Bailey Schulz

October 13, 2021

-USA Today


Starting next month, the United States will allow fully vaccinated foreign nationals to cross its land borders for nonessential purposes such as tourism or visiting friends and family.

The change would allow foreign tourists to enter the U.S. through land or ferry ports for the first time since March 2020. Government officials have not yet announced a date for the policy change, but said it would take place in “early November,” in tandem with the country’s updated international air travel system.  

“This is an important step that will further enhance the safety of international travel and the safety of Americans at home,” senior administration officials said in a call with reporters. “These new vaccination requirements deploy the best tool we have in our arsenal to keep people safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

How does it work?

Wednesday’s update follows the White House’s Sept. 20 announcement saying the U.S. would implement a new international air travel system in “early November,” allowing foreign travelers with COVID-19 vaccines approved by U.S. Food and Drug Administration or World Health Organization to enter the country.

“We want to have a consistent approach to both land and air entry into this country,” senior administration officials said. “And so this is the next step to bring those into alignment.”

The new land border travel restrictions will be broken into two phases, both of which introduce vaccine mandates:

  • Phase 1: The first phase will go into effect in “early November” and allows fully vaccinated travelers to enter the U.S. for nonessential reasons. Unvaccinated travelers can only travel to the U.S. for essential purposes in this phase.
  • Phase 2: The second phase will begin in “early January” and will only allow travelers to cross the land border for both essential and nonessential reasons if they have been fully vaccinated. There will be no testing requirements in either phase.

“This phased approach will provide ample time for essential travelers such as truckers and others to get vaccinated, enabling a smooth transition to this new system,” senior administration officials said.

Specific dates for each phase have not yet been released. The current travel restrictions – which are set to end on Oct. 21 – will be extended until the new policy goes into effect. Currently, U.S. land borders are open only to “essential travel,” such as work and trade.

Which vaccines will be accepted?

Government officials haven’t announced which vaccines will be accepted at the borders.

If the land and ferry borders follow the new air travel system’s lead, foreign nationals should be able to cross with vaccines that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or World Health Organization. These include:

  • Pfizer/BioNTech
  • Moderna
  • Janssen (Johnson & Johnson)
  • Oxford-AstraZeneca/Covishield
  • Sinopharm
  • Sinovac

It’s not clear whether travelers who have received mixed doses will be able to enter the U.S., but officials said the CDC is “working through” that question for both land and air travel.

Why now?

The actions from U.S. officials come months after Canada’s decision to reopen its land borders to fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents on Aug. 9.

The American hold on its travel restrictions on Canada has drawn backlash, given Canada’s high vaccination rates. Canada has about 73% of its population fully vaccinated, compared with 57% in the U.S. and 38% in Mexico, according to data from Johns Hopkins University and Medicine.