US travel guide: everything you need to know as country lifts Covid travel restrictions

Vaccinated visitors from the UK, India, Europe, China and most other countries can now travel to the US again

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The US is bracing itself for an influx of international visitors after easing travel restrictions first imposed 19 months ago.

From November 8, travellers from most countries around the world can fly to the US as long as they are fully vaccinated.

Rules put in place last year to prevent the spread of Covid-19 barred non-US citizens from 33 countries, including India, the UK, China and the 26 Schengen countries in Europe, from entering. Travellers from Mexico and Canada have also been unable to visit as the US kept its land borders closed to non-citizens.

New rules replacing the pandemic travel ban require international visitors to show proof of vaccination and a recent negative Covid-19 test result.

Now, as the country reopens in time for Thanksgiving and the winter holiday period, travellers can once again look forward to reconnecting with family and enjoying Christmas in New York, shopping in Chicago or some winter sun in California. If you’re considering a trip to the US, here’s what you need to know.

Who can travel to the US?

International travelers leave the Customs and Immigration area of Dulles International Airport (IAD) June 29, 2017, outside Washington, DC, in Dulles, Virginia.
The US began implementing a ban on travelers from six mostly Muslim countries, amid fresh controversy about who is exempt: those with "close family relationships" can get visas, but grandparents and grandchildren don't count. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL J. RICHARDS

Under the new rules, tourists visiting the US will need to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19, and must be able to show proof of this. The rules no longer differentiate between countries, so vaccinated tourists are welcome from almost all destinations around the world.

Unvaccinated international travellers from most countries are not able to visit the US at this time.

However, anyone coming from a country that's deemed by US authorities to have low or limited Covid-19 vaccine availability can travel unvaccinated to America as long as they have a valid non-immigrant visa and have completed an Excepted Covered Individual Attestation form.

There are about 50 countries in this exemption category including Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan, plus several African nations. You can see the complete list here.

What do I need to do before flying to the US?

Covid-19 and vaccination concept.

Before travelling to the US, tourists must ensure that they are fully vaccinated, and be able to show proof that the vaccine course was completed at least 14 days before travelling. This can be shown to airline staff as a paper certificate, a photo of the document or a digitised version.

All visitors must also show a negative Covid-19 test result taken within the past 72 hours before being allowed to board flights. PCR tests and rapid antigen tests are accepted.

There are a few forms to fill in including an attestation confirming that you meet the requirements to travel, which can be found here. Travellers also need to fill in their contact details before flying to the US.

This is a compulsory process implemented by the US government and an airline booking reference is needed to complete the form. Airlines will advise travellers on where to locate and submit the forms.

What vaccines are recognised for travel to the US?

Pfizer-BioNTech is one of several vaccines accepted for travel to the US. AFP

The US recognises all vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration and those listed for use by the World Health Organisation.

These are Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Covishield, Sinopharm and Sinovac.

Mix-and-match combinations of the approved vaccines are also accepted, but they must have been administered at least 17 days apart.

Do children need to be vaccinated to travel to the US?

Children under 18 do not need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 to travel to the US. Photo: Unsplash / SB Vonlant

International travellers under the age of 18 do not need to be fully vaccinated to visit the US. This is because the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognises that many countries haven’t yet authorised vaccines for children.

However, all children over the age of 2 travelling with vaccinated adults must have a negative Covid-19 test result taken within three days of departure. Children travelling alone must have taken a test within one day of departure. Children under 2 do not need to take any tests.

Which airlines are flying to the US?

Etihad Airways flies to the US from Abu Dhabi and Emirates offers flights to several US cities from Dubai. Photo: Etihad

From Abu Dhabi, Etihad Airways flies to Washington, New York and Chicago. The national airline of the UAE is a good pick for hassle-free travel to the US as travellers can complete preclearance immigration at Terminal 3 in Abu Dhabi International Airport, the only airport offering this facility in the Middle East. Economy fares to New York start from Dh3,425 with Etihad.

From Dubai, Emirates also operates to several cities, with regular flights to Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Washington, New York, Seattle, Miami, San Francisco, Houston, Los Angeles and Orlando. Economy fares from Dubai to New York are from Dh3,600.

A Virgin Atlantic staff member ahead of the synchronised departure of a Virgin Atlantic flight and a British Airways flight to New York's JFK Airport, to celebrate the return of US travel. Photo: Doug Peters / PA Wire

What restrictions are in place in the US?

New York City is a good winter destination in the US for those seeking festive fun. Reuters

Given the size of the country, it is hard to list all of the different restrictions and rules in place for all of the 50 states, so travellers should check the local regulations at the destination they plan to visit.

In general, the CDC has now said that vaccinated travellers do not need to quarantine after landing in the US, unless required by a state or local jurisdiction.

All travellers are recommended to get tested for Covid-19 with a viral test within three to five days after landing in the states and to monitor for any Covid-19 symptoms. Tourists should also follow all state regulations in regards to wearing masks, avoiding crowds and social distancing where possible.

Some states, such as New York and California, have implemented Covid-19 passports which are a similar set-up to Abu Dhabi’s Al Hosn app.

Travellers visiting the US states with these systems in place may need to register with local authorities, showing proof of vaccination to be able to enter public places such as restaurants, museums, theatres and more. Again, this varies widely from state to state, so check local rules for the places you plan to travel to.

What’s the Covid-19 situation like in the US?

A tourist wearing a face mask poses for a snapshot next to Celine Dion’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in California. AFP

The US has consistently recorded some of the highest Covid-19 case numbers in the world over the past few months. However, it's important to note that the country has the third-highest population in the world and that the coronavirus situation varies across the country.

Some states, such as Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, have low daily case numbers, and other destinations, such as Alaska and North Dakota, are topping the leader board when it comes to new case numbers.

When’s the best time of year to travel to the US?

The Grand Canyon is a great place for a winter hike, or California is a good option for winter sunshine. AFP

Spanning nearly 10 million square kilometres and crossing six different time zones, there’s always somewhere good to go in the US, no matter what time of year.

If you’re planning to travel in the next few months, consider a trip to New Mexico, where you'll find sunny days with crisp evenings and a changing tapestry of colours on the surrounding mountains.

For winter sun, head to California where the mild sunshine is perfect for chilled-out beach days. If you want prime autumn foliage, head to Boston on the country’s east coast where you can wrap up warm and wander the Freedom Trail, where you're likely to be rewarded with some pink sunsets.

Las Vegas in December is a good idea if you want to avoid the crowds and the scorching daytime temperatures that Nevada and Arizona experience in the summertime. It’s also the ideal time to visit the Grand Canyon, with the weather being just right for hiking.

If it’s festive magic that you seek, take a trip to New York. From November’s annual Thanksgiving Day Parade to ice skating in Central Park or basking under the Christmas tree’s glow at the Rockefeller Centre, the Big Apple really does have it all.

Updated: November 08, 2021, 11:01 AM