CDC Travel Requirement Updates For The Holidays

There are several updates to the CDC travel requirements as the country ramps up for Thanksgiving travel and welcomes international visitors by land or air. If you’re planning on hitting the road or having friends visit, following these guidelines can prevent an unpleasant surprise.

Flying To The United States Without Restrictions

The CDC introduced new entry guidelines for U.S. citizens and international visitors, and these policies are more restrictive for non-citizens.

United States Citizens Entry Requirements

American citizens and lawful residents age 2 or older flying back into the United States from another country must have a negative re-entry test result. How soon you can get the test depends on your vaccination status:

  • Fully vaccinated: No more than 72 hours before return
  • Unvaccinated: No more than 24 hours before returning

It’s possible to waive the mandatory test if you can provide proof of recent recovery from the last 90 days. Many international resorts conveniently offer on-site testing so you don’t have to find a local testing center.

Approved tests must either be an antigen test or a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT). 

If you have a negative test result, you can return home quarantine-free, regardless of your vaccination status. It’s still important to review your state and local return-from-travel guidelines too. If you have a positive test result, you will need to delay your return flight until you test negative.

Regardless of your vaccination status, all air passengers age 2 or older must wear a facemask when flying into the United States and in public transportation hubs such as airports.

Before departing the United States for a trip overseas, it’s vital to review the latest international travel restrictions. For example, you may need to be fully vaccinated or have adequate travel insurance, depending on your destination.

U.S. Entry Requirements For Tourists

Since November 8, 2021, the United States no longer has country-specific travel restrictions. Instead, foreign visitors have a uniform set of entry guidelines for essential and non-essential travel. Most travelers must be fully vaccinated and also have a negative pre-arrival test.

Vaccine Requirements

Adults 18 years or older must be fully vaccinated with a World Health Organization (WHO)-approved vaccine. Mix-and-match vaccines are valid for your two primary shots as long as both are from approved manufacturers.

It’s possible to get an exemption if you’re coming from a country with minimal access to the coronavirus vaccine. Other exceptions can also apply, including a recent recovery in the last 90 days.

If you’re vaccine-exempt, you will need to self-quarantine for seven days in most instances. You will also need to test negative between days 3-5 of the initial quarantine period. A documented recent recovery can waive the quarantine and follow-up testing requirements.

Airlines currently have the duty of verifying the vaccination status of travelers. If you’re improperly vaccinated and do not have a qualifying exemption (or cannot validate your vaccine details), the airline is to deny boarding.

Pre-Arrival Testing Requirements

While children won’t need to be fully vaccinated to enter the United States, adolescents two years or older must have a negative pre-arrival test.

Vaccinated travelers can test up to 72 hours before departing for the United States. Unvaccinated and partially vaccinated travelers will need to get a test no earlier than 24 hours. Once again, proof of a recent recovery waives the pre-testing mandate.

Self-Quarantine Requirements

Foreigners flying into the United States do not have to self-quarantine if they are fully vaccinated and have a negative pre-arrival test result or proof of recovery within the last 90 days. If you’re only partially vaccinated (i.e., are traveling at least 14 days before your second dose), you will need to self-quarantine for seven full days.

U.S. Land Border Rules

The Department of Homeland Security now has the Canada and Mexico land borders open for non-essential travel in the United States. Here are some of the basic guidelines:

  • Non-citizens age 18 or older must be fully vaccinated (in January for essential travel)
  • Proof of recovery can waive the vaccination requirement
  • Must have a valid passport, Trusted Traveler Program, or similar documents
  • A negative Covid-19 test result isn’t required
  • Applies to land border and ferry crossings

Travelers 18 years or older without adequate proof of vaccination cannot enter the United States. Unfortunately, there currently isn’t an option to self-quarantine. 

The list of approved vaccines is similar to the CDC air travel requirements. In short, any vaccine that’s FDA-approved or WHO-approved for emergency use counts. 

The entry requirements to drive into Canada or Mexico are different from the United States. Canada, for example, requires proof of vaccination and a negative test result for visiting Americans and returning Canadians.

CDC Requirements For Proof Of Recovery From Covid-19

Recovering from Covid-19 within the last 90 days can waive the vaccination and pre-arrival testing requirements. The CDC considers the following two data points as adequate proof:

  • A positive test result from no more than 90 days before your flight’s departure
  • A letter from a licensed healthcare provider or a public health official clearing you for travel

While proof of recovery waives the standard entry requirements, you must self-isolate and get a test if you experience Covid-like symptoms during your trip.

Additional CDC Travel Guidelines

Whether you’re traveling abroad soon or staying within the United States, several other CDC guidelines also apply.

Travel When Fully Vaccinated

The CDC continues only to recommend embarking on non-essential travel once you’re fully vaccinated. It’s also important not to travel after a known Covid-19 exposure or if you’re exhibiting symptoms of potential sickness.

Follow State And Local Travel Guidelines Too

You should also review the state and local travel guidelines for essential and non-essential travel. Currently, Hawaii is the only state with a mandatory quarantine. You can waive this 10-day period by having a negative pre-arrival test result or proof of full vaccination.

Several cities across the United States have indoor mask mandates. You may also have to be vaccinated to enter specific indoor locations like restaurants, museums and sporting events.

Wear A Mask And Avoid Crowded Spaces

It’s currently federal law for people age two or older to wear a mask on commercial transit (i.e., planes, buses and trains) or in public transportation hubs (i.e., airports, bus stations and rail terminals). 

You might also wear a mask in confined spaces where it’s difficult to socially distance yourself. It can also be wise to avoid crowded indoor spaces as much as possible.


The new CDC travel requirements help streamline the entry requirements for non-citizens arriving into the United States by land, air or sea. In general, adult tourists must be fully vaccinated and have a negative pre-arrival test.

The travel restrictions remain mostly unchanged for U.S. citizens. However, unvaccinated and partially vaccinated travelers must now get a diagnostic test within 24 hours of returning to the United States, while the fully vaccinated still have 72 hours to get their test.

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