US travel bans are now over. 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 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 There’s a couple extra new steps in addition to an ESTA and a plane ticket, but as travel bans are rescinded, travel to the US is relatively easy again now.
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With US travel bans now rescinded, and a new requirement for proof of vaccination and a negative covid-19 test in their place, travel to the United States is different, but not necessarily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 3 days 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?
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 test must be taken within 3 days of travel, meaning someone departing on a Friday could test any time from Tuesday that week onward. Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday in that example all count.
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.
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 still have crazy Black Friday deals coming up 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.