International travel rules changed again. The omicron variant of COVID in southern Africa and its detection around the world has sparked a host of new travel requirements and, in some cases, outright bans — further complicating international trips that were just starting to pick up.

On Monday, December 6, 2021, the U.S. implemented stricter testing requirements for international travelers, including U.S. citizens, regardless of vaccination status.

Here is what U.S.- bound air travelers need to know:

  • All inbound U.S. travelers including U.S. citizens, visitors, permanent residents must show a negative COVID test result from the day before the departure.
  • The measure applies to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, as well as visitors, and immigrants.
  • Airlines are waiving some change fees for certain destinations that aren’t accepting visitors from abroad.

Travel Bans

Three weeks after lifting a blanket pandemic travel ban on more than 30 countries, the Biden administration on Nov. 29 banned visitors from South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.

Scientists are racing to see if the current vaccines offer protection against Omicron, but many families and other travelers may need to consider a variety of factors now before embarking to see relatives or to experience a change of scenery.

What else is changing?

Air travelers flying to the U.S. from abroad will need to show airlines proof of a negative Covid test result that was taken within one day (24 hours) of departure before being allowed to board. That includes U.S. citizens and vaccinated travelers.

Previously, vaccinated visitors, permanent residents, and citizens had to show a test within three (3) days of departure for the U.S.

What types of Covid tests are accepted?

Both antigen and nucleic acid amplification tests, or NAAT, including PCR, results will be accepted.

Do I need to take a test when I land in the U.S?

No. The United States does not require that travelers test upon landing and entering the U.S.

However, the CDC has expanded a program to offer free, voluntary tests to travelers upon arrival to help detect variants, most recently the omicron variant.

They’re offered by XpresSpa Group, which has expanded from airport massages and other spa services into airport Covid testing since the pandemic started, and Ginkgo Bioworks. The program is available at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and San Francisco International Airport. Both at-home tests can be collected or PCR tests done on arrival.

XpresSpa’s XpresCheck subsidiary also offers rapid testing at various U.S. airports with prices ranging from $75 for a PCR test to $250 for a rapid PCR test.

Not a bad idea. The Food and Drug Administration has approved 13 home-based Covid tests, and families may want to bring some on the trip to use if anyone comes down with the sniffles or a cough or to take just before getting to Grandma’s. They may be hard to find in stores or limited to one or two per customer, so don’t leave this errand to the last minute.

Family members may have varying risk tolerances, and at-home tests can help people relax and enjoy each other’s company, Dr. Risse said, “because even though it is imperfect, it adds another layer of protection.”

The C.D.C. specifies which tests are allowed for entry into the United States. Self-tests for the virus are OK if there is an accompanying telehealth service providing “real-time supervision remotely through an audio and video connection.” Your hotel or local family members may be able to point you to other testing options in the country — like at medical clinics or pharmacies.

Rules vary by the cruise line. On Disney cruises, passengers 12 and up must be vaccinated, but that age is moving to 5 beginning Jan. 13. Children under 5 must have a negative virus test taken within three days of departure. Princess Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line are only welcoming vaccinated travelers ages 5 and up. Currently, children under 5 are not allowed on board. Royal Caribbean requires guests age 12 and up to be vaccinated.

There may be additional requirements for cruises docking in other countries. Travelers boarding a cruise in Barbados, for example, need to download the BIMsafe app and follow its directions. It’s best to check with each cruise line for a specific sailing’s current rules and protocols.

Theme parks are required to follow state rules. Disneyland in California and Disney World in Florida require guests 2 and older to wear masks in indoor locations, lines, and enclosed transportation except when actively eating or drinking. Universal Studios in Florida recommends masking indoors but has no coronavirus-focused guest requirements.

Do the new rules apply to land crossing into the U.S.?

No. The new rules are solely for air travel.

Can I cancel my flight?

Airline policies vary and travelers should check early and often with their carrier for both changing rules and ticket policies.

Major U.S. airlines have eliminated change fees for both international and domestic main cabin and above tickets that were purchased at least in the United States and in certain other countries, but travelers could still be responsible for differences in fare if they elect to travel on a different day. Basic economy tickets are generally less flexible and harder to change, however.

Delta Air Lines is waiving fare differences for Japan and Israel, which have temporarily banned foreign visitors, and for South Africa, if passengers fly on or before Dec. 12. American Airlines says that with tickets purchased for travel to and from Australia, Europe, the U.K., Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, New Zealand or South Africa between March 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2021, and travel would have taken place through the end of this year, the value of the ticket can be used for trips through Dec. 31, 2022.

Sources: nytimes.com, whitehouse.gov, msnbc.com