Dramatic changes for international travel begin today: 11 things you need to know

Nov 8, 2021

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The much-anticipated day is finally here, as the U.S. officially welcomes back travelers on Nov. 8 from near and far after more than 18 months due to COVID-19.

“Today, after more than 18 months of pandemic-related travel restrictions, DHS is taking a critical step toward resuming normal travel,” U.S. Homeland Security secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas said in a statement. “Travelers who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and have appropriate documentation are now permitted to enter the United States via our land and ferry border crossings for nonessential reasons such as visiting friends and family and engaging in tourism.”

Vaccination requirements are based on a traveler’s citizenship and testing requirements are determined by age.

Here are the top 10 things you need to know about traveling to the U.S. today and beyond.

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Lufthansa crew members pose before a flight to Miami from Germany on Nov. 8. (Photo by Christof Stache/AFP via Getty Images)

In This Post

Do you need to be vaccinated to enter the US?

Proof of vaccination is only required for non-U.S. citizens over the age of 18. Travelers are considered fully vaccinated a minimum of 14 days after receiving their final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine — either the second dose of a two-dose vaccine or one dose of a single-dose vaccine.

What vaccines are accepted?

Currently, the U.S. government accepts Food and Drug Administration-authorized and -approved vaccines in addition to those approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization. Specifically, the eight below vaccines are approved for use to come to the U.S.:

  • Pfizer
  • Moderna
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • AstraZeneca
  • Covaxin
  • Covishield
  • Sinopharm
  • Sinovac

Additionally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will accept participants in a Novavax or Covavax COVID-19 vaccine (not placebo) Phase 3 clinical trial, as well as those who have received two doses of a “mix and match” vaccine combination administered at least 17 days apart.

U.S. officials have not yet specified whether they will require an additional booster shot or if the time elapsed from the date of vaccination beyond the 14 days will factor into vaccine credibility, as is the case in some countries.

How can I show proof of vaccination?

Per the CDC, three types of vaccination records are accepted:

  • Digital or paper records, such as a vaccination certificate with a QR code or digital pass shown via an app. Examples of this include the U.K.’s National Health Service COVID-19 Pass or the European Union Digital COVID-19 Certificate. The QR code must link to information showing vaccine credentials generated from an official immunization record.
  • Non-verifiable paper records, such as a printed vaccination record or certificate issued by a national or subnational vaccine provider, including the CDC-issued white vaccination card.
  • Non-verifiable digital records, such as digital photos of a vaccination record or card, downloaded vaccination record/certificate from an official source (public health agency, government agency or other authorized provider) or a mobile app without a QR code.

Although U.S. citizens returning home are not required to be vaccinated, vaccinated Americans should still bring proof of vaccination to qualify for the three-day testing window, detailed below.

More information on vaccines is available from the CDC.

What must my proof of vaccination show?

Beyond proof of a full COVID-19 vaccination course outlining an approved vaccine manufacturer and dates of shots, your proof of vaccination must contain personal identifiers, including your full name and date of birth or passport number, all of which must match the personal identifiers on your accompanying official ID (either a driver’s license, passport or other travel documents).

Additionally, proof should clearly state implementation by an authorized vaccine provider who issued the vaccine, such as a public health agency, government agency or other authorized provider.

How do I submit proof of vaccination?

If entering by air, U.S. airlines will collect all health documentation, including vaccine and testing proof, at the time you check in for your flight to the U.S.

Additionally, airlines will ask all international inbound travelers for contact details to be used for contract tracing while on the ground in the U.S., in conjunction with the CDC.

Most major airlines outline entry requirements on their websites and answer frequently asked questions. Be sure to check with your airline online first to ensure you have all of the necessary documentation.

(Screenshot courtesy of Delta Airlines)

Is a negative COVID-19 test required to enter?

All travelers over the age of 2, regardless of vaccination status, are expected to take either a rapid antigen or PCR test to enter the U.S., the testing window of which is based on your vaccination status.

Vaccinated individuals can show results of a negative test taken within three days of scheduled departure to the country.

Unvaccinated travelers are subject to stricter testing requirements and therefore and must show proof of a negative test taken within one day (24 hours) of travel to the U.S. Unvaccinated travelers are also required to attest that they’ll take an additional COVID-19 test within three to five days of arrival.

Depending on where you are in the U.S., COVID-19 tests are available at national pharmacies (such as Walgreens, CVS and Walmart), some grocery stores with in-house pharmacies, local pharmacies, doctor’s offices, hospitals and pop-ups such as Curative, among others.

Related: New travel restrictions will require unvaccinated Americans to face additional testing

What are the vaccination requirements for children?

Travelers under the age of 18, regardless of citizenship, are exempt from vaccine requirements if entering by either land or air, but they are to adhere to the below testing requirements for air travel.

What are the testing requirements for children?

The U.S. Department of State advises that children between the ages of 2 and 17 are required to submit results of a pre-departure test to enter the country, meaning those under 2 are exempt from any testing requirements.

If you are a vaccinated adult and traveling with an unvaccinated child between the ages of 2 and 17, your child can also submit a negative test within three days as long as you are traveling together to align with the testing timeline for fully vaccinated adults.

However, unvaccinated children traveling alone or with unvaccinated adults must adhere to the one-day testing requirement.

Related: What to do now if you want your kids vaccinated ASAP for holiday travel

Are the entry requirements the same for entry by land?

People crossing the border from Mexico in San Ysidro, California, on Nov. 8. (Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

Although the vaccination guidelines issued by the U.S. government thus far only apply to non-U.S. citizens entering the U.S. by air, officials expect the negative COVID-19 testing requirement to be issued at U.S. land borders with Mexico and Canada by January 2022.

The Department of Homeland Security says travelers by car and ferry should prepare for long lines at entry points as normal travel resumes.

“Long lines are expected in the initial days following pent-up demand, and CBP will adjust resources as needed, while continuing to facilitate lawful trade and travel and protect our national security,” DHS said in a press release. “Travelers are advised to expect longer-than-normal wait times, familiarize themselves with the new guidelines and have appropriate documentation ready during a border inspection.”

Children under age 18 are allowed to enter the U.S. via land so long as accompanied by a vaccinated adult, not unlike those entering by air.

Are there any vaccination exceptions?

Both the Biden administration and CDC have issued a “very limited set of exceptions from the vaccination requirement for foreign nationals,” including for:

  • Children
  • Certain COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial participants
  • Those with “rare” medical contraindications exceptions
  • Members of the armed forces and their immediate families
  • Airline crews
  • Diplomats
  • Travelers on non-tourist visas from countries where the vaccine is not widely available.]

Related: Answering your questions about traveling to the US with kids

Will proof of vaccination be necessary within the US?

Major U.S. cities require proof of vaccination to access certain indoor spaces, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City.

In Los Angeles, for example, either proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test is required for patrons 12 and older at many indoor businesses, including restaurants, malls, theaters, gyms, bars, breweries and more, in addition to an indoor mask mandate that has been in effect since this summer.

The situation is much the same in New York City, where proof of vaccination is required for those 12 and older to participate in indoor dining and entertainment and to visit indoor fitness establishments, museums and theaters, among other businesses.

Bottom line

Proof of vaccination is required for non-U.S. citizens to enter the U.S. starting Nov. 8. All travelers must submit a pre-departure test, in addition to contact details, to either airlines or CBP, depending on the point of entry. Although testing requirements apply only to entry by air, expect to see similar requirements when crossing land borders next year.

Related: Unvaccinated? Think twice before booking trips to these 5 US cities

Featured photo of a Lufthansa crew at Munich Airport on Nov. 8 by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images.

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