Updated COVID Testing Requirement for Travelers to U.S.


Effective December 6, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued an Order imposing a one-day COVID-19 testing requirement for international air travelers over age two coming to the United States.  Regardless of vaccination status, any individual coming to the United States must show a negative pre-departure COVID-19 viral test taken the day before they board their flight to the United States.  This requirement applies to all travelers–U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and foreign nationals. You must show your negative result to the airline before you board your flight. 

If you recently recovered from COVID-19, you may continue to test positive for up to 90 days after infection. So instead of presenting negative test results, you may travel with documentation of recovery from COVID-19 (i.e., your positive COVID-19 viral test result on a sample taken no more than 90 days before the flight’s departure from a foreign country, and a letter from a licensed healthcare provider or a public health official stating that you have met the criteria to end isolation and were cleared to travel). 

Air passengers will also need to confirm in the form of an “attestation” collected by the airlines that the information they present is true. (For a sample attestation, see here.)


The Order Applies to International Air Travel Only

This Order does not apply to land border crossings or persons arriving at seaports. Nor does the requirement apply to travelers to the United States from a U.S. territory (American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands).

What Types of SARS-CoV-2 Test Are Acceptable?

You must be tested with a viral test that could be either an antigen test or a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT). Examples of available NAATs for SARS-CoV-2 include but are not restricted to:

  • reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR)
  • reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP)
  • transcription-mediated amplification (TMA)
  • nicking enzyme amplification reaction (NEAR)
  • helicase-dependent amplification (HDA).

The test used must be authorized for use by the relevant national authority for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 in the country where the test is administered.

For country-specific information about testing, see U.S. Embassy’s website. For example:

Your airlines may also make available information about test sites.

Rapid tests are acceptable if they meet the above requirements.

Self-tests are only acceptable if the procedure includes real-time supervision by a telehealth service affiliated with the manufacturer.

For U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) personnel, including DOD contractors, dependents, and other U.S. government employees, a viral test by a DOD laboratory located in a foreign country also meets the requirements of the Order.

Why Is Considered “1 Day” Before Flight Departure?

By using a 1-day window, test acceptability does not depend on the time of the flight or the time of day that the test sample was taken. For example, if your flight is at 1pm on a Friday, you could board with a negative test that was taken any time on the prior Thursday.

What If I Have Connecting Flights to Get to the U.S.?

If you have connecting flights to get to the U.S., you may be tested within 1 day before departure of the first flight. You also have the option of getting tested en route during one of your connections, if airport testing is available.

What If My Flight Is Delayed Past the 1-Day Limit for Testing?

If the first flight in your trip is delayed past the 1-day limit of testing due to a situation outside of your control (e.g., delays because of severe weather or aircraft mechanical problem), and that delay is 24 hours or less past the 1-day limit for testing, you do not need to be retested. If the delay is more than 24 hours past the 1-day limit, then you will need to be retested.

If a connecting flight in your trip is delayed past the 1-day limit of testing due to a situation outside of your control, and that delay is less than 48 hours past the 1-day limit for testing, you do not need to be retested. If the delay is more than 48 hours past the 1-day limit, then you will need to be retested.

What Information Must Be Included in the Test Result?

A test result must be in the form of written documentation (paper or digital copy). The documentation must include:

  1. Type of test (indicating it is a NAAT or antigen test)
  2. Entity issuing the result (e.g., laboratory, healthcare entity, or telehealth service)
  3. Sample collection date
    • A negative test result must show the sample was taken no more than 1 day before the flight.
    • A positive test result for documentation of recovery from COVID-19 must show the sample was taken within the 90 days before the flight.
  4. Information that identifies the person (full name plus at least one other identifier such as date of birth or passport number)
  5. Test result

Before boarding a flight to the U.S., you will need to show a paper or digital copy of your test result for review by the airline and for review upon request by public health officials after you arrive in the U.S.

If test results are not in English, check with your airlines to be sure they can read the foreign language test results.

Keep Your Test Results

You are required to retain a paper or digital copy of your negative test results or documentation of recovery for the entirety of your itinerary as federal public health officials may request to see these documents at the port of entry. State, territorial, tribal and/or local health departments in the United States may also request them under their own public health authorities.

How Do I Apply for a Humanitarian Exemption to the Testing Requirement?

CDC may grant a humanitarian exemption in very limited circumstances only when an individual must travel to the United States to preserve health (e.g., emergency medical evacuations) or safety (e.g., violence) and is unable to access or complete the testing requirement before travel. For more information, see Requirement for Proof of Negative COVID-19 Test or Documentation of Recovery from COVID-19 | CDC.

What if I Have Tested Positive and Need Medical Evacuation to the United States?

See Requirement for Proof of Negative COVID-19 Test or Documentation of Recovery from COVID-19 | CDC

Actions to Take

  • If you are a client of our firm, we are available to review your test results and answer related questions
  • Consult the CDC website for the most up-to-date information.  
  • For information on what you can do to reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19, please see the CDC’s latest recommendations.  
  • Visit the COVID-19 crisis page on travel.state.gov for country-specific information related to COVID-19.  
  • Check with your airlines, cruise lines, or travel operators regarding any updated information about your travel plans and/or restrictions, including potential COVID vaccine or testing requirements for countries you are transiting through
  • What Happens if You Test Positive While Traveling (N.Y. Times)

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