Why fully vaccinated travelers can leave the US but can’t get home!

Fully vaccinated travelers cannot return to the US with only a vaccination. They need a COVID test as well.

IAD Customs and Border Protection interview (Image courtesy CBP)

Earlier this week I engaged in a spirited discussion about the efficacy of the vaccines being used in the United States. I was certain that the CDC would allow fully vaccinated travelers to return to the US after a trip to Europe.

I was wrong. Even fully vaccinated travelers must get an additional test. US citizens will not be allowed to return home without “a negative COVID-19 test. This result must be presented before boarding a flight to the US. Plus, they must get a COVID-19 test 3 to 5 days after returning from international travel.”

I searched for the actual CDC missive and found it. The important paragraphs have been copied here. The instructions seem to contradict what we hear from many so-called experts. Somehow, the CDC has not caught up with reality.

CDC advises returning fully vaccinated travelers — get a COVID test. We won’t accept your vaccination

On April 2, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new fully vaccinated traveler guidance. Given recent studies evaluating the real-world effects of vaccination, CDC recommends that fully vaccinated people can travel at low risk to themselves. You are considered a fully vaccinated traveler two weeks after receiving the last recommended dose of vaccine.

Fully vaccinated people can travel within the United States and do not need COVID-19 testing or post-travel self-quarantine as long as they continue to take COVID-19 precautions while traveling. They must wear a mask, avoid crowds, practice social distancing, and wash their hands frequently.

“With millions of Americans getting vaccinated every day, it is important to update the public on the latest science about what fully vaccinated people can do safely. Now these instructions include guidance on safe travel,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. “We continue to encourage every American to get vaccinated as soon as it’s their turn. This way we begin to safely take steps back to our everyday lives. Vaccines help us return to the things we love about life. So we encourage every American to get vaccinated as soon as they have the opportunity.”

CDC’s international travel advice for fully vaccinated travelers

New SARS-CoV-2 variants are spreading. There are also differences in disease burden and vaccines, and vaccine coverage around the world. Therefore, CDC is providing the following guidance related to international travel (highlighting added by editor).

  • Fully vaccinated people can travel internationally without getting a COVID-19 test before travel unless it is required by the international destination.
  • Self-quarantine after returning to the United States for fully vaccinated people is not need required, unless required by a state or local jurisdiction.
  • Fully vaccinated people must still have a negative COVID-19 test result before they board a flight to the United States and get a COVID-19 test 3 to 5 days after returning from international travel.
  • Fully vaccinated people should continue to take COVID-19 precautions while traveling internationally.

Updates to CDC travel guidance for fully vaccinated travelers can be found here:


A large number of Americans still remain unvaccinated. Plus, with the current state of the pandemic, CDC recommends that fully vaccinated people continue to take COVID-19 precautions. This includes precautions such as wearing a mask, social distancing, washing hands frequently, and avoiding crowds when in public. When visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple other households follow protection protocols. And, when around unvaccinated people who are at high risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19, act as though you have no vaccine.

Unvaccinated travelers should check travel restrictions

If traveling internationally, check with your destination’s Office of Foreign Affairs or Ministry of Health or the US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Country Information for details about entry requirements and restrictions for arriving travelers. Follow all entry requirements for your destination and provide any required or requested health information. Travelers who do not follow a destination’s requirements, may be denied entry and required to return to the United States.

If traveling by air, check if your airline requires any health information, testing, or other documents. For international travel, get a COVID-19 test no more than 3 days before you return by air to the United States. You are required to show a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before boarding a flight to the United States. (Editor’s note: Even fully vaccinated travelers.)

Information for people who recently recovered from COVID-19

Survivors of a documented COVID-19 infection within the last 3 months must follow all requirements and recommendations for fully vaccinated travelers. They do NOT need to get a test 3-5 days after travel unless they are symptomatic. People can continue to test positive for up to 3 months after diagnosis and not be infectious to others.

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