White House Releases Details of New International Travel Requirements

Brenda Goodman, MA

October 25, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

The White House released new plans today that take a layered approach to improve the safety of international travel to the United States ahead of the busy Thanksgiving travel season.

Starting November 8, international travelers flying into the US will be required to show proof of vaccination, or prove that they meet very limited exemption requirements.

Along with a vaccination record — which can be a digital or paper certificate — vaccinated passengers and children traveling with them will also have to show that they've gotten a negative COVID-19 test within 3 days of boarding the plane. 

Travelers will also need to prove that they were vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine authorized by the US or the World Health Organization (WHO) for emergency use.The US has authorized three vaccines, the WHO has authorized four more.

International passengers who can't show proof that they are fully vaccinated and qualify for an exemption will have to provide negative test results within a day of departure.

Unvaccinated US citizens or lawful permanent residents will need a negative test within 1 day of departure.

Contact Info

Travelers will also need to provide simple contact information so they can be reached by public health authorities after they arrive in the event contact tracing is needed.

The new requirements will be spelled out in a suite of documents that will be released today. Those include a presidential proclamation, and three new orders from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention on vaccination, testing, and contact tracing, along with new technical documents to help airlines and passengers comply, according to senior administration officials who are familiar with the plans.

A passenger will be considered fully vaccinated 2 weeks after the final shot in their vaccine series.

There are limited exemptions to this rule. Children under 18, for example, will not be required to be vaccinated because of the global variability of vaccines for this age group.

If passengers are coming from one of about 50 countries recognized by WHO to have vaccination rates under 10% because the shots are in short supply, they won't need to show proof of vaccination.

Exemptions

Airlines will also be allowed to recognize some limited medical exemptions, like a history of severe allergy to a COVID-19 vaccine, or if a passenger is participating in certain clinical studies of the vaccines.

Unvaccinated travelers who must travel for emergency or humanitarian reasons may also be allowed to board a plane to the US, provided they can get a government-issued letter allowing entry.

Unvaccinated passengers who are granted entry will have to prove they have a negative COVID-19 test result within 24 hours of their departure.

Children between the ages of 2 and 17 will have to take a predeparture COVID-19 test. If they are traveling with vaccinated adults, they can take this test within 3 days of their flight. If they are traveling with unvaccinated adults or are traveling alone, children must be tested 1 day prior to departure.

Children under the age of 1 will not have to be tested.

Americans who are planning to travel abroad should "plan ahead before travel," one official said, and be prepared to observe any testing, vaccination, and quarantine requirements of the country they're visiting.

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