The United States requires some travelers to present negative COVID-19 tests for entry, even those who are fully vaccinated. Here is what you need to know about the testing protocols before you take a trip.

Next week is 'all systems go' for travel to the US. The travel ban with the European Union and countries previously considered COVID-19 hotspots will be lifted on November 8; and restrictions at land borders and ferry crossings with Mexico and Canada will end then too (for the first time in almost 20 months). Under the new policy, all foreign nationals visiting the country must show proof of vaccination whether traveling by air, land or sea. And most people will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test result too, depending on how they're getting there.

Read more: Can I travel to the USA if I've had mix-and-match vaccines?

US-Canada land border at Sarnia, Canada
People don't need to take a test when entering the US by one of its land borders with Mexico and Canada © Mark Spowart/Getty Images

Do I have to take a COVID-19 test to enter the US?

Tests won't be required for entry at seaports or from people who are crossing into the US at the Mexico or Canada land borders. They're only required of people flying to the US from abroad. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) introduced this rule back in January when more contagious strains of the coronavirus emerged around the world. It's required of both US citizens and foreign visitors, and airlines can refuse you permission to board if you don't have the correct documentation with you.

When do I take a COVID-19 test?

US-bound travelers will need to take a within three days of flying and present proof to the airline before boarding their flight, in either paper or digital format. This is usually done during the boarding process, when airline staff are checking passports and boarding passes. Airlines accept both PCR and antigen test results that have been processed in a lab. Returning US citizens who are not vaccinated are required to take their test within one day of boarding their flight home.

Read more: PCR tests for travel: everything you need to know

Are there exceptions?

There are exceptions for children under the age of two, as well as airline crews and federal law-enforcement agents. People flying into the US mainland from US overseas territories, including Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands etc., don't have to take a test either.

What if I've recently recovered from COVID-19?

If you've recovered from COVID-19 within the last 90 days and have a recovery cert to prove it, you don't need to get tested to board your flight, as some individuals may continue testing positive for the coronavirus for weeks to months after recovery. 

What happens if I test positive?

You won't be able to board your flight to the US if you test positive for COVID-19, so you'll have to make alternative plans. If you are returning to the US from a vacation abroad and test positive, the CDC says you should be prepared to extend your trip for a few weeks at your own expense so you can self-isolate. You should also be prepared to find and pay for healthcare while recovering abroad.

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