United States Will Require Pre-Departure COVID Testing From 26 January

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The United States has finally caught up with a significant number of other major nations (you know you’re doing badly when you’re behind the UK!) and has announced that it will require all travelers wishing to enter the country to show proof of a negative COVID test before they embark on their journey.

An order issued by the US Center For Disease Control (CDC) says the following:

[T]his Notice and Order prohibit the introduction into the United States of any aircraft passenger departing from any foreign country unless that passenger: (1) has a negative pre-departure test result for SARS-Co V-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 (Qualifying Test); or (2) written or electronic documentation of recovery from COVID-19 after previous SARS-Co V-2 infection in the form of a positive viral test result and a letter from a licensed healthcare provider or public health official stating that the passenger has been cleared for travel (Documentation of Recovery).

The order defines a viral test as “a viral detection test for current infection (i.e., a nucleic acid amplification test or viral antigen test) approved or authorized by the relevant national authority for the detection of SARS-Co V-2″.

As we’ve seen with the rules surrounding pre-departure testing that other counties have introduced, the US rules require that any pre-departure COVID test is taken within 3 calendar days of departure. The US rules surrounding who is required to take a pre-departure test are a little stricter than we’ve seen some nations impose as they require everyone of two years of age or older to present a negative test result.

No exceptions are being made for US citizens or permanent residents, but some exemptions are being made. Specifically, the following categories of people will not have to provide evidence of a negative COVID test before traveling to the United States:

  • Crew members of airlines or other aircraft operators (provided they follow industry standard protocols for the prevention of COVID-19)
  • Airlines or other aircraft operators transporting passengers with COVID-19 (with CDC authorization and in line with CDC guidelines)
  • Federal law enforcement personnel while on official duty and carrying out a law enforcement function.
  • Members of the US military (when traveling under orders)
  • Airlines or other aircraft operators granted specific waivers based on the CDC’s determination that a foreign country lacks testing capacity.

As the order refers specifically to departures “from a foreign country“, travelers arriving directly from US territories are also exempt.


This order would appear to be more about trying (possibly too late) to prevent new and more virulent strains of the coronavirus from entering the United States.

The US has one of the highest rates of infection in the world so introducing a requirement for pre-departure testing in the 11th month of the pandemic is more than a little pointless if the only aim is to prevent people with the “original” coronavirus from entering the country.

A few weeks ago, we saw the US introduce mandatory pre-departure COVID testing for travelers originating in the UK following that country’s discovery of a new and highly virulent form of the coronavirus in its population. That was clearly a measure taken to tackle the spread of that particular strain but since then, that new strain as well as other new strains, have been detected in multiple countries around the world so if the US is keen to limit the spread of those viruses into its population, a requirement for all arriving travelers to have proof of a negative test makes some sense.

Unfortunately, however, this may be too little too late. Colorado has already recorded evidence of a new variant of the coronavirus (the UK variant) as far back as 30 December so the new strain is already in the population and is almost certainly spreading rapidly.

Bottom Line

From 26 January 2021, passengers traveling to the United States will have to provide evidence of a negative COVID test or evidence that they have recovered from SARS-Co V-2.


  1. […] Note: If you’re considering making a booking for travel outside of the United States make sure you check what your chosen destination’s current entry rules are (you’ll almost certainly need to show proof of a negative Covid test), and keep in mind that most people will need to show proof of a negative Covid test in order to travel back to the US. […]

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