Jan 26, 2021

Mandatory COVID-19 Test Required for all International Air Travelers to the United States beginning January 26, 2021

According to an order by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all airline passengers ages two and above who are travelling to the United States from a foreign country must present either (1) a negative COVID-19 test result obtained within the last three days or (2) documentation of recovery from COVID and clearance to travel prior to boarding. The new requirements go into effect on January 26, 2021 and will remain in place through December 31, 2021, unless the order is rescinded or the COVID-19 national emergency ends earlier.

Who is affected by the rule?

All passengers travelling by aircraft to the United States ages two and older, including United States citizens and legal permanent residents (i.e. green card holders), are subject to the new pre-departure rule.

Certain airline crewmembers/operators and law enforcement personnel are exempt.

What documentation should travelers carry?

To comply with the new requirement, travelers should carry either:

  • A Qualifying Test: Results of a negative COVID-19 viral test[1] conducted within the last three (3) calendar days prior to departure[2]; or


  • Documentation of Recovery: Passengers who previously tested positive and recovered from the virus should carry documentation showing their positive viral test result and a letter from a licensed health care provider or public health official stating that the passenger has been cleared for travel.

Qualifying test or recovery documentation can be in either paper or electronic format. All personal identifiers (e.g. names and dates of birth) should match the passenger’s passport.

Prior to boarding a flight, passengers will be required to provide an attestation confirming that they have received a qualifying negative test result or otherwise have recovered and been cleared for travel. Travelers must retain their testing/recovery documentation for review by airline or government authorities upon request. Both passengers and airlines may be subject to criminal penalties for failing to comply with this new pre-departure rule.

To review the full order, FAQs and a sample passenger attestation, please visit the CDC website at

Does this new CDC rule replace the COVID-19 Travel Bans?

No. The new CDC pre-departure testing rule is separate from and in addition to the COVID-19 travel bans, which remain in effect indefinitely.

Although some COVID-19 travel bans were to be lifted this month, President Biden signed a proclamation reinstating those bans indefinitely. At this time, the 14 day travel ban for certain foreign nationals who were physically present in China, Iran, the European Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, Ireland or Brazil continue to be in place. A travel ban for South Africa will also become effective on January 30, 2021. Foreign nationals from these areas may still enter the US if they fall in one of the several exclusion or exemption categories, such as those in possession of an approved National Interest Exception (NIE).

If you have any travel questions or require assistance, please contact Chris De Los Reyes or any member of SGR’s Global Immigration & Mobility Practice Group.

[1] Viral test means a viral detection test for current infection (i.e., a nucleic acid amplification test or a viral antigen test) approved or authorized by the relevant national authority for the detection of SARS–CoV–2. A negative test result must state “NEGATIVE,’’ ‘‘SARS–CoV–2 RNA NOT DETECTED,’’ ‘‘SARS–CoV–2 ANTIGEN NOT DETECTED,’’or ‘‘COVID–19 NOT DETECTED.’’ A test marked ‘‘invalid’’ will not be accepted.

[2] If arriving via one or more connecting flights, the test must have been conducted within the three days before the initial flight so long as the flights were under a single booking and each connection is no longer than 24 hours.


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