What foreign travelers need to know about entering the US

May 28, 2020

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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

In This Post

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This travel ban for foreign nationals is currently in effect, and does not expire until rescinded.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.

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 photo by Getty Images.

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