Reopening of US borders: what's changing for expats and travellers

Expat news
  • passenger at New York airport terminal
    EQRoy / Shutterstock.com
Published on 2021-10-25 at 11:00 by Mikki Beru
The end of the US Travel Ban means the reopening of borders. The United States is thus working on a return to normalcy. The White House clarified its new policy on October 15, with strict controls to avoid a new Covid-19 surge. So here is what expatriates and international travellers should expect.

A reopening of borders under control

November 8, 2021, shall be D-day for the US. The Biden administration finally announced the official date for the US border reopening. According to Kevin Munoz, deputy press secretary at the White House, "The new United States travel policy, which requires the vaccination of foreign travellers to the United States, will begin on November 8". In a post on Twitter, the secretary recalled that these new measures would apply to "international air and land travel". Still, Kevin Munoz stresses the vaccine requirement. The country is set to prevent a new Covid-19 wave. The country had a record of 29,924 new cases as of October 23, nearly 73,700 cases in a single week, and an average of 1,715 deaths per day. Earlier this month, the country crossed the death toll of 700,000. The United States is paying the heaviest price for the pandemic, ahead of Brazil and India. Only 57.8% of the population is fully vaccinated; 66.7% have received at least one dose by October 22, 2021. The vaccination campaign has been sluggish since the summer, but the country is yet to embark on another campaign for the booster shots -- which is why it can now consider reopening its borders. However, the Biden administration warns that only vaccinated travellers will be allowed to travel to the territory under strict controls.

Who can travel to the United States?

The reopening of US borders concerns some thirty countries, namely the 26 Schengen countries, Ireland, Great Britain, China, South Africa, India, Iran and Brazil. Travellers crossing the Canadian and Mexican borders are also concerned. All of them need to be vaccinated to be allowed into the US. But the good news is that all vaccines that have been accredited by the WHO will also be accepted by the United States. In short, those who have been immunised with AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech - also approved by the EMA (the European Medicines Agency) - but also Sinopharm and Sinovac, can travel to the USA. The government ended up clarifying the uncertainty regarding vaccines for foreigners who have received doses of WHO-approved but AEM-rejected vaccines. Countries following the AEM recommendations, such as France, have opted for booster shots of approved vaccines such as AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech.

Anyone who has received two doses of the approved vaccines, whether two doses of the same vaccine or different vaccines, will be considered fully vaccinated. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) specifies that any combination will be valid, provided that the WHO has approved the vaccines used. On the other hand, the rumours concerning the need for a recent 3rd dose to get to the United States are not justified. US authorities made it clear that since the end of September, only people over 65 and those at risk need a booster shot of Pfizer.

The new procedure

The rule is the same for every traveller. Those arriving by air will be required to provide an electronic travel authorisation (mandatory since 2010), proof of vaccination, and a negative PCR or antigen test performed within three days of travel. In addition, individuals who have been cured of Covid-19 will need to provide a positive test accompanied by a certificate from a healthcare professional guaranteeing that they are authorised to travel. The only uncertainty is for children aged under 12. The American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are still trying to figure out the ideal procedure. However, it seems that children aged under 12 who are not eligible for vaccination would not be forced to do so. Besides, Jeff Zients, coordinator of the fight against the pandemic, confirms that the airlines will note the passengers' telephone number and the email address for follow-up. Upon boarding, passengers must complete an information certificate.

The procedure is somewhat different for land travel. Considering the significant impact of the crisis on various sectors, including heavyweight vehicles, the White House implemented a two-step system. First, from November 8, travellers crossing Canadian or Mexican borders for non-essential reasons (e.g., tourism, visiting a loved one, etc.) must be vaccinated. Second, flexibility only applies to travellers crossing the borders for essential reasons, like truck drivers. But from January 2022, vaccination will be compulsory for everyone.

What about quarantine?

What happens once you have landed in the US? There are no longer curfews and mandatory quarantine in the country. However, any international traveller is advised to self-isolate for at least seven days and perform a PCR test 3 5 days after arrival. In practice, each State is free to apply its own measures against the pandemic. Regarding domestic flights, travellers are advised to refer to the Consul of the State they wish to visit.

With the reopening of its borders, the United States confirms the economic recovery while reassuring its ability to contain the health crisis. For travellers and expats-to-be, this is a new positive sign. States are reopening their borders in turn, focusing on a post-Covid era.