On October 12, 2021, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it will reopen the U.S. land borders with Mexico and Canada for non-essential travel for vaccinated travelers. Non-essential travel includes tourism and family visits. Land and ferry crossings from Canada and Mexico have been closed to non-essential travel since March 2020. DHS indicated that this policy change will align land border crossings with the new international air travel COVID-19 prevention protocols to be implemented in November 2021. Accordingly, it does not appear as if U.S. citizens will be required to be vaccinated to enter the U.S. from Canada or Mexico. Similar to the the new rules for international air travel, DHS has not announced a specific day in November that the land borders with Canada and Mexico would be reopened for non-essential travel.

DHS announced that this change in policy will be rolled out in two phases:

  1. In November 2021, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will begin allowing fully vaccinated travelers from Mexico or Canada to enter the U.S. at land and ferry ports of entry for non-essential reasons. Travelers will be required to have appropriate paperwork that provides proof of vaccination. Individuals who have not been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 will not be allowed to travel for non-essential purposes from Canada and Mexico into the United States via land and ferry ports of entry.
  2. In January 2022, CBP will require all inbound foreign national travelers crossing U.S. land or ferry ports of entry - whether for essential or non-essential reasons - to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19. DHS explained that this phased approach is being adopted to provide ample time for essential travelers such as truck drivers, students, and healthcare workers to get vaccinated.

As with the new international air travel rules, there are several unanswered questions regarding this new policy. In addition to the exact effective dates, DHS has not described what evidence will be accepted to prove vaccination status, although the CDC has indicated that the six vaccines that are FDA authorized or listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization will meet the criteria for travel to the U.S. DHS also did not indicate what criteria, if any, will qualify a traveler for an exemption from the vaccine mandate. The U.S. government announced in September that any exceptions to the air travel vaccine mandate would be "very narrow" and would only include children, vaccine clinical trial participants, and humanitarian cases for people who lack access to vaccination in a timely manner.

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