On 20 September, the US government announced an end to its travel ban on UK citizens, with fully vaccinated travellers to be allowed entry from sometime in November.
White House pandemic coordinator Jeff Zients confirmed the easing of restrictions, telling The New York Times that he expects fully vaccinated Europeans to be able to fly to the United States staring in “early November.”
It is understood that the US will ease travel restrictions for all foreign nationals who have had two doses of the vaccine at this point, though no official date has been confirmed by the White House.
On 4 October, a UK government source confirmed that no date had yet been agreed, telling The Independent: “Your guess is as good as mine.
“They haven’t told us anything about the date. The White House are in charge of the policy and it’s very difficult to work out what is going on.”
The source admitted the UK was “blindsided” by President Biden’s announcement last month that he was relaxing restrictions for visitors from countries around the world.
On 7 September, the UK’s transport secretary Grant Shapps confirmed that the ban lift was still on track for “early November”, saying: “It’s not that they [the US] don’t want to do it. It’s actually that in many ways they don’t have the kind of level of sophistication in place on international travel that has become normal to us.
“For example, they don’t actually have a Covid certification like the NHS app, it’s a piece of paper. So you might say well, why does that matter to Brits going over there? Well again, they just don’t have a system set up to read the NHS barcode or to be able to recognise other people’s tests.
“So all of that is being worked through. They are still saying, November, they’re still saying to me, early November.”
Travel from the UK to the US has been frozen for non-residents since March 2020, thanks to a series of presidential proclamations.
Then-President Donald Trump initially limited travel from China before banning countries from the Schengen Zone, as well as the United Kingdom and Ireland. President Joe Biden’s administration has maintained these tight restrictions.
Lifting the travel ban will impact not just Europe and the UK but China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa and India, as long as those travelers show proof of being fully vaccinated.
For those who have had the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not yet approved in the US, early reports suggest that anyone with a World Health Organisation (WHO)-approved vaccine will suffice for entry once the ban is lifted, and this includes AstraZeneca.
Here’s what you need to know about UK-US travel this autumn and winter.
How important is UK-US travel?
The market is huge. In 2019, nearly four million Britons travelled to the US, according to the UK’s Foreign Office, while 4.5 million visits were made from the US to the UK, according to figures from VisitBritain.
Pre-pandemic, London-New York was one of the busiest international air corridors in the world (as well as being important economically), with around three million passengers annually.
What are the entry requirements for the US currently?
A ban on travel from the UK to the US was introduced on 16 March 2020. The presidential proclamation of 14 March banned UK travellers from entering the US because their presence “threatens the security of our transportation system and infrastructure and the national security”.
It prevents holidays and non-essential business or family trips to the US. The principle exception is: “any alien whose entry would be in the national interest.”
According to the UK’s Foreign Office advice, British nationals who have been in the UK, Ireland, Schengen zone, Iran, Brazil, China and South Africa in the previous 14 days will not be granted entry.
Anyone arriving from elsewhere will be subject to usual entry rules: either with a visa or with an Esta visa waiver.
These rules don’t apply to US citizens and permanent residents of the US, as well as close family members and other limited visa holders.
Is the UK allowing travel to the US?
The US was on the UK’s amber list during the traffic light travel system, from May to October 2021.
On Friday 17 September, it was announced that the UK’s green and amber lists would be scrapped from 4 October.
As of 4am on 4 October, the US is on the UK’s “ROW” list, the list of “rest of the world” destinations that are not on the no-go red list, despite UK travellers not being allowed into the US.
This means that, should the US open up to fully vaccinated UK arrivals, they will not have to self-isolate on return - but will still have to take a day two test after returning.
However, the UK’s rules have been softened to allow fully jabbed Americans arriving in the country to swerve quarantine.
On 28 July, transport secretary Grant Shapps confirmed that from 4am Monday 2 August, travellers who have proof of being vaccinated in the US, with a further two weeks for the jabs to take effect, would be able to avoid quarantine. They are now treated the same as people who have been fully jabbed by the NHS when entering the UK from an amber list country.
At present, US arrivals must provide a “test to fly” before being allowed to travel to the UK, and must also prebook a PCR test for after their arrival.
US travellers who aren’t fully vaccinated must quarantine for 10 days upon entry to the UK and take a further PCR on day eight of self-isolation; arrivals in England may also opt to pay for another test on day five to end quarantine early if the result is negative.
When will the travel ban be lifted?
White House pandemic coordinator Jeff Zients told The New York Times that he expects fully vaccinated Europeans to be able to fly to the United States staring in “early November.”
“International travel is critical to connecting families and friends, to fuelling small and large businesses, to promoting the open exchange ideas and culture,” Mr Zients told The Times.
“That’s why, with science and public health as our guide, we have developed a new international air travel system that both enhances the safety of Americans here at home and enhances the safety of international air travel.”
Zients confirmed to press that all foreign passengers flying to the US will need to demonstrate proof of vaccination before boarding, as well as proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of the flight on arrival.
Mr Zients said fully vaccinated passengers will not be required to quarantine.
It has been reported that airlines will also be required to collect contact information from international passengers to facilitate contact tracing.
On 4 October, a UK government source confirmed that they had not been given a date for the US travel ban being lifted.
In response to a query about the date for the resumption of travel, the US Department of Transportation said only: “We have no updates or new information at this time.”
Can Americans travel to the UK?
The CDC has raised the UK to its highest risk category for Covid, level 4 or “very high”. It warns travellers not to travel to the UK, but if they must, to be vaccinated first.
However, this is not a legal requirement, and is guidance only.
For fully vaccinated Americans, the path has been smoothed. As of 2 August, all double-vaccinated inbound US travellers can present a negative Covid test at the border and a negative PCR test within two days to avoid quarantine. Any unvaccinated US traveller will need to self-isolate for 10 days and take two PCR tests on days two and eight.