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When Will International Travel Testing Requirements End?

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Travel has slowly but steadily crawled back from the depths of the pandemic. For nearly two years, travel restrictions at home and abroad have kept a full comeback out of reach. But something is changing…

As the worst of the pandemic fades and COVID-19 case counts plummet after a winter surge, countries around the globe have been dropping or relaxing travel restrictions. Now, all eyes are on two longstanding policies in the U.S.: The federal mask mandate for air travel and the requirement to get a COVID-19 test to fly back to the states after any international trip.

President Joe Biden's administration dealt flyers eager to ditch their masks inflight a blow earlier this month with a monthlong extension to the federal mask mandate, pushing it out through April 18. Meanwhile, the ongoing U.S. rule requiring a negative test to fly back to the U.S. from abroad – regardless of vaccination status – continues to frustrate travelers. And as countries from Canada to the United Kingdom have dropped testing requirements for most travelers, the U.S. rules increasingly look like an outlier.

Could it end soon as the U.S. enters a new phase of the pandemic? Or will concerns about another, fast-spreading Omicron sub-variant prolong that requirement?

Here's a look at what's at play.


International Testing Requirements Up in the Air

Despite several extensions, there's always been an official expiration date on the horizon with the federal mask mandate on planes and in airports. That's not the case with testing requirements.

There's no published end date on the requirement to get a negative COVID-19 test in order to fly back to the U.S. from abroad. The latest order from the CDC putting those requirements in place does not have an expiration date. That means it will remain in place until it's rescinded – or when health officials declare the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

But as travel takes off from spring break into the summer of 2022, it's clear the ground is shifting. It may only be a matter of time before this testing rule is pulled back.

But for now, those requirements remain in place. All travelers, including fully vaccinated Americans, flying to the U.S. have been required to provide a negative COVID-19 test since late January 2021. As the Omicron wave swept across the world, it got even tougher: You now need a test just one calendar day before departure. Previously, travelers had a three-day window to get a test.

Nothing has kept international travel at bay more than this testing requirement. The stress of finding a test abroad – and, most importantly, the prospect of being forced to quarantine for a week or more in a foreign country – has scared many travelers off from a big international trip.

travel data
Data from Airlines for America shows that while domestic and travel is close to pre-pandemic levels, most international travel remains far off.

A year ago, mandatory testing to get home seemed like a reasonable tradeoff for travelers considering many countries around the world remained closed to international travel and COVID-19 vaccinations had not yet taken off. But there's been a 180 in recent weeks.

  • From France to Italy to Switzerland and even the United Kingdom, many European countries have dropped pre-travel testing requirements for fully vaccinated travelers
  • Iceland, Ireland, Norway, and Denmark have recently dropped all their entry restrictions outright
  • Canada will drop testing requirements for fully vaccinated travelers, while travel to Mexico has continued with no entry requirements from the very start of the pandemic
  • Even countries throughout Asia have begun reopening their borders, including Vietnam, Bali in Indonesia, and South Korea come April

Fortunately, the U.S. has given travelers plenty of options to get a test by also allowing rapid antigen tests. That includes select at-home COVID test kits, so long as they include a supervised telehealth appointment.

Read all our tips on the best ways to track down a COVID-19 test abroad!

Calls for Change

As other countries drop travel restrictions, the U.S. is increasingly out of step with the rest of the world – especially in requiring even fully vaccinated citizens returning home to get a test.

Getting a test to fly back to the U.S. feels more and more redundant, with so many Americans either vaccinated or protected against COVID-19 through prior infection – and therefore eligible to skip the required testing with proof of recovery.

international travel testing 

For weeks, major U.S. airlines and business groups have been calling on the White House to drop the testing rule.

“Surveys of air passengers indicate that pre-departure testing is a leading factor in the decision not to travel internationally. People simply are unwilling to take the chance that they will be unable to return to the U.S.,” the groups wrote in a letter, according to Reuters. “Clearly COVID is widespread throughout the U.S. and attempts to control its importation via air travel under today’s circumstances are unlikely to change that fact.”

Biden and his administration have not commented on the policy for months nor responded publicly to that letter.


What's Next?

The Biden administration may be looking at the track record of its own testing requirement – and the results are mixed.

Despite tightening testing requirements to stem the flow of the new, faster-spreading Omicron variant back in December, a pre-travel test did not stop the flow of COVID-19 into the U.S. Omicron quickly became dominant, causing the largest spike of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations recorded throughout the pandemic. Of course, that testing requirement might have helped tamper an even worse outbreak.

After weeks of declining COVID-19 cases and calls to return to normal, concern is growing about yet another variant – in this case, the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron. Some initial data shows it may spread even faster but lead to less severe outcomes than what we went though in January and February. Germany, the U.K., and other countries throughout Europe could provide an interesting test case: After loosening COVID-19 restrictions, cases are on the rise there again. Will it force them back into stricter policies or will it mark a turning point in how countries tackle the pandemic?

Whenever the White House drops its testing requirements, it may not ditch them altogether. The Biden administration could change the rules to exempt fully vaccinated Americans and visitors from testing, but still require unvaccinated travelers to get a test.

That would mirror the actions other countries have taken in recent weeks. And it's a tact the Biden administration has taken before: Before the Omicron surge, the CDC briefly imposed a one-day testing window for unvaccinated Americans flying home from the U.S. while fully vaccinated citizens still had three days to get a test.

Whatever course they take, the days of testing in order to fly back home to the states may be numbered. Whenever it happens, it will be a landmark moment for travel.


Bottom Line

We're not public health officials and we're certainly not employees of the federal government. There's no telling exactly when these changes that many travelers have been waiting for will take place. Will it be a matter of days, weeks, or still months away?

The pandemic is not over, but it's undeniable which way the wind is blowing as countries around the globe drop or decrease travel restrictions.


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

11 Responses

  • The testing requirements for reentry for fully vaccinated people is ludicrous. I likely would not vote for Biden again if he doesnt act in this soon.

    He is losing everyone. Russia situation is no excuse.

  • This entire mask at airports and planes should be ended and if the US cared they would do QR codes for those that our fully vaccinated to pass this program. We arrived Costa Rica 3/8/22 we down loaded the health pass and had a QR code on our phone, easy and just showed our phone at Immigration. That’s why the lines are so terribly long due to all these things in place. We should our phone at a restaurant last nite and masked up until we were escorted to a table and then we could remove. Now we know where to go to get the test before going home but what a pain,

  • Nothing has kept international travel at bay more than this testing requirement. The stress of finding a test abroad – and, most importantly, the prospect of being forced to quarantine for a week or more in a foreign country – has scared many travelers off from a big international trip.
    This is 10000% accurate. Standing outside a farmacia in Rome awaiting a negative COVID test so I could travel back to my home country was one of the most stressful waiting periods in my 56-year life. It felt like I lost time off my life concerned about the result. International travel will NEVER recover until mask mandates and testing mandates are eliminated full stop.

    I have a Lufthansa biz class trip to Cape Town from Chicago via Frankfurt and I’m concerned the mask mandates will continue to be extended. This changes the entire equation of international travel…and dilutes a lot of the value of premium seating. It’s MISERABLE having a mask on for 24 straight hours…and trust me, I’ve done it…on a trip to Rome in October and now the trip to CPT is many hours longer. ARGH!

    Biden, eliminate the masks AND the testing NOW.

  • The disease was, is and always will be endemic. It was endemic from the start. Being so out of step from reality is just a total reflection of the current regime.
    Masking up to walk into a restaurant and then taking it off while sitting down. Does the vi-rus only travel at 5-6 feet above the ground? What’s the point of risking vax side effects like pericarditis, clots, strokes, etc. only to act as though it had no effect which the numbers clearly show it’s a failure.
    This has been such a farce.
    Get rid of the pointless stressful test. It didn’t work in the beginning or now.

  • There were never any “International Travel Testing Requirements” for people entering the US illegally.

    There are no international travel testing requirements for those driving to Mexico and Canada.

    The Biden Administration blindly accepts fake negative Covid tests from other countries, forcing US citizens to pay billions of dollars to non-US testing companies.

    This arbitrary rule has zero to do with the spread of the deadly Covid virus. It is merely another stupid bureaucratic imposition whose effect will never be measured or reported.

    And, no, I did not vote for Trump.

  • The testing requirement is meant to keep people with Covid from getting on YOUR plane. I’m not sure how anyone would be against that unless they are the one with Covid. In addition, a vaccinated traveler is just as able to carry and transmit the virus as an unvaccinated person. Stop acting like spoiled children.

    • David – Having a testing requirement for international return travel is horribly inconsistent with the fact that 100’s of 1,000’s are in ships that require no testing to return, in buses and cars that require no testing to return…NOT to mention that the virus is now endemic. It’s currently no more dangerous than the flu. Would you be for testing of flu vaccinated travelers to ride on YOUR plane with you? Bottom line we have to stop living in fear of something we now understand, have vaccines for, and anti viral agents against. It’s time to let the travel industry and all the countries it supports recover from not only the virus, but the lack of travel that in many cases hit them as hard or harder than did the virus. Fully vaccinated and boosted travelers should NOT be tested any longer prior to boarding planes to return to their home countries. Just like they are NOT in Canada, Australia, the UK, the EU and most of the rest of the world. We are once again behind the eight ball in terms of travel freedom.

  • I forgot to mention that test are 100% full proof, I have personally test positive one day on a PCR and negative the next while NOT having covid. IMHO, the only thing testing prevents is international travel for Americans…it has nothing to do with preventing the spread of covid.

  • You shouldn’t but you can fly with Covid from FL to NJ but you can’t fly home from Mexico without a one day test plus attestation and proof of vaccine etc. How does this make sense?! Masks on airlines should be optional and no more testing! If we got vaxed and boosted and we can take off the mask to eat and drink on the plane, why are we still doing this? It’s a money maker and political control. End the insanity, please.

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