(CNN) — The United States is flinging its doors wide open to vaccinated international travelers on Monday, welcoming many visitors who’ve been shut out of the country for 20 months.
All set, the check-in agent assured Zwing and told her to prepare for longer wait times at security on Monday.
“My boyfriend and I are super excited and are counting down the hours til we’re finally reunited again! He keeps telling me that he can barely sleep out of excitement,” Zwing said Sunday via email. “For me it’s still so surreal that it’s actually about to happen! So I’ll believe it when I land in Chicago.”
With new requirements going into effect for air, land and ferry arrivals, there’s bound to be some congestion as the rules are rolled out.
“It’s going to be a bit sloppy at first, I can assure you,” Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said at a late October travel industry conference. “There will be lines, unfortunately,” he said, citing “an onslaught of travel all at once.”
Many Delta flights due to arrive on Monday are 100% full with high load factors in the following weeks, according to Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant. Delta has seen a 450% increase in international bookings in the six weeks since the US reopening was announced, he said.
John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York (pictured in January 2021) will welcome more international flights on Monday.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
International flight arrivals will be up 11% on Monday over a similar day in October at Newark Liberty and John F. Kennedy international airports, with 253 flights scheduled to arrive, according to the Port Authority of NY & NJ.
The Port Authority expects a gradual increase at those airports over the next two months, with international traffic reaching about 75% of November and December 2019 levels, based on current international schedules which are likely to change.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Transportation Security Administration have also been short staffed and face a looming deadline right before Thanksgiving for federally mandated employee vaccinations.
Increased wait times are expected by CBP at busy land border crossings from Canada and Mexico.
All this to say, preparation and patience will be key for international travelers heading into the US.
Here’s what travelers can expect and prepare for:
When you get there
The United States is largely wide open, although there are some state and local restrictions that still apply.
For example, there are mask mandates in Hawaii, Illinois, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. Washington, DC and Puerto Rico also require masks in indoor public spaces.
In some cities, including New York and San Francisco, there are vaccine requirements for indoor public spaces including restaurants.
Hawaii, which had some of the strictest entry requirements in the US, will now align with the new federal rules for international air travel. Although capacity restrictions in the state are easing, there are still some limits in place.
California (with Santa Monica pictured here), New York and Florida are leading destinations for incoming international travelers.
Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images
Before you go
Getting vaccinated is the key requirement for the vast majority of international travelers hoping to enter the United States.
Visitors to the new Summit One Vanderbilt observatory in New York ride up a glass elevator on October 21.
Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images
For air travel
Unvaccinated Americans and a very limited number of unvaccinated international travelers exempted from the vaccination requirement must test within one day of departing for the US.
Many airlines have mobile apps and portals on their websites where vaccination and testing information can be processed digitally.
A Delta Air Lines employee works on the departures level at Los Angeles International Airport in August. Delta will operate 139 flights from international destinations into the US on November 8.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Hard copies are a good idea, too.
“Proof of who you are, your vaccination status, and front and back of a credit card can go a long way to turning the nightmare of losing your documents into a reasonable situation.”
Miami (with Ocean Drive in Miami Beach pictured here) is among three top destinations for international travelers on Hopper.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
At land borders
Customs and Border Protection anticipates an increase in travel volumes and wait times at land and ferry crossings and is encouraging travelers to have their identification and vaccination documents ready. The agency also encourages travelers to use its CBP One app.
Staffing levels will be at pre-Covid levels, according to CBP, but the agency will be balancing multiple priorities.
Digital and paper documentation is acceptable for proof of vaccination, and vaccine cards do not need to be in English.
Travelers should be prepared to attest to their vaccination status and reason for travel. They should also be prepared to show proof of being fully vaccinated, if requested by a CBP officer.
Children under 18 traveling with vaccinated adults are exempt from the vaccination requirement.
Covid tests are not required at land and ferry crossings.
The web of rules and requirements to travel internationally right now is undeniably tangled.
“Just hopping on a plane and going someplace doesn’t work anymore,” says travel adviser Dave Hershberger of Prestige Travel in Cincinnati, Ohio. “You’ve got to do your homework.”