California, CDC make big changes to travel restrictions. Here’s what’s changed for travelers.

It was a big day for Californians who’ve been optimistically looking forward to spring and

It was a big day for Californians who’ve been optimistically looking forward to spring and summer travel. Nearly four months after the state’s post-holiday coronavirus surge, the California Department of Public Health lifted its 120-mile travel advisory on April 1st. Then, on April 2nd, the national Centers for Disease Control updated its travel guidelines, loosening rules that required quarantining and a Covid-19 test before flying.

While the guidance from the two agencies remains cautious and, in places, even contradictory, the overall message is that the benefits of relaxing travel restrictions — including encouraging more people to get vaccinated — outweigh the risks.

In the CDC’s announcement, agency director Dr. Rochelle Walensky declared it safe for fully vaccinated people to travel within the United States, a dramatic change in policy more than a year into the pandemic.

Walensky’s statement emphasized that the latest scientific research on vaccine effectiveness in real world situations, both in terms of prevention and transmission of disease, has been remarkably positive.


This new data, along with the accelerating vaccine roll-out in California, where 18 million people  — nearly a third of all residents — have gotten at least one dose, and across the country (153 million doses administered and nearly 17% of the population fully vaccinated), has allowed for this easing of restrictions.

What’s changed in California

In California, the state is no longer advising that people traveling for leisure or other non-essential reasons stay within 120 miles of home. While that advisory was not binding or enforced, it did discourage vacation travel amongst those rule-followers that were keeping an eye on public health recommendations.

This new guidance supersedes a previous advisory, from January 6th, which urged Californians to “avoid non-essential travel to any part of California more than 120 miles from one’s place of residence, or to other states or countries.” The advisory also called on “all persons arriving in or returning to California from other states or countries, should self-quarantine for 10 days after arrival.”

The newly updated advisory, released on Thursday, simply advises that travelers arriving or returning to California follow CDC guidance, get tested for Covid within 1-3 days of arrival, and isolate if they test positive or develop symptoms.

The guidance for non-essential travel is more restrictive, advising Californians to continue to avoid unnecessary travel outside of the state and “strongly discouraging” non-essential travelers from outside the state from visiting, regardless of their vaccination status. If those visitors do come, the public health officials asks that they get tested three to five days after arrival, and self-quarantine for a full 7 days, even with a negative test. For those who don’t test, the recommendation is 10 days.

These guidelines are more restrictive than the federal guidelines from the CDC.

And what’s changed nationally

The CDC continues to urge people to avoid travel until fully vaccinated. But once vaccinated, the agency gives its blessing to domestic travel — with a few significant caveats.

The new guidelines ask that even vaccinated people continue to wear masks and require face coverings on public transportation and in airports and other transportation hubs. They also advise that vaccinated people continue to socially distance and avoid crowds, wash hands, and isolate if they develop symptoms.

But vaccinated people — along with those who have recovered from Covid-19 within three months — no longer need to get tested before travel or quarantine on arrival.

International travel remains far more restricted, with most of the world still considered off-limits.

There are only 27 countries in the lowest tier of Covid cases — the tier that permits non-essential travel so long as travelers adhere to standard Covid-era public health guidance. And among those countries, many either don’t allow travelers from the U.S. or impose strict testing and quarantining requirements to enter.