Great news for those heading to the USA, with the government there confirming that pre-departure testing requirements will be relaxed from Sunday this week, meaning no PCR or ART swab test for those touching down from Sunday 12th June 2022 onwards.
While the test itself was inexpensive, costing Singapore residents from just S$9 via a Tele-ART service, up to around S$25 for a clinic-based test, the inconvenience and added complication of the process was the major issue for travellers.
For returning US Citizens, this policy change also removes the worry of testing positive before departure on the trip home, which has put many people off travelling overseas due to the fear of becoming unable to return as planned.
The news comes ahead of the peak summer holiday season, and also in time for many Singapore families taking advantage of the June school holiday period.
History of USA testing requirements
The USA has had a variety of travel restrictions, including testing, since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in March 2020. Here’s a summary:
- 14th March 2020
USA applied a travel ban for non-residents arriving from EU countries.
- 26th January 2021
USA began requiring pre-departure testing for all international arrivals, in the form of a PCR or ART test within three calendar days of departure.
- 8th November 2021
USA replaced travel bans for arrivals from specific countries with a vaccination requirement for all travellers aged 18+ arriving from overseas.
- 6th December 2021
USA tightened its pre-departure testing window to one calendar day before departure. PCR or ART tests still accepted.
- 12th June 2022
USA removes pre-departure testing requirement for travellers.
Since January 2021, all travellers aged two or above heading to the USA from overseas have been obliged to have a pre-departure COVID-19 test in order to check in for their flight, in the form of a PCR or professionally-administered or observed antigen (ART) test.
Initially you could take the test within three calendar days of your flight departure day (e.g. if departing on Thursday, you could test on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday).
However, the rules were tightened in early December 2021 over Omicron variant concerns, and the USA has since insisted on the test being completed within one calendar day of departure, in the form of:
- a PCR test within one day of departure; or
- an ART test within one day of departure.
Currently it means that if you’re departing for the USA on a Thursday, for example, you must test on either Wednesday or Thursday, but no earlier.
Departure refers to the timing of your flight to the USA, or the first flight in a series of flights to the USA booked as a single ticket with en-route connections, where transit times at intermediate airports are no longer than 24 hours.
New USA test requirements
If your departure to the USA is on or after 00:01 Eastern Time on Sunday 12th June 2022 (05:01 hours GMT, which is 12:01 hours Singapore time), no pre-departure test will be required.
The final flights from Singapore to the USA to still require pre-departure testing (by flight number) will be:
- SQ28 SIN-SEA at 09:00 on 11th June
- SQ34 SIN-SFO at 18:40 on 11th June
- SQ38 SIN-LAX at 20:45 on 11th June
- SQ26 SIN-FRA-JFK at 23:55 on 11th June
- SQ52 SIN-MAN-IAH at 02:05 on 12th June
- UA2 SIN-SFO at 08:45 on 12th June
- SQ32 SIN-SFO at 09:25 on 12th June
- SQ12 SIN-NRT-LAX at 09:25 on 12th June
- SQ24 SIN-JFK at 11:50 on 12th June
On the good news side, subsequent departures from Changi Airport with these flight numbers (and any others from 12:01pm Singapore time on 12th June) will not require any pre-departure testing.
The government in the USA has been under significant pressure in recent months to drop the pre-departure testing requirement.
Calls from industry lobby group IATA for the US Government to end pre-departure testing in early February this year apparently fell on deaf ears, but American Airlines CEO Robert Isom upped the ante last week, labelling the testing requirements “just nonsensical“.
Non-resident travellers departing from 12th June 2022 will still have to be fully vaccinated to fly to the USA, despite no pre-departure testing requirements.
There is no time limit on fully vaccinated status, nor is a booster dose required.
Children aged 17 and under are exempt from the vaccination requirement.
You will need a visa or an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) visa waiver to enter or transit the USA as a visitor. Unfortunately, the cost of an ESTA was recently hiked to around S$29.
All passengers will also still need to complete an Attestation Form before departure, and present it to the operating airline at check-in.
Land border arrivals
There’s no change to the requirements for travellers entering the USA by land or sea, which means a fully vaccinated requirement for non-residents, but also maintains no testing requirement at the land border or at ferry terminals.
For some weeks many have considered this a mockery of the (air) pre-departure testing system, since it has been possible to enter Canada and Mexico without a pre-departure test since 1st April 2022, then simply drive across the land border into the USA test-free.
Singapore – USA travel is now test-free
Singapore already dropped its own pre-departure test requirement for inbound travellers (i.e. those returning from USA in this case) from 26th April 2022, so the major benefit for our Singapore-based readers following this news is that travel to and from the USA will now be test-free in both directions.
This will reduce costs, especially for families, but most significantly will simplify travel planning, given the tight one-day testing timeframe currently imposed by the states.
COVID-19 testing requirements before departure for fully vaccinated travellers have now been dropped around the world, with a recent rush even in the laggard Asia-Pacific region.
It’s been almost incredulous to see the USA as one of the last western countries to reach to the conclusion that these tests serve little or no purpose, even after Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Australia and Indonesia have ditched the mandate.
Many travelers from the USA have postponed taking overseas trips simply because of this testing requirement, with the concern that they might become temporarily stranded if they test positive before their flight home.
Conversely, those heading to the USA have worried about testing positive just before their trips got underway, stifling demand while locations like Australia, Thailand and Europe are now test-free.
Finally the USA, which has been accepting test-free land border arrivals from Canada and Mexico for several weeks, has woken up and seen the “nonsensical” nature of its approach.
(Cover Photo: Umer Sayyam)