Travel to the U.S. and COVID-19: Everything you need to know
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world order on several levels.
International travel has been greatly affected by health and safety measures and travel restrictions.
If you had planned a USA self drive holiday this year, or are thinking of going, here is everything you need to know about this unprecedented situation.
Travel to the United States in 2020-2021: is it allowed?
On March 12, the Trump government banned European travellers from entering the U.S., except those from the U.K. and Ireland. Four days later, these countries were added to the list.
Initially intended to last for 30 days, the ban has been extended and now has no definitive end date.
As of today, several travel bans remain in place.
Anyone coming from or having stayed in any of the following countries during the past 14 days is prohibited from entering the United States:
- European Schengen area: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Monaco, Saint-Marin, Vatican City
- The United Kingdom
- Republic of Ireland
Citizens of countries not listed above or Americans who have been in these countries can enter the U.S. through one of the following 15 airports only:
- Boston-Logan International Airport (BOS), Massachusetts
- Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Illinois
- Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), Texas
- Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW), Michigan
- Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL), Hawaii
- Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), Florida
- George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), Texas
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Georgia
- John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), New York
- Los Angeles International Airport, (LAX), California
- Miami International Airport (MIA), Florida
- Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), New Jersey
- San Francisco International Airport (SFO), California
- Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), Washington
- Washington-Dulles International Airport (IAD), Virginia
It is important to note that that although Canada is not listed above, the land border with Canada remains closed until December 21, 2020.
This closure may be extended beyond this date.
It should be taken into consideration that if you are allowed to enter the United States and decide to travel there, you will be required to quarantine upon arrival. It is therefore not advisable to travel there for tourism purposes only.
Foreign nationals in the U.S. on a visa
Due to the pandemic, it is no longer possible to enter the United States on a visa. Some exceptions may be granted for travel purposes related to humanitarian travel, public health response, and national security.
Since July 19, European students with a F-1 or M-1 study visa can enter the United States without special authorization. Those with a J-1 visa can apply for an exception and will be considered on a case by case basis.
Visa services are limited, but if your visitor visa expires during the pandemic, you must apply for an extension before the expiration date.
You will not be considered illegal if your application is not processed before the expiration date. However, do not apply after the deadline, as this could cause problems for you.
Domestic flights within the U.S. and COVID-19
If you are in the U.S. and wish to travel, internal flights are permitted, although not recommended if not essential.
Health and safety measures are in place and differ from one airline to another.
Timeline of COVID-19 announcements in the United States
- March 12: President Trump announces the closure of borders to Europeans for one month.
- March 13: A state of emergency is declared in the United States.
- March 16: New York State announces school closures.
- March 17: West Virginia registers its first case. All 50 states in the United States are now affected.
- March 19: Restrictive measures begin in the United States as California announces that it is going into lockdown. Several states follow suit.
- March 20: The border between Mexico and the United States is closed.
- April 14: The border closure is extended. Trump declares that borders will remain closed until Europe recovers.
- April 17: Trump tweets a call to "liberate" Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia.
- April 24: The first states lift lockdown restrictions.
- May 27: The death toll reaches 100,000.
- June 9: New Jersey is the last state to lift lockdown.
- June 16: Border closures with Canada and Mexico are extended to July 21.
- June 18: Wearing of face masks becomes mandatory in California.
- June 24: New York State imposes quarantine on visitors from states hard hit by the virus.
- June 29: Lockdown measures are put back in place in Texas, Florida and the city of Los Angeles. Wearing of face masks becomes mandatory in the Florida cities of Tampa, Miami, Orlando and the Keys.
- June 30: The European Union announces a list of 15 countries whose citizens will be allowed entry. The United States is not on the list.
- July 10: Croatia opens its borders to Americans. The rest of Europe still refuses entry to Americans.
- July 11: President Trump wears a mask for the first time.
- July 14: The border closure between Canada and the United States is extended until August 21. The United States House Committee on Appropriations adopts mandatory wearing of face masks on public transit.
- July 19: The travel ban is lifted for European students.
- July 21: The number of new cases is worrisome. Many states stop phasing out of lockdown. Trump changes his tune and announces that he supports the wearing of masks at all cost.
- July 28: The Centers for Disease Control recommend that schools be reopened.
- July 30: The death toll reaches 150,000.
- August 9: The United States has had 5 million cases.
- August 14: Closure of the border with Canada is extended until September 21.
What is open in the U.S. during the Coronavirus crisis?
With the reopening of several states came the reopening of tourist attractions and national parks. However, not everything is open!
Here is what is currently open in the U.S.:
- Arches: The park reopened completely in mid-May, but the large influx of visitors forced the application of additional restrictions. The Visitor Center and Fiery Furnace are therefore closed. Roads and hiking trails are open. Toilets and the General Store are also open, but with heightened sanitary measures.
- Bryce Canyon: The park reopened completely, with some restrictions for RVs during shuttle operation hours. Shuttles are limited to 20 passengers.
- Canyonlands: The park is completely open.
- Capitol Reef: The park is completely open, except for the Visitor Center.
- Death Valley: The park is accessible except for the Visitor Centers. The shuttle service is not currently operating.
- Glacier: Open, but only accessible by the western entrance. Shuttles and the Visitor Center are closed, but toilets and hiking trails are open.
- Grand Canyon: South Rim and North Rim are open, except for the campground. Desert View is closed. It is important to note that only the south entrance, near Tusayan, is open. Follow the latest developments here.
- Grand Teton: The park is completely open.
- Joshua Tree: The park has been open since mid-May, with sanitary measures in place.
- Sequoia: The park has been open since June 4, but the Visitor Center is closed. There will be no shuttle service in 2020.
- Yellowstone: The park is open except for the Visitor Center.
- Yosemite: The park may be visited by reservation only. At the moment, 1700 vehicles are admitted per day. To visit, you must purchase a pass (valid for 7 days) for US$37 at recreation.gov. An exception is made if your accommodations or campground is already booked and located inside the park. For accessibility reasons, 80% of passes are sold in advance and the remaining 20% are made available 48 hours prior to the visit.
- Zion: The park has been open since May 13. Shuttle service resumed on July 1. You must reserve your ticket if you want to use the shuttle.
- Alcatraz: The prison reopened on August 17. Tickets available online only.
- Antelope Canyon: Closed.
- Las Vegas casinos: Open.
- Disneyland Anaheim: Closed.
- Disney Orlando: Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios are now open.
- Empire State Building: Open.
- Horseshoe Bend: Open.
- Legoland Florida: Open.
- Luna Park (Coney Island): Closed.
- Monument Valley: Closed.
- Paramount Studios: Closed.
- Statue of Liberty: Liberty Island is accessible. However, Liberty Crown, pedestal and interior spaces remain closed.
- Everglades Tours: Open.
- Universal Orlando: Open.
- Universal Studios Hollywood: Closed, but Citywalk remains open.
- Warner Studios Hollywood: Closed.
What should I do if I planned a trip to the United States in 2020?
Given the travel restrictions in place, it is highly likely that your trip to the United States may have to be cancelled or postponed to a later date.
While it is understandable for travellers to be upset by the sudden impossibility of travel, it is important to take the right steps to find the best solution for your situation.
How to cancel or postpone your 2020 trip to the United States
Here's what you need to know to postpone or cancel your trip to the U.S. because of COVID-19.
Trip booked through a travel agency
If you booked your trip through a travel agent in the U.S or closer to home, refer to their cancellation policy or ask your travel agent about it.
Many agencies have created a special policy for the current health situation. Despite their good intentions, it is important to remember that agencies are acting as intermediaries with the providers of accommodations, flights and activities.
Agencies are required to respect the cancellation policies of the service providers, who are their partners.
It is therefore highly likely that travel agencies will offer you a postponement or travel credit. Very few agencies will offer a full refund.
If you choose to cancel your trip, the agency's cancellation policy will apply. More often than not, your deposit will be retained.
GETTING COMPENSATION WHEN YOU CANCEL YOUR TRIP
If you booked through an agency, you have some option for receiving compensation.
The first thing to do is to check with the credit card you used to pay your deposit. This may cover you in the event of a cancellation. Not everyone is aware of this coverage, but it is quite common, depending on the credit company.
You may also have access to a compensation fund. In the case of Authentik USA, which is registered in Québec, you can submit a request for compensation to the Compensation Fund for Customers of Travel Agents.
Check with your agency to find out if a compensation fund exists in its jurisdiction.
Trip booked directly with a major wholesaler
Booking: If you booked in "free cancellation" mode, good for you! You won't have any problem cancelling your trip quickly and free of charge.
Otherwise, you will need to contact the accommodations concerned as soon as you decide to cancel your trip. Booking indicates that it has made arrangements with most of its partners to obtain prepayment refunds and to waive cancellation fees. However, individual hotels have the right to adhere to their own cancellation policy.
Hotels.com: It depends on the product you have booked. If you have only booked accommodations, the Hotels indicates that you can cancel and get a refund.
However, if you have booked flights or travel packages, the procedure will depend on the cancellation policies of their partners.
Expedia: Works on a case by case basis for no-charge cancellations and postponements. Contact customer service to find out your options.
Accommodations booked directly with the hotel
You must contact the accommodation directly in order to find out their cancellation policy. The vast majority will have modified policies for this unprecedented situation.
Take the time to read the policies you agreed to when you made your booking. You may find deadlines for free cancellation or for minimizing the cancellation fee.
Car rentals are the easiest to cancel at no charge.
If you booked through our USA car rental platform, cancellation is free until 72 working hours before pick up.
CANCELLATION POLICIES OF THE MAIN AMERICAN RENTAL COMPANIES:
Alamo: You can cancel at no charge if the reservation was made directly on their website. If you booked through a wholesaler, please refer to the rental documents you received after booking.
Hertz – Thrifty: Their special COVID-19 policies allow free cancellation.
Dollar: Like Hertz and Thrifty, you can cancel at no charge if you are unable to travel due to the travel restrictions.
RV rental companies have more restrictive policies than car rental companies.
In general, if you cancel more than 45 days before the pick up date, you can receive a refund or avoid additional cancellation fees.
Please consult your rental contract for the exact policy of your rental company.
The important thing to note is that you must communicate your decision to cancel as quickly as possible. If the rental company has a good chance of re-renting your vehicle, they will be more lenient.
Airline tickets are likely to be the most difficult part of the puzzle. Most of the time, they cannot be cancelled or changed unless you paid for that option at the time of purchase.
Given the current situation, airlines have put in place special measures that allow flights to be postponed.
TRAVEL CREDIT OR POSTPONEMENT: WHAT SHOULD I CHOOSE?
If your airline offers you the choice between postponing your flight at no charge or a travel credit, it can be difficult to tell the difference.
If you have already decided on your next travel dates, no-cost postponement is a wise option.
Study your options: given the current situation, you may find a better flight at the same price as your original flight. You may be able to save a stopover!
However, a no-cost postponement doesn't mean that you won't have to pay the difference if you choose a more expensive option.
If you don't know when you will be able to travel, a travel credit will give you greater flexibility.
Some companies will even let you spread it out over two trips if your next tickets are cheaper. Be sure to ask about the terms and conditions.
WHAT DO I DO IF I WANT TO CANCEL MY FLIGHT TO THE U.S. BECAUSE OF THE CORONAVIRUS?
It is understandable; the global pandemic we are facing makes future travel uncertain and a little frightening.
Maybe you are more at risk, or you just don't want to resume your travel habits anytime soon.
If you want to cancel your flight, you may not be entitled to a refund. The fare conditions of the ticket will apply.
However, if the airline cancels the flight, they will have to give you a refund.
If you wish to obtain a refund, waiting for the airline to cancel the flight may be your last resort.
But beware, if the flight is not cancelled a few days before departure, it is better to fall back on their emergency measures and get a travel credit rather than lose everything.
When will it be possible to travel to the United States?
We would love to be able to give you a date, but at the moment, it is impossible to say when it will happen.
It is highly possible that it will be in 2021.
The important thing to remember is that the decision will have to come from both the United States and other countries. The gates must be open on both sides to allow international travel to resume.
For those who are not greatly concerned about the current situation, travel to the U.S. remains an attractive prospect.
Some airlines, such as Air France and Air Canada, are already offering flights to the land of Uncle Sam for the month of October at attractive prices.
While it remains a possibility that the borders will reopen for the fall, the necessary precautions will need be taken.
If you decide to plan a trip this year, pay close attention to the postponement and cancellation conditions of the agencies and airlines.
Many will offer free postponement, but no cancellation with refund. You must therefore be prepared to travel on your planned dates, or to accept a postponement until the borders reopen.
Also, travellers will need to be aware of the new sanitary measures and be understanding towards the different travel industry players.
Be sure to contact your travel agent or U.S. consulate or embassy for the latest information before travelling. The media are not always a reliable source of information.
If you don't see too much inconvenience in all this, then you could indeed take advantage of the low prices and have an enjoyable trip.
The most important thing is to be well informed and stay within your comfort level in the face of the situation we are all going through!
COVID-19: the current situation in the U.S.
As of September 15, there are just over 6,503,030 cases in the United States, according to the CDC, the country's national public health agency. This means that about 2% of the population is infected or has been infected with the Coronavirus.
Although there was a flattening of the curve in late May and early June, thanks in part to more restrictive measures taken by states such as New York, numbers began to climb after the relaxation of lockdown measures. In August, the curve appeared to be gradually flattening once again.
Here is the current distribution of cases per state:
Deaths by state:
And here is the most recent curve of cases across the country:
It can be seen that the number of cases almost doubled after lockdown restrictions were lifted, but is now decreasing.
It is also clear that the pandemic is not affecting all states equally. This can be explained in part by population density, but also by the measures taken by each state.
Unlike European countries, for example, the United States has not managed this crisis through decisions taken by a central government.
Rather, the governor of each state decides on safety measures to be taken in their state. That makes 50 different sets of measures across the country.
In addition, each state has several counties. Each county has a county mayor who chooses whether to implement all the measures.
This inconsistent application of measures has also contributed to the different case numbers between states.
Reopening in the United States
Since the beginning of lockdown, many people have been lobbying to reopen the economy.
The first of these was Trump himself, who called on certain states to “liberate” themselves from the safety measures. The President wanted to restart the economy quickly, despite the alarming number of cases.
Several mayors and governors followed suit. With the November election approaching, the political climate is quite tense.
With 36 million Americans (almost one in 10) unemployed in May, the pressure was being felt even by politicians who were not ready to resume economic activity.
In this uncertain climate, it was only natural that lockdown restrictions started to be lifted.
First Georgia, followed by Texas, Florida, Alaska, Utah, Oklahoma, Iowa, Tennessee, California…
These states with their significant populations and some of the largest cities in the U.S. resumed economic activities.
While many welcomed this, cases began to rise.
The week of July 20, given the alarming rise in numbers, especially in the South, several states decided to pause or reverse the reopening of public areas such as restaurants, bars or shopping malls.
As of August 14, here is the reopening situation in the different states, in an excellent chart made by the New York Times:
While the Midwest and Northeast continue to reopen, the western and southern states and a few others are reversing this decision.
The bottom line is that the COVID-19 crisis in the United States is both a health issue and a political issue. As such, the situation needs to be monitored very closely and could change from one day to the next.
That's what's happening with the Coronavirus travel in the United States. We will be updating this article as announcements are made, so be sure to come back!
If you have new information that doesn't appear in the article, or a question we didn't answer, please don't hesitate to share your thoughts in the comments below.
- Last updated: September 15.