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December 21, 2021

Current Rules and Regulations for Entering the United States During the COVID-19 Pandemic

This guide is specifically for entrance into the US and covers both land-border entry and air-travel entry. Beginning with land-travel regulations, if traveling for an essential reason, neither US citizens nor non-US persons need to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination. Those under 18 years old are exempt from the vaccine requirements as well.

The definition of “essential travel” includes, but is not limited to :

  • Citizens and lawful permanent residents returning to the United States
  • Individuals traveling for medical purposes 
  • Individuals traveling to attend educational institutions
  • Individuals traveling to work in the United States 
  • Individuals traveling for emergency response and public health purposes 
  • Individuals engaged in lawful cross-border trade 
  • Individuals engaged in official government travel or diplomatic travel
  • Individuals engaged in military-related travel or operations

Beginning in early January 2022, the Department of Homeland Security will require all inbound non-US persons crossing land or ferry ports of entry (POEs) whether for essential or nonessential reasons to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and provide proof of the vaccine.

Travelers who are non-US persons embarking on nonessential travel should be prepared with the following:

  • Proof of an approved COVID-19 vaccination
  • Ability to verbally attest to their travel intent and COVID-19 vaccination status during the border inspection
  • A Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) compliant document, such as a passport, visa, enhanced driver license, etc. (For the full list of WHTI complaint documents, visit the US Customs and Border Protection website, here.)

Accepted COVID-19 Vaccines2

Vaccines Approved or Authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration Vaccines Listed for Emergency Use (EUL) by the World Health Organization
Single Dose
  • Janssen/J&J
Two-Dose Series
  • Pfizer-BioNTech
  • Moderna
  • Pfizer-BioNTech
  • Moderna
  • AstraZeneca
  • Covaxin
  • Covishield
  • BIBP/Sinopharm
  • Sinovac

Individuals are considered fully vaccinated—for both air and nonessential land travel—to the United States:

  • Two weeks (14 days) after their dose of an accepted single-dose vaccine
  • Two weeks (14 days) after their second dose of an accepted two-dose series
  • Two weeks (14 days) after they received the full series of an accepted COVID-19 vaccine (not placebo) in a clinical trial
  • Two weeks (14 days) after they received the full series of a Novavax (or Covovax) COVID-19 vaccine (not placebo) in a phase three clinical trial
  • Two weeks (14 days) after they received 2 doses of any “mix-and-match” combination of accepted COVID-19 vaccines administered at least 17 days apart*

If individuals don’t meet these requirements, they are not considered fully vaccinated. Individuals should keep taking all precautions until they are fully vaccinated. 

If individuals have a medical condition that weakens their immune system or are taking medication that weakens their immune system, they might not be fully protected even if they are fully vaccinated. These individuals should talk to their health care provider. Even after vaccination, they may need to continue taking all precautions

*The CDC has not recommended the use of mix-and-match COVID-19 vaccine primary series. However, these strategies are increasingly common in many countries outside of the United States. Therefore, for the purpose of interpreting vaccination records for travel to the United States, the CDC will accept combinations of accepted COVID-19 vaccines.3 

Acceptable proof of a COVID-19 Vaccination

Documentation Type Examples
Verifiable Records (Digital or Paper) Vaccination certificate with QR code1, digital pass via smartphone application with QR code1 (e.g., United Kingdom National Health Service COVID Pass, European Union Digital COVID Certificate)
Nonverifiable Paper Records Printout of COVID-19 vaccination record or a COVID-19 vaccination certificate issued at national or subnational level or by an authorized vaccine provider (e.g., the CDC vaccination card)
Nonverifiable Digital Records Digital photos of vaccination card or record, downloaded vaccine record or vaccination certificate from official source (e.g., public health agency, government agency, or other authorized vaccine provider), or a mobile phone application without QR code1


1. The QR code in a verifiable vaccination record links to information confirming the credential was generated from an immunization record in an official database and is protected from tampering.4 

Air Travel Regulations5 

Before you fly you must:

  • Show proof of being fully vaccinated 
    • Non-US persons only
  • Show a negative COVID-19 test
    • If fully vaccinated, you must produce a negative COVID-19 test result no more than three days before air travel.
    • If not fully vaccinated, you must produce a negative COVID-19 test result no more than one day before air travel.

Some exceptions to the vaccine rule include6 :

  • Persons on diplomatic or official government travel
  • Children under 18 years old
  • Persons with documented medical contraindications to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine
  • Participants in certain COVID-19 vaccine trials
  • Persons issued a humanitarian or emergency exception
  • Persons with valid visas [excluding B-1 (business) or B-2 (tourism) visas] who are citizens of a foreign country with limited COVID-19 vaccine availability
  • Members of the US Armed Forces or their spouses or children (under 18 years old)

List of Foreign Countries With Limited COVID-19 Vaccine Availability 
(Current Through October 25, 2021)7 

  • Afghanistan
  • Algeria
  • Angola
  • Armenia
  • Benin
  • Burkina Faso
  • Burundi
  • Cameroon
  • Central African Republic
  • Chad
  • Congo
  • Cote d’Ivoire
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Djibouti
  • Egypt
  • Eritrea
  • Ethiopia
  • Gabon
  • Gambia
  • Ghana
  • Guinea
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • Haiti
  • Iraq
  • Kenya
  • Kiribati
  • Liberia
  • Libya
  • Madagascar
  • Malawi
  • Mali
  • Mozambique
  • Myanmar
  • Namibia
  • Nicaragua
  • Niger
  • Nigeria
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Senegal
  • Sierra Leone
  • Solomon Islands
  • Somalia
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan
  • Syrian Arab Republic
  • Togo
  • Uganda
  • United Republic of Tanzania
  • Vanuatu
  • Yemen
  • Zambia

These rules and regulations and information are likely to continue to shift, with the unknowable nature of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. If you have questions about the most up-to-date information regarding international travel, please contact an attorney on Barclay Damon’s Canada-US Cross-Border Team.

Frequently Asked Questions: Guidance for Travelers to Enter the U.S., US Department of Homeland Security, updated November 23, 2021, accessed December 21, 2021, 
2 Requirement for Proof of COVID-19 Vaccination for Air Passengers, CDC, updated December 17, 2021, accessed December 21, 2021,
3 U.S. Citizens, U.S. Nationals, U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents, and Immigrants: Travel to and from the United States, CDC, updated December 21, 2021, accessed December 21, 2021,
4 Requirement for Proof of COVID-19 Vaccination for Air Passengers, CDC, updated December 17, 2021, accessed December 21, 2021, 
Requirement for Proof of COVID-19 Vaccination for Air Passengers, CDC, updated December 17, 2021, accessed December 21, 2021,
6 Requirement for Proof of COVID-19 Vaccination for Air Passengers, CDC, updated December 17, 2021, accessed December 21, 2021,
7 Technical Instructions for Implementing Presidential Proclamation Advancing Safe Resumption of Global Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic and CDC’s Order, Quarantine, CDC, accessed December 21, 2021, 

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