There are now new rules for entering the United States from abroad, including for foreign nationals and for unvaccinated Americans. Effective November 8, all foreign nationals entering the United States, with few exceptions (such as children under 18), are now required to show proof of vaccination.
The vaccination rule effectively lifts a ban on international leisure travel for residents from the 26-nation European Schengen area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, China, South Africa, and Iran who have been all but barred from entering the United States since March 2020. But it also now makes being vaccinated a requirement for all foreign nationals entering the United States, including those for whom vaccination status was not previously a requirement for entry.
“I have determined that it is in the interests of the United States to move away from the country-by-country restrictions previously applied during the COVID-19 pandemic and to adopt an air travel policy that relies primarily on vaccination to advance the safe resumption of international air travel to the United States,” President Joe Biden wrote in an October 25 presidential proclamation establishing the new order that “suspends the entry of unvaccinated noncitizen nonimmigrants, except in limited circumstances.”
The vaccine requirement for foreign nationals does not apply to U.S. citizens and residents and is in addition to the negative COVID test required for everyone, including U.S. citizens and residents, entering the United States.
New rules for unvaccinated Americans
Although U.S. citizens and residents are not required to be vaccinated to enter the United States from abroad, unvaccinated Americans do have slightly different COVID testing rules as of November 8.
Currently, all international passengers flying into the United States who are age two and older—including returning U.S. citizens and permanent residents—must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test (PCR, antigen, or approved home or self tests) taken within three days prior to boarding their flight to the U.S.
Effective November 8, fully vaccinated Americans will continue to be held to this requirement, but unvaccinated Americans will need to be tested within 24 hours of boarding their flight to the U.S. (versus three days, making it even more of a last-minute scramble).
Details of the vaccine requirement for international travel
The CDC considers someone to be fully vaccinated as long as it has been 14 days since they have received the required single or double dose of vaccines approved either by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the World Health Organization (WHO), which includes the FDA-approved Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines and the WHO-authorized Oxford-AstraZeneca/Covishield, Sinopharm, and Sinovac vaccines.
Acceptable proof of vaccination includes a digital or paper vaccine certificate, including the United Kingdom National Health Service COVID Pass and the European Union Digital COVID Certificate. For those using a digital QR code, the code must link to information confirming that the proof of vaccination comes from an official immunization record.
The proof of vaccination must include the traveler’s full name and date of birth and must match the information on their passport or other travel documents. It also needs to have the official source that issued the record, such as the public health agency, government body, or other authorized vaccine provider, as well as the vaccine manufacturer and date(s) of inoculation.
What are the exceptions to the U.S. vaccine requirement?
First, those who do not have an exception to this requirement are people who are not vaccinated due to “religious reasons or other moral convictions,” according to the CDC order outlining the precise details of the vaccination requirement.
Official exceptions include:
- Children under 18
- Those with a documented medical reason that makes it inadvisable for them to receive a COVID-19 vaccine
- Diplomats and foreign officials
- U.S. Armed Forces members, their spouses, and children
- Sea crew members
Also exempt are citizens of countries with limited COVID-19 vaccine availability, which as of October 25 includes 50 countries with vaccination rates below 10 percent. The CDC will update this list every 90 days. Travelers from these countries will need to have a valid nonimmigrant visa that is not a B-1 or B-2 visa.
Those who fall under one of the above exceptions and are age two and older must provide a negative COVID test from within one day prior to their departure flight to the U.S. or provide proof of having recovered from COVID within the past 90 days. They must also verify that they will be tested within three to five days after arriving in the U.S. and that they will quarantine for seven days.
U.S. opens Canada and Mexico land borders to vaccinated travelers
Another big change on November 8 is an opening up of U.S. land borders to leisure travel. Travelers from Canada and Mexico have been able to enter the United States by air but have been awaiting the freedom to travel to the U.S. by land since the land borders were closed to nonessential travel in March 2020—since then, only essential workers have been allowed to cross.
But starting November 8, fully vaccinated leisure travelers can enter the United States by land or ferry from Mexico and Canada, and they will not need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test as is required for international air arrivals into the United States.
“These travelers will be required to attest to vaccination status and present proof of vaccination to a CBP officer upon request,” explained Matthew Davies, executive director of admissibility and passenger programs for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, said during a November 2 media briefing.