped its pre-departure COVID-19 testing rule for incoming travelers back in June 2022, airlines reported a surge of interest in transatlantic travel, with travel management platform TripActions reporting a 23% increase in international flight bookings to the US just a week after the White House scrapped the requirement. 

Why are flights so expensive this summer?

But the pre-departure testing was arguably a more finicky rule than presenting proof of vaccination upon arrival and less of a deterrent for most travelers. Realistically, the most significant barrier to travel this year is soaring airfares (round-trip airfare from London to New York currently averages about $630 in June) due to rising fuel costs and staff shortages across the industry. Not to mention, cash-strapped passengers are also grappling with inflation-related surging prices across their budgets. 

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