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US COVID Travel Rules

By Nita Nicole Upadhye

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US COVID Travel Rules

If you are visiting the US over the festive period, either to see friends and family or to take a well-earned vacation, you will need to know what rules are currently in place when it comes to COVID-19 vaccinations, plus proof of vaccination and testing requirements. The following guidance on US COVID travel rules will help to answer all your COVID questions.

If you are planning to travel from the UK to the US, you should familiarise yourself with the COVID-19 requirements before booking any travel, where the CDC website provides a useful online travel assessment tool to help get to grips with the requirements that will enable you to successfully board a flight to the US. In this way, you can plan ahead and be prepared, prior to making any travel arrangements.


US travel rules on COVID vaccinations

Broadly speaking, most fully-vaccinated non-US nationals can enter the United States. The US authorities will accept any of the COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved for emergency use by either the World Health Organisation (WHO) or the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The WHO and FDA-approved vaccines include AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, BIBP/Sinopharm, Covishield, Janssen and Sinovac.

Equally, those who have received the full series of an active, rather than placebo, accepted COVID-19 vaccine in a clinical trial will also be considered fully-vaccinated.

As such, you will be fully COVID-19 vaccinated for the purposes of US travel:

  • 14 days after receiving any accepted single-dose vaccine
  • 14 days after receiving the second dose of any accepted 2-dose vaccine series
  • 14 days after receiving the full series of any accepted vaccine in a clinical trial
  • 14 days after receiving 2 doses of any combination of accepted vaccines administered at least 17 days apart from each other.

A booster dose will not usually be needed, unless you have received only a single dose of an accepted 2-dose series, even if you have recently recovered from COVID-19. This will be the case, regardless of whether or not you have tested positive during the last 90 days.

Some non-US nationals are excepted from the vaccination requirement, including anyone with documented medical contra-indications to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. However, even if you meet the criteria for any one of the exempted categories, you may still need to fulfil additional requirements to travel to the US. Only those falling within an exception, or US citizens or lawful permanent residents, will be able to enter the US unvaccinated.


Is proof of vaccination required to travel to the US?

Before you travel by air to the US, you will need to produce proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19. You will also be required to provide contact information to your airline before boarding your flight. Your airline will collect this information from you within 72 hours of your flight’s departure. Access to your contact information will allow US federal, state and local health departments/agencies to share relevant health and public health information to help keep members of the public and other international visitors safe. Federal public health officials may also request to see these documents at the port of entry.

Equally, non-US travellers seeking to enter the US via land ports of entry and ferry terminals at either the US-Mexican or US-Canadian borders are required to be fully-vaccinated against COVID-19, and to provide proof of vaccination upon request.

US authorities will accept the UK’s NHS COVID Pass as proof of your vaccination record, although you must have received any final vaccine dose at least 14 days before you travel. You can obtain an NHS COVID Pass digitally using the NHS App or online via NHS.UK. If you require an accessible format or language guide, or you have limited digital skills making it hard for you to use the app, you can also obtain a letter in the post.

When using the NHS COVID Pass, at least 3 weeks prior to travelling you should double check that your first name and surname exactly match how they are displayed on your passport. If they differ, you should immediately contact your GP practice to have your details updated. Importantly, your NHS vaccination appointment card is not suitable proof of vaccination and should not be produced to show your COVID-19 vaccine status.

There are other acceptable methods of proof of vaccination listed on the CDC website, including a European Union Digital COVID Certificate. If you plan to travel to the US without an NHS COVID pass, you should carefully check the requirements for any additional acceptable proof of COVID-19 vaccination. If you have any further questions over whether or not your documentation is acceptable, you should contact your airline. In brief, any ‘non-verifiable’ paper or digital records must contain the following information:

  • personal identifiers, including your full name, plus your date of birth or passport number, that exactly matches the information on your passport or other travel documents
  • the name of the official source issuing the vaccination record, for example, the government agency, public health agency or other authorised vaccine provider
  • the vaccine manufacturer and date(s) of your vaccination.


US COVID travel rules on testing

Effective from 12 June 2022, the CDC rescinded the requirement for all airline or other aircraft passengers to show a negative COVID test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 to board any aircraft destined to the US from a foreign country. This means that, as a US-bound air traveller, you will no longer require pre-departure COVID-19 testing.

However, the requirement to provide proof of vaccination for non-US citizens to travel to the United States as an air passenger is still fully in effect, unless you are excepted.

Upon arrival in the US, fully-vaccinated travellers do not have to quarantine, but it is recommended that you test for COVID-19 within 3 to 5 days of your arrival. Testing arrangements can vary from state to state, although there are typically a range of available providers, where you can contact local authorities for information on any testing facilities in your location. Details of local testing can also be found on state and local health department websites. The current advice is that there is no need to get tested if you have recently recovered from a documented COVID infection, ie; within the previous 90 days.


US COVID travel rules on self-isolating

If you test positive whilst in the US, you should self-isolate in a hotel or private residence, although isolation requirements will very much depend on the guidance for the state you are visiting. The CDC recommends a minimum isolation period of at least 5 full days.

The CDC also has updated guidance with various recommendations for what to do if you test COVID-positive in the US or you have been exposed to anyone who has tested positive. It is important to plan ahead for this eventuality, ensuring you can access money, that you understand what your health insurance will cover and you can make arrangements to extend your stay, as you may need to be away for longer than you had originally planned.


Are there any exceptions to the US COVID travel rules?

In most cases, you will not be able to board a flight to the US if you are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Reasons you may not be classed as fully-vaccinated for the purposes of US travel include where you have not been vaccinated with an accepted COVID-19 vaccine, you have not received doses of a 2-dose primary series or it has been less than 14 days since completing your primary series. In these circumstances, to be able to successfully board a US-bound flight, you would instead need to meet the criteria for an exception ‘and’ be able to produce documentation that you are excepted from vaccination.

The categories of non-US nationals that meet the criteria for an exception, include:

  • if you are on diplomatic or official foreign government travel
  • if you are a child under 18 years of age
  • if you have documented medical contra-indications to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine
  • if you are a participant in certain COVID-19 vaccine trials
  • if you have been issued with a humanitarian or emergency exemption
  • if you are a member of the US armed forces, or the spouse or child under 18 of someone in the armed forces
  • if you are a sea-crew member travelling with a C-1 or D nonimmigrant visa
  • if you have a valid visa (excluding B-1 business or B-2 tourism visas) who is a citizen of a country with limited COVID-19 vaccine availability
  • if your entry into the US would be in the national interest

However, based on the category of any exception that you seek to rely upon, prior to boarding a plane to the US, you may also be required to attest to the following:

  • you will be tested for COVID 3–5 days after arrival in the US, unless you have documentation showing you have recovered from the virus in the previous 90 days
  • you will self-isolate for a full 5 days, even if you have a negative post-arrival COVID test, unless you have documentation showing you have recovered from the virus in the previous 90 days
  • you will self-isolate if you have a positive post-arrival test or you develop symptoms of COVID-19

Depending on the category of your exception, if you intend to stay for more than 60 days in the US, you may also be required to attest that you will be vaccinated against COVID-19 ‘and’ that you have arranged to become fully vaccinated within 60 days of your arrival.


US COVID travel rules for children

Those under the age of 18 are exempt from the vaccination requirement when travelling to the US. However, on arrival, a parent or other authorised person may be required to attest on behalf of any unvaccinated passenger aged 17 and under that they will take a test in 3 to 5 days, and will self-isolate should symptoms develop or if they test positive. For children under the age of 2, parents or guardians do not need to complete an attestation.

For the purposes of travel, the US definition of a fully-vaccinated child is the same as that used by US authorities for a fully-vaccinated adult, although this is different in the UK.

Importantly, if a child is travelling to the US with only one of their parents, or someone who is neither their parent or legal guardian, they may be asked to produce certain documents at the US border. For more information on the travel requirements for children, see the US Customs and Border Protection website, as well as the US Embassy and CDC websites.


Do US COVID travel rules differ from state to state?

If you are travelling domestically within the US, individual states may have their own quarantine requirements. A full list of local requirements can be found on the CDC website, although this can change daily, depending on any increase or decrease in transmission.

A number of US states no longer mandate the use of face-masks and face coverings whilst in public. However, the guidance can again vary from state to state, where there can be different rules across different localities, even within the same state. Penalties for breaches of these regulations can also vary between each state and different areas in the same state. Prior to your arrival, you should always consult the website of the state or city which you are planning to travel to in the US. Further details can also be found on the USA.GOV site.

Finally, you should be aware that to access local amenities, this may require proof of vaccination, including shops, restaurants, bars, beaches and various other leisure activities. In certain localities, children aged over 5 may not be exempt from this requirement. Some private venues, including places like restaurants and concert halls, have also made proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test result a requirement for entry. The exact requirements may vary from venue to venue, so you should again check on compliancy requirements in advance of using any public amenities or attending a private venue.


Need assistance?

NNU Immigration are specialists across all areas of US visas and immigration. If you have a query about your immigration options to travel to the US, whether for work or tourism, contact our dedicated US immigration attorneys.


US COVID travel rules FAQs

Do I need a COVID test to enter the USA?

From 12 June 2022, as a US-bound air traveller, you no longer require pre-departure COVID-19 testing. However, unless you fall within one of the few exceptions, such as documented medical contra-indications to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, you must be fully-vaccinated.


What are the travel restrictions to the US?

If you are travelling to the US using an ESTA or nonimmigrant visa, you will be required to be fully-vaccinated against COVID-19 and to provide proof of this vaccination status prior to boarding an airplane bound for the United States.


What are the new COVID rules on travel restrictions?

The COVID rules on travel restrictions can vary from country to country. For example, there are currently no COVID-19 restrictions for the UK, but to travel to the US you will need to show proof that you are fully vaccinated.

This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.


Founder & Principal Attorney Nita Nicole Upadhye is a recognized leader in the field of US business immigration law (AILA) and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with both US and UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

Nita successfully acts for corporations and professionals, entrepreneurs, artists, actors, and athletes from across the globe, providing expert guidance on all aspects of US visa and nationality applications, and talent mobility to the USA.

Nita is an active public speaker, thought leader, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

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For specialist advice on a US immigration or nationality matter for your business, contact our US immigration attorneys.

For specialist advice on a US immigration or nationality matter for your business, contact our US immigration attorneys.