From 12 May 2023, unvaccinated travellers can finally travel to the USA again. Since the reopening of the borders in November 2021, only fully vaccinated travellers can travel to the country. A negative test result was not enough. The end of the vaccination requirements changes nothing about the visa rules for the USA; a visa, or ESTA is still required for international travellers.
The USA brings up the rear
The USA is one of the last countries to lift the vaccination requirement for international travellers and make travel accessible to all again. Neighbouring country Canada lifted all COVID-19-related measures about eight months ago, on 1 October 2022. In the same month, New Zealand also lifted the last measures related to COVID-19 for international travellers.
Many other countries were even earlier in allowing access to foreign travellers, despite their vaccination status. Vietnam started welcoming travellers in May 2022 and Egypt lifted the testing and vaccination requirements a month later. Countries such as Australia, India, Cambodia and Sri Lanka have been accessible to travellers for months, as long as they have a valid travel authorisation.
To the USA with an ESTA or visa
Fully vaccinated tourists and business travellers were finally able to travel to the USA again on 8 November 2021. To do so, they had to have both valid proof of vaccination and a valid ESTA or visa before departure. As of 12 May, tourists and business travellers travelling to the USA only require a valid travel authorisation, despite their vaccination status.
Most travellers in Europe are eligible for the ESTA. However, travellers who do not meet the ESTA requirements, for example, because they want to stay in the country for more than three months, have to apply for a visa. Since the borders reopened and the subsequent growth in the number of travellers wanting to travel to the USA again, there have been long waiting times for the US visa. Some visa applicants had to wait for over a year to make an appointment for the required visa interview at the embassy.
Meanwhile, efforts have been made to reduce these waiting times. Even though the waiting times for the visa have already been reduced significantly, applying for a visa remains a longer and more complicated process than applying for an ESTA. If you are travelling to the USA for tourist or business purposes, first check if you are eligible for an ESTA to avoid having to wait an unnecessary long time for a visa.
Travellers deterred and revenue lost
The long-standing vaccination requirement combined with longer waiting times for the US visa caused many business travellers to choose other countries. Travellers who required a visa were deterred by the long waiting times, while unvaccinated travellers who only would have required an ESTA, were not allowed entry into the country.
Because the ESTA has a fully digital application procedure, the delivery time of this travel authorisation is not affected by the long waiting times at US embassies. With an online application form, travellers fill in their personal details, such as those related to the passport, and answer a couple of safety questions. If all safety questions can be answered with “No” and the traveller agrees to the statement at the bottom of the form, the payment of the application can be completed. Then, a digital photo or scan of the passport needs to be submitted to complete the application. Applications submitted via e-Visa.ie are both automatically and manually checked for common entry errors.
End of the vaccination requirement: a relief
Many travellers had to wait quite a while to realise their dream trip to the USA, but the waiting time is finally over. The vaccination requirement for international travellers was the last remaining measure related to COVID-19. Since all other measures in the USA had already been lifted in the country itself, life in the country had already largely returned to the way it was before the pandemic.