The US is open to international travelers from today - here's what you need to know

A traveler in Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York, U.S., on Monday, Sept 27, 2021. The U.S. will soon allow entry to most foreign air travelers as long as they're fully vaccinated against Covid-19 -- while adding a testing requirement for unvaccinated Americans and barring entry for foreigners who haven't gotten shots. Photographer: Angus Mordant/Bloomberg via Getty Images
JFK airport welcomes international visitors from Monday November 8 as the US lifts travel restrictions © Getty Images

The United States is lifting a series of COVID-19 travel bans for much of the world today and introducing vaccine requirements for foreign visitors. As of today, international travelers can also cross into the US via its land borders for the first time in more than a year and a half due to the pandemic. Here are the key aspects that anyone planning to enter the US from November 8 needs to be aware of.

Who can travel to the US?

All fully vaccinated international travelers – non-citizens, non-residents and non-immigrants – are now allowed to enter the US for tourism purposes, whether by land, sea or air. Travelers are considered fully vaccinated if it’s been two weeks since they received the second dose of a two-dose series, or two weeks since they received a single-dose shot.

Do I need a PCR test to enter the US?

Regardless of vaccination status, all inbound airline passengers ages 2 and up are required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test or documentation of their recent recovery from COVID-19 before boarding a flight to the US.

Fully vaccinated passengers must test negative within three days of departure and non-vaccinated travelers within one, while those recently recovered from COVID-19 must present a positive test taken within 90 days of departure. Antigen and PCR tests are accepted

For those entering the US by land border or ferry terminal, a negative test isn’t required, but non-citizens have to show proof of full vaccination. 

What vaccines does the US accept? 

The US recognizes all vaccines approved or authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration, and those listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization: Janssen/J&J, Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Covaxin, Covishield, Sinopharm and Sinovac. Two doses of any “mix-and-match” combination are acceptable, as long as they were administered 17 days apart. 

Travelers who received the full series of a Novavax or Covavax vaccine in a phase-3 clinical trial are also considered fully vaccinated once two weeks have passed. 

A masked woman pulling a red suitcase through the airport
All incoming foreign nationals are required to show proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test © Spencer Platt/Getty Images

What kind of documentation is required? 

Appropriate documentation comes in three forms: verifiable digital or paper records, such as a vaccination certificate or a digital pass with a QR code; non-verifiable paper records, such as a printout of COVID-19 vaccination record or a CDC vaccination card; and non-verifiable digital records, including photos of vaccination cards or records, downloaded vaccine records and smartphone apps without QR codes. 

All forms of proof must have personal identifiers – full name and date of birth, for example – that match each traveler’s passport, as well as the dates of vaccination and the names of both the vaccine provider and manufacturer. 

At land borders and ferry terminals, travelers are required to verbally attest to their travel intent and COVID-19 vaccination status.

Are children exempt from the vaccine mandate?

Given the inconsistent availability of pediatric and adolescent vaccines around the world, kids under 18 are excepted from the vaccination requirement, whether they’re entering the US by air, land, or ferry. 

However, children ages 2 to 17 are required to take a pre-departure COVID-19 test: three days prior for unvaccinated children traveling with fully vaccinated adults, and within one day of departure for unvaccinated children traveling alone. Those who have recovered from COVID-19 within the previous 90 days are not required to be tested, they can show a certificate of recovery instead.

What happens if I'm not vaccinated? 

With very limited exceptions, all foreign nationals must be vaccinated to enter the US – those unvaccinated will not be allowed to board their inbound flight. 

In addition to children under 18, certain clinical-trial participants, people with medical contraindications to the vaccines, those traveling for emergency or humanitarian reasons, and those traveling on non-tourist visas from countries with low-vaccine availability are among those who can receive exceptions, per the CDC

Those who receive an exception will likely need to attest to complying with any public health requirements, including agreeing to get the vaccine if they plan to stay in the US for more than 60 days.

US citizens and permanent residents are exempt from the vaccine mandate, but they must show a negative COVID-19 test taken within one day of departure.

Travelers At LaGuardia and JFK Airports As NYC Enforces Travel Quarantine
Vaccine and mask requirements vary from place to place © Angus Mordant / Bloomberg

What do I need to know about visiting specific US destinations?

COVID-19 policies vary from city to city and county to county, so be sure to check local restrictions before you travel – and read on for  current guidance in some of the US's top destinations. 

COVID restrictions in place in New York City

Everyone 12 and up is required to show proof of at least one dose of vaccination to access indoor dining, gyms, and entertainment venues across the five boroughs, including bars, restaurants, movie theaters, stadiums and concert venues. Children not yet eligible for the vaccine are required to wear a mask indoors; for everyone else, masks are “strongly recommended.” Acceptable forms of proof include a photo or hard copy of a CDC vaccination card, an official vaccine record, and the NYC and New York State COVID apps. 

On the subway, riders must wear masks, and to attend any performances on Broadway, vaccinations and masks are both required. 

What are the requirements for travel to Florida?

Aside from the testing and vaccine requirements imposed by the federal government, there are currently no travel restrictions in the state of Florida. Masks are recommended indoors and out if social distancing isn’t possible, and a public health advisory suggests avoiding crowds, closed spaces and close-contact settings. 

However, COVID-19 protocols vary depending on your destination. At Disney World, for example, face coverings are mandatory indoors for all guests ages 2 and up, regardless of vaccination status, while Universal Studios encourages – but doesn’t require – masks inside, so read up before you go.

What are the restrictions in place in California?

In San Francisco, everyone 12 and up is required to show proof of vaccination – such as a CDC vaccination record, either the real thing or a photo on your phone – to gain entry to indoor bars, restaurants, clubs, gyms and events, as of August 20. 

Masks are still mandatory for most indoor activities, including riding in taxis and on public transit. But as of last month, those restrictions have eased, and face coverings are no longer required in certain settings, like gyms, classes and religious gatherings, where everyone is fully vaccinated. 

As of November 4, Los Angeles requires proof of vaccination for indoor activities for those 12 and up as well, including bars, restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, concert venues, convention centers, museums, malls, spas and salons. For outdoor “mega events” of 10,000 people or more, attendees must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. 

Masks are also required indoors, including on public transit, and at outdoor mega events such as festivals and sporting events, regardless of vaccination status. 

This article was first published on October 13, 2021 and updated on November 8, 2021

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