COVID-19 Tests: Do You Need Them for a U.S. Trip?

With the continuous vaccination rollouts and reducing cases of COVID-19, many countries are opening again for tourists. Included in the list of countries open for travelers is the United States. Travel restrictions at ferry crossings and land borders with Canada and Mexico will be lifted soon (for the first time in almost 20 months).

Yes, the US is opening its borders to all foreign nationals under two conditions: you must show proof of vaccination (whether traveling by sea, land or air) and you must test negative for COVID-19 (depending on how you’re getting to the country).

Do You Need to Take a COVID-19 Test To Enter the United States?

COVID-19 tests are not required for entry if you are entering the country via seaports. People who are crossing into the US at the land borders of Canada and Mexico aren’t also required to take COVID-19 tests. These tests are only for people flying to the country from abroad.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) implemented this rule in January 2021, which was during the time more contagious strains of COVID-19 emerged globally. COVID-19 tests are required for both foreign visitors and US citizens who are flying from another country. Airlines can refuse to let you board the plane if you don’t have proof of a negative COVID test.

When Should You Take a COVID-19 Test?

A person being vaccinated
Photo by CDC on Unsplash

US-bound tourists and travelers must take a COVID-19 test within three (3) days of flying. They should present proof of a negative COVID-19 test before boarding their flight, in either digital or paper format. During the boarding process, the airline staff will check your boarding passes, passports and test results.

Most airlines accept both antigen and RT-PCR test results, as long as your tests have been processed in recognized labs.

Returning U.S. unvaccinated citizens must take the test within a day of boarding their flight back to America.

Where Can You Get an Antigen or PCR Test for Travel?

Whether you’re entering the US or returning home, you need to provide written proof of an antigen or PCR test over the last three days. 

Keep in mind that the validity window of these COVID-19 tests can be different based on your destination.

Antigen tests are easily accessible since you can find them at local pharmacies. These tests give results within 15 to 30 minutes. But if you use your antigen test results for travel purposes, prepare for additional charges and potential paperwork problems.

If you want sure results, take RT-PCR tests but they take longer and can be pricier. If this is the test you’ll take, plan ASAP. In many countries, you can get PCR tests with travel documentation at pharmacies, but they can still be expensive. If you’re struggling to find a place that offers PCR tests, get in touch with your local airline for help.

Don’t forget to check the US embassy to get more information on tests.

What Happens If You Test Positive for COVID-19?

Covid-19 Positive in an Antigen test
Photo by Medakit Ltd on Unsplash

Unfortunately, a positive COVID-19 test result prevents you from boarding your flight, so you’ll have to change your plans. 

If you are returning to the United States from a vacation abroad and tested positive, the CDC recommends extending your trip for a few weeks at your expense for self-isolation. You must also pay for your healthcare while you are abroad.

What About Vaccinations? What are the Rules?

America’s travel policies require adult international visitors to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before traveling.

U.S. president Joe Bidden confirmed on October 25, 2021 that any vaccine brand listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) for emergency use or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be sufficient for entry to the country. These vaccines include Moderna, Pfizer, Covishield, AstraZeneca, Sinovac Sinopharm and Johnson & Johnson.

If you are traveling to the US, you must present proof of vaccination to your airline before boarding a flight. Any official vaccination certificate issued by a government agency or public health institution is enough. For example, if you are a Canadian citizen visiting the US, you must present the Canadian COVID-19 vaccination card. For Europeans, an EU digital COVID certificate is enough.

If you are traveling by land, you must still provide vaccination certificates to gain access to the border.

The US government also accepts travelers who have received mix-and-match vaccination doses. Mix-and-match doses are vaccine jabs where the third or second shot is from a different vaccine manufacturer. For instance, you initially received a shot of AstraZeneca and your second dose is Pfizer.

Traveling in the new norm means including vaccination cards and COVID-19 tests in your list of must-have paperwork. Make sure you take your tests so you can gain access to the US easily.


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