For over a year now, the US borders have been closed to UK travellers. Since 17 March 2020, only green card holders and holders of specialist, diplomatic visas have been allowed to travel to the US from the UK. Needless to say, this had a huge impact on the travel industry on both sides of the Atlantic: 4.78 million Brits travelled to the US in 2019, while a record 3.5 million American tourists travelled here that year.
But as coronavirus cases fall and vaccination programmes accelerate in both countries, many experts – and hopeful holidaymakers – are predicting that the tide could finally turn this summer.
Note: this article was last updated on 6 April 2021 and was correct at time of writing. For the most up to date information, check our travel restrictions page which is updated three times weekly.
Latest UK-US travel news
In the UK, it’s currently illegal to go on holiday before 30 June, and anyone who tries risks being fined up to £5,000. But the UK government has confirmed that a traffic light system should be implemented this summer – perhaps as early as 17 May, which has been earmarked as the earliest date for international travel to resume – which will add green and amber travel categories to the current red list.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that more information will be given later this week, but the suggested system would see ‘green’ countries open to UK residents and nationals this summer, without them needing to quarantine on arrival. The government has categorised future green listed places as ‘countries where we judge the risk to be lower, based for instance on vaccinations, infection rates, the prevalence of variants of concern, and their genomic sequencing capacity (or access to genomic sequencing)’.
Restrictions such as an enforced self-isolation period, or maybe a continued travel ban, would still apply to ‘red’ countries, whereas ‘amber’ countries would fall in between – most likely with COVID testing requirements and perhaps a shorter self-isolation period.
Can I travel to the US this summer?
Many travel experts are hoping so. Thanks to its rapidly progressing vaccination programme, which plans to have the whole adult population given the first jab by mid-May, it’s possible that the US could be added to the UK’s green list.
Although it’s still illegal for British holidaymakers to travel to the US, on 2 April the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relaxed restrictions for vaccinated travellers entering and departing from the US, which bodes well for vaccinated UK travellers if the UK decides to follow suit.
Also on the US side, a coalition of aviation groups are asking the Biden administration to develop a roadmap for international travel by 1 May. In a letter to the White House in March, the group asked the federal government to implement “a safe reopening of inbound and outbound international travel by the summer of 2021.”
The likeliness of this happening depends on the whether UK and US government’s upcoming travel road maps align and go to plan. Officials in both countries are worrying about their vaccination programmes being jeopardised by new imported variants, so experts say that travel between the two countries may restart in small steps.
Can I travel to the US now?
You can only travel to the US right now if you are a permanent US resident or hold a special, limited kind of visa (e.g. for UN staff and diplomats). Since March 2020, British nationals are not allowed to enter (or transit through) the US if they have been in the UK, Ireland, Schengen zone, Brazil, China, Iran or South Africa in the previous 14 days, as a travel ban is also in place for these destinations.
What are the entry requirements for travel to the US?
If you are eligible to travel to the US, there are different rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers.
People who are fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorised vaccine do need to get tested before travel to the US and do not need to quarantine on arrival. This also applies to anyone that can prove they have recovered from COVID-19 within the previous three months.
However, all unvaccinated travellers (aged two and over) must provide a negative, pre-departure COVID test result, or proof of recovery from COVID-19 provided by a licensed healthcare provider. Then, it is recommended that you quarantine for at least seven days after arriving in the US, and to take a COVID-19 test (NAAT or antigen) 3-5 days after you arrive. Full details on the US entry policies and recommendations can be read on the US CDC website.
Whether or not you’ve been vaccinated, the CDC still recommends that you wear a mask over your nose and mouth at all times throughout your travel journey – which is required on planes, buses, trains, airports and stations. You should also stay two metres away from others and wash your hands often or use hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol.
Can I travel within the US?
Flights are running, but travel restrictions depend on where you are and where you want to go. State, local and territorial governments have different rules in place, including travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders and testing and quarantine requirements. You can use this search engine to check the local COVID-related requirements in whichever city or zip code that you’re planning travel to.
If you do travel domestically within the US, the CDC recommends that you take a COVID-19 test 1-3 days before your trip, and 3-5 days after you travel. It also recommends that you self-isolate for seven days after any domestic travel and avoid any contact with anyone at increased risk from COVID-19. It should go without saying that you must not travel if you test positive, are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or were recently exposed to someone with the virus.
Is the US in lockdown?
The US is a patchwork of different COVID-related restrictions on social distancing, which sometimes differ by state, county and even city. Florida, for example, has lifted restrictions and ended its stay-at-home order, but face covering requirements in Florida vary by location. In New York City, restaurants and bars are allowed to operate indoor dining, but at 50% capacity, and with an 11pm curfew. Wherever you are planning to go to, you should check the latest state, county or city advice and restrictions well in advance, and keep an eye on developments.
Travel to the US FAQs
It’s too early to tell, but travel experts are hopeful that it will be, thanks to the rapid vaccination programme currently being rolled out in the US.
The CDC recommends that you self-isolate for at least seven days after arriving in the US, and to take a COVID-19 test 3-5 days after you arrive.
Unless you have been fully vaccinated or have medical proof of having recovered from COVID-19 within the past three months, you need to show proof of a negative, pre-departure test on arrival in the US.
That varies between states, counties and even cities. If you are eligible to travel to the US right now, check the local advice and restrictions before heading off.
Where can I go?
Making plans to get back out there? Find out which borders are open with our interactive global map, and sign up to receive email updates when your top destinations reopen.
Want to read more?
- Coronavirus travel advice: our regularly updated advice page
- 10 dream holiday destinations for a post-pandemic break, from Mexico to the Maldives
- 7 destinations for planning a trip a year in advance: Australia, India and the USA, here we come
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