You could practically hear an audible sigh of relief from numerous travelers on Friday as news emerged that the Biden administration would be suspending mandatory COVID testing for all those entering the United States, starting June 12.
The testing mandate, which was put in place in January 2021 to help slow the spread of COVID, expired on Sunday when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lifted the testing requirement. All travelers, regardless of citizenship or vaccination status, no longer need to show a negative COVID test to come into the U.S.—a process that for many had become a nerve-wracking scramble to obtain the needed results within one day of travel to the U.S. Also nerve wracking for many travelers has been the prospect of potentially getting stuck in long quarantines abroad upon testing positive for COVID.
The decision to drop the COVID testing rule came even as the U.S. and other destinations are experiencing another rise in COVID cases (numbers are likely to be much higher than official case counts due to the growing popularity of at-home COVID tests) and hospitalizations.
CDC lifts testing requirement but still recommends testing for travel
While a COVID test is no longer required to enter the United States, the CDC continues to recommend that travelers test for COVID-19, using either a PCR or antigen test, no more than three days before their trip, regardless of vaccination status. The CDC also recommends that for those who test positive, they refrain from traveling for 10 days after symptoms began or after receiving a positive test for those who are asymptomatic.
The agency advises all travelers to get tested after they return from their journeys as well, especially if the travel “involved situations with greater risk of exposure such as being in crowded places while not wearing a well-fitting mask.”
All air passengers to the United States are also required to provide contact information to their airline before boarding their flight to the U.S. to help with any contact tracing efforts.
The United States is the latest in a string of countries to drop COVID testing requirements, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, among many others. The CDC’s shift to lift the travel restrictions comes less than two months after the U.S. federal transportation mask mandate was lifted on April 18. Travelers to and through the U.S. no longer need to wear masks on flights, marking an end to some of the last remaining pandemic protocols for travel in the U.S.—for now.
The CDC will re-evaluate the need for a COVID testing requirement every 90 days, and the requirement could be reinstated if a worrisome new variant emerges.
Mounting backlash against requiring COVID testing for travelers
A COVID test requirement for entering the United States was first implemented back in January 2021 just days after President Joe Biden took office. This past December, amid the Omicron-fueled surge of COVID cases, the requirement became even more stringent when people were asked to obtain a negative COVID test result within one day of departure—versus three.
But the U.S. has been under mounting pressure for the past few months to drop the COVID testing rule for international travel. Last week, a group of 38 mayors from across the country submitted a letter urging the White House to drop the predeparture testing rule. The letter followed a similar appeal in May from more than 250 travel companies, including the nation’s largest hotel groups and leading airlines, which argued that stronger immunity provided by vaccines, boosters, and prior infections, as well as effective treatments to prevent the worst outcomes of COVID-19, have enabled Americans to safely return to work and school and to resume normal activities.
The U.S. government’s predeparture testing requirement had been an “unnecessary hurdle and major deterrent to traveling to the U.S.,” Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, which promotes inbound travel to the U.S., said during a travel industry conference last week.
Dow hailed the Biden administration’s decision on Friday to remove the requirement as a “huge step forward for the recovery of inbound air travel and the return of international travel to the United States.”
He noted that the lifting of the predeparture testing requirement could result in an additional 5.4 million visitors to the United States and an additional $9 billion in travel spending in the U.S. through the remainder of 2022. Indeed, while domestic U.S. travel has nearly returned to prepandemic levels, international travel has continued to lag. In May, U.S. international air travel remained 24 percent below 2019 levels, according to the trade group Airlines for America.
Dropping the testing requirement will also likely boost the number of U.S. travelers heading abroad. In April, travel app TripIt from Concur surveyed more than 700 of its U.S.-based users and found that 44 percent would be more likely to travel once the testing requirement was lifted. The survey also found that 60 percent of respondents wanted the COVID-19 testing requirement for inbound international travelers to be removed.
Following the news that the CDC had lifted the U.S. testing requirement, travel research firm MMGY Travel Intelligence surveyed 774 Americans on June 12 and found that 36 percent are now more likely to travel outside the U.S. because the testing requirement has been lifted. A little less than half (44 percent) reported that the news does not change their intent to travel internationally one way or the other. But not all respondents were happy about the decision—20 percent of those surveyed said they are less likely to travel internationally now that there is no testing requirement in place.
Associated Press contributed reporting. This story was originally published on June 10, 2022, and has been updated to include current information.