After being closed (or partly closed) for almost 3 years, and once the center of the pandemic, the worst seems to be finally behind us. New York is once again busy, bustling, and open for business. But as if traveling wasn’t stressful enough in the first place, COVID has (and continues to for now) changed the rules of air travel. We help you to make sense of all the various COVID regulations and requirements, in order to have a smooth, convenient, and safe travel experience to New York.
The basic rules: testing requirements for air travel
As of December 6 2021, when the Center for Disease Control Amended its previous COVID-19 order for air travel, the rules are quite simple and straightforward for international travelers to the US. If you’re traveling from abroad into the States, you’ll need a negative COVID-19 viral test result from no more than 1 day before your flight’s departure to the US, regardless of your vaccination status or citizenship. This rule applies to all passengers aged two or older, and you’ll be asked to present the negative result to the airline before boarding.
Sometimes, those who have recently recovered from COVID-19 may continue to still test positive despite having already fully recovered. For this reason, those who have recently recovered also have the option to travel instead with documentation proving their recovery from COVID-19. In concrete terms, this means a positive COVID-19 viral test result on a sample taken no more than 90 days before the flight’s departure from a foreign country, as well as a letter from a licensed healthcare provider or a public health official stating that they were cleared to travel.
In addition, all international travelers are required to confirm through an attestation form that the information they present is true. But don’t worry, this isn’t as scary as it sounds – your airline will provide the written passenger attestation form to you, and collect it before you board.
Types of tests
A commonly asked question is what types of COVID-19 tests are accepted. The CDC has stated that you must be tested with a viral test to look for current infection – these include an antigen test or a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) – and the test must be authorized for use in the country where it was administered. This means that a rapid test is acceptable if it is indeed a viral test that meets the CDC requirements. Self-tests are also acceptable provided they meet several CDC criteria – so it may be safer to just go with a regular test.
Another common question from those arriving from abroad is the language of proof. Airlines and aircraft operators have to be able to confirm the test result and proof of vaccination and review other required information, and should determine when translation is necessary for these purposes. So if your documents are not in English, make sure you check with your airline or aircraft operator before travel.
If you were confused by the specific 1 day time frame of the test result validity, you’re not alone. But the good thing is that this is actually to your advantage. The regulation uses a 1-day time frame instead of 24 hours to give both you and the aircraft operator more flexibility, since the test acceptability does not depend on the time of the flight or the time of day that the test sample was taken. So for example, if your flight takes off at 4pm on a Friday, you could board with a negative test that was taken any time on the prior Thursday.
Domestic travel to New York
While a negative test is required for all travelers arriving internationally into the US, New York City does not have any statewide travel restrictions, and the testing requirement does not affect US domestic travel.
The basic rules: who needs to be vaccinated
If you’re traveling to the US by plane and are a non-U.S. citizen who is a nonimmigrant (not a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, lawful permanent resident, or traveling to the United States on an immigrant visa), you must be fully vaccinated with the primary series of an accepted COVID-19 vaccine to enter the US (with very limited exceptions). Otherwise you’re in luck – this vaccine requirement does not apply to US citizens, US nationals, or US lawful permanent residents (Green Card holders). However, you’ll still need to carry a negative test since this requirement still applies to all passengers..
Before you fly into the US you want to make sure that your vaccine and proof of vaccination are accepted to board the flight – nothing could be worse than being turned away at the gate. You can find a complete list of accepted vaccines on the CDC website, as well as details on what is considered acceptable proof of vaccination. Broadly, a vaccination certificate or digital pass with a QR code, a printout of a national vaccination record , or a digital photo of a vaccination card or record will do. You also want to make sure your vaccination doses line up with the minimum period for eligibility – usually 14 days after your last dose.
For families traveling from abroad with children, you’ll be relieved to know that children under 18 are exempt from the vaccination requirement, but will still need a negative test if older than two.
Current situation in NY
Once considered the very epicenter of the pandemic in the US, the COVID situation in the state today has certainly improved. The daily case rate has been steadily decreasing, as have hospitalizations and fatalities, and vaccination and testing facilities are readily available throughout the state. And to the delight of tourists and locals alike, the dining and entertainment spots that characterize New York City are open once again.
NY COVID-19 requirements when out and about
As the Omicron surge subsides, New York has eased some of its mask and vaccination policies. In many public places like on the subway, or on public transportation generally, you’ll need to mask up for the moment. When it comes to indoor restaurants, gyms, and entertainment, businesses and venues are allowed to set their own policies. To see a Broadway show for example you’ll not only need to wear a mask, but you’ll also need to be vaccinated. At restaurants, while proof of vaccination isn’t mandated, businesses may still request it. So generally, just to be safe, it’s a good idea to carry your vaccination proof and a mask around with you – you never know where you’ll need it.