The U.S. has a wide range of Covid-19 travel restrictions in place but has announced that U.S. borders will reopen for fully vaccinated travelers beginning sometime in November 2021. Although Canada allows fully vaccinated travelers to enter the country for any reason, the U.S. has extended the essential service travel restrictions for land and sea travel until October 21st. In addition, the mask requirements we describe below will be in effect through January 18, 2022. You must also be aware that 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. Some states have lifted restrictions while others still have mask and social distancing rules you must follow. We have links to the state websites below.
Changes to Covid Non-essential Travel Rule Beginning in November
Lifting the essential travel restrictions will allow travelers to enter the U.S. without being required to quarantine. There is no change to the rules we describe below for un-vaccinated people entering the U.S.
The lifting of the travel restrictions will occur in two phases. First, in November, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will begin allowing fully vaccinated travelers from Mexico or Canada to enter the United States at land and ferry ports of entry for non-essential reasons. It is anticipated that travelers at land and water border crossings will not need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test. You will still need to show the pre-boarding test we describe below when flying to the U.S. Travelers who have not been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 will not be allowed to enter the U.S. for non-essential purposes by land or ferry.
Second, beginning in early January 2022, foreign travelers entering the U.S. by land or ferry – whether for essential or non-essential reasons – must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19. This is important! This means that you must be vaccinated EVEN IF YOU ARE TRAVELING FOR AN ESSENTIAL PURPOSE! Truckers, students, and healthcare workers who have been allowed to enter the U.S. without a vaccination because they were traveling for an essential purpose must now be vaccinated.
More details on how these changes will be implemented will be announced soon so check back to this post for updates. For example, the CDC will publish the definition of “fully vaccinated” and also spell out which vaccines qualify under these new rules. The U.S. CDC said the United States would accept vaccines authorized by U.S. regulators or the World Health Organization, but there are still questions such as whether they will accept visitors who received doses of two different COVID-19 vaccines.
It is expected that foreign travelers will need to show proof of vaccination plus a negative Covid-19 test within three days of departure. The U.S. may lift the travel bans for vaccinated people from various countries which are now in effect. If you are not vaccinated, you will not be allowed into the U.S. if you are coming from a restricted country.
Airlines are going to set up systems to enable contact tracing for all passengers coming to the U.S. You will be required to provide contact information including a phone number and email address to your airline. This will enable U.S. officials to contact any travelers that have potentially been exposed to another traveler with Covid.
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.
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.
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 72 hours 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. 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.
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.
- Official U.S. Covid Information
- 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.