a city skyline with a pink sky

US travel bans are now over. Well, mostly.

Millions of visitors from around the world can once again enter the USA for tourism, business and joy. In a rare sign of unity, UK airlines Virgin Atlantic and British Airways even celebrated the November 8th occasion with a joint coordinated take off to mark the occasion.

As hard as it is to believe now, there was once a time when travel to the United States was as simple as a valid passport in hand.

The introduction of the ESTA ended that in early 2009, with a new requirement that all visitors must submit details in advance, but other than that lone extra hurdle, that was it. Then came covid-19 and everything in the world changed.

As the global pandemic becomes endemic and countries reopen, much has changed, but travel isn’t nearly as complicated as it was just months ago. There’s a couple extra new steps in addition to an ESTA and a plane ticket, but as travel bans are rescinded, travel to the US is relatively easy again now, even with recent changes.

Here’s exactly what to expect, ahead of your next trip.

How Easy Is Travel To The USA Now?

With US travel bans now rescinded, and a new requirement for proof of vaccination and a negative covid-19 test in their place, travel to the United States is different, but not necessarily worse.

And once you get there, the USA is as beautiful, buzzing and fun as ever, from East Coast to the West. If you’re making a check list ahead of a trip to the USA, it now needs to include…

  • proof of full vaccination
  • a face mask to be worn for the duration of flight
  • proof of a negative covid-19 test taken within 1 day of departure
  • an approved ESTA with validity for your trip.
  • completed passenger attestation form.
  • a valid passport with at least 6 months before expiry
  • proof of a return ticket (a ticket leaving the United States)

A little extra context on each point might help, right?

a blue passport with gold text on it

Proof Of Vaccination

The US is accepting World Health Organization (WHO) approved vaccines as well as all the vaccines approved for use in the United States. Mix and match of the approved vaccines is ok, per CDC guidelines.

That means most visitors should have no issue with their vaccination counting, but some still will, particularly those vaccinated with select Russian or Chinese vaccines.

Proof Of Negative Test

A negative antigen test is all that’s needed for entry into the USA, provided there’s a lab record to go along with it. There’s no need to pay for the more expensive and time consuming PCR option.

This means tele-health or “e-consult” tests are eligible, and as such, you can take them in the comfort of your home, hotel or mountain top, not just a lab. Approved providers include the Abbott Labs ‘Binax Now’, Qured LFD or Project Screen LFD options.

The covid-19 test to enter the USA must now be taken within 1 day of travel, meaning someone departing on a Friday could test any time on Thursday or Friday, but not before.

The US pre-flight testing system isn’t based on exact 24 hours, so a test in the morning on the day before a flight, for a flight that takes off in the evening of the next day would be ok.

Valid ESTA Travel Authorization

ESTA’s were introduced in 2009 and serve to verify travelers before they board a flight. The digital travel authorization lasts two years, which means many travelers who have been banned during the pandemic may face imminent upcoming expiration dates.

An ESTA is still required for visitors before travel to the USA, and in the last few years processing times began taking up to 72 hours for new applications. If you do need to apply for, or renew an ESTA, it’s best to take care of that at least 3 days before travel.

Proof Of Return Ticket

Countries are becoming increasingly stingy about seeing proof of return, or departure before allowing entry. This means you’ll likely need to show proof of a flight leaving the United States within the time you’re allowed to enter as a visitor.

This is as simple as can be: you need a confirmed flight leaving the United States. It doesn’t matter whether it’s booked with points or cash, it just matters that it leaves in the amount of time you’re allowed to enter for, and is confirmed.

a city skyline with a pink and blue sky

Passenger Attestation Form

It’s almost entirely pedantic and repetitive, and certainly feels like something designed by someone who wears a t shirt that says “golf is life”, but passengers must fill out an attestation form to visit the USA. It’s like the golf equivalent of saying your scores are really your scores.

The attestation is effectively a digital check box stating that you really took a test before departure and that you really are (or are not) fully vaccinated. You must fill this out before you’ll be able to board.

Mask During Travel

The United States has a federal mandate in place for wearing a mask both in airports and on board airplanes. This means there is no debate about the subject. You either wear one and are in compliance, or don’t, and will be escorted off the plane and fined for breaking federal law.

Masks must cover both nose and mouth and it’s recommended that people carry more than one, based on the length of the journey. It’s recommended that people change masks every 3-4 hours.

What’s The Travel Experience Like In The USA Now?

With many destinations, the question isn’t about what you need to make the journey, but whether the journey is worth it. The USA is largely the same as it was before the pandemic, and as worth visiting as ever, just with a few changes.

In some cities, you’ll need to carry proof of vaccination for indoor activities, and in some cities, etiquette (or law) will state that you need to wear a mask in certain indoor settings. This really varies widely by state and region.

Provided someone is comfortable carrying proof of vaccination around, and perhaps bringing a mask in their pocket, not much else has changed. The food is still wowing in every sense of the word, shops and bargains are worth a trip and many concert venues are once again buzzing with full capacity crowds.

Even professional sports is largely back with 100% capacity crowds. It’s totally worth coming to the US just to catch a game, for some! If you’re headed to a National Park or outdoor area, it’s hard to think of anything that’s changed.

With fewer crowds still out and about, it’s actually an incredible time to visit.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Anyone know about unvaccinated travelers to the USA got a very sick sister I need to see, any info would be much appreciated .
    Absolutely no mention of the unvaccinated

  2. Having already done it, the only real difference is that they have turned off the “returning ESTA” machines which means, even with light travel loads, the queues for entry are 2+ hours. They don’t check the COVID paperwork – they leave the airlines to do that – and they seem still to be using paper and quill pens.

    Also, the new one day test requirement will often mean that, by the time you have your results and are sure you are still flying, you have likely passed the one day cancellation window for hotels and car hire.

  3. Why would anyone want to visit with over 810,000 dead and still counting. Stay home people to crush and kill the virus.

  4. You’re nowhere near as free as we are in COVID FREE WESTERN AUSTRALIA. We have better food too and only 9 dead from COVID not like the 810,000 dead and counting in the land of the so called brave.

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