Beginning Jan. 26, 2021, a negative COVID-19 test result is required for travel to the U.S.
Under a broader Executive Order, the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued new regulations requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test or proof of recovery from COVID-19 from everyone before boarding an airplane to the United States.
CDC Recommends Against Non-Essential Travel Abroad
These new travel regulations have been established in response to the continuing spread of COVID-19 and the discovery overseas of several new, more contagious strains of the virus. Cumulatively, the effect is to discourage travel.
The State Department and CDC recommend against travel abroad primarily because it increases risk of exposure to the virus.
Additionally, testing availability and turnaround times — not to mention medical care — vary widely around the world. To aid travelers, all foreign U.S. embassies are noting COVID-19 testing information on their websites.
What About the Travel Bans?
There has been plenty of confusion about these new travel restrictions, particularly for those affected by prior travel bans — rules and border restrictions — imposed since the pandemic began.
As we go to press, President Biden has issued new travel restrictions that go into effect Jan. 30 on travelers who have been in South Africa in the 14 days prior to their arrival in the U.S.
The travel bans imposed by the Trump administration on the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Schengen countries, Brazil, Iran and China remain in effect. Note thaat several categories of travelers such as U.S. citizens and military personnel are exempt from the bans. Please research your family’s status carefully before making travel plans.
How Broad is This New Mandatory Testing Order?
This order of COVID-19 test results required for travel currently applies to both foreign nationals and U.S. citizens ages 2 and older, so you’ll have to factor in testing costs to your vacation budget. Since the government has said they will review the policy’s effectiveness every two weeks, there may be additional guidance coming for already vaccinated travelers.
Note that travelers arriving from US territories and possessions of the U.S. including American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are exempt from these regulations.
At this time, travelers arriving by land to the U.S. are exempt from these regulations and since it is said they only apply to air passengers, we trust they will not apply to travelers arriving by boat.
Getting a COVID-19 Test In a Foreign Country
Since the original testing required for travel order was implemented Dec. 25, resort destinations in Mexico and several Caribbean island nations have been working to establish testing facilities. Many resorts are offering rapid antigen tests free of charge to their guests. Some resorts anticipating a spring break vacation rush have even said they will host guests who test positive free of charge — whether it’s for an additional 14 days or until they leave quarantine and return to the U.S.
Yet, accessing a test abroad can be a challenge in many countries. The CDC mandate says you will need to get tested no more than three days before you travel and show your negative result to the airline. Alternatively, travelers may show documentation of recovery (proof of a recent positive viral test and a letter from your healthcare provider or a public health official stating that you were cleared to travel).
What If You Test Positive Before You Travel to the U.S.?
With an estimated 40%-50% of COVID-19 carriers being asymptomatic, there’s a real possibility that you or someone in your travel pod will test positive and have to stay abroad.
Depending on what type of travel insurance you have purchased, you may or may not have coverage for trip delays and interruptions. If you’re not staying in a resort that has committed to footing the bill for room and board, you’ll be taking on a big financial burden. Postponing the return flights of everyone involved could be costly. That’s in addition to the lost revenue for those not returning home to work.
“Travelers should be aware that the availability and quality of healthcare varies around the world, and that private health insurance may not cover expenses incurred abroad,” warns the State Department.
While some travel insurance policies cover medical expenses for those who contract COVID-19 while traveling, many do not. If you require hospitalization and believe the local medical care is inadequate, you may need medical evacuation coverage to pay for a flight to another hospital.
Useful Tips Required for Travel If It’s Really Necessary
The Department and the CDC strongly recommend against travel abroad. For those who must travel, they suggest you monitor the State Department Travel Advisory for your destination.
Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to receive updates from the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your location.
Purchase travel insurance with as broad a coverage policy as possible. Follow the evolving travel guidance from the CDC wherever you travel.
What is Required When You Return to the U.S.
The CDC has maintained a strict post-travel protocol that in some cases, is exceeded by certain state and county regulations. Before you travel, check with your local health authorities about regulations required for travel from and re-entering your home state and county.
In addition to having a COVID-19 test three days prior to departing your destination, CDC guidelines call for getting tested three to five days after you return from travel. (It can take a few days after exposure to the COVID-19 virus for it to be detectable by certain tests.) Additionally, the CDC says all travelers should stay home for seven days after travel. Even if you test negative, the CDC says stay home for the full seven days.
Given how much scientists still don’t know about COVID-19, they recommend that all travelers in your pod keep face coverings on and remain socially distant from anyone who did not travel with you, regardless of your test result. Wear face coverings outdoors and on all public transportation, where it is now mandated. Wash hands often and monitor yourselves for any symptoms of COVID-19 exposure.
Of course, if you’ve contracted COVID-19 during your return travels and your test is positive, you will have to isolate yourself or family members to protect others from getting infected.
If you or your family are not able to get tested, the CDC recommends that everyone stay home in self-quarantine for 10 days after your return.
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