U.S. Travel Restrictions Lifted after 18 Months

Published on: Nov 11, 2021, Last Edited: Nov 11, 2021 | Tags: Travel Restrictions, COVID-19

After a travel ban that lasted more than 18 months, the United States has opened its borders for fully vaccinated travelers from Mexico, Canada, the EU, South Africa, Iran, China, India, and Brazil. The only requirements are that they have to show proof of vaccination and a negative Covid-19 test.

The new system came into operation on Monday, November 8 2021. This follows an announcement about two months ago in which the US promised that it would lift the 18-month ban on visitors from these countries in November. This fundamentally changes the United States' rules about entering the country. For more than 1 1/2 years these have been based on which country a visitor was coming from. The revised rules are, however, no longer based on a traveler's geographical location but his or her vaccination status.

While crucially important for the protection of US citizens, these measures had a devastating effect on hotels and airlines in the country. Restaurants, shopping malls, and retail outlets in American border towns have been hit particularly hard by the absence of visitors from Mexico. On the US-Canada border, the cross-border hockey games that have virtually become a tradition ground to a standstill. Churches with members on both sides of the border with Canada are also looking forward to welcoming parishioners who couldn't attend services since early last year.

Air travel to the US ready to start returning to pre-pandemic levels

Airlines have already reported a surge in bookings to the United States and closer to the peak holiday periods this can be expected to increase even further. According to United Airlines, it expects an increase of 50% or more in incoming international visitors this week compared to last week.

Delta Airlines also expects that the majority of its international flights will be fully booked this week and that demand will further increase over the next couple of weeks. According to Hopper, a site that tracks airfares, searches for international flights to the US have more than quadrupled since September when the Biden administration originally promised to lift the restrictions.

A few of the major Airlines are already bringing back more global flights, although schedules have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels. United plans to return to 63% of its 2019 schedule in November and 69% in December. Its trans-Atlantic schedule should be 87% restored next month. American Airlines, meanwhile, says that its international flights for November and December should be 100% up compared to the same time last year, but still 28% down compared to 2019.

The new system will no doubt have a dramatic effect on US borders with Canada and Mexico, where traveling to and fro had for all practical purposes become a way of life until the US decided to shut down all non-essential travel because of Covid-19.

Citizens of the United States

There will be no need for citizens of the US to provide proof that they have been fully vaccinated if they want to leave the country. If, however, they are not fully vaccinated, they will have to provide proof that they have been tested for Covid no longer than 24 hours before the time, and that the results were negative, compared to 72 hours for those with a Covid vaccination record.

Proof of being fully vaccinated against Covid-19

Under the revised system, incoming non-citizens will be asked to provide proof that they have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 before they are allowed to board a flight to the United States. That means that they must have received the second dose of a 2-dose vaccine at least 2 weeks before their flight to the US departs. Documentation that will be accepted include a paper certificate, a digitized copy, or a photo of the document. It will be reviewed for authenticity by the airline staff.

Vaccines that will be accepted include those that have been authorized or approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) as well as those cleared for use by the WHO: Pfizer/Biotech, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Sinovac, Sinopharm, and Covishield.

Proof of a negative Covid test

All vaccinated travelers who want to fly to the United States will also have to provide proof of a negative Covid test that was taken no more than 72 hours beforehand. This is not a new requirement, the US has been requiring this since January 2021 for every single arrival, including American citizens.

In the case of unvaccinated travelers, including American citizens, this Covid test must have been taken no longer than 24 hours before departure. Both PCR and rapid antigen test results are acceptable.

Who is exempted from the new US Covid-19 travel rules?

The United States has also announced various exemptions to the revised rules. These include international travelers who are not yet 18 years old. The reason for this is that a number of countries do not have sufficient vaccines available, or they have not yet approved vaccines for kids.

International travelers over the age of 2 who are traveling with one or more vaccinated adults still have to deliver proof of a negative Covid test taken no longer than 72 hours before departure. If they are not accompanied by an adult, they will have to deliver proof of a Covid-19 test taken within 24 hours.

Travelers to the United States who have medical reasons for not being vaccinated will have to present the airline with a letter from a medical professional. There will also be a limited number of exceptions granted to visitors who have to travel to the United States for emergency or humanitarian reasons. These people will need a letter from the State Department before they can leave for the US.

The United States has also announced that visitors from 50 nations with low vaccination rates and/or low vaccine availability will be exempted from the vaccination requirement. The list includes most African countries as well as Iraq, Afghanistan, Armenia, and Haiti.

Will there be a contact tracing system in place?

All travelers who are on their way to the United States will be asked for their contact information such as address, phone number, and email address by the airline. This will only be used should there be a renewed Covid-19 outbreak after they have arrived in the country.

The role of airlines and government agencies in the new system

In the case of air travelers, the airline will have to verify the traveler's vaccine records and make sure the ID numbers agrees. If they fail to do this, they run the risk of being fined up to $35,000 for each violation.

Airlines will also be responsible for gathering their passengers' contact details. CDC workers will do compliance spot checks on travelers in the US, while Customs and Border Protection agents will verify vaccine proof at land borders.

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