Everything You Need to Know as the U.S. Borders Reopen

12/2 UPDATE: This blog post has been updated to reflect newly announced changes to COVID-19 testing requirements.

First Europe, then Canada, and now the United States: After more than a year and a half of border closures and travel restrictions, the U.S. will reopen to international travelers from dozens of countries. The announcement comes after months of advocacy from industry groups and travel management companies (TMCs), including Direct Travel.

While the news is an important milestone in the resumption of business travel, it is important to note that certain travel restrictions remain in place and vary depending on whether you enter/exit the country at a border crossing or arrive via air. Furthermore, most of the restrictions require that travelers be fully vaccinated prior to entry. Below, we’ve broken down everything you need to know about entering the U.S. (whether via border crossing or by air) and what it means for business travel.

Crossing at Border Checkpoints

Stretching more than 5,500 miles across North America, the Canada-United States border is the longest international border. Meanwhile, the U.S. southern border with Mexico ranked as the world’s busiest prior to the pandemic. These two statistics help demonstrate just how instrumental—and complex—these border crossings are to not only the three countries involved, but to the global economy as a whole.

At the Canada-United States border, the two countries’ varying approaches to COVID-19 mitigation strategies have resulted in different requirements for crossing the border depending on which country you are entering. Canada reopened to fully vaccinated U.S. travelers in August, a full three months prior to the planned reopening of the U.S. In order to enter Canada, both proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 molecular test (PCR) are required. All travelers are expected to upload documentation for both of these items, and their relevant travel plans, to the official Government of Canada mobile app—ArriveCan. (11/30 UPDATE: Canadians who have spent less than 72 hours in another country are no longer required to test in order to return home.)

For entry to the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security has announced uniform procedures for both the northern and southern borders. The U.S. will require all foreign travelers to be fully vaccinated, but unlike Canada, no COVID-19 testing requirements are planned at this time. This means travelers planning a roundtrip border crossing will need to schedule a COVD-19 test prior to entering Canada but not for returning to the U.S.

One other key aspect of the border crossing that differs for entering the U.S. includes proof of vaccination, which will not be collected via a mobile app. Instead, only travelers flagged for a second inspection will be required to show proof of vaccination. Also worth noting: Those who have been immunized with a “mixed” combination of WHO-approved vaccines—as is common in Canada and parts of Europe—will be considered fully vaccinated and eligible for entry.

Arriving via International Air

Traveling internationally via air presents a few notable differences from crossing at the border. The majority of these differences reflect the U.S. decision to treat all international air arrivals largely the same, meaning those arriving from Canada or Mexico will be subject to the same rules as those arriving from the more than 30 approved countries in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere in the world.

Unlike U.S. border crossing restrictions, international air travel includes both testing and vaccination requirements. For foreign nationals arriving via air, travelers must be fully vaccinated and present a negative COVID-19 test (PCR or antigen) taken within 24 hours of their trip. (12/2 UPDATE: The U.S. has since revised testing requirements to extend to all travelers, including residents.) Proof of vaccination will be required prior to flight boarding, but this only applies to foreign nationals. At this time, U.S. residents returning from abroad are not required to be vaccinated, although they still must provide a negative COVID-19 test result. 

While these key differences apply mainly to air passengers arriving in the U.S., Canada has indicated that it may change its policies to differentiate between border crossings and air arrivals in the future.

Implications for Business Travel

The reopening of the U.S. borders brings growth potential for organizations of all sizes, even those that don’t ostensibly have direct international business dealings. Interest from international travelers has already skyrocketed, and airlines have ramped up plans to expand routes, including Delta, United, KLM, and Qantas.

For businesses readying to resume international travel, educating your travelers and planning ahead will save both time and money. For instance, while a U.S. traveler may not have to be vaccinated in order to return home on an international flight, it may be necessary for their trip depending on which countries they are visiting abroad. Your company travel policy needs to account for this, factoring it in to your trip approval process.

Similarly, testing considerations must be made for those planning roundtrip border crossings into Canada. Depending on which country you are crossing from, you will need a COVID-19 test to enter but not to exit (or vice a versa). Additionally, since Canada only accepts the more expensive and slower PCR tests, you will want to budget accordingly and consider integrating COVID-19 testing into your corporate travel program.

Lastly, it is important to remember that restrictions and requirements can change and vary by state, province, or jurisdiction. We recommend visiting our Traveler Intelligence portal to check real-time requirements with our Sherpa-powered tool and share with your team.