New COVID Test Rules for International Air Travel Start Monday: What to Know

Starting Monday, Dec. 6, travelers heading to the U.S. will be required to show evidence of a negative test for the virus within one day of boarding their flight.

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Travelers flying into the United States — including American citizens returning from overseas — will face stricter COVID-19 testing protocols starting on Monday.

President Joe Biden's latest measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 underscores the urgency for the White House to act ahead of winter, when the virus can spread more easily among people indoors, and since the discovery of a worrisome new variant of COVID-19.

Biden also extended the federal rule requiring passengers on planes, trains and buses to wear face masks through March 18. It was scheduled to expire in mid-January.

The administration’s moves come just days after the White House announced a ban on travel to the U.S. by foreign nationals who have been to South Africa or seven other African countries within the previous 14 days. That travel ban does not apply to U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

Here's what you need to know about the new requirements:

What are the new COVID-19 testing guidelines for international travel to the U.S.?

On Dec. 2, the Biden administration announced that all air travelers heading to the United States will need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within one day of boarding their flight — even for those who are U.S. citizens and fully vaccinated. This is a tightening from the previous requirement of getting a negative test within 72 hours of a flight.

This rule, which went into effect on Monday, Dec. 6, applies to all air travelers 2 years and older, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Do you have to get the test exactly 24 hours before travel?

No. The CDC policy specifies that travelers must get tested one day before the flight’s departure, but does not say it has to be exactly 24 hours before.

“The Order uses a 1-day time frame instead of 24 hours to provide more flexibility to the air passenger and aircraft operator,” the CDC says. “By using a 1-day window, test acceptability does not depend on the time of the flight or the time of day that the test sample was taken.”

That means, if your flight is at 5 p.m. on a Friday, you could board the plane with a negative test that was taken any time on Thursday.

Does this order apply to land border crossings or travelers arriving at seaports?

No, the order only applies to air travel into the U.S.

What type of COVID tests are accepted for test guidelines for international flights?

The CDC says people must get a negative result for COVID-19 from a viral test. This can be either an antigen test or nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT), examples of which include RT-PCR, RT-LAMP, NEAR, HDA and TMA.

Some rapid antigen tests are acceptable if they meet the viral test requirements.

An at-home test can also be used, if it is a SARS-CoV-2 viral NAAT or antigen test with emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The testing procedure must also include a telehealth service affiliated with the manufacturer of the test that provides real-time supervision remotely through an audio and video connection. The telehealth provider must confirm your identity, observe the sample collection and testing procedures, confirm the test result, and issue a report that meets the requirements of the new travel Order

Learn more about available testing options here.

What if I recently recovered from COVID-19?

People who have recovered from COVID-19 can continue to test positive for up to three months after their infection. The CDC notes you can still travel with a positive viral test that was taken within 90 days of a flight, but more than 14 days old to complete isolation period of quarantine. Traveler will also require a letter from a public health official or licensed healthcare provider that states you are cleared to travel.

Does the order apply to flights from U.S. territories like Puerto Rico?

No, the requirement to present a negative result of a COVID-19 viral test or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 does not apply to air passengers with flights from a U.S. territory to a U.S. state.

U.S. territories include American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Do you need to be vaccinated to fly into the U.S.?

Anyone who is a non-U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident or traveling to the U.S. on an immigrant visa, must be fully vaccinated with an approved shot to travel internationally by air into the United States.

You are considered fully vaccinated 14 days after receiving the second shot of a two-dose vaccine and two weeks after your shot of a one-dose vaccine.

U.S. citizens do not have a vaccination requirement for international flights into the U.S., but the CDC recommends not travelling internationally for those who are not fully vaccinated.

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