After an 18-month ban on most inbound travel, US president Joe Biden signed a presidential proclamation on Monday, detailing the country's new travel rules and adding more clarity on vaccine requirements and border checks.
The new rules come into play in two weeks' time and will permit anyone who is fully inoculated with a vaccine approved by the World Health Orgainzation (WHO) to enter the US by land or air. Travelers will also be permitted to enter if they have received "mix and match" jabs, combining two different COVID-19 vaccines. US citizens or permanent residents are not required to be fully vaccinated to enter but they will be subject to testing requirements that are slightly more rigid than the testing requirements in place for fully vaccinated arrivals.
"With science and public health as our guide, the United States has developed a new international air travel system that both enhances the safety of Americans here at home and enhances the safety of international air travel," White House officials said in Monday's release. "The additional detail released today provides airlines and international air travelers with time to prepare for this new policy ahead of the November 8 implementation date."
Under the new rules, it will be the airlines' responsibility to check passengers' proof of vaccination and COVID-19 testing status before they depart for the US. This will allow for a more streamlined process that should eliminate big queues forming at border checks.
If you're planning a trip to the US or returning home, here's what you need to know about the new travel rules.
When will travel restrictions be lifted?
The White House will introduce its new travel policy on November 8. "Starting on November 8, non-citizen, non-immigrant air travelers to the United States will be required to be fully vaccinated and to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination status prior to boarding an airplane to fly to the US, with only limited exceptions," the White House said on Monday.
Who can then travel to the US?
At present, travelers who, in the last 14 days, have been in the UK, European Schengen Zone, Republic of Ireland, China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa and India, are barred from the US with few exceptions. But that will change from November 8 when the US will permit all fully vaccinated international travelers to enter by air, provided they show proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of traveling to the US. The US will also open its land borders with Canada and Mexico to vaccinated visitors, however a negative COVID-19 test will not be required, according to the CBC.
Travelers who could previously travel to the US without proof of vaccination during the pandemic will also be required to be vaccinated before traveling there from November 8. They will also need to present a negative COVID-19 test to enter, as before, regardless of vaccination status. The new policy applies to everyone who is not a citizen or permanent resident of the US.
Travelers will have to wear a mask throughout their journey and provide their telephone number and email address as part of a new contract-tracing system for inbound travelers.
What about returning vaccinated Americans?
Fully vaccinated Americans will only need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 72 hours before traveling to the US by air, as per CDC guidelines.
What about returning unvaccinated Americans?
US citizens and permanent residents who are not fully vaccinated will still be able to enter the US by air, but they will need to be tested within 24 hours of flight departure time, and undergo testing upon arrival.
What about children?
Children under 18 are exempt from vaccine requirements "given both the ineligibility of some younger children for vaccination, as well as the global variability in access to vaccination for older children who are eligible to be vaccinated", the White House said. However, children between the ages of 2 and 17 are required to take a pre-departure test. If traveling with a fully vaccinated adult, an unvaccinated child can take a test within 72 hours of departure. If an unvaccinated child is traveling alone or with unvaccinated adults, they will have to test within one day of departure.
What vaccines does the US accept for travel?
The CDC said it will accept any vaccine authorized by the WHO for emergency use, which currently includes the Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Covishield, Johnson & Johnson, Sinopharm and Sinovac jabs.
How will I present proof of vaccination before traveling?
The Biden administration said that foreign nationals will need to show proof of vaccination before boarding their flight to the US. That proof can be an official vaccination certificate issued by a public health or government agency that will be presented to the airline before boarding. Airlines will need to "match the name and date of birth to confirm the passenger is the same person reflected on the proof of vaccination" and determine the certificate is official.
Will I need a health pass?
Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test are increasingly required for aspects of daily life in the US, such as eating indoors, going to a museum or tourist site, or attending concerts and large events. But the patchwork of rules surrounding these passes can be a little confusing, particularly as there is no standardized system in the US. So what you need and where you're expected to use it depends on where you're going.
In New York City, for example, proof of vaccination is required to dine or drink indoors at restaurants, bars and cafes; and to visit gyms, fitness classes, theaters and other entertainment venues. Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result are needed to gain entry to similar venues in New Orleans, and in O'ahu and Maui in Hawaii.
In California, proof of vaccination is required across many indoor venues in San Francisco and in Los Angeles County. It's also needed to visit theme parks such as Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags.
There are other cities and counties across the US where proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test is required as a condition of entry, so always check ahead before planning any travel. As a tourist, you'll need to have proof of vaccination to enter the US regardless, so it's a good idea to keep that proof with you at all times to reduce the risk of being denied entry to certain places.
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