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What foreign travelers need to know about entering the US

May 28, 2020
5 min read
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These days, it's safe to say that the last few months have been bewildering for travel, whether you're crossing state lines or international borders, quarantining upon arrival or return home, in a mask or roaming free, holding a U.S. passport or a foreign one, breezing through JFK or factoring in an eight-hour health screening upon arrival.

The United States issued a series of proclamations beginning in late January 2020, prohibiting foreign travelers who had recently visited high-risk countries from entering the country. If you hold a foreign passport and are looking to enter the U.S., here's what you need to know.

Related: See all of TPG's coronavirus coverage here

Foreigners who recently departed high-risk countries

Non-US travelers cannot enter the United States if they visited the following regions within the last 14 days:

  • as of Jan 31: China
  • Feb 29: Iran
  • March 11: The countries comprising Europe's Schengen Area, including:
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Monaco
  • San Marino
  • Vatican City
  • March 16: the United Kingdom, encompassing:
  • England
  • Scotland
  • Wales
  • Northern Ireland
  • March 16: the Republic of Ireland
  • May 28: Brazil

This travel ban for foreign nationals is currently in effect, and does not expire until rescinded. U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents of the United States are exempt from these restrictions.

Related coverage: Country by country guide to coronavirus reopening

Some additional exceptions include travelers who are foreign diplomats traveling to the United States on A or G visas; as well as certain family members of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents such as spouses, children under the age of 21, parents (provided that his/her U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident child is unmarried and under the age of 21), and siblings (provided that both the sibling and the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident are unmarried and under the age of 21). Air and sea crew traveling to the United States on C, D or C1/D visas are also exempt from the prohibition on incoming travelers from high-risk countries.

The full list of exempt travelers can be found in each of the country proclamations listed above.

Upon arrival, all travelers should be prepared to undergo enhanced health screening procedures, although a number of travelers have reported that many U.S. airports are operating as usual, and that even airport employees or flight crew often do not observe social distancing or wear preventative measures such as face masks.

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After returning to the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends but does not enforce that all travelers returning from one of these high-risk regions should self-quarantine at home for 14 days, regardless of nationality.

From a health perspective, the CDC states that flying on an airplane increases the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Entering the US by land or Sea

The U.S. also closed its land and sea borders during this lockdown, shutting out landmass neighbors Canada and Mexico. This proclamation prohibits American travelers from visiting either neighboring country for "nonessential reasons" through June 22, 2020.

“Nonessential travel will not be permitted until this administration is convinced that doing so is safe and secure,” the DHS said in a statement published May 19.

Related: How a border closure with Mexico could impact travel

Foreign nationals who meet "essential travel" passenger requirements can enter the U.S. via Mexico and Canada land and ferry borders.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) these criteria for essential travel between either Mexico or Canada include:

  • U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents returning to the United States
  • Individuals traveling for medical purposes, such as medical treatment in the United States
  • Individuals traveling to attend educational institutions
  • Individuals traveling to work in the United States, such as individuals working in the farming or agriculture industry who must travel in and out of the United States in order to do their job
  • Individuals traveling for emergency response and public health purposes, such as government officials or emergency responders entering the United States to support federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial government efforts to respond to COVID-19 or other emergencies
  • Individuals engaged in lawful cross-border trade, such as truck drivers supporting the movement of cargo in and out of the United States
  • Individuals engaged in official government travel or diplomatic travel
  • Members of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the spouses and children of members of the U.S. Armed Forces, returning to the United States
  • Individuals engaged in military-related travel or operations.

The CBP document explicitly states that tourism does not qualify as a matter of essential travel.

Bottom line

If you're a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, you are allowed to return home but should be prepared to answer questions regarding your recent destinations and health. Additionally, you should observe a 14-day self-quarantine for your own sake as well as for those around you.

If you hold a foreign passport and haven't visited any of the high-risk countries above, your re-entrance into the U.S. will be subject to the usual terms of your visa or residency.

Featured image by Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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5XGet 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com
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    The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

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  • Annual Fee

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  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Good, Excellent

Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Hotel Collection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.