Do You Actually Have to Quarantine After Entry Into the U.S.?

Despite President Biden’s executive order stating that international arrivals must comply with the CDC’s quarantine guidelines, no federally mandated quarantine is currently being implemented or enforced.

Do You Actually Have to Quarantine After Entry Into the U.S.?

Travelers may be wondering what they are required to do after they have landed in the United States.

Photo by Shutterstock

The past month has been a bit of whirlwind. Between a new administration that implemented a record number of executive orders—including mask mandates and new and canceled travel bans—and an ongoing roller coaster of tightened and relaxed COVID-19 travel restrictions in response to the ebb and flow of the pandemic, it’s been tough to keep up.

Amid this onslaught of regulations emerged the question of whether international travelers must quarantine after arriving in the United States in addition to providing proof of a negative COVID-19 test prior to boarding their flight to the U.S.

Why the confusion? Well, an Executive Order on Promoting COVID-19 Safety in Domestic and International Travel signed by President Joe Biden on January 21 stated that all travelers entering the U.S. from a foreign country will now be required to “comply with other applicable CDC guidelines concerning international travel, including recommended periods of self-quarantine or self-isolation after entry into the United States.”

But during a January 26 media call, when asked about enforcement of the quarantine, Dr. Marty Cetron, director for the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, said, “We’re not at this time issuing federal quarantine orders.”

Cetron said that requirements for entry ultimately fall to state and local authorities—each state has its own set of rules and requirements (which can and do change), whether it is a testing requirement for arrivals (such as in Hawaii), a quarantine, both (such as in New York), or neither.

So, which are we to believe? The presidential proclamation or the CDC statement? A U.S. State Department spokesperson told AFAR to refer to the CDC.

And thus far the CDC recommends—doesn’t require—that international travelers get tested 3 to 5 days after arrival from abroad and stay home for 7 days after travel, pending a negative test result, or self-quarantine for 10 days with no postflight test.

The CDC’s guidelines for international travel are as follows:

  • Get tested 1–3 days before your flight—make sure to have actual results (not pending results) prior to traveling. If you have a positive result, you cannot travel to the United States. (The testing is an actual requirement that airlines must enforce—without a negative test result, you cannot board your flight to the U.S.)
  • Get tested 3–5 days after your flight
  • Stay home for 7 days after traveling, even if you test negative
  • If you test positive for COVID-19 after you travel, isolate yourself and follow public health recommendations. Do not travel until you are no longer considered a transmission risk—this includes your return trip home.
  • If you don’t get tested, it’s safest to stay home for 10 days after travel
  • Avoid those who are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 for 14 days, whether you get tested or not

Currently, travel into the United States remains highly restricted. Since mid-March, there’s been a ban on foreign nationals traveling to the U.S. from the United Kingdom, Ireland, the European Schengen area, China, Brazil, and Iran. An executive order signed by President Biden on January 25 extends that ban and adds South Africa to the list.

Exceptions to the ban include U.S. citizens and permanent residents, as well as the spouses, parents, legal guardians, siblings, and children under the age of 21 of citizens and permanent residents. Also exempted are those traveling to assist the U.S. government in the containment of the pandemic, air and sea crew members, diplomats, foreign officials, some members of international organizations and NATO, and U.S. Armed Forces members (and their spouses and children).

>> Next: How Travelers to the U.S. Can Get COVID Tests Abroad

Michelle Baran is a deputy editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
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