Good news for South Africans travelling to the US

The US has published new rules for travellers, removing its country-by-country travel restrictions and instead introducing international restrictions based on the vaccination status of individual travellers.

The procedures replace a system that essentially blocked most foreign nationals travelling directly from major markets, South Africa.

Starting on 8 November, the United States will admit fully vaccinated foreign air travellers from the 26 so-called Schengen countries in Europe – including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Greece – as well as Britain, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil.

The new system carries the following rules:

  • Foreign national air travellers to the US will be required to be fully vaccinated;
  • Travellers must provide proof of vaccination status before boarding an aeroplane to fly, with only limited exceptions;
  • Vaccines accepted will include those FDA approved or authorised, as well as vaccines with an emergency use listing (EUL) from the World Health Organization (WHO);
  • Fully vaccinated air travellers will continue to be required to show documentation of a pre-departure negative viral test from a sample taken within three days of travel to the United States before boarding;
  • This includes all travellers – US citizens, lawful permanent residents (LPRs), and foreign nationals;
  • The new rules do not require foreign visitors or Americans entering the country to go into quarantine.

Unvaccinated travellers are allowed, but only if they are US citizens or permanent residents returning to the states, or part of explicitly exempt groups.

“Unvaccinated travellers – whether US citizens, lawful permanent residents, or the small number of excepted unvaccinated foreign nationals – will now need to show documentation of a negative viral test from a sample taken within one day of travel to the United States,” the Biden administration said.

A notable exception is for people from a list of countries that are considered to have insufficient supplies of Covid-19 shots, Bloomberg reported. If they aren’t travelling to the US on a tourist visa, they’ll be admitted with proof of a negative Covid-19 test within one day of their flights. The officials said that about 50 countries are on the list.

Exceptions include:

  • Children under 18;
  • Certain Covid-19 vaccine clinical trial participants;
  • Those travelling with medical contraindications to the vaccines;
  • Those travelling for emergency or humanitarian reasons (with a US government-issued letter affirming the urgent need to travel);
  • Those who are travelling on non-tourist visas from countries with low-vaccine availability (as determined by the CDC);
  • Other very narrow categories.

Airlines, battered by the coronavirus crisis, have applauded the move. Flights between the US and Europe – filled with premium travellers – make up the single most profitable part of the global aviation market.

The move to a vaccine-based entry system brings the US into line with the European Union, which started using Covid-19 passport apps at the beginning of the summer, and the UK, which made the switch in recent weeks.

Asian nations such as Singapore, which have generally kept tighter curbs in place, have also started to loosen travel rules.

Travel restrictions

mapping tool developed by travel website Skyscanner shows that as of 26 October, South Africa has 65 ‘major restrictions’ from other countries in place. This is up from around 60 major restrictions before the third Covid wave hit.

These countries have suspended travel, may be closed to entry, or entry may only be possible if you are a citizen/meet strict entrance requirements.

By comparison, there are currently 37 moderate restrictions for South Africa, where travel is possible, but only if travellers meet specific entry requirements, including taking Covid-19 tests.

Updated travel regulations published by the Department of Transport this week show minimal restrictions on tourists who plan to enter South Africa.

A traveller must provide a valid certificate with a negative Covid-19 test outcome, recognised by the World Health Organisation or equivalent local accredited authority, obtained no more than 72 hours before the date of travel.

South African authorities reserve the right to verify the authenticity of the presented certificate.

International scheduled operations and charter flights carrying passengers are allowed at the following airports:

  • OR Tambo International Airport;
  • King Shaka International Airport;
  • Cape Town International Airport
  • Lanseria International Airport;
  • Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport.

Long-haul flight departures and landings at the airports listed above are permitted during the hours of the curfew. However, passengers are required to present a valid boarding pass if stopped by law enforcement.

With further reporting by Bloomberg.

Read: Updated level 1 lockdown rules for schools and travel in South Africa

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Good news for South Africans travelling to the US