8 Things To Know About The New Requirement For A Negative Covid-19 Test To Fly To The U.S.

As of today the U.S. now requires a negative Covid-19 test within 3 days prior to departure, or documentation of having already recovered from Covid-19, for all air passengers flying to the country (citizens and non-citizens alike).

Here are 8 things to know about this new requirement, which lasts until the government declares Covid-19 no longer a pandemic, or December 31, 2021, whichever comes first (unless extended):

  1. In addition to negative test results all passengers have to complete an attestation about their nesults.

  2. The requirement is “3 days” rather than 72 hours, the CDC is being very imprecise with its language.

  3. Assume what they mean is 72 hours. Airlines are the ones interpreting and enforcing and some may assume this from other guidance they’ve given about the requirement – that the relevant time (not just day) is based on when a flight departs (and departure is used, not arrival). And actual departure times are used – not scheduled departure times. This means if your flight is delayed your negative test may age out of validity. You’d have to be offloaded from your flight, schedule a new test and a new flight home.

  4. For a short trip (less than 3 days) a test taken in the U.S. prior to leaving the country can be used. Obviously it wouldn’t pick up any sort of infection from abroad. And you were ok to be in the country before you left..

  5. Rapid antigen tests work, not just PCR tests. That makes the testing within 3 days of travel much easier to meet. An antigen test can provide results in 30 minutes.

  6. A positive test within the last 3 months, along with medical clearance, replaces a negative test – and the letter from a health care provider doesn’t need to specifically mention travel.

  7. The testing requirement applies only to air travel. So a U.S. citizen could fly to Mexico without a negative Covid-19 test and then cross into the U.S. by land. (You can enter the U.S. by sea without a test as well.)

  8. Airline crew traveling to work an aircraft (including deadheading) are exempt from these requirements.

Hopefully the pandemic will come under control over the next four months, vaccination will be widespread (with data to support that this limits spread and not just symptomatic disease) and restrictions will ease. There remains some risk, though, that viral mutations could keep us chasing our tail for some time, and that the virus will resurface in the fall as well.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Like all “Covid Theater” rules because people traveling by land or sea don’t spread Covid, of course.

  2. @DaninMCI. . . or cabin crew.

    Like most – if not all – of these measures, it’s designed more to dissuade travel, and to punish those who can’t be dissuaded, than to protect anybody.

  3. Finally, some useful info from a travel site rather than another mask “discussion” or a credit card pitch.
    Now I am wondering whether another potential rule about quarantine upon arrival would ever materialize. From all my travel in Dec and Jan (8 hotel stays in US and Mexico) the highest safety standards were in Intercontinental Cozumel. I am sure such hotels will figure out how to provide the tests for the guests from US.
    Also, it looks like the new rules would encourage some folks to fly to Tijuana International and then getting to San Diego by land.

  4. No exception if you were vacinated. This is following the science? The New Messiah just inflated the cost of return air travel for vaccinated American Citizens in 2021.

  5. Just be careful that not every test is acceptable, just virus ones. I’ve a PhD, not an MD so am not giving any medical advice. This is from the CDC website today, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/testing/diagnostic-testing.html but for gosh sakes check too. PCR and NAAT appear to be the same thing, but…. It could be quite easy for someone to get the wrong test:

    A viral test checks specimens from your nose or your mouth (saliva) to find out if you are currently infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Two types of viral tests can be used:

    Nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) detect the virus’s genetic material and are commonly used in laboratories. NAATs are generally more accurate, but sometimes take longer to process than other test types.
    Antigen tests detect viral proteins and are generally not as sensitive as NAATs, particularly if the antigen test is used on someone without COVID-19 symptoms. If you have a positive or negative antigen test, your healthcare provider may need to confirm the test result with a NAAT.

  6. Return to the mainland from U.S. territories (Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, etc.) is still exempted, correct?

  7. @Jim – that is my understanding but will obviously defer to Gary. It the original rules it was specifically stated that travel to US territories was treated the same as domestic travel with respect to testing requirements and I have seen nothing Biden has done to change that. Frankly, he hasn’t done anything on this except allow it to go into effect. Now the 10-14 day proposed quarantine after arrival from international travel is Biden’s idea but he hasn’t yet implemented it.

  8. As to 72 hours vs. 3 days, be aware some test providers do not show the time of the test on the test results. Only the date is shown.

  9. Total insanity again! Medical experts tell us the vaccine is safe and effective and yet you either have a negative test within three days or have recovered from an active case.
    This makes no sense, but then many of the “rules” don’t follow the science either.

  10. The pandemic will NOT be brought under control anytime soon. To think otherwise is fantasy and idealism. Why? People are fatigued and refuse to follow the rules, especially the under 40 crowd. And the new administration is more focused on impeachment than Covid, wasting valuable time and money. Nothing suggests any focus at all on beating this thing back.

  11. The New Admin isn’t wasting time on the impeachment. Impeachment doesn’t get managed by the Admin. Impeachment gets managed by Congress.

  12. The rules do ‘follow the science’. There is no evidence that being vaccinated prevents you from still contracting COVID and spreading it.

  13. @NFO – that’s simply not true, the extent to which spread is reduced is a data-based question we’re a few weeks from answering but nobody believes there isn’t a reduction

  14. @NFO
    And yet those who have had the disease itself are allowed a pass to this rule. Makes no sense. What is the point in developing a vaccine and vaccinating millions of people if it does not prevent the disease. Do you understand the idea of a vaccination ?

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