US to open land borders with Canada, Mexico to vaccinated foreign tourists in ‘early November’

Starting next month, the United States will allow fully vaccinated foreign nationals to cross its land borders for nonessential purposes such as tourism or visiting friends and family.

The change would allow foreign tourists to enter the U.S. through land or ferry ports for the first time since March 2020. Government officials have not yet announced a date for the policy change, but said it would take place in "early November," in tandem with the country's updated international air travel system.

“This is an important step that will further enhance the safety of international travel and the safety of Americans at home,” senior administration officials said in a call with reporters. “These new vaccination requirements deploy the best tool we have in our arsenal to keep people safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

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Starting in November, fully vaccinated foreign nationals can enter the U.S. through land or ferry ports for the first time since March 2020.
Starting in November, fully vaccinated foreign nationals can enter the U.S. through land or ferry ports for the first time since March 2020.

How does it work?

Wednesday's update follows the White House's Sept. 20 announcement saying the U.S. would implement a new international air travel system in "early November," allowing foreign travelers with COVID-19 vaccines approved by U.S. Food and Drug Administration or World Health Organization to enter the country.

"We want to have a consistent approach to both land and air entry into this country," senior administration officials said. "And so this is the next step to bring those into alignment."

The new land border travel restrictions will be broken into two phases, both of which introduce vaccine mandates:

  • Phase 1: The first phase will go into effect in "early November" and allows fully vaccinated travelers to enter the U.S. for nonessential reasons. Unvaccinated travelers can only travel to the U.S. for essential purposes in this phase.

  • Phase 2: The second phase will begin in "early January" and will only allow travelers to cross the land border for both essential and nonessential reasons if they have been fully vaccinated. There will be no testing requirements in either phase.

"This phased approach will provide ample time for essential travelers such as truckers and others to get vaccinated, enabling a smooth transition to this new system," senior administration officials said.

Specific dates for each phase have not yet been released. The current travel restrictions – which are set to end on Oct. 21 – will be extended until the new policy goes into effect. Currently, U.S. land borders are open only to "essential travel," such as work and trade.

► US air travel: Foreign travelers with COVID-19 vaccines approved by FDA, WHO can enter the US in November

► Canada travel: Travel in Canada is a prize for the vaccinated and vigilant, be prepared to jump through hoops

How can travelers show proof of vaccination?

U.S. Customers and Border Protection will enforce the new travel requirements and will spot-check travelers’ proof of vaccination documents. Foreign nationals will also need appropriate travel documentation to enter the country.

Foreign travelers will be able to show vaccination status in either a paper or digital format. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to give an update on what sort of paperwork will be accepted at the borders in the coming days.

► Land border travel restrictions: US extends land border restrictions with Canada, Mexico through Oct. 21

► Passport status: Wait times are dropping, but travelers are still waiting months for it

Which vaccines will be accepted?

Government officials haven’t announced which vaccines will be accepted at the borders.

If the land and ferry borders follow the new air travel system’s lead, foreign nationals should be able to cross with vaccines that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or World Health Organization. These include:

  • Pfizer/BioNTech

  • Moderna

  • Janssen (Johnson & Johnson)

  • Oxford-AstraZeneca/Covishield

  • Sinopharm

  • Sinovac

It’s not clear whether travelers who have received mixed doses will be able to enter the U.S., but officials said the CDC is "working through" that question for both land and air travel.

Why now?

The actions from U.S. officials come months after Canada’s decision to reopen its land borders to fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents on Aug. 9.

The American hold on its travel restrictions on Canada has drawn backlash, given Canada's high vaccination rates. Canada has about 73% of its population fully vaccinated, compared with 57% in the U.S. and 38% in Mexico, according to data from Johns Hopkins University and Medicine.

"We've been working for weeks ... on a plan to do this safely and not increase the risk to Americans," a senior administration official told reporters. "We have seen increased vaccine availability – obviously in Canada, which now has very high vaccination rates, as well as in Mexico. ... We think this system will make it safer both for Americans over the long run."

The news was received positively by government officials representing regions along the U.S.-Canada border.

"For months now we've heard from businesses that are suffering and families distraught over the separation imposed by the continued border shutdown," New York Congressman Brian Higgins said in a Tuesday statement. "The sigh of relief coming from Northern Border communities following this announcement is so loud it can practically be heard on either end of the Peace Bridge."

► Canada travel: Vaccinated Americans can enter Canada starting Monday. Here are 11 things to know before a trip.

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

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Vaccinated tourists can cross US land borders in early November