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New U.S. Testing Requirements: Everything Travelers Need To Know

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced the implementation of COVID-19 testing requirements for all international arrivals by air to the U.S. 

With the new protocols to come in effect as of January 26th, here’s a look at everything you need to know about the requirements.

mask traveler checkin desk airport passport

Who is Affected?

The new testing requirements are mandatory upon all travelers, over the age of two, arriving to the US on international flights, including US citizens and residents. 

This also applies to travelers on private jets and chartered flights.

Who is Exempt?

The CDC is providing exceptions for the program to children under two years of age, federal law-enforcement agents, members of military traveling for duty, and airline crews.

masked passengers walking through airport

When Will Changes Take Place?

The new requirements will be enforced on all incoming international flights beginning January 26th, 2021. 

If you are arriving to the US before that date, you will not be required to present proof of a COVID-19 test, however, testing requirements for travelers from the UK have been enforced since last month. 

What If I’m Traveling by Car?

Travelers entering the US by land border are not subject to the new testing requirements, though US land borders are currently closed for non-essential travel.

US land border

When Do I Need to Get Tested?

The CDC requires the test date to be no more than 72 hours before the scheduled departure.

Who Checks Test Results?

Travelers are required to provide their test results in a paper or digital copy to the airline they are traveling with. 

What Kind of Test Is Acceptable?

Airlines are allowed to accept both COVID-19 PCR and rapid-antigen tests.

What If I Have Been Vaccinated?

Travelers that have been vaccinated are not exempt and will be required to provide negative COVID-19 test results.

covid19 travel pass app

What If My Test Comes Back Positive?

Unfortunately, if your test result is positive you will be unable to board your scheduled flight and be advised to quarantine. 

Once recovered, you may use the positive test result and a doctor’s letter of recovery to board your re-scheduled flight, as long as it is within three months of the positive test result.

What If I Previously Tested Positive for COVID-19?

For travelers that have tested positive for COVID-19 within the last three months, the CDC advises them not to get tested again. 

The positive test result, and a letter of recovery from a medical professional, health-care provider or public-health official may be substituted for a negative test result. 

traveler on phone pandemic

What If I Choose Not to Get Tested?

If a traveler refuses to take a test or provide test results, the airlines will refuse them from boarding. 

What If I Need to Change My Travel Plans?

Most US airlines have eliminated change fees or granted temporary exemptions in light of the pandemic. 

For travelers looking to rebook their future travel plans to before January 26th to avoid the testing requirements, United, American and Delta are giving their customers the option to rebook to an earlier date and waive fare differences for higher last minute bookings.

What If My Flight Is Delayed?

If your flight is delayed to a point in which your test results fall out of the required 72-hour period, you will need to get re-tested.

What If I’m Traveling for Less Than Three Days?

All international travelers entering the US by air will be required to provide negative COVID-19 test results. If your trip is less than 72 hours, you may be able to get tested in the US before departure and use those test results to return, granted they fall within the 72-hour period.

Do I Need to Get Re-Tested After Arriving?

The CDC is advising travelers to get re-tested three-to-five days after travel and stay home for seven days, though this is not mandatory. The CDC advises travelers which choose not to get tested after arriving to self-isolate for ten days.

traveler with US passport airplane

What About Transiting Passengers?

The CDC has posted on their website that passengers in transit will need to fulfill the testing requirement, as any flight entering the US will require testing before departure. 

What Countries Does It Apply to?

All countries are subject to the requirements. All travelers arriving from any international country will need to show proof of a negative test.

In some cases, the CDC order is allowing airlines to apply for a 14-day waiver for certain countries that have insufficient testing capacities, though it is unclear at this time as to which countries fall into this category. The CDC order grants this waiver to a country that “lacks available SARS-CoV-2 testing capacity.”

Puerto rico tourists

Are U.S. Territories Exempt?

If you’re traveling from a US territory such as Guam, Puerto Rico, or US Virgin Islands, you will not be required to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test.

Does This Mean There Is No Travel Ban?

The borders continue to be closed to most foreign nationals from the EU, UK, Brazil, China, and Iran. Though, airlines have been pushing for testing programs to be implemented to increase the prospect of opening borders. There is some speculation that the new testing requirements may lead to an easing of border restrictions in the future.

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Disclaimer: Current travel rules and restrictions can change without notice. The decision to travel is ultimately your responsibility. Contact your consulate and/or local authorities to confirm your nationality’s entry and/or any changes to travel requirements before traveling.  Travel Off Path does not endorse traveling against government advisories


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David

Saturday 13th of February 2021

Hi, I have a friend who wants to fly to the USA from Colombia. The total length of the trip is 8 days. I understand the requirement for the negative COVID Test prior to arriving in the USA. What I am not clear about is whether a quarantine will be imposed on her? She will be getting a second COVID test prior to leaving as Colombia requires it to enter as well. I read where there is a recommendation to quarantine but the best I can gather it is not mandatory nor is there anyone enforcing it. Does anyone else have any experience with this since Jan 26 2021?

Thank you!

Mr. D

Friday 5th of February 2021

I am Filipino with us tourist visa, am I allowed to enter US border now? Thank you

Rich

Saturday 16th of January 2021

I am referring to the US requirement to test all overseas arrivals. Pax traveling to Mexico for 15 days to be able to enter the USA will increase the demand for tests in Mexico. I flew from Dallas to London when the UK was demanding tests last week and was advised to get a test in Dallas as there were not the facilities to do walk in while you wait tests at the Airport in Mexico City nor local clinics open on a Sunday who take patients without a referral as testing resource are stretched with the current infection levels. Sorry if it was not clear. As you observe Mexico is not yet asking for negative test merely the health firm and a temperature check on arrival.

Rich

Friday 15th of January 2021

Just to clear up a possible miscommunication. US borders are not closed to UK and European citizens, they are closed to non US citizens and non legal US residents who have been in the UK or Europe in the last 14 days. It is approved to travel to a third country and spend 15 days there and then enter the USA. As Mexico is one such country this will further add to the testing need in Mexico. Also worthy of note that all passengers flying from the USA or anywhere else to the UK require a 72 hour negative Covid test from Monday. Just navigated all this to spend Holidays back in USA. No covid and great to meet up with friends ( in a low infection state, outside, small groups, wearing KN95 masks and sitting 9 feet apart -Most of my friends are medics and already vaccinated but have to be very cautious. So we followed all the rules and it worked fine.) You can travel safely and this message needs to get out there. Follow the rules and be safe and travel is fine (apart from the UK changing the rules on a daily basis).

Christian

Saturday 16th of January 2021

“Testing Need” in Mexico is only when you have symptoms of covid.

Stephen White

Friday 15th of January 2021

This article deals with entry into the US, but it doesn't address what other countries may do if you test positive for COVID, even if you've since recovered and have a doctor's letter to that effect. Which amounts to a (in my opinion discriminatory) blanket ban on Americans who've recovered from COVID being able to travel. All that matters is a negative test result, and a person who's recovered could take weeks or months to test negative. Great.

Kashlee Kucheran

Friday 15th of January 2021

If you test positive for Covid, you will not be able to board your flight, in any country worldwide. This doesn't just affect Americans, but any nationality traveling to almost every country right now, save just a small handful.