The United States will finally align with most major tourism nations by scrapping the remaining Covid travel restrictions as of May 12, 2023.
The current rules mean many unvaccinated international visitors have been banned from the US for more than three years, since President Trump banned UK and European travelers at the start of the pandemic.
When Joe Biden took over the presidency in January 2021, he continued Donald Trump’s ban on visitors from the UK and many other countries for almost a year.
America finally opened up to visitors from Britain and other nationalities who were fully vaccinated in November 2021. But international travelers without Covid jobs are waiting 18 more months.
The relaxation is likely to increase travel and possibly increase prices as previously barred visitors take family, business and leisure trips.
The travel industry welcomed the easing of restrictions, predictably. But some other major nations maintain strict Covid rules.
Here are the main questions and answers.
What are the current US travel rules?
International visitors to the US must be fully vaccinated and show “a record issued by an official source (eg, public health agency, government agency) in the country where the vaccine was administered.”
“Fully vaccinated” means that the traveler has “received all recommended doses in the main series of Covid-19 vaccine” at least two weeks prior to travel.
There is no requirement that a booster job.
From the British point of view, the NHS Covid pass – available free of charge from the NHS in the UK traveller’s nation – will suffice. The transatlantic airline carries out all the checks, which are required to “match the name and date of birth to confirm that the passenger is the same as shown on the proof of vaccination” and verify that the traveler is fully vaccinated.
What is changing?
At the end of the day on Thursday May 11, America’s “Covid-19 public health emergency” officially ends. From the following day, international travelers will no longer have to show airlines that they have received Covid jobs.
Why have the restrictions been in place for so long?
The White House claims that they helped “slow the spread of new variants coming into the country and give our health care system time to effectively manage access to care if there is an increase in cases and the number of hospitals”.
More than a million Americans have died of Covid-19 since the pandemic began in early 2020. As of last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 1,000 people have died in the seven days earlier – although that was the lowest. Weekly death toll from the virus since March 2020.
Announcing the change, a White House spokesman said: “Covid is always a problem. But our health care system or our public health resources are much more capable of responding to the threat that Covid poses to our country and doing so in a way that does not create problems with access to care for Americans. “
What does the travel industry say?
A spokesman for Virgin Atlantic, which flies to 12 destinations in the Americas, said: “The relaxation of the vaccination requirement for foreign nationals removes barriers to frictionless travel to the US, our homeland for almost 40 years. It will boost demand from transatlantic customers as we approach a busy summer.”
The US-based Global Business Travel Association also welcomed the change. Chief executive Suzanne Neufang said: “It will also help free up critical time and resources, such as global staff and airline and airport operations, contributing to an improved passenger experience.”
What will be the effect?
Expect demand to be even stronger across the Atlantic – especially in the near future, that is. end of May and June. These months are usually much cheaper for economy class transatlantic flights, and there is less pressure on seats and fares than July and August. But with millions of potential travelers suddenly allowed to travel they could be busy – and expensive.
British Airways’ benchmark return flight from London Heathrow to New York on June 1 for a week is currently selling for £554 return, plus one cabin bag. A month later, the lowest fee is £768 back.
Before the Covid Pandemic, fees were much lower.
Any more red tape?
Visitors to the United States must comply with existing immigration regulations, including presenting a valid visa or Esta (American online entry permit).
Which countries still have Covid travel restrictions?
Until last month, the UK and US imposed testing requirements on people arriving from mainland China, but these have now been lifted.
China is the biggest outlier in terms of Covid travel rules. Although Chinese citizens can now travel abroad, international tourists are still not allowed to enter. Anyone traveling for work or to visit family within 48 hours of boarding a flight to China needs a negative PCR test. You may also be tested on arrival. (These restrictions do not apply to Hong Kong, where no tests are required, regardless of your vaccination status.)
The other major nation with restrictions in place is Brazil – where unvaccinated travelers must test negative for Covid within 24 hours of their flight. Keep those NHS vaccination records on your phone, and ideally print them out, as the Foreign Office warns: “There are additional local requirements to show proof of vaccination to gain access to certain places… includes hotels, restaurants and gyms.”