There’s good news for those travelling to the USA from later this month, with the country finally eliminating its vaccination requirement for foreign travellers entering from overseas, returning travel to pre-pandemic norms for those arriving from 12th May 2023.
This will coincide with the downgrade of COVID-19 from its current “public health emergency” status in the USA, effective from the same date.
The current vaccination requirement for international arriving travellers was adopted in October 2021, alongside mandatory pre-departure testing, but the latter was thankfully dropped in June 2022.
Vaccination requirement ends 12th May 2023
Currently all non-US citizens aged 18 or over entering the country via air must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, in accordance with a definition by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This effectively means you must have been fully vaccinated at least 14 days prior to departure, with a full primary vaccination course (typically two doses) or a single dose of the new Moderna or Pfizer bivalent vaccines.
Since it is not always possible to check whether a bivalent vaccine was administered, the CDC accepts any Pfizer or Moderna vaccine administered on or after 16th August 2022 as a bivalent version (i.e. single dose is acceptable).
A single dose of these vaccines prior to 16th August 2022 is not considered fully vaccinated.
Those under 18 can enter without a vaccination record, but they still need to take a COVID-19 test within three to five days of arriving in the USA, unless they have documentation proving recovery from COVID-19 in the past 90 days. That said – no one checks whether you actually do this!
From 12th May 2023, there will be no pre-departure COVID-19 health requirements for non-US citizens travelling to the USA.
Currently, even proof of a negative pre-departure COVID-19 test is not sufficient for non-nationals to travel to the USA by air, so this is a welcome relaxation for many people.
It only applied to visitors
One of the oddest things about the vaccination requirement for travellers heading to the USA is that it only applied to foreigners.
That meant (and still currently means) that millions of unvaccinated Americans can travel freely to most countries including Singapore, Australia and the UK and return home without any additional requirements, but that unvaccinated tourists visiting the USA effectively remain barred from entry until 12th May 2023.
It is certainly a strange (and seemingly unscientific) approach, since the virus surely doesn’t care about your nationality!
The attestation form will be scrapped
Currently, all non-US citizens aged two and older must complete an Attestation Form before departure, confirming they are vaccinated against COVID-19 or except from the policy (e.g. medically ineligible).
Passengers who do not complete the attestation form are currently not allowed to board.
Thankfully the attestation form will cease to be a requirement from 12th May 2023, meaning you’ll no longer have a form to complete and present at the check-in desk before you travel to the USA from that date.
This should significantly simplify the check-in process for flights to the USA, and will probably allow airlines like SIA and Qatar Airways to extend early check-in benefits at Jewel Changi Airport to those flying to destinations like San Francisco and New York (currently, this is not available due to the manual check process).
The USA took a long time to get here
The USA had remained a strange holdout around the world, by maintaining a vaccine mandate for overseas travellers arriving in or transiting through the country as visitors, with almost all other major countries scrapping all COVID-19 entry requirements during the last year or so.
The UK, for example, lifted all its COVID-related travel requirements well over a year ago, in March 2022, with Australia following suit in July last year and most Asian countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Japan and Vietnam also dropping all pandemic-related entry requirements.
Even bordering Canada scrapped its vaccination requirement for travellers back in October 2022.
Earlier this year, in February 2023, Singapore removed its requirement for unvaccinated travellers entering the country to complete a pre-departure COVID-19 test, nor purchase travel insurance covering COVID-19 if they didn’t want to, ending its final pandemic-related entry measure.
That has left the USA as a strange outlier compared to other large economies, so it’s great to see that sanity has finally prevailed and travel to the country will become much more straightforward again.
The ESTA is now more expensive
One thing that hasn’t changed about travel to the USA is the requirement for most visitors to hold an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), applicable to inbound tourists from 40 countries, including Singapore and Australia.
Unfortunately the price for an ESTA was increased on 26th May 2022 by 50% from US$14 (S$19) to US$21 (S$29), with less than two days notice provided.
An ESTA continues to be valid for multiple entries (up to 90 days per trip) to the USA over a two-year period, so if you already have an approved and valid ESTA you do not have to re-apply yet, but you will face the increased fee once you need a new one.
Other countries still requiring vaccination
On the Singapore Airlines route network, only Indonesia still has full vaccination against COVID-19 as a prerequisite for travellers, with the exception of Indonesian nationals, those aged 17 or under, or those with a recovery certificate.
It’s also worth noting that travel to the Philippines, Myanmar and Nepal if you are not fully vaccinated is only permitted if you also have a negative pre-departure COVID-19 test result.
The USA is finally scrapping its requirement for non-nationals to be fully vaccinated in order to travel to the country from 12th May 2023.
This will make the process simpler for all non-nationals heading to the country, with no more attestation form to complete and show to your airline before departure.
It has been surprising to see the USA cling on to this requirement for so long (like it did with testing before that), given that almost all other major countries have long abandoned all COVID-19 entry restrictions.
For those who didn’t get vaccinated, it will also represent the first opportunity to travel to the country since October 2021.
It leaves Indonesia as the only country on the Singapore Airlines network mandating full vaccination against COVID-19 as a prerequisite for visitors.
(Cover Photo: Shutterstock)