Information on the omicron variant for travelers


United States Travel Restrictions

To prevent the spread of omicron, the United States (like other countries) has banned arrivals from South Africa and seven other African countries, including Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The US State Department has raised these countries to the 4th alert level (“do not travel”) for Americans planning to travel to this region.

The White House has announced new regulations for international travel. Starting next week, travelers of all nationalities, vaccinated or not, will be required to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within a day of their flight to the United States (previously a test taken three days before the flight to the United States could be shown).

Foreigners planning a trip to the United States will need to show proof of vaccination to enter the country.

The federal government has expanded Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations, which require all passengers to wear a mask on planes, buses and rail systems, as well as at airports and bus and train stations, in winter or at least until March 18. Penalties for non-compliance have doubled, with a minimum fine of $500 to $3,000 for subsequent non-compliance.

International Travel Restrictions

Other countries have decided to ban travel from southern African countries. Japan, Morocco and Israel have said they are temporarily banning all travelers from overseas due to the omicron threat.

While Japan had been closed to international tourism since the start of the pandemic, it had planned to start opening its doors to foreign students, an initiative now suspended indefinitely. Morocco has banned all flights to and from the country for two weeks. Israel, where two people tested positive for the omicron strain, has blocked all incoming flights and is demanding the return of Israelis to self-quarantine for two weeks.

Australia has also postponed its planned reopening to students (and other groups) until at least December 15.

What this means for American travelers

Travel planning has been a tense exercise for the past few months, but now omicron is making it worse. Many travelers seem to be taking a wait-and-see approach, says Dan Austin, founder of Montana-based travel company Austin Adventures, which requires all travelers and traveling staff to be fully immunized. “We get a lot of calls and answer a lot of questions,” he says. His advice to travelers is: “Don’t overreact. The pandemic will continue to evolve, but we remain optimistic about the safety of our travellers.”

Austin adds that if any of the company’s trips are canceled, travelers can opt for a full refund or reschedule a trip to another time or location at no additional cost.

Intrepid Travel, based in Melbourne, Australia, has the same cancellation policies and vaccination requirements, and so far the only destination where Intrepid tours have been canceled due to omicron is Morocco, which has banned trips until mid-December, according to James Thornton, the company’s chief executive. He thinks ómicron is unlikely to be a game-changer in the travel industry, especially as more companies offer flexible booking policies and increasingly crucial vaccination mandates – which he knows to be very important in the unpredictable era of the pandemic. Thornton is currently in quarantine in Britain with a very mild case of COVID-19 (he is fully vaccinated), having tested positive ahead of a return flight to Australia. “There is no after COVID-19,” he says. “It’s the new normal.”

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on November 30, 2021. It has been updated with recent information.

Christina Ianzito is travel and book editor for aarp.org and AARP The Magazine, and also edits and writes articles on health, entertainment, and other topics for aarp.org. He was awarded the 2020 Lowell Thomas Prize for his travel writing.

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