The United States is about to make it much easier for vaccinated international travellers to visit.
The White House announced Friday that a new air travel system will go into effect November. 8, allowing entry for fully vaccinated foreign tourists. The system is set to launch more than 20 months after the US began imposing travel restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The move by the White House will essentially have the US drop its travel ban on dozens of countries while also making entry more challenging for the unvaccinated. The new system will only allow entry for foreign nationals with vaccinations approved by the World Health Organisation and would add more testing requirements for unvaccinated Americans.
Here's what we know about the new travel requirements so far.
What are the entry requirements for foreign nationals?
Starting November 8, vaccinated foreign air travellers will need to show proof of full vaccination as well as a pre-departure negative coronavirus test taken within three days of travel in order to board a plane flying into the US.
Airlines will collect personal information, including a phone number and email, from all US-bound travellers for contact tracing. Airlines are required to keep the information on hand for 30 days so health officials can follow up with travelers who have potentially been exposed to COVID-19.
Masking will be required, but there will be no quarantine mandate.
The change will make entering the US possible for travellers coming from countries currently listed on the US travel ban, which prohibits entry for travellers who have been in any of the regions within the past 14 days. The travel bans went into effect in early 2020 and include:
— United Kingdom
— Republic of Ireland
— South Africa
— The European Schengen area (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City)
Travellers arriving from countries not included in the ban will face stricter entry requirements come November 8. Currently, the US only asks international air passengers to get tested within the three days prior to their flight to the US and show either the negative test result or proof of recovery from COVID-19 before boarding.
What about the land borders with Mexico and Canada?
New travel rules will also go into effect for foreign nationals arriving by land or passenger ferry.
Starting November 8, fully vaccinated foreign nationals can cross the land borders for nonessential reasons such as tourism or visiting friends and family. Entry rules along the border will change again in early January, with all travellers — including those travelling for essential purposes — required to show proof of full vaccination.
Foreign travellers will be able to show vaccination status in either a paper or digital format, and US Customers and Border Protection will spot-check travellers' vaccination documents. Foreign nationals will also need appropriate travel documentation to enter the country.
Which vaccines does the US accept for travel?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced that vaccines approved for emergency use by the US Food and Drug Administration and World Health Organisation will be accepted for air travel. White House officials expect the CDC to approve the same vaccines for travellers entering the US by land or ferry.
The FDA has authorised three COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use during the pandemic: Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer-BioNTech, the last of which has received the FDA's full stamp of approval.
Vaccines with WHO approval include:
— Johnson and Johnson
The CDC confirmed Friday that it would accept a mix-and-match approach to vaccinations. Travellers who have any combination of FDA- or WHO-approved vaccines will be considered fully vaccinated.
The agency has yet to release information on how US citizens who are foreign residents with vaccines not yet approved by the WHO can enter the US.
Additionally, US officials have not given any indication that proof of recovery from COVID-19 can be used in lieu of proof of vaccination.
How do the new rules affect kids?
Children will generally be exempt from the vaccine requirements, a White House official not authorised to speak on the record told USA TODAY.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last month that unvaccinated children of US citizens and foreign nationals would be subject to the stricter new testing requirements.
Currently, all air passengers 2 or older, including US citizens and permanent residents, need to show a negative coronavirus test to fly to the US.
What are the entry requirements for Americans?
The new travel system adds more stringent testing requirements for unvaccinated US travellers.
Starting November 8, unvaccinated Americans will need to take a test one day before departure and test again upon arrival in the US.
Entry requirements will not change for vaccinated Americans. They will still need to show proof of a negative coronavirus test taken no more than three days before departure.
Americans will not need to be fully vaccinated to board international flights to the US.