General US Travel Restrictions for Foreign Citizens

us travel restrictions

There are several US travel restrictions in place at present that can limit or even prohibit the entry entirely of some foreign citizens. There are also limitations on taking certain products into the United States including certain foodstuffs and alcohol.

This article looks at the current US travel restrictions for visitors arriving from overseas including the latest COVID-19 measures.

Read on to find out whether and under what conditions you can apply for a US ESTA or visa and travel to America.

US Restrictions in Place for Coronavirus

There are currently exceptional travel restrictions in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic. These additional temporary measures have been introduced in line with international efforts to curb the spread of the virus and to protect the public.

Currently, foreign citizens who have been in any of the following countries in the last 14 days cannot enter the United States:

  • China
  • Iran
  • European Schengen Area
  • The UK
  • Ireland
  • Brazil

US citizens and foreigners with permanent residency are exempt from the restrictions and may enter the country through specified airports.

COVID-19 entry restrictions in the US are being constantly reviewed and updated as the situation evolves, foreigners should check the latest information before making any travel plans.

Nationalities Restricted from Entering the USA

The foreign policy of the United States stipulates that entry is denied or restricted broadly to citizens of countries deemed a risk to national health or security.

As a result, restrictions are currently in place affecting the following nations:

  • Chad
  • Iran
  • Libya
  • North Korea
  • Syria
  • Venezuela
  • Yemen

Travelers visiting from these countries will face limitations on the visas they may apply for and may face further immigration checks on entry to the country. At present, North Korean citizens may not enter the USA under any circumstances.

Although these regulations may be changed in the future, they are not part of the US response to the COVID-19 pandemic and are therefore not considered temporary.

Restricted Entry After Visiting Certain Countries

Travelers face US entry restrictions if they have visited any of the following 7 nations

  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Syria
  • Libya
  • Sudan
  • Somalia
  • Yemen

Citizens of visa waiver countries who have visited any of these regions since 2011 no longer qualify for ESTA. They can still travel to the United States but will instead need to apply for a visa at a US embassy or consulate.

Foreigners are therefore advised to avoid visiting restricted countries before the US to remain eligible for the ESTA visa waiver.

Travel Restrictions for Criminal Record Reasons?

US Homeland Security sets strict rules on entrance to the country based on previous criminal activity. Those who have a proven record of the following misdemeanors are liable to have US tourist visa, other visa, and visa waiver applications rejected. They may even be barred from entry to the USA:

  • Drug addiction or abuse
  • Drug trafficking
  • Espionage
  • Terrorism

Additionally, US immigration policy restricts the entrance of citizens that are deemed likely to become dependent on public welfare and assistance. Furthermore, those carrying infectious diseases such as tuberculosis could also be deemed inadmissible.

Finally, those who have not respected the terms and conditions of their previous visas for the US may be prevented from applying for a new one.

Food and Alcohol Restrictions

There are strict policies on taking food into the US. Food can be carried into the United States for personal use although restrictions apply to certain types of produce. All food products must be declared. Generally packaged and processed food, tea, coffee, and solid cheeses can all be imported without issues.

Fruit, vegetables, and meat

Some kinds of fruits and vegetables cannot be taken into the United States. This is to protect community health and prevent the introduction of diseases. Travelers who wish to carry a fruit or vegetable into the US can check online to see whether there are any restrictions in place.

Meat, milk, egg, and poultry products may be either prohibited or restricted, depending on the country of origin. Canned meat is allowed with some exceptions.

To avoid confiscation, passengers planning to travel with any animal products should check the rules for the specific product before traveling and always declare such products at security.

Can I take alcohol into the United States?

Travelers over the age of 21 are generally allowed to take one liter of alcohol into the US duty-free. Although additional quantities can be entered, they will be subject to federal excise tax, the amount should not exceed that considered reasonable for personal consumption or gifts.

Restrictions on alcohol importation vary depending on the states. Passengers are advised to check the Alcohol Beverage Control Board of the state they are visiting to find out their policy.

Other US Travel Restrictions and Entry Requirements

In addition to the US entry requirements detailed above, travelers should check whether any of the following restrictions may apply depending on their individual circumstances.

Social media questions when applying for a US visa or ESTA

US visa and ESTA application forms now include questions about the traveler’s social media presence. Applicants are asked to provide social media IDs for any Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram accounts they have used over the past 5 years.

US visa social media checks allow Customs and Border Protection to detect engagement with certain kinds of online content and therefore identify potential threats.

The social media information provided is unlikely to affect an individual’s chance of being approved for the ESTA or visa. Restrictions will only be applied should an individual’s accounts and activity raise security concerns.

Can I travel to the US with an emergency travel document?

It is not possible to apply for an ESTA travel waiver using an emergency passport. Instead, people who need to enter the country with an emergency travel document should apply for a visa at their nearest US embassy or consulate.

Travelers are reminded that it can take several days or weeks to obtain a US visa from a diplomatic mission.

Children traveling with one parent or with another adult

Minors traveling to the United States with one parent, or someone who is not a parent or legal guardian, may be stopped and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The accompanying adult is advised to carry a note signed by the non-traveling parent(s) in which they give their permission for the child (under 18 years of age) to go out of the country.

Should a parent have single child custody, it is recommended that they carry a copy of relevant paperwork which shows this to be the case.

Although such documentation may not be requested at CBP, it is a good idea to be prepared in order to avoid delays and inconvenience on arrival.

Global Entry Program for Frequent Flyers

Those who travel through US airports regularly can enroll in the Global Entry program. Pre-approved, low-risk individuals receive trusted traveler status meaning they are not required to queue and speak to Customs and Border Protection Officers.

Applicants are required to attend an interview and have a background check. Pre-approved travelers enjoy reduced waiting times as they can use special automated kiosks on arrival.

There is a $100 fee for joining the scheme. Once approved, membership lasts for 5 years. A US ESTA or visa is still required by trusted travelers.

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