Negative COVID-19 Test Requirement for All Travelers to the United States — including U.S. citizens

January 13, 2021 | Flights From Home

On January 12, 2021, the CDC issued an order requiring all passengers traveling to the United States from a foreign country to present a negative COVID-19 test for entry — including U.S. citizens. This new requirement will likely make international travel a little more complicated for U.S. citizens when they return home.

This order goes into effect on January 26, 2021. You can check out this link to read the official media statement issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If you have international travel plans, this is a great time to prepare. This new requirement poses a new challenge that we want to make easier for you to navigate. If you need further information about how to get tested in a foreign country, you can check out this resource we created in partnership with Pomelo Travel about how to find COVID-19 testing sites in foreign countries.

If you are planning to travel overseas and to return to the U.S., you should contact your airline for specific information about testing requirements for travelers. Because airlines may adopt and modify their own specific policies to implement the CDC’s new rule, you should contact the carrier for your U.S.-bound flight and not rely on information from other carriers or information or experience from previous trips.

If you would prefer not to deal with the new travel requirement and reschedule your travel plans, many airlines are currently allowing travelers to change flight plans without incurring any change fees (though difference in airfare may apply).

Below is a list of frequently asked questions regarding the new COVID-19 testing policy — 

When does this policy go into effect?
January 26, 2021

Do children have to be tested?
Passengers 2 years of age and older including U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents are required to test.

When should you get tested and what type of test is required?
You must take a NAAT (nucleic acid amplification test) or viral antigen COVID-19 test within 72 hours of your departing flight. You will need the results of your test in order to board your flight.

If I recently had COVID what do I do?
Directly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website: “The CDC does not recommend getting tested again in the three months after a positive viral test, as long as you do not have symptoms of COVID-19. If you have had a positive viral test in the past 3 months, and you have met the criteria to end isolation, you may travel instead with documentation of your positive viral test results and a letter from your healthcare provider or a public health official that states you have been cleared for travel. The positive test result and letter together are referred to as ‘documentation of recovery.’”

Once I receive the results, who do I give them to at the airport?
You will be required to present your results at the airport to board your plane. You should present your results to any airline crew member requesting them.

What should I do if I test positive?
You will have to self isolate and delay traveling until you can provide a negative test result.

What documentation do I need?
Passengers must have a paper or electronic copy of their test results. This documentation might also be reviewed upon arrival in the US.

What happens if you have connecting flights to the US?
The testing requirement applies to all flights to the US including connecting flights.

“If you are arriving to the US via one or more connecting flights, your test must be done in the 3 days before the first flight in your itinerary, but only if the connecting flights were booked as a single passenger record with a final destination in the US and each connection (layover) is no longer than 24 hours long. If your connecting flight to the US was booked separately or a connection in your itinerary lasts longer than 24 hours, you will need to get tested within the 3 days before your flight that arrives in the US.”

Passengers on flights that enter the US, even connecting flights, will be required to test before departure.

I’ve had the COVID-19 vaccine, is a negative COVID-19 test or documentation of recovery required?
Yes, all passengers traveling to the U.S. must provide a negative COVID test result or documentation of recovery — even if vaccinated.

What happens if I don’t have the right documentation?
Airlines will deny boarding to any passengers without the right documentation.

When does this order end?
The CDC has not released an end date to the new travel requirement.

If I am traveling from Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands back to the United States, do I need to be tested to re-enter?
No, U.S. territories are exempt from the new requirement, though there are currently testing mandates in place in order to enter each of these territories. Refer to our partner post about international travel requirements for more information.

Does this apply to me if I am driving across the border from an international country entering the United States?
No, this order is specific to air travel passengers only.


If you have additional questions about the new requirement for air passengers entering the United States, you can visit the CDC’s webpage for international air travelers.