International Air Travelers Entering the United States Must Have a Negative COVID-19 Test

January 19, 2021Legal Alerts

Effective Jan. 26, 2021, all air passengers traveling to the United States will be required to get a viral test for current infection within the three days before their flight to the U.S. is scheduled to depart, and provide written documentation of their laboratory test results (paper or electronic copy) to the airline. In lieu of a negative test result in that timeframe, the passenger may provide documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 in the past three months and proof of having been cleared for travel by a licensed health care provider or health official. 

How Will This Rule Be Enforced?

Airlines will be required to confirm the negative test result for all passengers (or documentation of recovery from COVID-19) before they board. Therefore, if a passenger cannot provide documentation of a negative test or recovery, or chooses not to take a test, the airline is required to deny boarding to the passenger. 

A negative test result must be provided to the airline in order to return by air travel to the United States. All travelers must plan to allow for testing and receipt of laboratory test results when planning return travel to the United States.

Travelers may also be required to produce written documentation (either paper or electronic copy) of their test results upon request to any U.S. government official or a cooperating state or local public health authority.

Who Does the Testing Requirement Pertain To?

The testing requirement applies to all air travelers bound for the U.S., including U.S. citizens and is required for all airline passengers ages two and older. Even those individuals who already have received the COVID-19 vaccine must provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test for travel.

NOTE: The rule does not apply to passengers on flights from the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, since those are U.S. territories.

Which Type of Test Do I Need?

Passengers will need to provide results from an antigen test or PCR (viral antigen or nucleic acid

amplification test). Antibody test results will not be accepted, because the test results must rule out current COVID-19 infection.

For those individuals who have recovered from COVID-19, they can provide documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 in the past three months (they can bring evidence of their previous positive test result, with proof that they have been cleared for travel by a licensed health care provider or health official). 

Where Can I Get Tested in a Foreign Country?

Look for guidance from airlines, hotels, tourism bureaus and health care providers when booking travel.  Many countries post their current COVID-19 protocols and guidance for international travelers needing to be tested, as well.

How Long Will This Rule Be In Effect?

The rule is in place indefinitely, and likely will remain in place until the coronavirus surge has subsided or other controls are in place.

Additional CDC Recommendations

As always, the CDC also continues to advise travelers to also get tested again three to five days after arrival in the U.S. and to stay at home for seven days post-travel to help slow the spread of COVID-19 within U.S. communities.

For additional information about this rule or ongoing restrictions on travel to the U.S., please contact the immigration group at Dinsmore & Shohl LLP.