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This new COVID-19 testing rule makes it harder for some Americans to fly back to the US

Oct. 26, 2021
5 min read
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If you’re traveling to the United States in November, whether from abroad or home from an international trip, listen up because the White House just released new guidance that will affect your trip.

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The U.S. has been more or less closed for travel since the beginning of the pandemic and remained firmly shut even as countries worldwide reopened this summer. Now, the U.S. is preparing to reopen just in time for the winter holiday season.

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But the announcement quickly paved the way for more questions, such as when, exactly, the U.S. would reopen (Nov. 8) and which vaccines would be accepted for travel -- issues the White House has since clarified.

And the Biden administration has released more guidance just two weeks before the reopening date, explicitly addressing how the policy will apply to unvaccinated Americans and certain unvaccinated foreign travelers.

There’s a lot of ground to cover, so here’s what you need to know about the new policy -- and how it will affect your international travel plans.

What the new policy means for unvaccinated Americans

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

To start, it’s important to know that the new rules vary based on your vaccination status as of Nov. 8, 2021. While foreigners must be vaccinated to enter the U.S., unvaccinated American citizens can still enter — but they'll face stricter requirements.

Under the new rule, unvaccinated travelers now must show a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than one day before departure. This significantly shrinks the time window for testing and means unvaccinated travelers will need to arrange for COVID-19 tests sooner than vaccinated travelers. It also makes testing in the U.S. prior to a trip extremely difficult.

The Biden administration is expanding on an earlier mandate requiring all travelers flying into the U.S. from abroad to provide a negative COVID-19 test result taken within three days before boarding. This rule didn’t exempt vaccinated travelers and has been the law of the land since. (Travelers flying back from U.S. territories, travelers arriving via land borders and flight crew members are exempt).

Keep in mind that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says travelers have the option of getting tested en route during one of their connections, a policy the agency hadn’t clarified before.

However, the CDC also noted that travelers who test positive during a connection might be required to remain where they are and aren’t permitted to fly to the U.S. The one-day testing rule also applies to any traveler who doesn’t want to or cannot show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination.

What the new policy means for children

(Photo by by FamVeld/Shutterstock)

As the world reopens, families traveling with young children have had to deal with an entirely different set of rules.

It's possible to travel with young, unvaccinated children, even to countries with vaccination requirements. Many countries -- including the U.S. -- have relaxed vaccine rules for children under 12 who are ineligible to get a COVID-19 shot right now. Generally, countries with vaccination requirements allow children under a certain age to show proof of a negative coronavirus test in place of a vaccine.

Some countries, such as Iceland and Antigua, allow young children to skip pre-travel testing altogether.

But as the delta variant spread worldwide this summer, the U.S. appears to be taking a firmer testing stance.

Traveling to the U.S. will become significantly more complicated for young children if their parent or guardian isn’t vaccinated. According to the CDC rule, children between 2 and 17 whose parent or guardian is not fully vaccinated must show a negative test taken no more than one day before departure. (The rule also applies to unaccompanied minors.)

According to the rule, these children will be subjected to the same pre-travel testing requirements as unvaccinated adults.

The rules remain unchanged for unvaccinated kids between 2 and 17 traveling with fully vaccinated parents or guardians. These children can travel to the U.S. with a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of departure. (Children under 2 are not required to get a test, and that guidance remains unchanged.)

What the new policy means for vaccinated travelers

(Photo by mixetto/Getty Images)

If you’re fully vaccinated -- that means it’s been two weeks since your final dose of a CDC- or WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccine -- then the new rule doesn’t apply to you. The current mandate (that travelers have to show a negative test taken three days before departure) still applies to vaccinated Americans and foreigners.

Additionally, the rules haven’t changed for travelers who have recently recovered from the coronavirus. These travelers are still permitted to travel with documentation of recovery and a letter from a healthcare provider.

Featured image by SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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