Clearing US Immigration When Arriving From “Travel Ban” Country: My Experience

Filed Under: Travel

I wanted to dedicate a post to my experience clearing US immigration following my SWISS flight from Zurich to Miami. The process was painless, though a lot of people have asked about this, so I figure it’s worth covering.

I was coming from a “travel ban” country

The US currently has specific travel bans for those coming from select countries. These bans were introduced between February and May, and I think just about everyone can agree at this point that these bans are outdated (if anyone disagrees, I’d love to hear why in the comments section).

The following destinations are on the US travel ban list:

Brazil, Iran, Ireland, People’s Republic of China (excluding the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau), Schengen Area (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City), United Kingdom (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales)

If you’ve been to any of those countries in the past 14 days then you’re not allowed to enter the US, unless you’re a US citizen or permanent resident (or immediate family member), or have a specific exemption.

Those arriving on a nonstop flight from a travel ban destination also have to go through a special screening when returning to the US.

Both Germany and Switzerland are on the US travel ban list

We had to fill out a health declaration

Those coming from one of the above countries have to fill out a United States Traveler Health Declaration, which we were handed upon boarding our flight in Zurich. This required filling out some basic info, including:

  • Confirming we had been to a country listed on the form
  • Sharing our contact information in the US
  • Stating whether we had any symptoms in the past 24 hours, including a fever, a persistent cough, or difficulty breathing

US traveler health declaration form

Our interaction with a CDC representative

When our flight landed in Miami there were three representatives from the CDC to collect these forms. Flights to the US from travel ban countries have to land at one of 15 US airports, specifically because of this CDC check (though these checks will be ending as of September 14).

Our interaction with them was very quick:

“Are you experiencing any coughing or shortness of breath?”
“No.”
“Okay, you’re good to go. We recommend you quarantine for 14 days.”

Even though the form had a “measured temperature” section, our temperatures weren’t taken.

We were presented with a card with some recommendations. It’s worth noting that while the guy we interacted with suggested we quarantine for 14 days, that’s not actually a requirement, unlike in other countries (we still didn’t go anywhere for 14 days, out of an abundance of caution).

CDC traveler recommendations


CDC traveler recommendations

Immigration was as normal

The above was the extent of the special screening coming from what the US deems to be a high-risk country. The rest of the immigration experience was as usual:

  • We proceeded to Global Entry kiosks, but since the beginning of the year I’ve been on some sort of a list whereby I get secondary screening; this is apparently because I was in Taiwan at the beginning of the year, and makes absolutely no sense, but…
  • In the past, I’ve had to go sit down in a room for a full secondary screening (including bag search), but in this case, the immigration officer just made a phone call that took about five minutes, and we were sent on our way
  • While he was nice enough, he lowered his mask every time he spoke into the phone (this wasn’t a big deal since there was a plexiglass shield, but still, why is that necessary?)
  • Unfortunately, he was still one of the better-behaved officers when it came to masks, as we had a bit of a confrontation with other immigration officers
  • The immigration facility was deserted, as you’d expect

I got the dreaded “X,” as usual

Are these immigration restrictions enough?

I have a few general thoughts on the current airport screening process when arriving from foreign countries:

  • We’re about six months into this pandemic in the United States, and we’ve never had any sort of testing requirement for arriving passengers
  • There’s not a single US airport I know of that offers coronavirus testing to arriving passengers, even voluntarily or at a cost (some airport spas have turned into testing centers for employees)
  • I suppose someone asking if you’re experiencing shortness of breath is better than nothing
  • It still seems very backward to me that flights from Germany and Switzerland are subjected to additional screening, while flights from countries with far more coronavirus cases are not

Germany, meanwhile, has mandatory and free testing for travelers

In many ways I do think this screening was sufficient when arriving from many of the travel ban countries:

  • All the data we’ve seen suggests that the actual process of flying is fairly low risk, and that’s especially true on nearly empty flights (which, currently, most transatlantic flights seem to be)
  • Even if flying weren’t low risk, you likely wouldn’t test positive just hours after catching coronavirus on a flight
  • When you’re coming from a country with very few coronavirus cases (or as the US likes to call it, a “high-risk country”) to a country with a lot of coronavirus cases, it’s not particularly logical to subject these people to additional restrictions and screening

To me, the real failure with international arriving passengers goes back many months when coronavirus wasn’t widespread in the US. For example, when the China travel ban was introduced, Chinese nationals were banned from entering the US.

However, Americans returning from China (and there were tens of thousands of them who returned after the ban was introduced) weren’t subjected to testing or a mandatory quarantine. That seems like the failure to me — did the US government think that Americans who were in China were immune from the virus, or…?

As a point of comparison, see this post for a look at how passengers arriving in China from the United States are screened.

Beijing is taking a different approach to international arrivals

Bottom line

Even when you’re coming from a country on the US travel ban list, the immigration experience is quite easy. We simply had to fill out a health declaration, and then someone from the CDC asked us one question and handed us a piece of paper with tips for staying healthy.

While that seems lax, realistically at this point the US travel ban list doesn’t make much sense, since a vast majority of the countries on the list are handling coronavirus better than the US.

What do you make of the current US immigration process for those coming from travel ban countries? Are there not enough checks, or is it just right?

Comments
  1. I’m annoyed at the current system where CBP automatically revokes ESTA’s when attempting to travel to the US from a banned country. As a spouse to a US citizen I am exempt from the ban, but have to deal with this. Last time, my ESTA got cancelled literally on my way to the airport. Luckily there was a US Embassy employee present who assisted in getting my ESTA reinstated mere minutes before the plane’s door closed. Curious to see how it will go on my upcoming trip in November for the holidays….

  2. All countries should open their borders and deal with the consequences. There’s no stopping a virus that’s everywhere.

  3. @Ben

    Can you clarify that US Permanent Residents (Green Card) are still exempt from the ban? I don’t think (hope) that this provision has been removed?
    Thanks.

  4. You ask this in jest I’m sure (whether Americans are immune), but there are some people who actually believe that a US passport conveys some level of anti-viral immunity. I had to deal with one recently who insisted that he didn’t have to wear a mask on a domestic flight in another country because he was a US citizen and he had his freedoms, etc.., and besides “American exceptionalism” and “God will protect Americans”.

    Not exclusive to Americans of course, but don’t assume that all people are sane. The problem comes when the inmates start running the asylum.

  5. You traveled to a country that did not have travel restriction for visitors, had fun, and return to a country that did not impose a strict self-quarantine. Now you are complaining that we are not strict enough. I don’t understand your logic. If you care so much in not spreading the virus perhaps you should of stayed home and not traveled around. Also, I hope you and your partner self-quarantine in your house for 14 days as you so like to criticize others just as the border agents.

  6. Three entries this summer and had the similar experience. I did have my temperature taken though each time.

    At Dulles it’s a bit confusing the first time. Global Entry was open coming right off the escalator and I had no idea of the procedures/steps on the first entry during covid. So, I just walked to Global Entry and got my print out. At that point an agent informed me that I needed to go back to the health screening. My mistake, and no signage to that effect…I went from being first off the mobile lounge to being near the end of the line. Did not make that mistake again!

  7. I’m so surprised to read this! It means that travelers from Schengen would be able to enter the US even though there is a travel ban? I’m from Denmark and have been unable to travel to the US since the ban to see my partner who is American (we are not married). Were you just lucky or are there other stories to confirm this?

  8. No point arguing about which ineffective measure is slightly less pointless than the other.

    The airports thing will be solved when each passenger can demonstrate he’s negative onsite, without delay, by a Internationally-recognized credential or a rapid onsite test. Governments know this but the political process requires they look as if they’re doing something.

    Less circus, more bread, please.

  9. Non essential travel all over the world during a pandemic, while at the same time criticising (low paid) airport employees for not wearing masks sounds like a lot of privilege to me.

  10. @Moose +1

    Ben, you have to choose where you stand on this, and by your actions you’ve shown that you’re not too concerned about the virus. That’s a perfectly reasonable stance, but then spare us the hypocrisy. Also, FWIW there are several Schengen countries who do not have the virus “under control” and have worse per capita stats than the US.

  11. @ Charlotte — Not quite. The travel ban doesn’t apply to US citizens and residents, which is why I was able to get into the US. If you’re not a US citizen or resident (or not the immediate family member of one) then you wouldn’t be allowed to enter the country.

  12. @ Moose — Did you read the post? I am *not* complaining. I specifically noted entry requirements were lax and there weren’t many checks, and I think that’s fair when coming from a country in a better position than the US.

  13. @ AW — I’m extremely concerned about the virus. My approach, as I’ve explained in previous posts, is to wear masks in line with recommendations, isolate myself before & after travel (even when not necessary), and avoid public indoor spaces as much as possible.

    I feel comfortable with my approach. And sure, not everywhere has the situation under control, but Germany and Switzerland certainly have a better situation than the US.

  14. Hi Ben,

    I thought US citizens weren’t allowed to enter the Schengen zone. Did you have any issues entering Germany/Switzerland?

  15. My experience entering at EWR from GRU and ORD from LHR was quite different. Global Entry and the APC Kiosks were shut down and all passengers had to see both a CDC contractor for health screening and a CBP officer for processing.

  16. Ben writes ” I think just about everyone can agree at this point that these bans are outdated (if anyone disagrees, I’d love to hear why in the comments section).”

    Canadian Prime Minister Justin strongly disagrees. That is why he bans Americans from entering Canada (with rare exceptions, such as truckers). Justin is an idiot. The Liberals should have picked MP Joyce Murray or even that astronaut guy.

  17. I am leaving for Germany next Monday – will I still have the chance to take a test on arrival and then proceed to my destination in Cologne waiting for the test result? I am an Italian national living in the US.

    Thanks!

  18. Same experience (almost) at IAH.

    I’m on a visa from Europe but married to US citizen. Returning from Europe the health check was as described (although we had temps taken) and entry for US citizen was as normal.

    We were then separated and I had to wait an hour for secondary processing as I had returned from a “COVID country” as CBP so eloquently put it. My spouse was not permitted to wait with me.

    Secondary processing consisted of a few additional questions about purpose of visit (we live in the US) but nothing about COVID. Not entirely sure how secondary processing reduces any risk of us importing the virus.

    Worth noting that Green Card holders were also subjected to the secondary processing. Only US citizens were allowed in without additional questioning.

  19. @Ben a minor comment on the Immigration officer lowering his mask when he spoke into the phone: I’ve noticed that masks can negatively affect people’s ability to hear me clearly on my phones. I carry both an iPhone SE (2020) and Kyocera E4277 (classic “flip”) phone for work. When wearing a mask, if the other party is having trouble hearing/understanding me clearly, I cup one hand around the microphone pickup area while speaking. This clears the problem up. Note that, at home, when I’m not wearing a mask, I never run into this issue. Just an FYI…

  20. I am a USA citizen separated from my UK citizen fiance for nearly 6 months. During this time I was able to travel and see her in the UK which was nice and the process was easy.

    Once we are married, can she enter the USA because she is my immediate family member (even during the UK ban)? Would she be allowed in on an ESTA?

    Thanks to anyone who knows and can share the answer to this.

  21. Ben, or any other reader,

    Does anyone have any experience entering the US as a relative of a US citizen? I am planning to visit São Paulo later this month to pick up my daughter and bring her to Canada for school. She is a US citizen. I am not. Air Canada seems not to be flying to São Paulo so I am thinking of flying United and transiting thru EWR or ORD. My reading of the requirements is that I’ll be allowed entry on the way back from Brazil because my daughter is American. Does anyone have recent experience with this type of situation? My concern is battling with a check in agent at GRU who may not know the rules. Any input appreciated. Thanks.

  22. I feel you and ever other American are skirting a major point, that of US exceptionalism. I don’t know any other G20 country that bans everyone bar their own citizens from entering their country, so you?

    For non US citizens that need to go to or through the USA, unreasonably restrictive.

  23. Ben, can you explain your entry into Germany–I assume you used your German passport and did not have to quanantine. Please elaborate–did you get a C-19 test beforehand, on arrival, both?
    Thanks

  24. It’s amusing to read your criticism of what others should do to protect the health of others as you were returning from Turkey. When you went to Turkey the State Department official advice was Level 4 Do Not Travel. Why didn’t that apply to you?

  25. @Tom: the concern is that restricting US citizens would be unconstitutional and they’d have to let them in anyway. The Executive Order travel bans have always been a marketing exercise to convince the public something was being done, but mostly meaningless in terms of actually stopping the virus. Yes, many thousands of US citizens/legal residents, returned from China while foreign nationals were banned, but the primary strain now spreading through the US (that first showed up in NY) did not come from China, but came instead from Europe where the so-called European travel ban came far too late and also never stopped US citizens or legal residents. Other highly infected countries (South Africa, India, Tanzania?) are not currently on the list and never have been. Yes, it perhaps could have been worse if nothing had been done and we’d have a couple million of dead instead of just a couple hundred thousand, particularly because so many still think its a hoax. But mostly the EOs were intended as election year political theater. As written, they could not credibly be viewed as an effective public health measure. The full text of all Executive Orders is available at Whitehouse.gov.

  26. The US response is a joke, and the US will continue to have issues. Other countries require mandatory self isolation (quarantine) such as Canada, Japan, the list goes on.

    And you get checked up on to verify compliance. Come year end, the US will be in even worse shape. Given that many still do not have adequate access to health care, many are in a compromised state to begin with, its a deadly mix for disaster.

  27. @ Bill — To answer your question:
    a) State Department warnings are recommendations, not mandates. Mask mandates are… well, mandates. There’s a difference. I’m guessing that’s what you’re referring to, since you left a similar comment on a previous post.
    b) Since our federal government has (in my opinion) failed with its coronavirus response, I’m happy to make my own educated decisions based on the data and recommendations out there.

  28. @ Edward G. Scheibler — I tried to get tested in Bodrum, but unfortunately that proved very difficult, or actually impossible without going to a hospital. We got tested on arrival in Munich, and got results the next day.

  29. Two weeks ago I drove across the Mexican/US border. There are no health checks whatsoever although they do hand you a piece of paper with Covid recommendations. I should add that the wait was over an hour. Upon returning to Mexico also no health checks. I asked if they were permitting tourists to enter and the immigration officer replied yes and that they had never stopped tourist from entering by land. In fact it would have been possible to simply drive in and ignore immigration – I was only stopped by customs. I live 2.5 hours from the border and unlike in the past there were zero checkpoints (I do not however recommend doing this, safer to get the tourist permit).

  30. Lucky

    I recently returned from Amsterdam and had a similar experience as you described at DFW.

    On a sad, but visually impressive note, I was the first person off the plane, and for the first time in my life entered the ENORMOUS DFW immigration area where I found myself literally as the ONLY traveler. Plenty of US agents to chose from. Kinda chilling to see these vast spaces empty…

    One other detail, I had given my mobile number on the screening form, and 48 hours after my arrival I got a text message from “TX-DSHS” that was a reminder to please self quarantine for 14 days..

    JvdB

  31. @Ben,

    I thought the EU was allowing transit, so unless you were stopping in Germany, you wouldn’t have needed your German passport to go to Turkey. Am I remembering correctly?

  32. Sorry….I don’t understand….we CAN go to Italy, Switzerland and Greece now???
    Confused….I thought we were still banned and they (EU members) were also banned from coming in?

  33. @Ben I’m not sure what you refer to as a mandate. My understanding is that in Miami-Dade a civil fine can be imposed if a mask is not worn. I guess that’s a mandate. But is it a law, rule or regulation and truly enforceable? I’m not a lawyer and I don’t know. I do know the Federal area of Miami airport as well as Federal Officials acting in their official capacity, i.e. CBP, CDC, TSA are not bound by any local “mandate”. So while we are in agreement that the federal and many state responses have been woefully lacking I object to your criticism of those persons not under a mandate who exercise their judgement in a manner which doesn’t agree with yours.
    I follow the advice of who I think is one of the most knowledgeable experts in the world, Dr. Anthony Fauci. His advice – avoid unnecessary travel.

  34. Americans still don’t get it. You also have the rudest and ignorant officers at pre clearance in Canada. Anyone attempting to enter the US who isn’t a citizen, green card holder or proper visa is crazy. Hope Americans recover from this disaster which is self inflicted.

  35. @Peter, please don’t lecture us from your country, which has cut itself off from the entire world with border restrictions more draconian than anything Trump could have imagined. The most reasonable countries on travel right now are the U.S. and the EU member states, both of which allow quite a bit of international travel at the moment. I hope Canada doesn’t regret closing itself off from the world and see a wave of infections — no immunity — when it inevitably has to reopen its borders.

    @Victoria, no, non-EU citizens are currently banned from visiting the EU, just like EU citizens are currently banned from visiting the U.S. Of course, there are exceptions for permanent residents, students, etc.

    @Marco, I’d be curious what happens. I am also an EU national living in the U.S. with an interest in visiting Germany. My understanding is that you may still have to quarantine in Germany, given you are arriving from the U.S. I believe the Netherlands have the most liberal policy on EU citizens arriving from abroad.

  36. @Ben, there’s at least two US airports that offer testing:

    There’s not a single US airport I know of that offers coronavirus testing to arriving passengers, even voluntarily or at a cost (some airport spas have turned into testing centers for employees)

    Both JFK and EWR have it available for employees & travelers:

    https://xprescheck.com/#faqs

  37. I too kept getting a second screening at Global Entry a few years back. When I asked the agents why they were pulling me aside and making me wait an addition five or ten minutes before letting me back in the country, they wouldn’t tell me.
    Then an agent said to call my local G.E. Office and “Ask to be demoted”. I did this. Seems that it took a few weeks, obviously not a high priority for them. I kept calling back and finally was informed that I had been “demoted”. The next time I came back I sailed though the Global Entry line with no problems.

  38. @Ben

    Are you an American citizen or u permanently live there? I’m Italian and I have booked a flight to the USA on December 28th. Will I be eligible to assemble the USA? What do u think?

    Thanks in advance 😉

  39. I just don’t understand this travel ban between US and EU. The cases being far more in US the EU banned US citizens from entering their territory so US also reciprocated with banning EU citizens! If that is the case then India has one of the highest case loads in the world but Indian citizens with a valid US visa are allowed to enter the US though India has banned all visitors from US. In fact there is no quarantine mandate for Indians entering the US and no screening.What could be the reason is far beyond me.

    The only reason I see on the US/EU ban is that a lot more people travel between US/EU than US/India hence this travel ban.

  40. Hiweare UK Citizens,buthave a house in USA,forourselves, in both myselfand spouse,for 25 yearsplus,which we use for our family, and usa relations,(distant cousins,) fromtime to time, we usually spend 5/6 months in USA,as retired, we left USA at end of March this year,and have had to cancel flights back to US, we have had two negitive tests, would we be allowed in to the USA, if we are propoerty owners, we used to have Visa, plus daughters went to Uni in the US, now finished her degree, so we just have ESTA , I can not see we could go in , unless we went for say 15 days to another Country not on the banned list, then to US, any info? to help . please.

  41. @ Lucca — I’m a US citizen. Unfortunately the US would have to change its travel ban for you to enter with an Italian passport as of now. Hope the policy changes soon, but who knows…

  42. @ Dave Smith — The website specifically says this is only for employees at the airport, and not for passengers. Any info on how passenger testing works, and the cost?

  43. Hi Ben, if my grandmother has a greencard and is living in the us, can i visit her from the shengen area or am i not included in the excemptions?

  44. US embassies stopped taking visa appointments in countries not under the Visa Waiver Program.

    I come from a very high-risk country with 200,000+ cases. I flew to the US in August with ANA from Narita. In Narita, there were pre-screenings conducted by a contracted third party. They go around the boarding gate and ask people where they’ve been for the past 14 days.

    When I landed in the US, it was so smooth I had to conclude that you guys seem to not take it seriously. I even have the Travel Health Declaration form with me still. If you fly to my country without a negative PCR test result, they’ll whisk you to a quarantine facility.

  45. @liz saunders

    I called CBP several weeks on a similar issue. As long as you are out of banned countries for more than 14 days and travel from a non banned country you will be permitted to enter. Be aware that Mexico is not banned except at land borders. So you could fly from Mexico into the US with no problems. Mexico has not banned anyone so that may be an option.

  46. The current regime seems to favor strongly double citizens, since they can circumvent the respective travel bans. I’m not a double citizen but doing business on either side of the pond … feeling discriminated…

  47. Hi @Ben,

    If you click on “Who can be tested?” in the FAQs section ( https://xprescheck.com/#faqs ), it says:

    XpresCheck is open to anyone who uses or works in the airport. If you are an airport or airline employee and have questions, contact your Human Resources department. Travelers who have questions can call 1-718-751-4640 (JFK) or 1-973-961-6905 (Newark).

    Under “Who pays for the tests?” it says:

    Travelers should check with their insurance company to see if COVID-19 testing is covered. Employees should check with their employers to see if testing is required or recommended and how the cost will be covered.

    They can bill most major US health insurers directly, but I don’t know the cost if you’re paying yourself.

    You can make an appointment, but they also take walk-ins.

  48. Hi Ben

    I’m suppose to travel to las vegas on the 23rd of december, do you think the borders and flights will be open by then.

  49. @Alan responding to Liz Saunders:

    Exactly. Everyone seems to be overlooking this sort of “loophole”. I too have called and spoken with CBP in D.C., Miami international, and in Sao Paulo, Brazil. It’s written plain as day in the the president’s proclamation, about the 14 day rule, but I guess no one wants to read that far. In the phone call, I cited the example of someone in Italy that flies to Moscow and stays for 15 days, and then flies on to Alaska, will the be permitted to enter the United States, and they said Yes, provided there were no other non-Coronavirus related issues, which of course makes sense. The point that everyone seems to be missing is that, you only can not fly DIRECTLY from a travel restricted country, however, if you are willing to to spend the money to stay in a UN-restricted country for 15 days, and THEN continue on to the United States, it IS absolutely permitted.

  50. Mandatory self isolation in Canada is a joke. No enforcement at all. Just in Ontario we have had over 600 cases of travellers breaking quarantine. No federal charges laid. Only a few fines from the provincial police. The rules are all bark and no bite.

  51. My husband and I came back from St Lucia last Saturday and were shocked at how lax immigration was. The Global Entry kiosks didn’t let you scan your passport and directed you to a CBP officer. The officer didn’t even open our passports or ask where we were coming from, much less ask about any symptoms we may have. This was the fastest entry I have ever experienced and left me really confused. This was at JFK and there was also another DR flight that was clearing customs, so I’m not sure why the officer didn’t ask a single question.

  52. That’s interesting re. COVID-19 arrival procedure in MIA and that you were able to use Global Entry there. At EWR (and I arrived there three times from GER during the CDC restrictions that are ending today), we were met by CDC and CBP at the aircraft door who did a check of the health declaration and customs form. As at EWR, Global Entry and APC were suspended for all except crew, we all also had to deal with the old school customs form. Then temperature scan and brief symptoms interview, followed by the CBP immigration booth where they also kept the customs from. You would then leave customs hall without any exit check.

  53. “…he lowered his mask every time he spoke into the phone” (this wasn’t a big deal since there was a plexiglass shield, but still, why is that necessary?)

    Likely because it’s already tough to hear someone speaking through a mask, and talking on a phone with a mask makes it even harder to hear without raising your voice.

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