More than a year and a half after concerns over COVID-19 prompted the United States to close its borders to international travelers from various countries, including Brazil, China, India, South Africa , Britain and many Europeans, the restrictions they are changing focus on people’s vaccination status.
From Monday, travel bans from some countries will be lifted. Washington will allow international travelers entry, but they must be vaccinated against COVID-19, with some exceptions.
The United States will also reopen its land borders with Canada and Mexico to those vaccinated. Most travel to the United States from these two countries is by land rather than by air.
Here are some questions and answers about these changes:
WHY ARE THESE CHANGES OCCURING?
The goal is to resume normal travel while limiting the spread of COVID-19, the US government has said. The tourism industry and its European allies have been pushing to end country-by-country travel bans. Americans have been able to travel to Europe for months now, and Europeans are pressuring Washington to change its policy.
In 2019, before the pandemic began, about a fifth of the estimated 79 million tourists to the United States came from Europe.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN REQUIREMENTS?
All adults traveling to the United States must be fully immunized before boarding their flight. As before, travelers will still be required to present a negative diagnostic test for coronavirus taken within 72 hours of travel.
SHOULD EVERYONE BE VACCINATED?
Yes, with a few exceptions. Those under 18 do not need to be vaccinated, but they should be tested for COVID-19. Children 2 and under are exempt from testing requirements.
WHAT ABOUT NON-VACCINATED ADULTS?
With half the planet still unvaccinated and vaccine distribution so skewed toward rich countries, President Joe Biden’s administration has left a loophole for people living in vaccine-scarce countries. This list includes around fifty countries where less than 10% of people have been vaccinated. Travelers from these countries will need permission from Washington to come, and the reason cannot be solely for tourism or business.
The US government has said it will allow unvaccinated international travelers to enter the country in the event of an emergency or for humanitarian reasons, such as urgent medical evacuation. These exceptions will be enforced “extremely strictly” and will require approval from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There could also be a medical exception, supported by documentation from a doctor.
WHAT SHOULD AMERICANS DO?
Unvaccinated Americans will be required to present a negative diagnostic test for coronavirus taken one day before international travel. If they are vaccinated, they must have it done three days before departure, and this applies to both Americans and citizens of other countries. This is not mandatory on domestic flights.
WHO WILL ENFORCE VACCINATION STANDARDS?
That’s left to the airlines. They will have to check vaccination records and match them to passenger IDs, and if they don’t, they could face fines of up to nearly $35,000 per violation. Airlines will also collect passenger information for contact tracing purposes. CDC employees will randomly select travelers to ensure they meet US standards.
WHAT VACCINES ARE ACCEPTED?
Most, but not all. Any COVID-19 vaccine that has been granted emergency use authorization by the World Health Organization, which includes those developed by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson used in the United States, as well as most of those applied overseas, such as AstraZeneca and Sinovac from China. The Russian Sputnik V vaccine is currently not accepted, despite being licensed in 70 countries. The WHO is reviewing Sputnik, but has not approved it.
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU ARE ENTERING OVERLAND FROM MEXICO OR CANADA?
Land borders have only been opened for “essential” travel. From now on, anyone can come, if they are vaccinated against COVID-19. You should be prepared to show proof of vaccination to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials. Children are exempt from the obligation.
HOW WILL THIS AFFECT THE TRIP?
Although the government calls this a reopening, some people who were technically able to travel to the United States a few months ago amid the pandemic can no longer do so due to their vaccination status. Other obstacles to resuming normal travel include long delays in issuing US visas, which people from most countries need to travel to the United States for business and tourism, and restrictions in other countries that make travel difficult.
Although people from China can now enter the United States, for example, many are unlikely to make the trip due to restrictions in their home countries. Before the pandemic, Chinese tourists were a lucrative market for the US tourism industry.
Industry experts predict a large influx of people from Europe and hope for a broader resumption of travel as more people get vaccinated abroad, the issuance of US visas accelerates, more other countries are lifting their own travel restrictions and people are less afraid of contracting COVID-19.