Planning to fly into the U.S. soon? Be prepared for more stringent testing requirements.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is shortening the testing window all international air travelers have to take a pre-departure coronavirus test from three days to one. Previously, only unvaccinated travelers had to take a test no more than one day before travel.
The reduced timeframe aims to “provide less opportunity to develop infection with the omicron variant prior to arrival in the United States,” according to the updated CDC order.
U.S. airlines have been asked to collect contact-tracing information for inbound international travelers and send it to the CDC “upon request” since Nov. 8, when the country adopted a new set of international travel restrictions.
The information collected includes names, addresses, phone numbers, emails and dates of birth.
Here’s what international travelers should know about the new testing requirements:
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When do the new rules go into effect?
The new rules went into effect Monday and affect all air passengers 2 years and older flying into the U.S. from a foreign county, regardless of vaccination status or nationality. Travelers who can show proof that they have recovered from COVID-19 in the past 90 days are exempt.
What sort of test can I take to fly into the US?
Travelers must take a viral test, which includes antigen tests and nucleic acid amplification tests such as:
- reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests
- reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP) tests
- transcription-mediated amplification (TMA) tests
- nicking enzyme amplification reaction (NEAR) tests
- helicase-dependent amplification (HDA) tests.
Tests must be authorized for use in the country it was administered, according to the CDC.
While PCR tests are popular, results can take days to return. Albert Ko, a public health professor at Yale, suggests travelers take rapid tests accepted by the CDC to ensure they get their results back in time.
Since testing options vary by country, “my advice would be to scope this out really well,” Ko said.
Some countries offer rapid testing at local pharmacies. Travelers can also find them inside airports, but Ko warns that these tests – while convenient – can be more expensive.
Ko himself is set to travel to Brazil this week and plans to pack an at-home rapid antigen test he can use to return to the U.S.
For those who want to find out more about their testing options, airline websites can be a useful tool. Many international carriers offer information on testing requirements and where to find testing centers overseas.
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Why is the order one day and not 24 hours?
The one-day period offers more flexibility than a 24-hour time limit and allows travelers to take a test any time the day before departure. For example, travelers with a 5 p.m. flight on a Friday can board with a negative test taken at 8 a.m. on Thursday.
Do I need to take another test after arrival?
The CDC recommends all inbound air passengers get another viral test three to five days after arrival, and says unvaccinated travelers should quarantine for seven days after travel.
Do I need to wear a mask on the plane?
Yes. The federal mask mandate, which requires travelers to mask up on airplanes, trains, buses and in airports and train stations, was extended through March 18.
Travelers who refuse to wear masks may face fines ranging from a minimum of $500 to $3,000 for repeat offenders, although the mandate does carve out exemptions for travelers under the age of 2 and people with certain disabilities.
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Follow USA TODAY reporter Bailey Schulz on Twitter: @bailey_schulz.