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Can I travel to the USA? What are the US travel COVID restrictions?

So I had a realisation today...

That on this site I'm addressing all sorts of queries about travelling from the UK and ROI to the US, and updating on all the recent changes, but I haven't answered a simple question for those who might just be starting their research; 

Can I travel to America? What are the current rules and restrictions regarding USA travel? 

So let's address that now...

American stars and stripes flag close up

First and foremost, yes, you absolutely can travel to the US right now. 

Sure there and rules and restrictions, but if you're fully vaccinated (or under 18), the odds are you can visit the United States under their current rules. 

Define 'fully vaccinated' - do I need to have had my booster? 

At the moment, no.

It's possible - maybe even likely - that this is coming, but at the moment (Feb 16th 2022) nothing has been announced. 

The CDC define fully vaccinated, as it pertains to international travel, as: 

"You are considered fully vaccinated:

  • 2 weeks (14 days) after your dose of an accepted single-dose vaccine
  • 2 weeks (14 days) after your second dose of an accepted 2-dose series
  • 2 weeks (14 days) after you received the full series of an accepted COVID-19 vaccine (not placebo) in a clinical trial
  • 2 weeks (14 days) after you received 2 doses of any “mix-and-match” combination of accepted COVID-19 vaccines administered at least 17 days apart*

If you don’t meet these requirements, you are NOT considered fully vaccinated to travel to the United States. A booster dose is not needed to meet this requirement"

from 'Non-U.S. Citizen, Non-U.S. Immigrants: Travel to and from the United States'

There are very limited exceptions to the need to be be considered fully vaccinated to visit the US - including being a vaccine trial participant - but as they apply so rarely that the only one I will mention in this article is that which allows unvaccinated Under 18s to visit. 

People queueing at the airport to travel to the United States

What tests do I need to take to travel to the USA? 

Great question! 

I break this down in detail in our Ultimate Travel to the US Infographic, but here's a high level summary: 

  1. Pre-Departure Test

    Everyone from 2 years old onwards needs to take a viral test - either rapid antigen (aka 'lateral flow' in the UK) or PCR - from the day before their US-bound flight at the earliest. 

    So if you fly at 11am on a Saturday, you can take your test at any time on the Friday, or even on the Saturday before you check in for your flight.

    The test must be supervised - this means either taken in a clinic, or at home over a video call with the test provider.

    Your result certificate will need to confirm that the test was supervised or taken in-clinic, as well as the result, your name, DOB or passport number, the type of test, the date the sample was taken and the company performing or supplying the test. 

    There is one exception to this testing requirement, and this is if you have recovered from COVID in the prior 6 months and can provide the proof referred to as 'Documentation of Recovery' - more on this below

  2. Day 3-5 Test

    Anyone not considered "fully vaccinated" who has travelled to the US is required to take a viral test (of any kind, supervised or not) on Day 3-5 in the country - for the purposes of this article I'm only talking about those who are unvaccinated / partly vaccinated between the ages of 2 and 17yrs old

    This can be any viral test - including those bought in drugstores, given at private (paid) or public (free) clinics, or kits bought from home (of course free NHS lateral flow tests are not to be used for international travel purposes). 

    The result does not need to be uploaded or reported anywhere, but you will legally testify in your compulsory paperwork - in this case your Disclosure and Attestation Form filled in before travel to the US - that you have planned for these tests to take place.

    If you are spot-checked by Homeland Security (which I've only heard happen to a British family once so far) and haven't done this, in theory you could have your ESTA revoked, even be deported, and potentially never be allowed an ESTA again...

    Personally I would never risk not having my children take these tests for that reason! 

Testing and paperwork required for UK to US travel in a simple infographic

If you have any questions on testing, take a quick peek at our Infographic (the full one, not the simplified version shown above), and if you can't find the answer there please do fire me a DM on Instagram or submit via our Contact form - I'm happy to help wherever I can. 

Who should I use for my tests? 

Based on my own experiences, and those of hundreds of followers over on Instagram, I highly recommend Qured - their customer service and flexibility in the case of rule changes is second to none. 

I love Qured - I have no partnership with them and don't gain from recommending them, I'm just confident to do so because of how good they are! 

They offer antigen 'Fit to Fly' kits to take at home, with the option of adding a video call supervision appointment perfect for anyone traveling to the US.

Woman taking supervised COVID test on a video call

They also sell basic kits to take away with you for the Day 3-5 test for kids (this is what we will be doing - called "Diagnostic Rapid Antigen' on the Qured site - and for this one you don't need to select the option for video supervision). 

If you go with Qured, the best discount typically around is code BATRAVEL15 for 15% off (there was a 'half term' 20% code off for the last week, and this could be repeated for the next end of term break)

Man getting COVID test from nurse

If you would prefer to use a clinic, I would personally steer away from High Street chemists (again based on many reviews from followers and in travel Facebook groups - turning up for their appointment and they don't have tests left, or cancelling appointments last minute).

I would probably use a clinic based at or near the airport, or any other ran by Randox - they are second when it comes to reviews from our followers.

Not at the 'glowing praise' level of Qured, but definitely second placed. 

What about if I've had COVID recently - am I exempt from the testing? 

Possibly! But there are downsides to the exemption. I'll explain...

The WHAT: If you have had COVID confirmed by test in the past 6 months, you are potentially eligible to travel to the US without any testing...

Woman coughing

THE HOW: To satisfy this exception to the negative test rule, you must be able to provide what the US call 'Documentation of Recovery'. This is made up of 2 documents: 

  1. A copy of your email from the NHS confirming your positive test result 
  2. A letter from a licensed health professional (usually your GP) declaring you are 'cleared to travel', signed and on official headed paper

I have a lot of content on our Instagram feed and in the 'Recovery Travel' story highlight about part 2 of this requirement - what the letter needs to say and tips to help you get hold of it.

This will soon be joined by a detailed blog post on the subject - watch this space - but for now I'll say I would only generally recommend someone to use the exception if they're travelling in the next couple of weeks or so.

The WHY NOT: It's typically easier and cheaper to just take the Pre-Departure test (as getting the letter is typically more expensive than the test, and you won't be able to do documentation verification - and therefore check-in - online, meaning more faff at the airport)

What other requirements do the US have? 

In total, there are 4 main requirements to gain access to the USA, on top of the usual ESTA and valid passport: 

  1. Proof of vaccination status - the passes generated by the NHS app are accepted
  2. Proof of negative test OR recovery status 
  3. A completed Passenger Disclosure and Attestation Form - where you legally attest that all the proof you are providing is true and accurate 
  4. Submission of your contact details for when in the US, for contact tracing purposes 

How do I provide all my vaccination and testing documents, etc? 

Your airline is responsible for collecting all this information and associated documentation. 

Many airlines now have online tools or applications that they have developed to collect and validate all this information.

For example British Airways and Aer Lingus use the Verifly app developed by American Airlines, and Virgin use the web tool FlyReady, developed by Delta. 

With these tools, fully vaccinated adults with a negative test can upload their proof of vaccination and negative test certificate, answer the questions from the Attestation form, and provide their contact details. 

Unfortunately at the moment these 2 solutions don't support those under the age of 18 or anyone traveling under the recovery exemption.

Hopefully that will change soon but at the moment anyone falling under those categories will need to go through the verification process at check in on the day of your flight, meaning they also can't use online check in. 

Are there any requirements to be aware of once in the United States? 

It is your responsibility to find out what the COVID restrictions are - if any - in your destination. 

Please be aware that restrictions may differ at State, County and City level - sometimes even at venues within those areas. 

For example, New York State recently announced the lifting of their mandatory mask and vaccine mandates, but in New York City the 'Key to NYC' scheme will continue to operate for the time being, meaning masks and 2 vaccine doses are required to enter public spaces for anyone over the age of 5. 

Child getting vaccinated in America

Likewise, in the strongly Republican States like Texas and Florida vaccine mandates were banned and mask mandates frowned upon at State level, but some cities have had their own rules.

Even the parks of Disney and Universal in Orlando have had their own policies over and above those at City and State level (though both have announced relaxations of their mask rules in the past few days). 

Speaking of mandates, if you are travelling with children who are unvaccinated or have only had one dose when you travel, please be aware that many States, Counties & Cities have vaccine mandates that prevent anyone from entering public venues if not fully vaccinated. 

These usually include everywhere except grocery stores, medical facilities, airports and your own hotel room - banning the unvaccinated from restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, bowling alleys, museums, theatres, cinemas, gyms, clubs and the like. 

In some places they only affect adults, but in others they include children - often those over 12, but in some places (including NYC), they apply to everyone aged 5 and over - regardless of the fact that across much of the world children of that age are not yet routinely being offered vaccinations. 

There is a move toward relaxing many mandates this month (Feb 2022) as rates lower again, and I have an blog post on that coming on that soon, but different areas will relax at different times and at different speeds - so make sure you do your research. 

I have an Instagram post and more detailed blog article discussing the vaccine mandates that affect children in many major US cities, so that's a great easy starting point.

However, if the area you're headed isn't included, please feel free to get in touch and ask me to take a look! 

Glimpse of UK passport

Anything else? 

Don't forget the basics! You need a valid passport and valid ESTA - I have lots of content on both these things on our Instagram page

A couple of tips:

  • Make sure you include your middle name on your ESTA application if there is one on your passport, even if you haven't done with previous ESTAs (explanation here)

  • PLEASE apply for an ESTA before you commit significant money - there have always been the odd confusing rejection here & there but they seem to be happening at higher rates at the moment, so don't leave your application until the last minute! 

    Apply as soon as possible, ideally before you book your trip, and certainly before you commit any significant money. 

    If it's too late - you've already booked and paid - apply ASAP! The sooner the better.

If you're rejected it will take 8-12 months to apply for and hopefully receive a visa - the earliest appointments for interview at the US Embassy in London are currently in November - so leave yourselves as much time as possible to deal with a potential rejection. 

Remember - if you can't travel due to not being able to get an ESTA, it's unlikely your insurer will cover the cost of lost travel, so you'll be entirely reliant on the goodwill of your tour operator, travel agent or airline...

An ESTA costs $14 and lasts 2 years - it's not worth leaving it until the last minute for the sake of a tenner per person, and risking losing the whole cost of your holiday! 

More information on what an ESTA is here.

Oh, and don't believe anyone that says you need 6 months remaining on your passport to visit the USA!

You don't need any remaining time beyond the day you leave the US...

Unless you're transiting in an EU country that requires 6 months or 3 months remaining validity on a British passport of course! 

Statue of Liberty and American flag

In Summary

Yes, you can go to the US if you are a fully vaccinated adult or Under 18 of any vaccination status. You will need: 

  • A valid passport
  • Valid ESTA
  • Negative test 1 day before travel OR Documentation of Recovery
  • Proof of vaccination status 
  • Completed Attestation and Disclosure Form
  • To submit your contact tracing details to your airline
  • Test on day 3-5 if you're unvaccinated

If I've left any questions unanswered, drop me a DM on Instagram for the fastest response, or submit a Contact form for something less time-pressured :)