What Could Biden’s New International Travel Restrictions Be?

Filed Under: Travel

Tomorrow is President Trump’s last day in office, at which point President-Elect Biden will take his place. Last night we learned that President-Elect Biden plans to introduce new international travel restrictions, and in this post I wanted to discuss that in a bit more detail, and share some theories on what we could see.

Biden plans new restrictions around international travel

Yesterday it was announced that President Trump would end the travel bans against Brazil and much of Europe as of January 26, 2021, which is the same day as of which the US will start requiring pre-travel testing for anyone arriving in the US by air.

Shortly after the above update was revealed, the soon-to-be White House Press Secretary took to Twitter to explain that the Biden administration is planning new travel restrictions:

With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel. On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26. In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Current travel restrictions will remain in place

What new international travel restrictions could we see?

We’re being told to expect more “public health measures around international travel” once Biden becomes president. I’m sure we’ll find out more in the coming days, but what could that look like?

The way I view it, there are a few approaches the Biden administration could take, given that pre-travel testing has already been announced as a new requirement. In no particular order:

Could we see more foreigners banned?

President-Elect Biden plans to at least initially keep around the current Brazil and Europe travel bans, so could we actually see travel bans expanded, and see all non-Americans banned from entering the US? After all, the current travel bans are rather arbitrary, and don’t necessarily reflect infection rates in different countries.

Could we see a blanket “ban” on international travel?

I put the word “ban” in quotes because I’m not sure the US could legally do that. I could see the government trying to discourage international travel, doing everything short of legally banning it. When the UK went into lockdown in November, the country banned leisure travel. Enforcement was a whole different story, though.

We could see the US try to ban international leisure travel

Could we see a quarantine requirement?

Could we see the US start to require a quarantine for arriving international travelers? Realistically this almost certainly wouldn’t be like Australia or New Zealand, where you’re quarantined in a government facility. Rather this would be a self-quarantine, and it probably wouldn’t be enforced very well. For example, take a look at New York’s quarantine, which is observed about as well as the speed limit.

Could we see a post-travel testing requirement?

Here’s another option that I think could make sense. The US will start requiring pre-travel testing for arriving international flights. How about some post-travel testing as well? Maybe travelers could be required to test three days after returning to the US, since you’re much more likely to catch infections from travel if you get two tests several days apart.

Could the US require post-travel testing as well?

My take on new travel restrictions

In addition to the new pre-travel testing requirement, I think the most likely scenario is that the Biden administration will discourage international travel as much as possible, though admittedly that would probably act as more of a recommendation than a law.

Personally I think the most logical move would be for the US to lift country-based travel restrictions, and instead require testing both before and after travel. This could also potentially be enforceable, because the government could have people upload test results to some portal.

I can’t make much sense of other types of restrictions, though:

  • I suppose we could see a quarantine requirement for international travel, but I’m sure enforcement would be non-existent
  • Banning visitors from more countries doesn’t seem like it would solve all that much, especially with the pre-travel testing requirement

I think the pre-travel testing requirement is a step in the right direction. Obviously it doesn’t guarantee there won’t be any cases entering the US this way, but it should help minimize them. Hawaii has done reasonably well limiting new cases in conjunction with pre-travel testing from the mainland.

If we’re going to see new travel restrictions, I think a much bigger concern is how all of the United States is traveling to Florida, where there are virtually no restrictions, and there are no testing requirements. So much criticism is directed towards people vacationing in Mexico — at least there are some restrictions in place in many resort areas, unlike in Florida, and at least there will soon be a testing requirement prior to returning to the US.

How about some Florida travel restrictions?

Bottom line

The Biden administration intends to introduce new international travel restrictions. This apparently includes keeping around President Trump’s current travel bans, which Trump was otherwise going to drop as of January 26.

I’ll be curious to see what the Biden administration comes up with. If there are going to be more restrictions, my hope is that they’re not arbitrary, and that they’re actually enforceable.

What kind of new international travel restrictions do you think we’ll see?

  1. Possibly restrictions on casual travel to/from Mexico. That’s a big hole with so many folks traveling there every day as if there is no pandemic.

  2. Regardless of what they implement it will be short lived. I would imagine 30 days of banning all non-essential international travel to simply allow for more vaccines to be distributed and cases to drop in the U.S. This to get us to a point where things are a bit more under control. From there I imagine an EU model in that bans will be lifted for some countries that meet certain criteria in cases and vaccination distribution.

    With that, the end game may be implementing a proof of vaccination passport to enter the U.S. after 30 days from the traveller receiving the second shot. Which I am all for.

  3. Trump attempted to lift the travel ban from Europe and Brazil. It’s been reversed and the restrictions will remain in place. No surprise he would do that , however pointless as he knew it would he reversed.

    Good riddance to that awful family and let’s hope for impeachment and the full force of the law

  4. Don’t see any logic in lifting the travel bans on countries that have a high level of covid variants compared to the US. These variants could cause a significant amount of death and might even undermine the viability of the vaccines when it comes to stopping the spread.

  5. No doubt that he will lock down International travel coming and going. I won’t comment on the outlandish hypocrisy of it all. That being said all of this “come back” for airlines for International travel isn’t going to be happening anytime soon.

    Although it’s not a shock to me getting a vaccine rolled out to 7 billion people isn’t going to happen the way most thought. It’s a logistical and priority nightmare. Not to mention now we have talk of new strains.

    The bottom line is that widebodies will continue to carry leisure travelers to certain domestic hotspots (like Florida) all the while losing a ton of money.

  6. @Lucky: Is there any hope that being vaccinated (both doses 3 weeks apart) would allow people to travel? And just to pre-empty the comments of haters: many of us immigrants have elderly relatives there, so going home and spending time with our (already vaccinated) loved ones before they die would be a priority. In many of these foreign countries getting testing before flying back to the US is close to impossible.

  7. @Daniel: as I understand it studies are still ongoing regarding what getting vaccinated means in terms of infecting others. If being vaccinated means that you can still infect someone else or bring an infection home I unfortunatelty don’t think vaccination will change much to travel bans.

  8. “When the UK went into lockdown in November, the country banned leisure travel. ”
    I can’t understand why a business traveler doesn’t carry a virus but a leisure traveler does.

  9. vaccination or not, after a year, why, at least industrial/advanced countries can’t figure out how to test travelers for viruses at airports pre departing and stop this nonsense of no travel. All the excuses, the volume of travelers, shortage of testing chemicals, etc is BS after year. Just the US spent an enormous amount that is in billions, spent on technology, building space, manpower, lost time etc spent on security for a theatrical show. Can’t figure out how to test for the virus ? com’on

  10. With vaccines up and running, it will be idiotic to introduce too many bans, as the world should be able to open up again later in the year.

  11. Trump banning travel is xenophobic and racist. Grandpa Biden banning travel is to save the world. Let the brainwashing begin!!!!

  12. travel restrictions will only go away once the cases/hospitalizations/death go down. Authorities around the world have to gauge what level they will be comfortable with. It’s not going to be zero for a while if ever.

    I’m Canadian, but I would close the loop hole for Canadians being able to travel to the US by air if I was Biden. I know Florida would strongly oppose that move…just seems logical at this point.

  13. The variants are already in the US, and if we’re really concerned about them (which we should be, but seemingly aren’t) then we should make more of an effort to do genetic testing on positive tests like the UK does, which is how they discovered they had a more contagious variant in the first place. They were then able to implement a nationally coordinated lockdown, another thing the US can’t do. I’m normally a fan of baby steps, to at least get something done right away, but you can’t just take one baby step then stop. I hoped that Biden would at least talk about implementing something useful instead of just doubling down on Trump’s viral theater and putting some symbolic lights up during the inauguration.

  14. @Jackkson and @Santastikko
    Yes Trump’s China ban when it was known the virus was pouring from Europe was indeed xenophobic and racist.
    But I would expect your kind to defend him.

  15. With regards to the vaccine , there’s not even a certificate as far as I’m aware . No one I know who has had it received anything official. Following a CR test you get an official document.
    So if countries say they will accept proof .. how ?

  16. Just plan on no travel this year and hopefully 2022 will be closer to normal. Personally I don’t think the old “normal” will ever return but maybe 80-90% of it will.

    As long as you got a job and are healthy consider yourself lucky.

  17. I think the effects of travel bans can be much more complex than one’s intuition suggests. For instance, it’s v likely travellers eat out more than non-travellers (-> more contacts). Also, it’s likely they use public transport such as airport shuttles, Ubers, and subways more than non-travellers (-> more contacts) whereas non-travellers use their own car more frequently.

    But more contacts imply a higher R. And the R is all that matters until we are much further with the vaccinations. Especially with the new variants that are believed to have an R one-and-a-half as big as the old variants.

    I agree with you, Ben, that testing–particularly double-testing–is helpful. I’m just saying the interaction between measures such as entry restrictions and people’s behavior is multifaceted. And if travellers are indeed a lot more mobile and have more contacts than other people, a test or two may not be good enough.

  18. The current list of banned countries is arbitrary, doesn’t consider risk, and was implemented almost a year ago without change. The new pre-flight testing measure will help, and I’d like to see the list of banned countries be expanded and then updated every two weeks, similar to the EU list. Then it becomes dynamic and tied to risk based on predefined factors, rather than political in nature.

    It could also be taken a step further with testing on arrival and/or more strictly enforced quarantine.

    All that said, international travel is responsible for only a small % of cases at this point and it seems too little too late. But knowing what we know, there’s no reason for the US to be a continued outlier with barely and controls in place at all.

  19. Hard to imagine it can be worse than the current situation for international travel. Trust me, as someone who travels to Europe for work, my four trips during the pandemic have been filled with stress trying to manage 72 hour testing windows, quarantines, border crossings within the EU and extra expenses. And now, to hear that vaccine status does nothing to eliminate all the requirements, there seems to be no short term relief.

    The current restrictions discourage just about all leisure travel and in spite of prevailing thought that business travelers are the backbone of international air travel, my experience both before and during the pandemic is that business travelers do not constitute a large enough group to keep it going.

    In the next six months, I don’t see much changing but at some point countries will have to decide on trade offs between public health concerns and their respective economies, the USA included.

  20. @Icarus. Everyone who receives the vaccine receives (or should receive) the small CDC-issued card with exact details of which vaccine batch the the person received the injections from. Those are self-adhesive strips which the nurse who gives the shot peels off, and affixes to the card. The card should also have the signature of the person who administers the shot (in addition of course to the name of the patient). 3 weeks later it is repeated.

  21. @Endre. As someone who has to travel for business to keep my company alive I can assure you that there are very few business travelers out there right now. Most everything is leisure and why the airlines are shifting primarily to holiday destinations. Like Mexico. Which is a zoo these days.

    In addition, leisure travelers have a bigger footprint. Families. Kids. 3-6 people in one group. This is far different than a solo business traveler that is far more stealth in the process.

  22. Can exchange v1rus breeds again, make 2021 an exciting year or maybe even 2022.
    And we won’t have Olympic in 2021 cause Japan shut down their borders.

  23. @Daniel B: Small correction–the adhesive sticker part is highly variable. Where I received my shots, they just wrote it in by hand. My sister spilled coffee on her card and they just handwrote her another one.

    @Icarus: Just like how a Covid test is stored in an electronic medical record (EMR) that can be printed out, the Covid vaccine info is also in the EMR and therefore is documented and can be printed out. Of course, printouts are prone to forgery.

    There have been a lot of social media posts about these cards. They were mainly made to remind people when to comeback for their second appointments, and to help health care professionals make sure that patients get the right second dose at the right time.

  24. Hi I’m Joe Biden president of you know the thing. Stay at home lockdowns don’t work but let’s try it. 2021 is basically 2020 2.0. I don’t see any leisure intl travel for Americans this year in places like HK , China , Singapore , Japan , Switzerland, etc.

  25. At some point society needs to come to a consensus on what are acceptable and unacceptable risks, at what point does society say enough of the clinically vulnerable have been vaccinated and we must reopen the economy in order to avert more catastrophic consequences financially and indeed mentally. In an ideal world everyone should be vaccinated or offered one and hurd immunity is achieved in short order, people may well die because of the lifting of restrictions and it should be done in phases so that healthcare systems are not overwhelmed but we can’t continue to live in perpetual lockdowns and social isolation.

  26. What the press doesn’t ever want to disclose in the numbers are the percentages of people over age 70 or in very bad health that need severe medical care or die. This virus has a 99.8% full recovery rate without the need for extreme medical intervention. It’s just plain fact but the press wants to keep the lazy and dumb down masses in fear because “if it bleeds, it leads.”

    Most elderly or people in poor health aren’t actively participating in society. However, not unnoticed the number of old sick folks in wheelchairs that get wheeled down the jet bridge. Shame on most of those families as one place you do not want to be in a medical emergency is at 35,000 feet. But at the end of the day we’ve as a society have never prevented adults from making decisions that have the potential for bad outcomes-alcohol use, smoking, diet, etc.

    But we now live in this wacky world in which Utopian seeking morons believe that somehow by government fiat no one should ever suffer. In doing so we cause even more to suffer. Our politicians are shrills, our press are a bunch of sleazeballs and our people have become dumb down to the max.

  27. @CreditCrunch what exactly is “locked down”? I mean CA has some tough restrictions but in LA County there is a person dying every 6 minutes from this. Otherwise, most of the USA of us can go out to eat, go to a gym, get on a plane, go to school, go to work, go pretty much where ever we want. The crowd size is limited but that is hardly a lockdown. Unfortunately, we have come to a consensus that it is ok for 400,000 to die, as we are near that number and about to blow past it.

  28. Don’t be misled by the “vaccine is here and we’ll be fine by Friday” rhetoric. The vaccine is available in the USA. Good on ya. Numbers are all over the map but one source today said that 30 million shots have arrived in the US but only 10 million have been injected. Bloomberg’s latest vaccine tracker say 14.7 million so far with a daily rate of 770,000. That will still take 454 days and longer if you include the second shot. Then a month before fully effective. So planning foreign travel is probably optimistic for 2021.

    But the world in not the US. Canada has stopped vaccinating because we have run out and Pfizer has cut off our supply for a month. After over a month we have only a total of approximately 591,000 total doses administered – less than 1 day worth in the US. The US is at 4.8% while Canada is at 1.4%.

    The US is leading the free world in most inoculations under a President everyone seems to forget was accused of doing nothing.

    The New President has promised to negate everything that the old guy ever did. So I hope his first act isn’t aimed at changing the Covid response. Probably not a bad idea to stop unnecessary international travel for a while because very soon it may be safer to stay home.

  29. What a dumb idea to require a post travel covid test. How the heck would you enforce it and what’s the penalty, no more travel for you?

    As for the vaccine card, that can be faked in about a minute. Another less than brilliant idea.

  30. Details:

    Southern border wide open. Come on in! You will be handed a voter registration card, stimulus check and free health care card. Stay as long as you like. Citizenship in 8 years.

    if you are arriving by air, that means you rich, possibly educated and employed. Therefore you are not wanted. You might even be – gasp – self sufficient! Go home. Border closed.

    See how “woke” we are in the USA now!

  31. rjb Totally correct..just cross over illegally and all is well with BIDEN-HARRIS unleading us!!
    also CHINA-SFO-SEA-NY flights still go on daily and have been all last year,,,,

  32. Ben, this ban on foreigners as you call us, also impacts people who live and work here on Visa’s who cant travel back to their home countries and see families etc, as they can not travel directly back to the USA.

    This ban needs more granular delineation between tourists and people who live and work in the US. More nuance required.

  33. Santastico YOU NAILED IT BRO! I’m an independent voter… but the rationale that some of these people use makes me cry laughing!

  34. HEY KEN: READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE MAN… I copied and pasted directly from the link YOU provided. DO YOU NEED A TRANSLATOR?

    Biden tweeted: “We are in the midst of a crisis with the coronavirus. We need to lead the way with science — not Donald Trump’s record of hysteria, xenophobia, and fear-mongering. He is the worst possible person to lead our country through a global health emergency.”

  35. As a Canadian, I agree with the other Canadian above: The US should close the border loophole and prevent Canadians from going to the US as well. Both sides are doing pretty poorly, and should discourage travel from either side of the border.

  36. I’m no fan of further covid travel restrictions (it’s far too late for this to matter in the US where community spread is so…widespread), but can some of you really not understand the difference between “banning an ethnicity from visiting the country because they’re scary and dark” and “restricting travel as a public health measure”? Or do you really just take headlines at face value and spit out your opinion from there? Certainly would explain a lot.

  37. The vaccine (if you are lucky enough to get it !!! Where I live in FL its impossible)…
    Will not stop you spreading the virus.. just prevent you from getting ill…

    Sadly people think once they have been vaccinated all be well and travel can resume… WAKE UP..

    I have family I have not seen in UK and NZ for over a year and am unlikely to see them anytime soon ..even if I manage to grab a vaccine appt (thats a joke) I will still need to get tested

  38. Here in Nova Scotia, Canada, there is essentially no covid. Seriously. There are currently 6 active cases in the entire Province and life is virtually normal. Why? Very tough and strongly enforced 14 day quarantine on arrival whether by road or air. Now it has been devastating for travel and tourism, and has resulted in a huge reduction in flights, but, for those living here, it has meant life is virtually unaffected. People wear masks in stores etc., but that’s it. Geography has made it easier to put in place, but it really shows is that it can be done and overall economic damage, and societal damage, can be minimized if there’s a will. It will be interesting to see what the US chooses to do.

  39. This in awful situation and the entire world is suffering. Although, hilarious how a new administration is going too clamp down while supporting policies that they completely attacked the trump administration for months ago. I’d even say this if it was other way around. But until you have intel on items, keep your mouth shut libel, slander or presumptions. But sadly, that’s USA politics. Again….. I’d even say this if it was reversed by the two individuals. Really does show how ignorant most people are……or not ignorant but, they hear a clip quickly and go with it. Bc they are fighting everyday to just survive and feed / support a family. America goes downhill tmrw. We finally had a president that fought for all classes and all races / ethnicities. Why he got thousands more votes in Miami-Dave and Broward in Florida is one example. We can all agree he needed too tweet less and be more professional. But I’m not sorry, I’d prefer him as a leader because you knew where he stood vs. old school politics of lying straight too face with a smile and doing stuff opposite what you say. And, I am protected by our awesome agents. They deserve a lot more credit than they receive. And they do it without asking anything in return. Truly humbling and special.

  40. @Travel Girl
    We actually do not have enough data to know the assertions in your first paragraph. While it likely won’t completely “stop” the virus from entering your body, potentially it may reduce your ability to become infected and also to spread the disease if you are infected (if it greatly reduces your viral load). More data is needed.

    Florida is actually ahead of many states. They started running vaccine clinics for older adults a couple weeks ago. Here in Washington state we are just starting this week. Looking at the 10 most populous states, Florida has the highest number of doses given per 100 people (looking at the data from Bloomberg, as referenced in posts above).

  41. There’s a few problems to address with legislation we are seeing about needing to have a negative test before travel. Let’s say you got a covid19 infection and then recovered. It is quite probable you will test as positive weeks/months after you got over the infection.That’s because of “viral shedding” . Sure, you wouldn’t be infectious, but the test is to show if you have had contact with the virus.

    Also, we still don’t know if the virus can become latent in the body, not show up as an infection for a while and then show as positive again. Virus have lots of tricks and tend to hang around and mutate.

    My understanding is that in USA there isn’t much genomic testing done of positve cases, so it is pretty much a situation of , if your test comes back as positive, then you have a big problem to sort out. That’s going to happen more and more in the countries where lots of people got covid19.

    And you aren’t going to be able to travel to places that require a negative test result until you could prove it was an old infection. And that might be really difficult to do in a 2 or 3 day time frame, or even worse at the airport departure before being allowed to board.

    I wonder if there is income protection insurance to cover this situation, as it will become an issue as people with historic infections will need to travel for business.

  42. @travelgirl

    Hope you get to see your family in 2021.

    Here in BC we have a “do not travel advisory”. Our community is a winter/summer playground. More than 70% of the cases we have had were due to holidaymakers coming into the community with the infection, not following protocols (distancing etc), and spreading covid into our community.

    They wonder why we are not amused to see US and other province license plates in our community.

    Thanks, travelers, but please stay home.

  43. Firstly, I definitely welcome if the purely political criterion (citizenship of country X) is replaced by public health criteria (e.g. negative test result). I would hope that lessons learned over the last year would be taken into consideration (e.g. many countries have found out that long quarantine requirements only based on international travel are very costly but not very effective; perhaps shorter quarantine combined with testing is better).

    Based on our experience, the main spreading events are parties, regardless whether they takes place abroad, locally, in clubs or in private premises. This makes the extremely difficul to control. That’s why some favour easier to control things, such as international travel, although it is very ineffective and causes a large collateral damage.

  44. Beyond ridiculous. There is absolutely no point in having any border restrictions with such a widespread community spread as the US has.

    It’s beyond me how some people still think the virus cares about borders.

  45. After months of democratic politician disobeying their own rules and travel restrictions people are done. If anybody is going to take Biden’s ‘restrictions’ seriously I’m sorry you have been brainwashed.

  46. What the masses are getting is confusion. There are so many inconsistencies in the processes. I believe Biden may finally have the political will and support, especially from China, for the whole world to standardize entry requirements, and all countries to bear the burden of treating all rather than ignoring foreigners health and repatriating them back to their home country. This is how this second wave is occurring.

    I believe Koreans and a lot of them in NY were forced back home, restarting the while thing to come back again.

    Once the processes are standardized, people will be ready to travel. Yes, we will be able to travel albeit mask on, off for eating and other strenuous activities etc but that’s the way it’ll be until it finally goes.

  47. I’m Canadian, currently wintering in Arizona, in a gated “bubble” community with no Covid problems at all. Everyone adheres to the mask and distance protocols, and before entering the US we tested negative. So I don’t understand the other above Canadian views that the US-Can border should be totally closed. Most Canadian snowbirds own properties in the US and have a need to visit them for upkeep and maintenance, we cannot just abandon them. Why have northern border closures at all, when the Southern border is wide open? The new pre-travel testing measures are difficult as it’s impossible to get the proper test and be guaranteed the results within the 3-day period. However, that is a more non-arbitrary measure than just locking it down completely. We won’t have any operating airlines left, they will all be out of business.

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