FAQs: New Policy for Air Travel to the United States

The White House recently issued a Presidential Proclamation titled “Advancing the Safe Resumption of Global Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” (released October 25, 2021) which rescinds the geographic travel restrictions affecting arrivals from 33 countries and installs new vaccination and testing policies for international travelers effective November 8, 2021.  As of that date, foreign nationals traveling to the United States by air will be required to be fully vaccinated, with limited exceptions, and provide proof of vaccination prior to boarding a flight to the United States.  All travelers, including U.S. citizens and U.S. LPRs, will continue to be required to adhere to certain testing requirements.  It is essential that the Department disseminate clear, plain language answers to minimize the disruption to air travel, reinvigorate the travel industry, and help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Q: Who must be vaccinated under this new policy?

A: All adult foreign national air travelers to the United States, with very limited exceptions, will be required to be fully vaccinated and to provide proof of vaccination status prior to boarding an airplane to the United States.  Immigrant visa applicants are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as part of the medical exam they receive prior to visa issuance unless the requirement is waived by a consular officer.  For nonimmigrant foreign nationals, proof of vaccination will be required – with very limited exceptions – prior to departure to the United States.

Q: What are the changes for U.S. citizens and U.S. LPRs in this new international travel system?

A:  U.S. citizens and U.S. LPRs who are unable to show they are fully vaccinated will have to provide documentation of a negative PCR test taken no more than one day before departure for the United States. Fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and U.S. LPRs must provide documentation of a negative viral test taken up to three days prior to departure for the United States.  They also must present proof of vaccination to qualify for the three-day test window. 

Q: How is the U.S. government determining exceptions to the vaccination requirement for nonimmigrant foreign nationals?

A: The presidential proclamation and CDC order include a very limited set of exceptions from the vaccination requirement for foreign nationals. These include exceptions for children, certain COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial participants, those with rare medical contraindications to the vaccines, those who need to travel for emergency or humanitarian reasons, those who are traveling on non-tourist visas from countries with low-vaccine availability, members of the armed forces and their immediate families, airline crew, ship crew, and diplomats.

Q: What should passengers provide to airlines to show they are fully vaccinated? 

A: U.S. citizens, U.S. LPRs, and foreign nationals who are fully vaccinated should travel with proof of their vaccination status to provide to their airline prior to departure for the United States.  That proof of vaccination should be a paper or digital record issued by an official source and should include the traveler’s name and date of birth, as well as the vaccine product and date(s) of administration for all doses the traveler received.

Q: Which vaccines will be accepted? 

A: The CDC determined that for purposes of travel to the United States, accepted vaccines include FDA-approved or authorized vaccines and World Health Organization (WHO) emergency use listed (EUL) vaccines.  For more info, see https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/proof-of-vaccination.html#covid-vaccines. 

Q: How does the exception from full vaccination for children work?

A: Children under 18 are excepted from the vaccination requirement for nonimmigrant foreign national travelers, given both the ineligibility of some younger children for vaccination, as well as the global variability in access to vaccination for older children who are eligible to be vaccinated.

Q: What are the testing requirements for children?

A: All children (i.e. Filipinos/foreign national, U.S. citizens, and U.S. lawful permanent residents) between the ages of 2 and 17 are required to take a pre-departure test.  

  • If a child is not fully vaccinated and traveling with a fully vaccinated adult, the child’s parent or guardian can show proof of a negative viral test from a sample taken within three days before departure (consistent with the timeline for fully vaccinated adults).
  • If an unvaccinated child is traveling alone or with unvaccinated adults, he/she will have to show proof of a negative viral test from a sample taken within one day of departure.
  • While children under two years of age are excepted from the testing requirement, CDC recommends a pre-departure test for these children whenever possible.

Q: What is the process for applying for an exception?

A: Most exceptions will be administered by airlines and not require an application. For those that do require an application, legal authority for approving or denying exception requests rests with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC will approve or deny all requests for exceptions to the vaccination requirement for humanitarian or emergency reasons. Individuals may request a waiver directly through the U.S. embassy or consulate. The embassy/consulate will gather the necessary information and submit the exemption request. The Department of State will forward the request to the CDC for review. The CDC will provide a form letter response either directly to the traveler or to the embassy/consulate. An applicant’s approval or denial of a CDC exception has no bearing on his/her visa eligibility, and for cases when a visa applicant also requests a humanitarian or emergency exception from the CDC, consular officers will adjudicate the visa applications in accordance with standards applicable to all other travelers.

Q: I previously had a National Interest Exception (NIE). Do the new requirements still apply to me?

A: NIEs granted under the previous geographic COVID proclamation will have no bearing on the new vaccination or testing requirements.