US travel: the new rules after Covid test dropped

Pre-travel testing to be dropped from 12 June

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As US-bound British holidaymakers prepare for the first transatlantic summer since 2019, the pre-departure Covid test rule is about to be dropped.

Starting on 12 June, international arrivals by air no longer need to take a Covid-19 test on the day of departure to the US, or the previous day.

The move from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, the health regulator in the US) saves cost and hassle for UK visitors to America this summer. It also cuts the risk of potential disappointment if a traveller tests positive and has to cancel the trip – though the CDC still recommends testing before and after travel.

These are the key questions and answers.

Why was the pre-departure test rule dropped?

Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said two days before the rule was lifted: “I have concluded that continuation of the Order is not currently necessary. There being no operational need to delay implementation of this rescission for more than a short period of time, it shall take effect for all aircraft departing from their point of origin on or after Sunday, June 12, 2022, at 12.01 am Eastern Daylight Time.”

The CDC says 70.9% of the US population five years of age and older has received an initial course of vaccinations. “The increased  percentage of individuals who are not only fully vaccinated with a primary series but have also received one or more booster doses strengthens community and individual protection against serious illness from SARS-CoV-2 and reduces the associated strain on healthcare infrastructure,” the organisation says.

Can I get a refund for a pre-booked Covid test?

That depends on the policy of your testing company. Randox, for example, say: “Appointments, if not attended, can be cancelled with a refund issued. We would request as a courtesy that customers contact us 24hrs ahead of original appointment.” Dam Health charges a £10 refund fee for a test cancelled at least 48 hours ahead.

The Independent has always urged travellers to book tests at the last possible moment in order to avoid losses if the rules suddenly change.

Can anyone now travel to the US?

No, the requirement for international visitors to be fully vaccinated remains in place.

What constitutes “fully vaccinated”?

The CDC defines it as the traveller having had “all recommended doses in their primary series of Covid-19 vaccine” at least two weeks before travel.

There is no requirement to have had a booster jab.

Accepted vaccines include: Oxford AstraZeneca, Janssen (Johnson & Johnson), Moderna, Novavax and Pfizer/BioNTech, as well as two Chinese vaccines: Sinopharm and Sinovac.

Travellers are permitted to mix vaccines as long as they are on the approved list, and so long as the two doses were administered at least 17 days apart.

The CDC adds: “You will need to show proof of being fully vaccinated against Covid-19 before you travel by air to the United States from a foreign country.”

How do I prove my vaccination status?

The traveller must show a “record issued by an official source (eg public health agency, government agency) in the country where the vaccine was given”.

From a British perspective, the NHS Covid pass – available free from the NHS in the traveller’s UK nation – should suffice, and it is very likely that digital proof will also be accepted, but play it safe by printing out a copy.

For people who fly to the US, the airline is likely to make the check before allowing you on board.

The airline will be required to “match the name and date of birth to confirm the passenger is the same person reflected on the proof of vaccination” and verify that the traveller meets the CDC’s definition for being fully vaccinated.

At land borders, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers check paperwork.

Must I fill in a form?

Yes, although you may find no one actually looks at it. The “Combined Passenger Disclosure and Attestation to the United States of America” is required in paper form – you can complete the details online but you cannot sign it, so you must print it out.

But fully vaccinated adults should tick box A and then skip to the end to sign it.

On behalf of unvaccinated children aged two-17 travelling with them, the relevant part is point D.

In addition, the CDC has issued a “Contact Tracing Order” that requires all airlines flying into the US to collect contact information “that will allow public health officials to follow up with inbound air travellers who are potentially infected or have been exposed to someone who is infected”.

Your airline will need:

  • Full name, date of birth, email address, address while in the United States, primary contact phone number and a secondary or emergency contact number.
  • Flight number, city and time of departure, city and time of arrival and seat number.

Any testing or quarantine on arrival?

No quarantine, and testing is voluntary for adults. The CDC recommends that all travellers “get tested for current infection with a viral test before and after they travel”. But this is not mandatory.

If you take up the recommendation, the CDC suggests you “find a US Covid-19 testing location near you” with a link to the US Department of Health & Human Services list of providers.

Prices tend to be high, even compared with UK prices. At Orlando International Airport, for example, a rapid antigen test with AdventHealth costs $65 (£53).

Alternatively you could buy lateral flow tests, for example from the giant pharmacy firms, Walgreens and CVS Health. A pack containing two tests typically cost $25 (£20). There is nowhere to upload the results.

What about children who have not been vaccinated?

Under-18s who travel to the United States with a fully vaccinated parent or guardian need not be vaccinated. The parent or guardian must fill out the attestation on the child’s behalf, completing part D.

No testing in advance is required for under-18s. However the attestation says there should be arrangements in place for children between the ages of two and 17 who arrive by air for “testing with a Covid-19 viral test three to five days after arriving in the United States, unless such person has documentation of having recovered from Covid-19 in the past 90 days.”

It is not clear how many foreign visitors are complying with this requirement.

Any other red tape?

Visitors must comply with existing immigration regulations, including presenting a valid visa or Esta (America’s online entry permit).

Can unvaccinated adults get in if they take a test?

No, unless they qualify for one of a very narrow range of exemptions. Entry is suspended for almost all “unvaccinated noncitizen nonimmigrants” – who, in plain English, are prospective foreign visitors to the US who have not been fully jabbed.

The main exemptions for unvaccinated non-American adults comprise air or sea crew; people with diplomatic, UN or armed forces accreditation; arrivals from countries with limited vaccination programmes (clearly not the UK); those with medical contraindications to vaccines; and people who have participated “in certain clinical trials for Covid-19 vaccination”.

The last of these appears to apply only to “US-based AstraZeneca or Novavax Covid-19 vaccine trials” rather than those conducted elsewhere.

If you believe you qualify, you will need to assemble evidence to the satisfaction of your airline, which will require “official documentation (eg clinical trial letter, participant card, or modified vaccination card) of clinical trial participation” and confirmation you had the full sequence of vaccines, rather than a placebo.

Anyone who is given permission to enter because they qualify for one of these categories must take a test no more than one day before travelling to the US.

What is happening to transatlantic air fares?

They are significantly higher than in January 2019, the last “normal” time. Typically if you paid £600 return last time, expected £900 or £1,000 this year.

Having said that, Aer Lingus was swift to bring in a special seat sale, with £100 off return economy flights and £200 off return business class flights for travel from July to September when booked before Friday 17 June.

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