From vaccines to testing: What travelers need to know before the new US travel system on Nov. 8

·8 min read

The United States is about to make it much easier for vaccinated international travelers to visit.

The White House announced that a new air travel system will take effect Nov. 8, allowing entry for fully vaccinated foreign tourists. The system is set to launch nearly two years after the U.S. began imposing travel restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The move by the White House will essentially have the U.S. drop its travel ban on dozens of countries while also making entry more challenging for the unvaccinated. The new system will allow entry for foreign nationals only with vaccinations approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization and would add testing requirements for unvaccinated Americans.

Here’s what we know about the new travel requirements:

A new international air travel system will go into effect Nov. 8, allowing entry into the United States for fully vaccinated foreign tourists.
A new international air travel system will go into effect Nov. 8, allowing entry into the United States for fully vaccinated foreign tourists.

What are the entry requirements for foreign nationals?

Starting Nov. 8, non-citizen, non-immigrant air travelers will need to show proof of full vaccination as well as a pre-departure negative coronavirus test taken within three days of travel before they can board a plane to the U.S.

Acceptable forms of proof of vaccination include:

  • Digital or paper verifiable record, such as a vaccination certificate or a digital pass with a QR code.

  • Nonverifiable paper record, such as a printout of a COVID-19 vaccination record or COVID-19 vaccination certificate.

  • Nonverifiable digital record, such as a digital photo of a vaccination card or record, downloaded vaccine record, downloaded vaccination certificate or a mobile phone application without a QR code.

The U.S. will accept nucleic acid amplification tests, including PCR tests, and antigen tests. The rules will go into effect for passengers on planes leaving for the U.S. at or after 12:01 a.m. ET on Nov. 8.

Airlines will collect basic personal contact information from all U.S.-bound travelers for contact tracing. Airlines are required to keep the information on hand so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can reach out to travelers who may have been infected or exposed to COVID-19.

Masking will be required, but there will be no quarantine mandate for vaccinated travelers or unvaccinated children.

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The change will make entering the U.S. possible for travelers from countries now listed on the U.S. travel ban, which prohibits entry for travelers who have been in any of the regions within the past 14 days. The travel ban took effect in early 2020 and includes:

  • China

  • Iran

  • United Kingdom

  • Republic of Ireland

  • Brazil

  • South Africa

  • India

  • The European Schengen area (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City)

Currently, the U.S. asks international air passengers only to get tested within three days of their flight to the U.S. and show either the negative test result or proof of recovery from COVID-19 before boarding.

What about the land borders with Mexico and Canada?

New travel rules will also take effect for foreign nationals arriving by land or passenger ferry.

Starting Nov. 8, fully vaccinated foreign nationals can cross the land borders for nonessential reasons such as tourism or visiting friends and family. These travelers will need to verbally attest to their reason for travel and vaccination status and be prepared to show proof of vaccination upon request. U.S. Customs and Border Protection will accept both digital and paper records showing proof of vaccination, including documents not in English. Foreign nationals will also need appropriate travel documentation to enter the country.

CBP will spot-check travelers' vaccination documents, and those without documented proof of vaccination can be denied entry. Travelers under 18 will be exempt from the vaccination requirement as long as they are traveling with a fully vaccinated adult, according to Matthew Davies, CBP's executive director of admissibility and passenger programs.

The new travel rules will go into effect as soon as a port of entry opens on Nov. 8, or at midnight for ports that operate 24 hours a day changes will go into effect at midnight on Nov. 8 for ports that operation 24 hours a day.

U.S. citizens reentering the country should also bring a Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative document, such as a valid passport, trusted traveler program card, enhanced driver's license or enhanced tribal card.

Entry rules along the border will change again in early January, with all travelers – including those traveling for essential purposes – required to show proof of full vaccination.

► US land borders: Travelers in Mexico and Canada plan their next US visit after new land border policy announced

Which vaccines does the US accept for travel?

The CDC has announced that vaccines approved for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and World Health Organization will be accepted for air travel. White House officials expect the CDC to approve the same vaccines for travelers entering the U.S. by land or ferry.

The FDA has authorized three COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use during the pandemic: Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer-BioNTech, the last of which has received the FDA's full stamp of approval.

Vaccines with WHO approval for emergency use include:

  • Johnson & Johnson

  • Moderna

  • Pfizer-BioNTech

  • Oxford-AstraZeneca/Covishield

  • Sinopharm

  • Sinovac

  • Covaxin

The CDC confirmed that it would accept a mix-and-match approach to vaccinations. Travelers who have any combination of FDA- or WHO-approved vaccines will be considered fully vaccinated.

The new travel policy does not accept foreign travelers who have had COVID and received just one shot in a two-dose series. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that the administration will "continue to review" its entry requirements.

► Covaxin gets WHO emergency approval: Travelers vaccinated with Covaxin can enter US

► 'You feel lonely and left out': These fully vaccinated travelers want to visit the US. They may not be allowed in.

How do the new rules affect kids?

Foreign nationals under 18 are exempt from the vaccination requirement. Children under two will not need to take a pre-departure COVID test.

Kids 2 and older traveling with a fully vaccinated adult can test three days prior to departure, while children traveling alone or with unvaccinated adults will need to get tested within one day of departure.

Currently, all air passengers 2 or older, including U.S. citizens and permanent residents, need to show a negative coronavirus test to fly to the U.S.

What are the entry requirements for Americans?

The new travel system adds more stringent testing requirements for unvaccinated U.S. travelers.

Starting Nov. 8, unvaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents will need to take a test one day before departure and test again upon arrival in the U.S.

► New travel rules: What US travelers need to know about the new COVID rules for international flights

Entry requirements will not change for vaccinated Americans. They will still need to show proof of a negative coronavirus test taken no more than three days before departure.

Americans will not need to be fully vaccinated to board international flights to the U.S.

Are there any exemptions?

There is a limited set of travelers who are exempt from the vaccine requirement for entry.

Children under 18, certain COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial participants and travelers with adverse reactions to the vaccines – such as people who have had severe anaphylactic allergic reactions to a prior COVID-19 vaccine – will be exempt.

People traveling on non-tourist visas from countries with less than 10% of its population vaccinated who need to enter the U.S. for emergency or humanitarian reasons are also exempt from the vaccine requirement. There are about 50 countries considered to have low vaccine availability at this time.

These exempt travelers will generally need to show that they will comply with public health mandates, including a requirement to be vaccinated in the U.S. if they plan to stay more than 60 days.

Unless they have recovered from COVID-19 within the last 90 days, unvaccinated travelers must agree to be tested with a COVID-19 viral test three to five days after their arrival and quarantine for seven days, even if their post-arrival test comes back negative.

Unvaccinated travelers who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents must also agree to self-isolate if their post-arrival test is positive or if they develop COVID-19 symptoms.

Unvaccinated children under 18 will not need to quarantine but will still need to take a post-arrival test.

► Who is exempt?: These select groups of unvaccinated foreign travelers can enter the US

The CDC will not give exemptions to people who object to the vaccinations due to religious or moral convictions.

There will also be testing accommodations for travelers who can prove they recently recovered from the coronavirus. These travelers will need to show a positive COVID-19 viral test result on a sample taken no more than 90 days before their flight's departure and a letter from a licensed healthcare provider or public health official saying they are cleared for travel.

Follow USA TODAY reporter Bailey Schulz on Twitter: @bailey_schulz.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What travelers need to know about the new US travel requirements