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COVID: US reopens to vaccinated travelers

November 8, 2021

The United States is now open for international travel, but getting vaccinated is an important prerequisite for entry. DW has answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the new changes.

British Airways Ambassadors welcome passengers on the Virgin Atlantic flight heading for New York, from London
The previous US administration enforced a blanket ban on international travel when the pandemic broke outImage: Anthony Upton/picture alliance/empics

The United States reopened its borders after midnight on Monday, more than a year-and-a-half after the worldwide coronavirus outbreak prompted US authorities to curb international travel.

Visitors from several countries, including Brazil, China, India, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and much of Europe, can now travel to the US as authorities shift focus to vaccination status.

Even as travel restrictions are loosened, not all international travelers are allowed into the country — getting a US-recognized vaccine is an important prerequisite. Very few exceptions have been made.

DW answers some of the most frequently asked questions about the new changes that went into effect early Monday:

What are the new rules? 

Under the new measures, all adult foreign nationals traveling to the US must be fully vaccinated before they board the flight. In addition to this, travelers must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure to the US.

Who is allowed in? 

After much pressure from the international community, the US has phased out country-wide bans on travel. Instead, travelers from all countries can now travel to the US as long as they have their vaccinations and COVID tests in order.

Children under the age of 18 don't have to be vaccinated to travel to the country. However, they must take a COVID test. Children 2 years of age or younger do not face testing requirements.

What are the exceptions?

To correct for the vast vaccination inequity that exists between rich countries and the rest of the world, the Biden administration has left a loophole for countries where vaccine supplies have been low. 

Travelers from around 50 countries where less than 10% of people have been vaccinated will need permission from the US government to enter the country. However, the purpose of their visit cannot be just for tourism or business travel. 

Other exceptions include unvaccinated international visitors looking to enter the country for a humanitarian or emergency reason. Authorities say these cases will be extremely rare and require approval from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

US travel ban hampers EU businesses

Do I have the right COVID vaccine?

All vaccines that have been approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization (WHO) will allow travelers entry into the US under the new measures. This includes the BioNTech-Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca shots. China's Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines, as well as India's Covaxin are also accepted.

A notable exception is Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, which is currently authorized in 70 countries. However, the WHO is still reviewing Sputnik.

How good is Sputnik V?

Can I travel by land or ferry?

The ban, imposed by former US President Donald Trump in early 2020, was upheld by President Joe Biden. The restrictions were particularly unpopular in Canada and Mexico, the country's immediate neighbors, as overland travel was also banned.

Under the new measures, land borders have been reopened for all those who can show proof of their fully vaccinated status to Customs and Border Protection agents. Children, however, are exempt from the requirement.

How will this impact travel?

The industry is expecting a huge influx of travelers, especially from Europe, in the initial few days. Long queues are expected at popular airports and destinations as travelers rush to be reunited with their loved ones.

However, travel will not be unregulated. Vaccination status and COVID tests will be monitored closely. Airlines also need to implement a contact tracing system. 

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said told broadcaster ABC on Sunday that while he's "cautiously optimistic about where we are," the country can't "take our foot off the accelerator until we're at the finish line."

see/rs (AFP, Reuters, AP)