The U.S. Federal government has installed a wide range of Covid-19 travel restrictions that make travelling into the U.S. very difficult. Canada and the U.S. have extended the essential service travel restrictions until August 21st. In addition, every U.S. state has a different approach to Covid-19 so you need to check the rules for the states you are traveling to as well. Many states have lifted all restrictions and others plan to do so shortly.
The good news is that the U.S. is beginning to plan for at least a partial reopening of the border. This is likely to be done in several phases. The first step may be an expansion of what types of travel are allowed, and a requirement that you must be fully vaccinated. If you have not already done so, go get your vaccine. For now, you are subject to all of the travel restrictions even if you are fully vaccinated. We will report changes to the travel restrictions here as they are announced. For now however, all of the restrictions remain in place. You should check this post periodically for updates if you are planning to travel into the United States. Updates will be highlighted in red.
The “essential travel” requirements are still in place if you are trying to enter the U.S. by land, commuter rail, ferry, or boating. You may enter the U.S. by air for any reason but must take the Covid-19 tests described below. For a complete discussion of what constitutes essential travel see our post on “Coronavirus Travel Issues”. The Travel Issues post also covers a wide range of additional issues that are applicable to both the U.S. and Canada so be sure to read it after finishing this post.
UPDATE: Canada has announced that it intends to allow FULLY VACCINATED Americans to enter the country starting August 7 and open to the rest of the world September 7th. However, the U.S. has not announced any matching changes to its current rules. New announcements on these plans are expected in the coming weeks so check back to this post to get current updates.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection does not consider coming to the U.S. to get a Covid-19 vaccine to be “essential travel” and you can be denied entry to the country. However, if you are travelling for another essential purpose, you are welcome to get the vaccine when you are in the U.S.
The U.S. has placed restrictions or warnings on travel to or from a wide range of countries including Canada, China, Brazil, Ireland, South Africa, the United Kingdom and 26 other European countries. All told, the U.S. State Department “Level 4: Do Not Travel.” recommendations cover 80% of the world.
We have links to numerous resources at the end of this post to help you get more information on the topics we discuss here. We also have a separate post with the details on the Covid-19 travel restrictions on entering Canada.
U.S. Nationwide Mask Requirement
You are required to wear a face mask while boarding, disembarking or traveling on almost any type of public transit. This includes airplanes, ships, trains, subways, buses, taxis, ride-shares (Uber and Lyft), and at transportation hubs, such as airports, bus or ferry terminals, train and subway stations, and seaports. Passengers must wear a mask in transit except for brief periods, such as to eat, drink or take medication. The only exceptions are for travelers younger than age 2 and for those with certain medical conditions. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has the power to fine you $250 for the first offense to up to $1,500 for repeat offenders if you refuse to wear a mask. Federal, state and local law enforcement, plus the operators of transit systems, are to remove any person who refuses to comply with the mask mandate at the “earliest opportunity.” Airlines have placed hundreds of people on their no-fly lists because they refuse to abide by the mask requirements.
In addition, masks must be worn in all federal buildings and on all federal lands including federal parks and forests, federal courthouses, government offices and more.
Airlines and other transit providers may require medical documentation and consultation by a medical specialist as well as requiring a negative COVID-19 test from a passenger in order to board a plane or other mode of transportation. You will be violating federal law if you refuse to wear a mask and you can face criminal or civil penalties.
You may use either manufactured or homemade masks. However, the mask requirements are pretty strict and you should read the CDC masking rules if you have any questions. Here are some of the general rules:
- Cloth masks should be made with two or more layers of a breathable fabric that is tightly woven (i.e., fabrics that do not let light pass through when held up to a light source).
- Mask should be a solid piece of material without slits, exhalation valves, or punctures.
- Masks can be reusable or disposable.
- Masks can have inner filter pockets.
- Medical masks and N-95 respirators are fine if you have one.
The following are unacceptable as face masks:
- Masks worn in a way that does not cover both the mouth and nose
- Face shields or goggles cannot be worn alone but can be used in addition to acceptable face masks
- Scarves, ski masks, balaclavas, or bandannas
- Shirt or sweater collars (e.g., turtleneck collars) pulled up over the mouth and nose.
- Masks made from loosely woven fabric or that are knitted, i.e., fabrics that let light pass through
- Masks made from materials that are hard to breathe through (such as vinyl, plastic or leather)
- Masks containing slits, exhalation valves, or punctures
- Masks that do not fit properly (large gaps, too loose or too tight
Travelling to the U.S. by Airplane – Covid-19 Testing Requirement
The United States requires all passengers two years of age and older traveling to the United States from any international location to test negative for COVID-19. Passengers will have to show proof of a negative test to their airline before boarding. You will not be allowed to board your flight if you do not follow this directive from the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC).
- This requirement applies to ALL air passengers 2 years of age or older.
- Your test must be taken no more than 3 days before your flight to the US departs.
- Make sure you are given a viral test – either a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) or a viral antigen test.
- Plan ahead to make sure that you will receive your results before your flight departs
- You will need to show your documentation to the airline before being allowed to board your flight.
- Your test result must be in the form of written documentation. You may display either the paper copy or an electronic copy of the result.
- The test result documentation must include information that identifies the person, a specimen collection date and the type of test.
- This order applies to ALL flights, including private and charter flights.
- The CDC is not designating any specific testing agencies that must be used. You will need to find the correct type of test on your own in the country you are departing from. Your airline will not offer you any type of testing.
- CDC attestation form: You will also need to fill out a CDC attestation form and submit it to your airline. Customers can print the form from the CDC’s website or complete one at the airport prior to departure. The airline will retain this form for 2 years. They will not retain your Covid-19 test result.
- The CDC does not recommend getting tested again in the three months after a positive viral test if you do not have symptoms of COVID-19. If you have had a positive viral test in the past 3 months, and you have met the criteria to end isolation, you may travel instead with documentation of your positive viral test results and a letter from your healthcare provider or a public health official that states you have been cleared for travel. The positive test result and letter together are referred to as “documentation of recovery.”
- You are required to provide the negative COVID-19 test result even if you have already received a Covid-19 vaccine shot.
Covid-19 Testing for Connecting Flights
Any flight entering the U.S. – even for a connection – will require testing before departure.
If you are arriving to the U.S. via one or more connecting flights, your test must be done in the 3 days before the first flight in your itinerary, but only if the connecting flights were booked as a single passenger record with a final destination in the US and each connection (layover) is no longer than 24 hours long. If your connecting flight to the US was booked separately or a connection in your itinerary lasts longer than 24 hours, you will need to get tested within the 3 days before your flight that arrives in the US.
Covid-19 Testing for Delayed Flights
If your flight is delayed before departure, you will need to get re-tested if the delay causes your test to fall outside of the 3-day pre-departure testing period requirement.
Airlines will prevent anyone who is showing symptoms of the virus from getting on a plane – including U.S. or Canadian citizens. Carriers are required to complete a basic health assessment of every passenger.
U.S. State Travel Restrictions
Each of the 50 US. states have enacted their own regulations on travel within that state. Many require facemasks in public places. To determine whether a trip you are planning will be limited by Covid-19, you will need to examine the regulations for each state you wish to travel through. The rules are changing constantly so make sure you have current information. We have links to state and province Coronavirus websites at the end of this post.
U.S. Government Coronavirus Websites
Below are some of the United State government websites which contain the latest guidance on Covid-19 and any rules and restrictions in place for travelers.
- Covid Information on the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol website
- The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) travel recommendations and coronavirus medical information
- Links to the Health Department for every U.S. state. These websites will detail the rules to travel within a state including quarantine and facemask requirements.
- State Department Covid-19 coronavirus webpage
- The US Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency has an exhaustive description of which jobs are essential services.