What You Need to Know about COVID 19 Testing Needed to Enter the US

  • Updated on 29 Aug 2022

Headed to Mexico, the Caribbean or another international destination soon?

Starting January 26, you'll be spending some time to get a COVID test while traveling internationally.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that it would require airline passengers to show proof of a negative COVID19 test or complete recovery from COVID-19 before boarding an international flight to the U.S. until further notice.

Airlines entering the United States must confirm the negative COVID test result and passengers must sign an attestation of a negative test or full recovery prior to boarding. If a passenger does not provide documentation of a negative test or recovery, or chooses not to take a test, the airline must deny boarding to the passenger, per the CDC.

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Does the COVID testing requirement apply to U.S. citizens?

Yes, it applies to US Citizens, permanent residents, and visitors over the age of 2 bound for or connecting through the United States.

Do passengers on inbound flights from the US Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico have to be tested?

No. US Territories such as the US Virgiin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, etc are excluded from this CDC requirement for a negative COVID test.

What if I have been vaccinated for COVID or have antibodies?

As of now, all passengers require a negative COVID test or history of recover of a postive test regardless of vaccination or antibody status.  Vaccinations and Antibodies are not an indication that you don't have COVID.

What type of COVID test do I need?

Travelers entering the United States must get a viral COVID test per CDC requirements – antigen tests and nucleic acid amplification tests such as a PCR test qualify.  Also, Passengers who have tested positive for COVID within the past three months are eligible to bypass the test requirement if they are able to provide proof of a full recovery from the virus and are clearned by a licensed health provider.  The proof is provided via a letter from the doctor who cleared the traveler.

When do I have to have the COVID test?

The negative COVID test must have been issued no more than three days prior to the flight departure.

Does an at home COVID test qualify?

It is required that a lab report be presented to the airline or to public health officials upon request. A home specimen collection kit that is tested in a laboratory meets the requirement.

What exactly is a verifiable COVID test result?

A verifiable test result must be in the form of written documentation (paper or electronic copy) of a laboratory test result. Testing must be performed using a viral test (NAAT or antigen), and negative results must be presented to the airline prior to boarding. The test result documentation must include information that identifies the person, a specimen collection date and the type of test. A negative test result must show test was completed within 3 days before the flight. In the case of recovery from COVID, a positive test result must show the test was done within the 3 months before the flight.

How do I provide that I have recovered from COVID-19? 

You'll need to provide a positive COVID test result and a letter from your health care provider or a public health official that says you have been cleared for travel.

Who is enforcing this COVID test requirement starting January 26?

The inbound airline is required to accept proof at check-in for your international flight.

What if I don't provide a negative COVID test?

The airline is required to deny boarding to any passenger who cannot supply proof of a negative COVID test within 3 days of departure or full recovery of COVID within the past 3 months.  Additionally, falsifying information makes you subject to criminal fines and imprisonment.

How would I find a COVID testing facility in a foreign country?

Look to your airline, hotel or tourism officials for providers when you arrive.  Most hotels are taking positive actions to provide convienient testing facilities on-site.

What if my test is positive before my flight?

You'll have to extend your trip in the foreign country and comply with local quarantine requirements.  The requirement for a full recovery from COVID within the past 3 months or a negative test still applies.

What if my trip is shorter than 3 days, do I still need a covid test?

Yes, you will still need a test if your trip is shorter than 3 days. A viral test done in the US can be used to fulfill the requirements of the Order as long as the COVID test was taken no more than 3 days before your return flight departs.

If your return travel is delayed longer than 3 days after your test, you will need to be retested before your return flight.

I have tickets for a flight back to the United States right after the new testing requirement begins but want to depart earlier so I don't have to get tested. What are my options?

Thus far, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and United Airlines have issued specific travel waivers for this situation. Delta and American said travelers scheduled to fly to the United States through Feb. 9 can change their ticket to dates on or before Jan. 25 without paying a fare difference as long as they purchased their tickets prior to the CDC announcement. United has the same terms but it is extending the option to passengers due to travel through Feb. 15. Ticket change fees are already waived on each of the airlines.

Does this COVID test order apply to all flights or just commercial flights?

This order applies to all flights, including private flights and general aviation aircraft (charter flights). Passengers traveling by air into the US are required to have proof of testing regardless of flight type.

Does the COVID testing requirement apply to aircraft crew members?

Crew members on official duty, whether working or in an assigned deadhead status (transportation of a flight crew member as a passenger or non-operating flight crew member), are exempt from the testing requirement as long as they follow industry standard protocols for the prevention of COVID-19 as set forth in relevant Safety Alerts for Operators (SAFOs) issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

About This Author

Philip Diack is Founder and Managing Director of Passports and Visas.com, a national passport and travel visa service with offices in Atlanta, Miami, Washington, DC, NYC, Denver and San Francisco.

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