Complicated U.S. Covid-19 Rules Confuse Travellers

If you are confused about the ever changing rules for travelling to the USA, you are not alone. There have been a lot of changes recently to the rules for entering the United States, specifically when it comes to Covid-19 and testing. The most significant ones recently implemented are:

  • As of November 8, 2021, in order to board a flight bound for the United States, all air travellers that are two years of age or older must take a Covid-19 test and present a negative result to airline staff at the airport.
  • The test must have been taken within one day prior to arrival.
  • The previous time limit was 72 hours prior to arrival

There is something interesting about the “one day” vs. “24 hours” aspect. Officials are trying to make the “one day” rule easier on travellers. So for example, you don’t have to worry about exact timing. Getting a test done on Monday morning, but using it on Tuesday afternoon, is allowed.

The following are the kinds of tests the U.S. is accepting:

  • The test can be either an antigen (lateral flow) test or nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT).
  • The test must be authorized in your country of departure. A PCR test meets this requirement because it is an NAAT test.
  • Home tests are actually admissible, provided a Telehealth service can watch you take the test, verify your identity and meet other federal requirements. This is not something to be very confident about. Make sure you check the CDC website to learn more about it.

Are There Exemptions To Vaccination Requirements?

Foreign nationals not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will NOT be allowed to board a flight to the U.S., unless they meet one of the exemption criteria below:

  • persons on diplomatic or official foreign government travel
  • children under 18 years of age
  • persons with documented medical contraindications to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine
  • participants in certain COVID-19 vaccine trials
  • persons issued a humanitarian or emergency exception
  • persons with valid visas excluding B-1 (business) or B-2 (tourism) visas who are citizens of a foreign country with limited COVID-19 vaccine availability
  • members of the U.S. Armed Forces or their spouses or children (under 18 years of age)
  • sea crew members travelling with a C-1 or D nonimmigrant visa
  • persons whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, Secretary of Transportation, or Secretary of Homeland Security (or their designates)

Having an immediate family member who is a U.S. citizen or Landed Permanent Resident does not exempt a foreign national from the vaccination requirement.

As for vaccine passports:

  • Nothing much has changed there. You must be fully vaccinated to enter the U.S., with the last dose being at least 14 days before your arrival. There are some allowances for people who have not been vaccinated, but have recovered from COVID. Check the government website for more information on that and read it carefully.

An individual is considered fully vaccinated if there has been at least 2 weeks (14 days) since any one of the following:

  • receiving a dose of an accepted single-dose vaccine
  • receiving the second dose of an accepted 2-dose series
  • receiving the full series of an accepted COVID-19 vaccine (not placebo) in a clinical trial
  • receiving the full series of a Novavax (or Covovax
    ) COVID-19 vaccine (not placebo) in a phase 3 clinical trial
  • receiving 2 doses of any “mix-and-match” combination of accepted COVID-19 vaccines administered at least 17 days apart

Travel Bans

However, all this may be irrelevant for travellers from some countries since there are travel bans in effect.

  • Eight countries in Africa are currently banned – also touching on specifically, people who have even travelled through those countries in the past 14 days. The countries include South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and others. There is no deadline for the travel ban. It is possible to get a National Interest Waiver from this travel ban through a U.S. Consulate, but that would not automatically also waive the vaccination requirement. These waivers will be rare.

What About Travel To Canada?

The rules for Canada are fairly similar.

  • To travel to Canada you must be fully vaccinated and have a negative Covid-19 test, so that’s the same. However, Canadians and permanent residents who are fully vaccinated and have only been out of the country for less than 72 hours do not need a negative test. However, Canadians who have been out of the country for more than 72 hours will need the test. The travel ban is also wider in Canada and includes Egypt and Nigeria.

ArriveCAN App Issues

Speaking of Canada, the ArriveCAN app has been causing heartburn for some travellers. Everyone is supposed to fill this app out online before coming to Canada, including Canadians. However, there has been some confusing messaging from the government and the press in the last couple of days.

Apparently a lot of people were having a problem getting the app to work. It was crashing, or they otherwise couldn’t use it. When they showed up at the border, officials were placing them in quarantine and even fining them for not completing the app. The government has now said that some leniency will be shown to people at the border, giving travellers a chance to fill it out then and there. Unfortunately, this was initially interpreted and reported by the press that the ArriveCAN app was no longer required. But the ArriveCAN app is still very much required at the border. Fill it out before getting to the border and save yourself a lot of grief.

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