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How Can I Qualify for an Exception to the COVID Vaccination Requirement to Fly to the U.S.?

Posted by Hugo Valverde | Jan 29, 2022 | 0 Comments

Photo by Yoav Aziz on Unsplash

Many people who elect not to get vaccinated against COVID for various personal reasons have asked us, how can I travel to the U.S. if I do not want to be vaccinated? 

Prior to March 2020 international travel was a normal part of the yearly itinerary, and while it's still happening now, there is no doubt that most people's international travel plans have been severely cut back in the last two years. But even with the pandemic, airports have stayed extremely busy. Every day 2.9 million passengers fly in and out of U.S. airports, and more than 200,000 of those are international travelers. 

With so many countries having so many different standards for entering their nation, we want to give you a clear understanding of the requirements to enter the U.S. right now: 

[These requirements are as of January 25, 2022]

In short, if you are a visitor to the United States (not an immigrant or U.S. citizen) via air travel, you must be vaccinated to enter the country. You must provide proof of your COVID vaccination prior to boarding the plane, usually to the gate or check-in agent (although some airlines let you upload your status during an online check-in). You are not considered fully vaccinated unless it has been 14 days since your last dose of your COVID vaccine series (or single dose vaccine). 

There are three limited main exceptions to the vaccination rule:

  1. Children under 18 years of age; 
  2. People medically unable to receive the vaccine with documented medical contraindications to it*; and
  3. Emergency travelers who do not have timely access to the vaccine.

[*Please note that if you are planning to fly with a medical exception to the vaccine you must have a signed letter from a licensed physician documenting a medical contraindication to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. The airlines will review the letter (paper or digital copy) for the following essential elements:

  • It must be signed and dated on official letterhead that contains the name, address, and phone number of the licensed physician who signed the letter.
  • It must clearly state that the passenger has a contraindication to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. The name of the COVID-19 vaccine product and the medical condition must both be listed.
    • Medical contraindications to COVID-19 vaccination include immediate or severe allergic reaction (e.g., anaphylaxis) after a previous dose or known allergy to a component of a COVID-19 vaccine.
    • Objections to vaccination based on religious or moral convictions do not qualify for an exception under the Presidential Proclamation and CDC's Order.
  • It must have sufficient personally identifiable information (full name plus at least one other identifier such as date of birth or passport number) to confirm that the person referenced in the letter matches with the passenger's passport or other travel documents.]

The other exceptions to flying into the U.S. without a COVID vaccine are less common but still valid:

  • Persons on diplomatic or official foreign government travel;
  • Participants in certain COVID-19 vaccine trials;
  • Persons issued a humanitarian or emergency exception;
  • Persons with valid visas [excluding B-1 (business) or B-2 (tourism) visas] who are citizens of a foreign country with limited COVID-19 vaccine availability;
  • Members of the U.S. Armed Forces or their spouses or children (under 18 years of age);
  • Sea crew members traveling with to a C-1 and D nonimmigrant visa; and
  • Persons whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, Secretary of Transportation, or Secretary of Homeland Security (or their designees)

If you fall under one of the above categories you will be required to attest that upon entering the U.S. you will do the following:

  • Be tested for COVID 3-5 days after arrival in the U.S., unless you recovered from COVID-19 in the last 90 days;
  • Self-quarantine for a full 7 days, even if your post-arrival test is negative, unless you have documentation of recovering from COVID in the last 90 days; and 
  • Self-isolate if the result of your post-arrival test is positive or if you develop COVID-19 symptoms. 

Further, based on the category of the exception, if you intend to stay in the U.S. for longer than 60 days you may also be required to attest that you will be vaccinated against COVID-19 within 60 days of arriving in the U.S.

The CDC's Order for travel does not apply to U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, U.S. lawful permanent residents (Green Card holders), or U.S. immigrants. An immigrant is any non-U.S. citizen who has a visa listed in “Immigrant Visa Categories” on the U.S. Department of State's  Directory of Visa Categories

Remember that regardless of vaccination status every air traveler age 2 and over coming to the U.S. must show proof of a negative viral COVID test taken within one day of the flight's departure to the U.S. before boarding! 

Stay tuned next week for our blog on covid restrictions when entering the U.S. via a land border.

If you have questions about obtaining a visa to travel to the U.S. please reach out to us at (757) 422-8472, or send us a message on our website. You can also schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys by clicking on this link.

About the Author

Hugo Valverde

Hugo's passion for immigration law stems from his own family's immigration experience. His father and mother came to the United States from Peru fleeing political persecution, and as he grew up, Hugo spent many summers in Peru. Hugo uses his experience growing up in an immigrant family and time a...


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