(CNN) — The United States flung its doors open to vaccinated international travelers on Monday, welcoming many visitors who’ve been shut out of the country for nearly 20 months.
For Maria Giribet Caldentey, it marked a precious opportunity to see her twin grandchildren in California. She’s already had to postpone this trip once as the border was closed.
“I’m leaving the first day they will allow me to leave… I’ve got butterflies. I had a few anxieties but I’m delighted to think that I’m going to be able to go see them,” she told CNN at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport.
It almost felt like business as usual there on Monday morning, with a steady stream of masked passengers flowing through the terminal.
But with new requirements going into effect for US air, land and ferry arrivals, there’s bound to be some congestion as the rules are rolled out.
A woman arriving from Germany hugs a grandson she has not seen in three years at Dulles International Airport in Virginia on Monday.
“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 were 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.
The Lufthansa Group told CNN that its carriers were operating 31 flights to the US on Monday, all fully booked. Virgin Atlantic said its flights were 98% full while both Swiss Air and British Airways said passenger volume on flights departing to the US was high.
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 in the coming weeks.
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. Los Angeles’ indoor vaccination requirement went into effect on November 8.
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 a key requirement for the vast majority of international travelers hoping to enter the United States.
Airlines are responsible for gathering and verifying this information from air travelers.
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
All set, the check-in agent assured Zwing and told her to prepare for longer wait times at security on Monday. But she got to the airport four hours before her flight and everything was “quick and easy,” Zwing said after arriving in Chicago.
“My boyfriend picked me up at the airport, it honestly didn’t feel like I hadn’t seen him for such a long time! We are so happy to be back with each other,” she said via email.
Which vaccines are accepted for entry to the US?
With different vaccines in use across the world, many travelers are wondering if their vaccination is valid for entry.
All FDA-approved and authorized vaccines, as well as vaccines that have an Emergency Use Listing from the WHO, will be accepted for entry into the United States.
As of November 8, the approved vaccines for travelers are:
• Janssen/Johnson & Johnson
Mixed-dose vaccinations will also be accepted. Some participants in vaccine trials will also be considered fully vaccinated.
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.
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.”
People cross through the Paso del Norte International bridge Monday, November 8, 2021, in El Paso, Texas.
Briana Sanchez/El Paso Times/AP
At country borders
The Department of Homeland Security said in a news release Monday that it would be working to prevent long waits.
“However, long lines are expected in the initial days following pent-up demand, and CBP will adjust resources as needed, while continuing to facilitate lawful trade and travel and protect our national security,” the agency said.
An aerial view of cars lining up to cross to the United States at the San Ysidro crossing port on the Mexico-United States border in Tijuana, Mexico, on November 8.
Guillermo Arias/AFP/Getty Images
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 advisor Dave Hershberger of Prestige Travel in Cincinnati, Ohio. “You’ve got to do your homework.”
CNN’s Joseph Ataman, Chris Liakos, Anna Cooban, Chris Isidore and Geneva Sands contributed to this report.