US lifts travel ban, welcomes vaccinated international tourists

November 8, 2021
Vehicles lined up to cross the border at the San Ysidro crossing port on the Mexico-United States border in Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico, as the U.S border reopened for nonessential travel on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021.


A rush of international travelers is headed toward the United States border today as the COVID-19 travel ban ended and people from dozens of countries begin flooding in, more than 600 days since they were barred from entry.

That’s more than 86 weeks. Nearly 20 months. Enough time for grandchildren to be born, or for couples to lose track of the number of nights they fell asleep to Facetime calls with their partner. Long enough to lose hope in a U.S. vacation or honeymoon after having to delay plans over and over again. 

Long lines began forming at the Canadian and Mexican borders well before daybreak, and eager travelers boarded flights from Europe, including dueling departures from London’s Heathrow. 

The new U.S. entry requirements require foreign air passengers to test negative for the virus before boarding a plane to the country and, if they are 18 or older, show proof of full vaccination. Travelers entering the U.S. on land or by ferry for nonessential reasons must need to show proof of vaccination. 

It’s a long-awaited moment for travelers from more than 30 countries. The U.S. initiated its first COVID-related travel ban on China in February 2020. By the end of March, it added travel bans on the United Kingdom, Ireland, Iran, and 26 countries in the European Schengen Area. Brazil, India and South Africa were later added to the list.

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► US drops travel ban Nov. 8:Expect bottlenecks at airports under strict entry rules

Mexican border busy

At the El Paso-Juarez land border’s Bridge of the Americas, passenger vehicles stretched about a mile into Juárez as thousands waited to cross. Dozens more walked over the Paso del Norte bridge, visas in hand. The border had been closed to tourists or people visiting family, although a wide variety of essential workers had been permitted to cross during the closure.

The crossing reopened at just after midnight Eastern time.

Alicia Tagle, 60, clutched a clear plastic folder full of documents. She said she was going to request an I-94 permit to see her sister in Colorado. Tonight she’d stay with an aunt who lives near Montana Avenue and Raynor Street in El Paso.

“I am so happy,” she said. “My aunt is just waiting for us to call her when we cross.”

Cross-border traffic of essential travelers between El Paso and Juárez reached nearly 800,000 crossings of passenger vehicles in August, according to the Border Region Modeling Project at the University of Texas at El Paso. 

“Nobody anticipated that this pandemic would last as long as it has, in terms of travel restrictions,” said Hector Mancha, U.S. Customs and Border Protection director of field operations in El Paso. “People have not crossed over and visited with family in going on two years… Unfortunately, the pandemic has kept us from (reopening). I think it’s overdue.” 

— Lauren Villagran, El Paso Times 

Dueling takeoffs from London to New York

The first passengers headed from London to New York since the travel ban lifted at midnight Monday are in the air. 

British Airways Flight 1 and Virgin Atlantic Flight 3 took off at 3:51 a.m. ET on parallel runways from London’s Heathrow Airport, according to flight trackers FlightAware and Flightradar24.

The airlines are rivals but teamed up to commemorate the reopening of foreign travel to the U.S.

Giles English,co-founder of luxury British watchmaker Bremont tweeted a photo of the takeoff from his window seat on the British Airways flight.

The flights are due to arrive at the John F. Kennedy International Airport before lunchtime in New York. British Airways CEO Sean Doyle, who repeatedly pushed for an end to the travel ban, is on the airline’s first flight to New York.

— Dawn Gilbertson, USA TODAY

Headed to Disney World

For UK resident Emma Barbour and her family, the border reopening means one thing: Florida’s Disney World with their 10-year-old daughter.

They usually come annually, but put those plans on hold after 2019, and rescheduled this trip three times as they waited for the Biden administration to lift the ban. Barbour, 41, said the airports were busy but staff seemed cheerful despite long lines.

“We honestly wouldn’t travel if we felt unsafe or nervous, we are fully vaccinated and will wear our masks. I definitely won’t let it tarnish our time there by worrying about it,” she said from Paris as they waited to board their Atlanta-bound flight.

— Eve Chen, USA TODAY

Lines begin at the Canada-US border

Windsor, Ontario, Mayor Drew Dilkens said a Canadian travel requirement – having negative polymerase chain reaction test that can cost $200 – is likely to prevent many who want to drive from Ontario to Michigan from doing so.

He explained the testing provision doesn’t make sense for day trippers nor does it provide the kind of health assurance the government thinks it does because someone could easily contract the virus during their visit.

He wants to see that requirement lifted.

— Frank Witsil, Detroit Free Press

How did the international travel ban start?

The travel ban barred most foreign nationals who had been in the listed counties in the past 14 days from entering the U.S., regardless of vaccination status. The country also cut off nonessential travel across the U.S. land borders with Mexico and China in March 2020. 

It wasn’t until September that the White House announced that it would end the travel ban for fully vaccinated travelers – months after many other nations reopened to U.S. tourists. 

The new U.S. entry requirements, which went into effect Monday, require foreign air passengers to test negative for the virus before boarding a plane to the country and, if they are 18 or older, show proof of full vaccination. Travelers entering the U.S. on land or by ferry for nonessential reasons also need to show proof of vaccination. 

As airports and border crossings get adjusted to the new travel rules, international travelers should prepare for lines.

The first flight from a country listed the travel ban is set to fly into Chicago from Dublin just before 7 a.m. CT, according to flight tracker Flight Aware and flight-data firm OAG.

Plenty more will follow; there are more than 2 million international flights scheduled to arrive in the U.S. next month, compared to just 728,820 in December of 2020, according to OAG and Flight Aware.

— Bailey Schulz, USA TODAY

► US drops travel ban:Expect bottlenecks at airports under strict entry rules


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