The White House announced that come November, the US will lift the Covid-19 pandemic imposed travel ban for international visitors entering the United States. This would be applicable to visitors from over 33 countries including U.K., Ireland, Iran, China, India, South Africa and Brazil. After November, non-citizens will have to show proof of vaccination and a negative Covid test taken three days prior to departure from any of these countries.
However, since that travel ban was lifted, WHO announced that Omicron was a Covid variant of concern (VoC). Since then the US has restricted entry for travelers from South Africa and seven other nations. Additionally, US Covid testing requirements have been shrunk from 72 hours before boarding to 24-hours before boarding a US bound flight.
Besides this, what does it mean for those planning to travel to the US after November 2021?
Background Of The Covid-19 Travel Ban
Beginning March 2020, the US had had restricted entry for travelers from the Schengen EU region, the U.K., Ireland, Iran and China. As the pandemic spread across other countries, India, South Africa and Brazil were also added to the travel banned list.
An exception was made for US citizens, green card holders, their dependents, spouses, children and subsequently F1 student visa holders. Some others contributing to the country’s interests and eligible for the National Interest Exception, entry was granted if they qualified at US consulates abroad.
From January 26, 2021, the Biden administration made it compulsory to show proof of a negative Covid-19 RT-PCR test for all international arrivals into the US.
International Travel Resumes: What Happens After US Reopens Its Borders
Starting early November, US will allow all eligible foreign nationals to enter the United States without restrictions.
Fully Vaccinated Travelers
- Show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 prior to boarding a US bound flight
- Show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken three days prior to departure
- If previously infected with the COVID-19 virus, show documentation of recovery and a letter from a licensed health care provider or public health official stating that the traveler has been cleared for travel
- If not fully vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly recommends against air travel into the United States
- If you still have to travel into the US, you should have a valid reason to prove why you simply could not avoid travel. This can be in the form of some documentation, evidence of reasoning justifying the unavoidable circumstances
- Before boarding a flight to the US, you will have to show proof of a negative test result taken within one day prior to your departure
- Show evidence that you have purchased a viral test to be taken after arrival into the US. This could be in the form of an invoice of the purchased viral test, an unsealed packet of the test kit, etc
- Submit all contact details including address, phone number and email address for contact tracing
Minor Travelers (Children)
While most rules are applicable to adults, both US citizens, permanent residents as well foreign visitors, the White House has not made a public statement regarding children. Currently, children between the ages of 12 -18 can get vaccinated in the US. This vaccine is available in the US at no cost to visitors as well.
US Visitor Visa Requirements
If you are planning to travel to the US after November's travel ban is lifted, you will not require a National Interest Exception. Regular visitor visa issuance will begin at all US consulates.
Visa Interview/Appointment Wait times
The current wait times for visa appointment and visa interviews are long. Most US consulates are continuing to function on limited resources and shorter hours. This means that if you are looking to travel to the US as soon as the travel ban is lifted in November, you may not get a visa appointment immediately.
Additionally, as the travel ban is lifted, there will be a rush to travel. This would increase the wait times.
Further information for visa applicants and US citizen travelers will be posted to travel.state.gov as it becomes available.
Traveling During The December Holiday Season
Moreover, post November, the holiday season will bring in additional tourists to the US. If past trends are to be reckoned with, December brings in a large chunk of the 80 million visitors that visit the US each year.
Important: Book your flight tickets only after you have a US visa in hand. Depending upon the appointment availability in your jurisdiction, it may or may not happen according to your previously booked travel itinerary.
CDC Travel Guidelines
The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention has certain updates for all travelers coming in and out of the United States. They update their Travel Health Notices regularly and every traveler boarding an inbound flight to the US, should consult their website for the latest updates.
For those travelers who might be returning to India from the USA, they should be fully vaccinated. This is applicable to both US citizens, green card holders as well as OCI holders.
The CDC has an accepted list of Covid vaccines. This will determine who is considered fully vaccinated for the purposes of recommended or required international travel protocols.
CDC recommends that unvaccinated travelers who are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 should avoid non-essential travel to India. If you must travel, please talk to your doctor before finalizing your trip to India.
Recommended Airlines After The November Travel Ban Is Lifted
Currently only a few airlines are available to fly in and out of the US. These are part of the “Air bubble” agreement. This includes flights between US and India, China, UK and some Schengen countries.
After November 2021, more airlines like Etihad, Emirates, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa and British Air will become more prevalent. More flights are expected to be made available over time.
Air India Airlines
Air India flies to all major cities in the US from India. Plan and confirm your itinerary including all domestic connecting flights before you board your flight to the USA. Their primary requirements are –
- All travelers to Canada, USA and UAE including those transiting through these countries have to take a pre-departure Covid test
- They have to carry a negative RT_PCR test report with a QR code for all international travel
- Wear a mask and maintain social distancing both on flight as well in the airports
- All travelers have to check in online before arriving at the airport
If you are boarding an Air India flight, visit the Air India travel advisory page for more information.
Qatar Airways is the largest airline to have flown consistently throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only do they connect USA to many major destinations but also, have many amenities specific to Covid-19 pandemic.
- Negative RT-PCR test report with a QR code
- A face shield and face mask is mandatory both in the airport as well as within the flight
- Unvaccinated travelers are not permitted on Qatar airways
- Outbound flights from India: All tests have to have a a readable QR code. Those who fail to provide a COVID test with a readable QR code will not be permitted to board their flight
If you are boarding an Qatar flight, visit the Qatar Airways travel advisory page for more information.
Several locations offer direct United Airlines flights to and from major cities in the US. Always plan your travel itinerary keeping in mind where your connecting flights are from. You should have enough time between flights to board the connecting flight.
- Travelers entering or transiting through the USA must have a negative COVID-19 test taken at least 3 days before departure
- Test result must specify "negative" or "not detected". If marked "invalid" it is not accepted
- Tests accepted are: antigen, NAAT, RT-LAMP, RT-PCR or TMA
- Traveler details (e.g., name and date of birth) in the certificate must match those stated in the passport
- This does not apply to passengers younger than 2 years
- This does not apply to passengers with a medical certificate with a positive COVID-19 test result. The test must be taken three months before departure and travelers who have been infected in the past should carry a letter issued by a health authority stating that he has been cleared for travel
- Travelers must complete a disclosure and attestation form before departure
If you are boarding a United Air flight, visit the United Airlines travel advisory page for more information.
Mandatory Requirements Before Boarding A Flight To The USA
After the travel ban is lifted in November, more flights will be available to fly between these countries. In the meantime, these airlines are preparing for implementing changes to the current policy. This will include –
- Proof of Vaccination (CDC approved vaccines only)
- Negative Covid test, 48 hours before boarding a flight
- A retake of the Covid test 36 hours after landing in the US
- All travelers must complete a disclosure and attestation form before departure
- Complete contact details in the US – for contact tracing
- Valid passport with at least 6 months of validity period remaining
- All visa requirements including an older passport that may have the visa stamped in there
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the U.S. Department of State will work to develop directives for implementing these changes via the boarding process with airlines.
Air Fares After November 2021
According to Adit Damodaran, economist for the travel-research firm Hopper, air fares will increase drastically as demand goes up. Diwali on November 4, 2021 followed by the holiday season in December, the rush to travel to is expected to hit an all-time high. This is going to reflect in the air fare as well and for not only inbound US flights but also for outbound flights to Europe, Asia and other tourist destinations.
Travel Tips For Parents/Senior Travelers
While everyone is looking forward to traveling once the travel ban is lifted, parents living abroad especially will be able to visit their children living in the US. However, travel during the pandemic requires them to be extra cautious and ensure safety when traveling.
The following tips are useful for senior travelers or parents visiting the USA -
- Plan your itinerary well in advance so as to ensure that all the above requirements are addressed
- Get the complete series of the Covid vaccination
- Always wear a N95 mask and a face shield when in closed spaces like the airport or the flight
- Some airlines may offer a PPE kit that acts as an additional layer of protection over your dress when in flight
- Maintain social distancing and a basic distance where ever possible
- Avoid touching too many surfaces during your flight. Carry alcohol wipes and sanitizers to ensure protection
- Always get travel medical insurance before traveling abroad. There are several travel medical insurance options that can help vaccinated seniors
Stay tuned to this space as CDC, TSA and the US government update their travel advisory to and from USA.