You are here

What to Expect: Everything You Need to Know for USA Travel

It’s been a long 20 months since the US shut its borders to the world. But now it’s time to get excited again, as the States is finally welcoming fully vaccinated travellers back! Best of all, we’ve already been across the pond to work out what’s changed, and what’s not, so you can plan your all-American holiday with all the facts at your fingertips. From crucial know before you go information, to in-destination tips and post-trip requirements, our expert Alex covers everything you need to know:

  1. Before you go
  2. In the USA
  3. Returning home

New York City from SUMMIT - (image: Alexandra Cronin)

New York City from SUMMIT

(image: Alexandra Cronin)

USA Travel: Know Before You Go

When planning your trip to the USA post-pandemic, there are a few things to sort after you've booked. Having experienced it first-hand on a recent trip to New York City, I can honestly say it’s not as complicated as it seems, but I was certainly helped a lot by my Travel Consultant. It’s also not as expensive as I thought it would be, with lateral flow testing accepted before you fly. Here’s what you need to know:

ESTA

This isn’t a new requirement, but still a crucial one. It’s recommended that you complete your ESTA at least 72 hours prior to your trip as it can take a few days to be approved. For me, I always sort this as soon as I know I’m going away. These visa waivers last two years and can be used for multiple trips, at a cost of US$14pp (around £10.50).

Vaccination

Currently, visitors are only permitted to enter the USA if they’ve been double jabbed – except under special circumstances. You will need to have had your second dose at least 14 days before you travel, and all WHO-recognised providers (including Astra-Zeneca, Pfizer-Biotech, Moderna and the single-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson) are accepted. You can use your COVID vaccination details from the NHS App; be sure to check you’ve downloaded the version for travel, and not for domestic use.

My Qured pre-departure testing kit - (image: Alexandra Cronin)

My Qured pre-departure testing kit

(image: Alexandra Cronin)

Testing

Travellers to the USA must take a supervised pre-departure COVID test in the 24 hours before travel. Tests can either be PCR or rapid antigen/lateral flow, and must be supervised. As I don’t live near any clinics, I opted to use our partners at Qured Health, who do a video consult with a Health Advisor for an extra £10.

The whole process was extremely convenient – I simply ordered my Fit to Fly lateral flow test (with video) via the Qured website along with my day 2 test (more on that later), and the former arrived in the post just a couple of days later. Qured sent me a unique ID for my test via email, which I was able to use to book a video appointment on their website. There were plenty of time slots available, so I had no trouble arranging this.

I logged into the chatroom about 10 minutes before my appointment and was soon joined by a live consultant, who took me through the process for undertaking my test before observing me do so. I can’t say it’s a particularly dignified experience having someone watch you shove a swab up your nose, however my advisor was friendly, and made me feel at ease. The call only lasted about 5-10 minutes and, after my 15-minute timer had run out, I was able to take a picture of my negative test (along with my ID) and upload it to the Qured website. Around an hour later, I received a medical certificate confirming my result.

Attestation Form

The new attestation form looks complicated at first glance, but all you need do is select a few tick-boxes (mainly stating that you’ve been vaccinated and have a negative COVID test) and you’re good to go. I completed a hard copy of the form, just in case, but was also able to complete a version of it online with British Airways.

Contact Tracing

When completing your API (Advanced Passenger Information) online with your airline, you’ll be expected to fill out a few extra details around where you’ll be staying in the USA. This can be completed 72 hours before you fly and must be done prior to check-in.

British Airways check-in at Heathrow Terminal 5 - (image: Alexandra Cronin)

British Airways check-in at Heathrow Terminal 5

(image: Alexandra Cronin)

At the Airport

Some airlines allow you to upload all your documents in advance of your trip, so you can check-in online and avoid any potentially lengthy queues at the airport. As mentioned, I flew with British Airways who, along with American Airlines, have partnered with the VeriFLY app, where you can upload your negative test, attestation form, and proof of vaccination. Upon doing so, you receive a pre-authorisation which also gets sent to the airline. I did just this, and it was a breeze. I checked in online and was told my documents may need to be checked before security, so I printed off everything – from testing to proof of vaccination – just in case. However, I needn’t have worried: I simply showed the app to staff at the airport and was able to proceed.

VeriFLY signage at Heathrow Terminal 5 - (image: Alexandra Cronin)

VeriFLY signage at Heathrow Terminal 5

(image: Alexandra Cronin)

If you’d rather check-in at the airport, I highly recommend arriving at least three hours before your flight. Thankfully there wasn’t much of a queue when I reached Heathrow, but I’d arrived with plenty of time to spare in case my documents required any further scrutiny.

Masks are mandatory in the airport terminal and on the plane (except when eating or drinking). Rules around what constitutes a face-covering vary from airline to airline, but typically it should be a double thickness mask without a vent. Shields on their own are not generally permitted. Crew onboard will also be wearing masks, and undertaking extra cleaning measures throughout the cabins.

Finally, it’s also worth noting that the old US landing cards seem to have been scrapped in lieu of the contract tracing information, meaning you’ll have one less thing to worry about while you’re in the air.

Mask signage - (image: Alexandra Cronin)

Mask signage

(image: Alexandra Cronin)

Holidays in the USA

It felt liberating to be back in the USA, not to mention abroad at all! Having been to New York a few times, I felt the overall experience was much the same; there were fewer crowds, but the cosmopolitan, upbeat buzz remained. I’d expect nothing less from the City That Never Sleeps!

Airport Arrival

On arrival at JFK, I found the immigration process to be very smooth. At the border, you’ll be asked all the same questions as you were asked pre-pandemic – the purpose of your stay and how long you’re planning to be there. Your passport will be checked and, all being well, you’ll be sent on your way. I didn’t need to show my COVID documentation, as it’s expected that your airline will have already vetted this before you board in the UK. Airlines who don’t check this can be fined, so expect them to be vigorous.

Masks are mandatory on NYC public transport - (image: Alexandra Cronin)

Masks are mandatory on NYC public transport

(image: Alexandra Cronin)

Mask Wearing

Even outdoors in New York, quite a few people were wearing masks. Indoors, it’s a much stricter story: face coverings are mandatory when visiting attractions, in your hotel reception and in restaurants (except when you’re eating of course!). I managed to squeeze in a Broadway show, and staff were actively walking around with signs telling people to put their ‘masks up’. This made me feel exceptionally safe during my trip, especially in crowded areas.

Proof of Vaccination

“Vaccine passports” were a big thing – certainly in the city. You’ll need to show your proof of vaccination at all attractions and whenever you want to dine inside, so always have it to hand when out exploring. I carried a hard copy of mine, just in case my phone ran out of battery, or I couldn’t get any signal. This isn’t essential of course, but I love to be prepared!

You have to show proof of vaccination to dine inside in Manhattan - (image: Alexandra Cronin)

You have to show proof of vaccination to dine inside in Manhattan

(image: Alexandra Cronin)

Local Apps

In New York, I downloaded the NYC COVID App. Within this, I was able to upload screenshots of my proof of vaccination (an offline version I downloaded from the NHS app), my negative test certificate, and my ID. This is widely accepted throughout the city, as well as being a convenient way to have all your documents stored in one place.

Recommended Testing

It’s recommended that adults visiting the USA take another COVID test 3-5 days after they arrive, however this is not currently mandatory. I was only in New York for a couple of days, so I didn’t do this, but if you did want to for peace of mind, there are test centres readily available. Indeed, in Manhattan they had pop-up testing tents on the streets!

COVID testing tents in New York City - (image: Alexandra Cronin)

COVID testing tents in New York City

(image: Alexandra Cronin)

Returning to England from the USA

After a whirlwind couple of days in the Big Apple, I was all set to return to England. I was flying home with American Airlines, so again was able to use the VeriFLY app to upload all my documents in advance. I checked-in for my flight the day before and was able to download my boarding pass and – being hand luggage only – head straight for security. Like in the UK, masks were mandatory in the airport.

Proof of Vaccination

As mentioned above, I was able to once again use the VeriFLY app to upload my proof of vaccination. To avoid quarantine in England when entering from a non-red country, you need to have had both doses of your COVID vaccine. Those who haven't are required to self-isolate for 10 days, taking tests on day 2 and day 8 – however, to reiterate for the purposes of this article, unvaccinated travellers are not currently permitted entry into the USA.

UK's Passenger Locator Form

UK's Passenger Locator Form

Passenger Locator Form

England’s Passenger Locator Form (PLF) must be completed before you fly home. You can complete this on the government website up to 48 hours before your departure. It’s a fairly lengthy form, including information on where you’ve been, where you’ll be staying when you get to England, whether you’re fully vaccinated, and what tests you’ve booked. That said, it’s still easy enough to complete on a mobile phone, and you can actually sign-up for an account in advance and have your main details (name, address, contact info, passport number) already inputted before you head off on holiday. You’ll need to take note of your day 2 PCR test ID and have this handy when you complete your form.

After filling out the PLF you will be able to download a copy of it, which you can upload to VeriFLY and save to your phone in case you need to show it at immigration when you arrive in the UK. I didn’t have to show any of my documents, I simply proceeded to the passport e-gates and then onto baggage claim/arrivals, however, airports are undertaking random checks so be prepared.

VeriFLY app - (image: Alexandra Cronin)

VeriFLY app

(image: Alexandra Cronin)

Day 2 Test

I booked my day 2 test with Qured at the same time as my pre-departure test and it arrived the day I landed back in the UK. I was able to take a lateral flow test at the time of travel, which followed the same process as my pre-departure test, but without the video consult. As of 30th November 2021, it’s now mandatory that day 2 tests must be PCR, and travellers will need to self-isolate until they get a negative result. Fortunately, Flight Centre offers a unique 10% discount code when using Qured – available from your Travel Consultant.

View from the High Line, NYC - (image: Alexandra Cronin)

View from the High Line, NYC

(image: Alexandra Cronin)

Rules for Children

If you’re travelling with little ones in tow, the rules may differ slightly for them. In summary, they’ll need to adhere to the following:

  • Vaccination: Children under the age of 18 are currently exempt from the vaccination rules.
  • Testing: Like adults, for outbound travel to the US, unvaccinated children aged two-17 years must take a pre-departure test within 24 hours of their flight. Unlike vaccinated adults however, they must also take a test 3-5 days after arrival and self-isolate if they test positive.
  • Masks: On many flights, children over the age of two years are required to wear a mask.

Written by Alexandra Cronin (Gregg)

Once a roving local news reporter and now a travel-obsessed writer/sub, I'm head-over-heels for nature, wildlife and the ocean. When I'm not getting up close to animals and sea creatures, I'm seeking out the sets of my favourite TV shows around the world. 

More articles from this author >