CDC Tightens COVID Testing Requirement to Enter U.S.

AP Photo/Taimy Alvarez

Beginning on Monday, Dec. 6, COVID-19 testing requirements will become more stringent for travelers entering the United States, in accordance with an amended order that was announced by the CDC on Thursday.


The amended order:

prohibits the boarding of any passenger – 2 years of age or older – on any aircraft destined to the United States from a foreign country unless the passenger … Presents paper or digital documentation of one of the following requirements:

(i) A negative pre-departure viral test result for SARS-CoV-2 conducted on a specimen collected no more than 1 calendar day before the flight’s departure from a foreign country


(ii) Documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 in the past 90 days …”

The new requirement is an amendment to the pre-existing order that took effect last January, which gave travelers a full three days prior to their departure to acquire the necessary testing and documentation. But now, starting on Monday, people will need to add a visit to a testing site to their last-minute errands before departing for the United States. Many major airports have testing centers on site, which will likely become crowded as more people opt to simply get tested as part of their travel. Some large pharmacy chains also provide testing and digital certification of the results required for travel.

Travelers can pre-schedule their test online. They will need to show their passport and flight information at the time of testing. Results are typically emailed to the traveler within an hour after testing (for an antigen test) in the form of a digital certificate. Passengers will then need to show this digital certificate to airline officials, along with their boarding pass and ID, in order to board their flights.


Travelers are responsible for the cost of their test, although some insurance companies will reimburse them. Tests can cost anywhere from around $20 to several hundred dollars.

Illogically, the amended order only applies to people traveling to the U.S. by air. Anyone entering the country over a land border or via a seaport is exempt from the requirement (because, you know, COVID can only be carried into the country via air travel or something). Thus, the U.S. outsources the job of enforcing its rule to the airlines that provide travel into the country, which must prohibit passengers without proof of a negative COVID test or recovery from infection from boarding planes.

Related: Three Teens Who Escaped From Aussie COVID Camp All Have One Thing in Common, and It’s Not the Virus

Americans planning to travel abroad should also check ahead to see what COVID requirements are currently in place in their destination country. Restrictions vary widely by country and can include required proof of a recent negative COVID test, bans on persons who are traveling from or have recently visited certain countries, quarantine requirements, and borders closed to all but their own citizens.

Naturally, people entering the United States illegally continue to be exempt from federal COVID restrictions.


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