The airspace is blue again for international passenger flights. Both India and the United States have further relaxed their respective guidelines for fully-vaccinated international arrivals. Though unlike before, travel between USA and India is still subject to certain regulations. There is a new update every other day in the constantly volatile scenario of international air travel.
We, at IndianEagle.com, a leading travel-booking partner of Indians in USA, keep this space up to date in order to ensure hassle-free travel for you. This article is part of the continued series on the US-India air bubble travel, from departure to arrival, as Indian Eagle is committed to making travel simpler and easier these unprecedented times.
No RT-PCR tests for children (below 5 years) traveling to India
After 15 months of air bubble flights between USA and India, children under 5 years of age are exempted from taking an RT-PCR test before and after arrival in India. The most sought–after relaxation for children from abroad came into effect on November 12, 2021. Until then, even infants on lap were subject to pre-arrival COVID-19 testing for travel to India.
India resumes e-visa services for most categories
Since the onset of the pandemic in India, e-visa services had been suspended. With effect from March 30, 2021, the Government of India resumed e-visa services in some categories including e-medical visa, e-medical attendant visa, e-business visa, and e-conference visa to India. Those who have obtained an e-visa in any of these categories on or after March 30, 2021 will be allowed entry into India. The visas issued in these categories before March 30, 2021 are redundant.
On November 15, 2021, India started issuing e-Tourist visa, e-Emergency visa, and e-X Misc visa. All tourist visas to India issued before October 6, 2021 are currently invalid. Foreign citizens need to apply for a fresh e-Tourist visa that is valid for 120 days from issuance for a single entry to India. Currently, an e-Tourist visa allows maximum 30 days on stay in India on a single entry.
India’s quarantine rules for international arrivals
The quarantine rules for international travelers to India have been relaxed to a great extent since the revised guidelines took effect on October 25, 2021. There is no institutional quarantine in India unless an international traveler shows symptoms similar to those of COVID-19 and tests positive for the novel coronavirus on arrival.
Even there is no home-quarantine for fully-vaccinated international arrivals in India. The current guidelines for entry to and arrival in India exempt fully-vaccinated overseas travelers from additional testing and home-quarantine. You are eligible for this relaxation only if you are found asymptomatic during thermal screening on arrival at an entry airport in India. Self-health monitoring will apply to you for 14 days.
If you are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, you are subject to a self-paid RT-PCR test on arrival, 7-day home quarantine and a COVID test on day 8 in India. If the result of the test to be taken on day 8 is negative, you shall only self-monitor your health for the next 7 days.
Airlines that B1/B2 visa holders can travel on from India
Since November 8, 2021, fully-vaccinated B1/B2 visa holders from India have been traveling to the United States; all thanks to the Presidential Proclamation that lifted the #travelban and #entryrestrictions on the premise of vaccination. Indians having a valid US visitor visa do no longer need NIE approval or 14-day stopover in a third country if they are fully-vaccinated with Covishield of Covaxin at least 15 days before their scheduled travel.
However, airline-specific restrictions do still apply to their travel from India. Indian passport holders, except spouses of US citizens, cannot board European airlines for travel to USA from India. It is because of the air bubble agreement with Indian government that British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France and Virgin Atlantic are not onboarding Indian citizens if their final destination is beyond Europe. They can travel on flights from India to USA operated by Air India, United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways.
Regulations for travelers from India if Dubai transit time is over 10 hours
Travelers from India, among the restricted countries, are required to leave Dubai Airport’ terminal if the transit time or layover is over 10 hours in Dubai. In this case, you can apply for Dubai Connect online at least 24 hours prior to your scheduled departure from India. A request for Dubai Connect is subject to the UAE immigration approval. If approved, you will get complimentary accommodation outside the airport, complimentary visa on arrival and free airport transfer service.
If denied, you will have to arrange accommodation outside the airport and must apply for a visa on arrival or have a pre-approved Dubai transit visa. In case you are unable to provide evidence of accommodation (hotel or a friend/relative’s residence in Dubai) outside Dubai Airport (DXB), you are likely to be denied boarding at the departure airport in India.
As per the UAE’s current regulations, travelers from India with the transit time/layover more than 10 hours at Dubai Airport must take a COVID-19 PCR test within 48 hours prior to scheduled departure from India and a (additional) Rapid PCR test at the departure airport within 6 hours of scheduled boarding. These two test reports must be negative and have a QR code.
The above restriction does not apply to passengers from India if the transit time/layover is less than 10 hours.
Indians need International Travel Certificate for flying to USA
An International Travel Certificate is nothing but proof of vaccination that a fully-vaccinated Indian must have for traveling to the United States. You can download it from the government of India’s CoWin portal. The certificate is compliant with WHO’s digital format for vaccination proof. The vaccine certificate/international travel certificate should specify the vaccine name, vaccine type, vaccine manufacturer, number and dates of the doses administered, other than your date of birth and passport number. Log in to the CoWin portal with your registered phone number, navigate to the ‘International Travel Certificate’ section and click on it. Enter your date of birth (as per the given format) and passport number. Then click on ‘Submit’. The certificate is ready to be downloaded. You can take a printout or carry a soft copy on your mobile device.
Can PIO cardholders exit India after December 31, 2021?
PIO cardholders can travel to India before or on December 31, 2021, but they are likely to face issues with return travel from India if their PIO card is not converted into an OCI card by December 31. This is the extended deadline for the PIO to OCI conversion. “Indian Immigration Check Post(s) will continue to consider all PIO cards valid for exit from/entry into India till December 31, 2021 as the last and final opportunity,” according to the Indian Embassy, USA. If you are a PIO cardholder traveling to India, you must enter and/or exit India by the end of 2021.
The same relaxation is in place for OCI cardholders below 20 and above 50 years of age with renewed passports but old OCI cards.
Travelers from India must have negative COVID reports with QR code
Effective from May 22, 2021, a QR code is mandatory for all negative COVID reports that people traveling out of India need. If you are scheduled to travel to USA or any other country on or after May 22, your negative COVID PCR report must have a QR code linking to the original report. Airlines departing India will not accept negative COVID reports without a QR code, which will result in denial of boarding. This mandate came in view of the incidence of forging negative reports for international travel.
No registration for flights to and from India
Good news for international travelers flying into and out of India! Now booking VBM flights and air bubble flights is simpler and easier. India’s Ministry of Home Affairs has eased the regulations for passengers of flights under the Vande Bharat Mission and the air transport bubble arrangement. Those planning to travel on Air India’s VBM flights from abroad need not register with the Indian Embassy or consulates in the countries where they are currently residing or stranded. Similarly, travelers booking air bubble flights, inbound or outbound, are no longer required to apply to the Ministry of Civil Aviation. It is enough to fill out a self-declaration form with your details and submit it on Air Suvidha within 72 hours prior to traveling to India.
New Guidelines for Unvaccinated Americans Returning to USA
The United States’ new international air travel system will take effect in November 2021. Accordingly, the COVID-19 testing rules have been amended for unvaccinated Americans, irrespective of age, returning to the country from abroad this November onwards. If you are a US citizen and currently in India, you will have to take a COVID-19 PCR test within 24 hours of your return flight to the US, rather than within 72 hours. On top of that, you will need to purchase a viral test that you will take after arrival in the US. You may be asked for a proof of the purchase at the time of boarding the return flight and/or on arrival in the US. The new guidelines, effective from November 2021, will also apply to children, according to Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary.
Unvaccinated Americans traveling back from abroad will self-quarantine for seven full days even though they test negative in the viral test after arrival. However, vaccinated Americans won’t be required to self-quarantine on testing negative after arrival. Whether the amended rules will apply to partially-vaccinated Americans flying back home, is still not clear. What type of a viral test to be bought and taken by unvaccinated US citizens returning from abroad, is yet to be specified by the CDC. Basically, nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) and antigen test are the two types of a viral COVID-19 test.
Delhi Airport’s AI-based COVID testing facility delivers results in 10 minutes
Delhi IGI Airport is home to India’s first and only AI-enabled COVID-19 testing facility. Located in Terminal 3 for international civil flight operations, the new facility can conduct antigen tests on passengers of an entire international flight in a couple of minutes and deliver results in 10-15 minutes. This makes it easier for passengers traveling to destinations, including the United States, which require negative antigen test reports for entry. Some of the passengers of Lufthansa, Air France and KLM have successfully used the facility and got digital reports on their mobile phones. New Delhi Airport’s artificial intelligence-enabled COVID testing facility uses computer vision technology, paper-free backend and scalable node architecture to cater to last-minute testing needs of outbound international flyers.
COVID-19 Test is mandatory for travelers flying into USA
With effect on January 26, 2021, all international travelers flying into the United States must provide a negative RT-PCR test report or valid documentation of recent recovery from COVID-19 at the time of boarding flights for any destination in the US. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requires you to take an antigen or NAAT (nucleic acid amplification test, for example, RT-PCR) test within 3 days prior to your scheduled departure for the US and submit the negative report to the airline. Antibody test reports will not be accepted for entry to the United States. Airlines are directed to deny boarding to those who do not provide a valid negative test report or proof of recovery. The documentation of recovery could be a letter from a certified healthcare provider or a public health official ascertaining that you are safe to travel.
This requirement for traveling to the United States applies to all international travelers, including US citizens and legal permanent residents. The CDC also recommends that international arrivals get tested within 5 days and quarantine themselves (stay indoors) for 7 days after their arrival in the US.
Qatar’s guidelines for transit of travelers from India
Traveling to USA from India via Doha in Qatar? Effective April 29, 2021, Qatar’s guidelines for transit in Doha apply to travelers from India. It requires you to take an RT-PCR test at a medical center/lab approved by the government of India, within 48 hours prior to boarding your flight in India, and produce a negative report at the time of check-in at the departure airport. Failure to comply with this requirement will result in denial of boarding on Qatar Airways flights from India.
Onsite COVID-19 test at Indian airports
Online booking of slots for COVID-19 tests at major Indian airports is available. Currently, the COVID testing facility for international arrivals is available at Delhi IGI Airport, Mumbai CSMI Airport, BLR Kempegowda Airport, Chennai MAA International Airport, and Kochi International Airport, Kerala. Not every passenger arriving from abroad needs to undergo a COVID test at the entry airport. Those arriving into India on nonstop flights from USA and other countries are not required to take a test on arrival provided they carry a negative RT-PCR report uploaded on Air Suvidha. If your flights to India transit in the Middle East, Europe, Brazil, or South Africa, you must take a molecular test on arrival at the entry airport in India.
Lufthansa’s COVID-19 test policy
In September 2020, Lufthansa will be operating 160 round-trip flights to India. In the September schedule of air bubble flights to India, Lufthansa will serve Bengaluru, Mumbai and New Delhi. India’s continued air transport bubble arrangement with the United States and Germany has facilitated the September schedule of Lufthansa flights to India from USA and Canada via Frankfurt or Munich.
A negative COVID-19 test is not mandatory for boarding Lufthansa flights. Only asymptomatic people are allowed to travel on Lufthansa though. However, Lufthansa requires passengers to carry a medical certificate and a negative COVID test report in case they will not be able to keep wearing masks on board due to medical reasons. The conditional exemption to wearing masks during the flight will take effect from September 1 and apply to passengers of Lufthansa group airlines. The COVID-19 test must be taken within 48 hours of undertaking the journey.
India’s new no-fly rule for COVID19 travel
In a zero-tolerance approach to ensuring COVID protection on board, India’s aviation regulator directs airlines to put travelers refusing to cover their face on the no-fly list. If a passenger does not comply with the obligation of wearing a mask or face covering, he/she is likely to be denied boarding or deplaned. They may also be barred from flying for a certain period of time. The crew members of a flight reserve the right to decide who to put on the no-fly list. Several major airlines, including Delta Airlines, have the same ‘no-fly’ policy for passengers amid the COVID19 pandemic. The consequences of ending up on a no-fly list may include a lifetime ban on flying in India.
Hot meals and inflight entertainment are back on board
India’s civil aviation ministry has issued new directives for airlines operating domestic and international flights under the Vande Bharat Mission and the air transport bubble arrangement. As per the new SOP, passengers can be served pre-packed meals, snacks and beverages aboard domestic flights depending on the flight time and the policy of the operating airlines. Airlines operating international flights are also allowed to serve hot meals with limited beverages on board amidst precautions against COVID19. Airlines are directed to ensure that completely disposable trays, plates, cutlery, and containers are used on board. In all travel classes, flight attendants will be serving beverages in single-use disposable units. In-flight beverage-pouring service will continue to remain suspended. They will wear a new set of gloves for serving every meal.
Since international travel resumed under the Vande Bharat Mission, inflight entertainment had remained banned. The latest directives allow inflight entertainment on domestic and international flights. Airlines need to follow certain regulations concerning inflight entertainment, like providing disposable earphones or disinfecting earphones before every flight. With the lifting of ban on inflight entertainment, family travelers won’t have a tough time controlling kids on board.