US to ease travel restrictions for international visitors: what we know so far

The Biden administration will readmit passengers from 33 countries as long as they can show proof of vaccination and a negative coronavirus test taken within three days of departure

A plane taking off from Dulles International Airport in Washington in September 2020.
A plane taking off from Dulles International Airport in Washington in September 2020.J. Scott Applewhite (AP)

As US President Joe Biden was addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week – at which a number of representatives from countries laboring under coronavirus travel restrictions were in attendance – amid the barely concluded evacuation from Afghanistan and a deepening diplomatic crisis with France, the White House announced that as of November, requirements to enter the US will change.

The White House coronavirus response coordinator, Jeffrey D. Zients, explained that under the new guidelines, people from countries on the no-travel list will be able to enter the country again.

There is as yet no definitive date for the lifting of restrictions and no clear protocol regarding children who are not eligible for vaccination, but there are some firm points in place. Will quarantine be necessary? Will travelers have to undergo tests before or after arrival? Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.

Countries that will be cleared for travel to the United States

Travel to the US will be resumed for 33 countries that are currently not permitted direct entry. The nations that will be allowed to travel to the US are those in the Schengen area (22 members of the European Union plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland), China, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Iran, South Africa, Brazil and India. People arriving at US entry points by air must show proof of vaccination as well as a negative Covid-19 test. Quarantine on arrival will not be required.

Negative tests

Travelers must provide a negative Covid-19 test conducted within three days of boarding a flight to the US.

What happens if I am not vaccinated?

Entry to the United States will be denied to non-vaccinated people. Two weeks must have elapsed between the final dose of the vaccine and travel to the US.

What if I’m a US citizen and have decided not get a vaccine?

US citizens who have elected not to get vaccinated must take a Covid-19 test within one day of boarding a US-bound flight and another one on arrival in the country.

New contact tracing system

Airlines will collate contact information (phone numbers and email addresses) to be able to reach passengers and warn them if they have potentially been exposed to the virus during their flight. Airlines must retain this information for 30 days.

Travelers can fly directly to the US

Under current restrictions, travelers from countries where restrictions applied could spend 14 days in a country not on the no-fly list (without having to quarantine) and then enter the United States. This will no longer be necessary to travel to the US.

Which vaccines are accepted as valid to enter the US?

Vaccines accepted by the US must be approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization or the US Food and Drug Administration. At the present time, these include Pfizer/BioNtech, AstraZeneca, Janssen (Johnson & Johnson), Moderna, Sinopharm and Sinovac/Coronavac.

Among the vaccines that have not received WHO approval are Sputnik V, Novavax, Abdala and Soberana.

Land borders will remain closed

With exception of essential journeys, US land borders with Mexico and Canada will remain closed for travel at least until the end of October. Among the reasons considered essential by the US embassies in those countries are medical purposes, work, public health, legal cross-border commerce, diplomatic travel, official government trips and military deployments.

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