Travel to the United States

With a surge in new infections and daily death tolls spreading across India, the United States quickly enacted an entry ban on May 4. The restrictions included non-U.S. citizens or permanent residents who have recently been to India.

However, quick-thinking travelers soon realized that there was a way to bypass the ban legally:

According to travel regulations, Indian nationals holding non-immigrant US visas can enter the United States if they are able to prove that they have stayed in a third country not on a COVID travel ban list for the past 14 days.

One of the most popular — and closest — countries eligible for this bypass is the United States’ neighbor to the south, Mexico.

By reading up on the visa policy for Mexico and carefully planning their trip, some Indian nationals are using Mexico to legally gain entry into the United States.

Multiple states across India hit record numbers of infections between the end of April to mid-May. The worst day was on May 6, when India peaked at 414,000 new coronavirus cases. During this time, many Indians were visiting family, attending to emergencies, or on their way back to the United States when they received the news that they could not enter the country.

Although the United States made some exceptions, such as allowing Indians with American citizenship, permanent residency, or student visas to enter, many more were unsuccessful. Indians with work-based visas — many who have been living in the United States for decades — were shut out.

In a matter of seconds, thousands of Indians who had upcoming travels were effectively barred entry and left scrambling to come up with a Plan B.

After hours of research and coming up with ideas, some travelers found out that there were ‘third countries’ that ticked all the boxes: they accepted Indian nationals, had easy entry requirements, and were not on the United States’ ban list.

Mexico has been an obvious choice for many returning Indians for many reasons.

First, as long as the passenger has a valid US visa, they can apply for a visa on arrival that is valid for up to six months.

Furthermore, Mexico has an extremely well-developed transportation infrastructure with the United States, with hundreds of flights every day.

Finally, Mexico is abundant in tourist attractions, like the beaches of Cancun, the impressive Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, and the thousands of museums and galleries to keep travelers busy while they wait out their 14 days.

There are currently no quarantine requirements in Mexico for incoming passengers, although the Mexican government encourages people to follow basic hygiene protocols such as socially distancing, washing their hands, and wearing masks.

Each of the 32 states in Mexico has their own coronavirus measures depending on their epidemiological situation. The Mexican government has assigned each state a color (green, yellow, orange, or red) depending on current cases.

The latest color-coded map shows that the majority of states are classified as either yellow or orange. Yellow states have reduced capacity requirements for places that may become crowded, such as hotel public areas, restaurants, beaches, stores, and tourist attractions. The government states that these areas must operate at 70 percent capacity or less.

Orange states have even tighter limitations on places mentioned above: Hotel lobbies, restaurants, and tourist attractions are limited to 50 percent capacity, while stores and beaches can only have 30 to 40 percent of its regular capacity.

Getting to Mexico is also convenient: there are plenty of flights that transit through Europe, including global hubs such as Frankfurt and Paris. The average travel time to get from India to Mexico is about a day, and there are many choices in terms of airlines. The most popular carriers that fly between these two destinations include Air India, United, Emirates, Lufthansa, Air France, and KLM, among others.

There is no need to provide a negative PCR test or quarantine on arrival, although many resorts and hotels will ask guests to fill out a health form upon check-in.

Once the traveler has been in Mexico (or another country not on the COVID travel ban list) for 14 full days, they are allowed to return to the United States.

Although the land border between Mexico and the United States is closed for non-essential travel until August 21, air travel is still allowed. Major airline hubs in Mexico include Mexico City International Airport, as well as the airports in Cancun, Guadalajara, Tijuana, and Monterrey.

Entry to the United States has a few more regulations: every arrival must have a negative COVID-19 test that was taken 72 hours or less before entry to the United States. Mexico has plenty of medical facilities and clinics that do PCR and antigen tests, including some that offer rapid results and at-home testing.

Although the future of traveling is still uncertain, these ‘third countries’ provide a helpful alternative to travel bans.