For the millions of international travelers who have been kept from entering the United States since March 2020, the end is here: The Biden administration on Friday announced that it will lift the ban on international travel for those who are vaccinated starting on November 8.
The administration originally announced its intentions to lift the ban last month, but no precise date had been provided until now.
Foreign nationals traveling from the 26-nation European Schengen area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, China, or Iran have been barred from entering the United States since a presidential proclamation shutting down the borders to prevent the spread of coronavirus was signed in March 2020 (the proclamation was renewed in January 2021 by President Joe Biden, who also added South Africa to the list). Exceptions included U.S. citizens and permanent residents, as well as their family members.
But effective November 8, foreign travelers who can provide proof of vaccination and present a negative COVID-19 test will be allowed to enter the United States without a quarantine.
The new travel policy “will begin on November 8,” White House spokesman Kevin Munoz posted on Twitter. The announcement and date apply “to both international air travel and land travel,” Munoz tweeted.
The Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday announced that travelers from Mexico and Canada who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 will be allowed enter the United States by land or ferry for nonessential purposes. Travelers from Canada and Mexico can currently 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.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers someone to be fully vaccinated as long as 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, Johnson & Johnson vaccines and the WHO-authorized Oxford-AstraZeneca/Covishield, Sinopharm, and Sinovac vaccines. (Initially, it was not clear which vaccines would be accepted under the new U.S. entry system, but now it appears any of the above vaccines will be accepted.)
In addition to the vaccine requirement, 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., according to an order issued on January 12 by the CDC. Those crossing the border from Canada or Mexico by land or ferry will be exempt from the testing requirement.
While fully vaccinated Americans entering the U.S. will continue to be held to the above testing requirement, 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) and will need to test again after their arrival.
For the postentry test, Americans who are not vaccinated will need to provide “proof they have purchased a viral test to be taken after arrival,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a press briefing on September 20. She said that the postarrival test requirement for unvaccinated travelers would also apply to children.
“The CDC is going to issue a contact tracing order that will require airlines to collect comprehensive contact information for every passenger coming to the United States and to provide that information promptly to the CDC upon request to follow-up with travelers . . . and these requirements will apply globally,” Psaki said.
The CDC currently recommends U.S. citizens to not travel internationally until they are fully vaccinated. The agency advises both those who are vaccinated as well as those who are not to wear masks while traveling, monitor for symptoms, and get tested for COVID-19 three to five days after arriving back in the U.S. following an international trip. But it adds that unvaccinated international travelers should also get tested one to three days prior to departure and should quarantine for seven days after arriving stateside, even if they produce a negative COVID test result.
Airlines for America, a trade group that represents the major U.S. airlines, applauded the Biden administration’s “new global vaccine and testing framework for international travel,” the group said in an October 15 statement.
“We have seen an increase in ticket sales for international travel over the past weeks, and are eager to begin safely reuniting the countless families, friends and colleagues who have not seen each other in nearly two years, if not longer,” Airlines for America stated.
Globally, air travel is still down by more than half compared to prepandemic levels—in August 2021, international air travel was down 69 percent compared to August 2019, according to figures released this month by the trade group International Air Transport Association. Foreign arrivals in the U.S. in September were only 44 percent of what they were in September 2019, Airlines for America reported—a number that is likely to go up once the borders reopen.
Indeed, travelers in the U.K. and Germany immediately jumped on the opportunity to begin planning trips to the U.S. following the Biden administration’s announcement, according to Skyscanner, a travel booking site. Skyscanner reported a 50 percent increase in search traffic to its U.K. site and a 28 percent increase to its Germany booking site in the immediate aftermath of the news.
The relaxing of inbound international travel restrictions comes several months after Europe lifted its ban on travel from the U.S. in June. While the European Council has since recommended tightening some travel restrictions for U.S. arrivals, the majority of European countries continue to welcome vaccinated U.S. leisure travelers, with some still welcoming unvaccinated travelers with testing requirements in place.
This story was originally published on September 20, 2021, and has been upated to include current information.