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US Travel Restrictions Related to COVID-19

In an effort to control the spread of COVID-19, the US has implemented sweeping travel restrictions during the last few weeks.  Travellers need to be aware of these changes and to continuously keep abreast of updated rules, because travel restrictions and quarantine measures can change at any time.

Suspension of Entry to the US by Certain Travelers

 In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, US President Donald J. Trump, signed four Presidential proclamations banning foreign nationals from entering the US if, prior to entering the US, they have been in China, Iran, the Schengen Area in Europe, the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland.  The travel ban will remain in effect until terminated by the President. 

The Schengen Area comprises 26 European countries: 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, and Switzerland. 

The ban does not apply to:

  • US citizens;
  • Lawful permanent residents of the US;
  • Spouses of US citizens and lawful permanent residents;
  • Parents or legal guardians of a US citizen or lawful permanent resident, provided that the US citizen or lawful permanent resident is unmarried and under the age of 21;
  • Siblings of a US citizen or lawful permanent resident of the US, provided that both are unmarried and under the age of 21;
  • Children of a US citizen or lawful permanent resident; and
  • Certain other foreign nationals as described in the proclamation.

Those who are exempted from the travel ban will be required self-quarantine for 14 days after their arrival, as per the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The few remaining US-bound flights from the restricted countries are now funneled to one of the 13 designated US airports where the US government has implemented enhanced COVID-19 passenger screening procedures.

The 13 designated airports are:

  • John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), New York;
  • Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Illinois;
  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO), California;
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), Washington;
  • Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL), Hawaii;
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), California;
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Georgia;
  • Washington-Dulles International Airport (IAD), Virginia;
  • Newark-Liberty International Airport (EWR), New Jersey;
  • Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), Texas;
  • Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW), Michigan
  • Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), Massachusetts; and
  • Miami International Airport (MIA), Florida.

CBP Preclearance facilities in Canadian airports continue to operate as usual, and are processing applications for TN and L-1 work status for Canadian citizens who qualify under the North American Free Trade Act.

US-Canada Land Border Closed to Non-essential Travel

On March 18, 2020 Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US President Trump separately announced that the border between Canada and the US would soon be closed to non-essential traffic. Each explicitly stated that trade between the two countries would not be affected during this time.

Following the President’s announcement, the US Department of Homeland Security published a notification announcing the decision to temporarily limit travel from Canada into the US at land ports of entry to “essential travel” effective from 11:59 p.m. EDT on March 20, 2020 until 11:59 p.m. EDT on April 20, 2020.  The document was be published in the Federal Register on March 24, 2020.

Essential travel to the US includes:

  • US citizens and lawful permanent residents returning to the US;
  • Individuals traveling to receive medical treatment in the US;
  • Individuals traveling to attend educational institutions;
  • Individuals traveling to work in the US (e.g., individuals working in the farming or agriculture industry who must travel between the US and Canada in furtherance of such work);
  • Individuals traveling for emergency response and public health purposes
  • Individuals engaged in lawful cross-border trade (e.g., truck drivers supporting the movement of cargo between the US and Canada);
  • Individuals engaged in official government travel or diplomatic travel;
  • Members of the US Armed Forces, and the spouses and children of members of the US Armed Forces, returning to the US; and
  • Individuals engaged in military-related travel or operations.

Traveling for tourism purposes (e.g., sightseeing, recreation, gambling, or attending cultural events) is considered as non-essential. Tourists will not be granted entry to the US at land ports of entry on the US-Canadian border.

In addition to land ports of entry, the travel restriction applies to passenger rail and ferry travel between the US and Canada. 

DHS clarified that the travel limitation will not interrupt legitimate trade between the US and Canada nor disrupt critical supply chains for food, fuel, medicine, and other vital materials.

It is not clear whether the restrictions will allow business travellers who do not already have US work visas or work permits to request entry to the US at US land borders. CBP will likely release guidance to CBP ports of entry regarding the implementation of the restrictions.

US-Mexico Land Border Closed to Non-essential Travel

A joint US-Mexico announcement was made on March 20, 2020, closing the US-Mexico land border to non-essential travel. This policy took effect on 12:01 am (ET) March 21, 2020, for 30 days and may be extended further upon review. The notice was published by CBP in the Federal Register on March 24, 2020 and contains a detailed description of what constitutes essential travel from Mexico into the US.


Following the recent implementation of travel restrictions, it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically limited inbound travel to and outbound travel from the US.  Prior to travelling to the US, travellers should review entry restrictions and verify whether they are admissible.

The US Department of State has advised US citizens to avoid all international travel at this time due to the global impact of COVID-19, and has issued a Global Level 4 Health Advisory to this effect.  Travellers leaving the US should also investigate whether their destination country has implemented travel restrictions that would impede their entry. 



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