Starting today, the U.S. government has lifted the COVID-19 vaccine requirement for inbound international air travelers. COVID-19 is no longer considered a public health emergency in the United States. This means that noncitizen nonimmigrant passengers will no longer need to show proof of being fully vaccinated with an accepted COVID-19 vaccine to board a U.S.-bound flight.
This is good news for travelers who have put off their visits to the United States throughout the pandemic. Before you pack your bags and book your flights, you might be wondering what exactly the lifting of these restrictions means for your trip to the United States. Whether you’re an international traveler looking to visit the United States soon, or a U.S. resident, we’ve got answers to your questions about what the end of COVID-19 as an official public health emergency and the consequent lifting of COVID-19 vaccine entry requirements means for you.
Do You Have to Carry a Vaccine Card?
International visitors to the United States will no longer be required to carry any proof of COVID-19 vaccine documentation. However, if you are planning to depart to another country that does still require visitors to be vaccinated, it is important that you hang on to the card so you can present it at these borders. Additionally, U.S. citizens and residents planning to travel internationally should be prepared to present their proof of COVID-19 vaccine documentation if their destination country requires it.
Will COVID-19 Vaccines & Paxlovid Still Be Free?
With the end of COVID-19 restrictions, many international travelers are wondering about the status of free vaccines. The good news is that for now vaccines will still be available for free to all eligible individuals in the US.
As long as the government is involved in distribution, it will continue to provide free vaccination to anyone who wants it, regardless of their citizenship or immigration status. This means that international visitors can also receive a vaccine if they choose to do so while in the US.
But this may change in the months ahead. Once the federal government is no longer purchasing or distributing COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, payment, coverage, and access may change. In order to prepare for that transition, partners across the U.S. Government (USG) are planning for and have been developing plans to ensure a smooth transition for the provision of COVID-19 vaccines and certain treatments as part of the traditional health care market.
When that transition to the traditional health care market occurs, to protect families, the Administration has facilitated access to COVID-19 vaccines with no out-of-pocket costs for nearly all individuals and will continue to ensure that effective COVID-19 treatments, such as Paxlovid, are widely accessible.
Once the government is no longer involved in the distribution of vaccines, tests and treatments, U.S. patients will need to rely on their private healthcare. Insured Americans should still receive vaccines, tests and treatments at no cost, with no co-pay. Medicaid will continue to cover COVID-19 vaccinations without a co-pay or cost sharing through September 30, 2024.
After the government leaves distribution to the healthcare sector, uninsured Americans and visitors to the U.S. may still have some cost-sharing options at their disposal, but they should be prepared to pay some or all of the cost for vaccines and tests. Rules and regulations associated with costs as well as cost-sharing options vary widely by state.
Once distribution changes hands from the government to traditional health care, insured Americans can expect to pay a copay for COVID-19 treatments like Paxlovid and Lagevrio. Though it depends on the policy particulars, visitors to the U.S. with travel medical insurance may be covered for costs related to these COVID-19 drug treatments. To find out more, check out the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
What About COVID-19 Tests?
During the height of the pandemic, many Medicare recipients received free at-home COVID-19 tests from the government. Now that COVID-19 is no longer an official public health emergency, everyone, including Medicare recipients will likely need to pay for their at-home tests. This also applies to anyone visiting the U.S. who may want to take an at-home test if they experience symptoms during their visit. U.S. citizens and residents who have stocked up on at-home tests are being advised to check their expiration dates to ensure accurate test results.
PCR tests are typically more reliable than at-home tests and are administered by a medical provider. For these tests, insured American residents or citizens will still need to pay some portion of the test cost, either as a co-pay or a deductible, for example. Uninsured Americans and visitors to the United States should be prepared to pay out-of-pocket for the test.
Will Travel Insurance Still Offer COVID-19 Protections?
Unfortunately, the answer is not so straightforward and depends on the specific policy. In general, visitors to the U.S. with travel medical insurance can expect to be covered should they fall ill with COVID-19 during their visit to the States. In general, plans will treat COVID-19 like any new illness. So expenses related to COVID-19 treatment should be covered. However, vaccines and tests will likely not be covered because they are regarded as preventative care. Travel medical insurance covers only urgently needed care.
It’s essential to read through your travel insurance policy carefully and understand what is covered and what is excluded related to COVID-19. If you’re unsure about your current policy’s level of protection or need additional coverage options specific to the pandemic, it may be worth consulting with an experienced travel medical insurance expert who can help tailor a plan that meets your needs.
The lifting of COVID-19 restrictions for international visitors to the United States opens up new opportunities for travelers who have eagerly awaited the chance to explore the country. With no longer a need to provide proof of vaccination, the journey to the United States becomes more accessible and convenient. However, it’s important to remain informed and prepared to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.