Those hoping for a transatlantic family reunion this Christmas – or simply a last-minute trip to New York – may be in luck. The White House announced last month that the USA will lift curbs on fully-jabbed travellers from 33 previously ‘high-risk’ nations, meaning they can finally visit the country.
Discussions between the USA and European countries had been ongoing since last year. Now the US government has lifted the transatlantic bans for all fully-vaccinated travellers, which means travel from the UK and the EU is now permitted. The USA will also let in visitors from countries including China, India, Brazil and South Africa.
From Monday (December 6), however, the country is tightening up its travel rules, with all international visitors now having test negative within 24 hours of their flight (rather than 72 hours, as was the case previously). Because of fears over the new Omicron variant, visitors from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe are also banned from the USA. (American citizens already in those countries are able to return home, however.)
For everyone else, all WHO-approved jabs will be accepted for air travel, while airlines like Virgin Atlantic have confirmed their flights will resume. It comes as the US land borders with Mexico and Canada reopen, too – so that mega-road trip across North America is now very much on the cards.
Since March 2020, almost all non-US residents were banned from entering the USA if they’d been in Europe and a handful of major countries including China, India and Brazil in the 14 days prior to arrival. Only limited numbers of business travellers, investors, academics, students and journalists were allowed in.
Happily, though, normal travel terms are now back in force. Doubled-jabbed visitors will be able to enter by presenting a visa or an Esta, America’s online entry permit. All WHO-accredited vaccines, including Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson), will be accepted at the border. It’s up to the airline to prove your vaccination status, so make sure you have official documentation.
If you’re travelling with under-18s, jabs aren’t required, but children between the ages of two and 17 must take a pre-departure test.
For the moment, it’s unclear when the EU will reciprocate and officially let US travellers back in. Countries including Austria, Greece and Portugal, however, are already independently letting in Americans with negative tests, while the fully-vaccinated can visit France, Spain, Italy and Germany without having to quarantine. (Sweden and Bulgaria, for what it’s worth, have banned American travellers completely.)
Before you book that big trip, it’s worth noting that there are still restrictions in place in the USA. Mask-wearing on public transport is mandatory, and some states have additional rules, too.
Despite those caveats, the developments will be very welcome news indeed for Europeans and Americans who are simply desperate to be reunited with friends and family.