travel to US
The US has joined the list of countries requiring mandatory COVID-19 testing before travel. Source: Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/AFP

Following in the footsteps of Canada and New Zealand, all international passengers who want to travel to the US from January 26 onwards must first test negative for COVID-19. Even if you have been vaccinated, you must get tested for current infection within three days before your flight to the US. This move will officially be enacted as federal policy following an order signed by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr Robert R. Redfield. 

Testing does not eliminate all risk, but when combined with a period of staying at home and everyday precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, it can make travel safer, healthier, and more responsible by reducing spread on planes, in airports, and at destinations,” Dr Redfield explained in a statement. This comes after the US implemented a policy requiring anyone coming from the UK to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test result, last December. 

I am vaccinated. Why do I still have to get tested?

According to CDC spokesman Jason McDonald, proof of immunisation is not sufficient to travel to the US. Why? Well, the vaccines have only been shown to prevent serious illness. Vaccinated people may still become infected and transmit the virus to others, although they are asymptomatic themselves. This is a great risk to air travel, in particular, where you are contained in a small area with others for an extended period of time. 

I had COVID-19 before. Can I still travel to the US?

If you have tested positive before, you will not need to test again for three months after. You may only board the flight after you have fully recovered, of course, with a documented clearance from your healthcare provider or public health official. Before departing, the airline must confirm that all passengers either tested negative or have been cleared for travel.

The CDC currently recommends that you test for COVID-19 one to three days before travel to the US, and again three to five days after the trip. In the agency’s words: “With the US already in surge status, the testing requirement for air passengers will help slow the spread of the virus as we work to vaccinate the American public.”