Travelling From a Banned Country

Recently the US and most European countries banned anyone living in South Africa from flying to the US because Covid-19 mutated itself again, and South Africa was the first country to report that Omicron was a thing. As an American passport holder living in South Africa, I watched this unfold with trepidation. One of my dearest friends had passed away, and I needed to go back to Tennessee for his service. Luckily, I could travel freely to and from the States and South Africa with no problem. I had just been to the US in June, and unfortunately South Africans were banned then too. There was a brief interlude in October and November when the borders were open to everyone, but it was short-lived, so we knew how to manage this situation. Though I did wait with held breath to see if any other changes were going to be made.

Newark at night
Newark at night

The US did change the requirement for testing time from 72 hours to 24 hours before travel a few days before I left. It went into effect on Monday and I was leaving SA on Sunday evening but arriving in Newark on Monday, so I wasn’t sure if it applied to me or not. Deciding to not take a chance, I contacted my mobile test center who set me up with a test within 24 hours of travel. I don’t think there were any other differences leaving SA and flying into the US in December as opposed to June. There were fewer people flying and the ones who were flying were mostly American tourists. I took the 15 hour flight to Newark, the three hour layover, and then the two hour flight to Nashville. Arriving at the airport three hours early with no idea what to expect plus the time spent taxiing around Newark, I wore my mask for 24 hours straight lifting it up to put food in my mouth and pulling it down to chew.

When I landed in Newark with +- 300 people coming from South Africa. we were pushed through passport control and told to stand closer and then closer again to each other. When I muttered under my breath, “so much for social distancing,” the TSA agent looked at me with disdain and said “ma’me we don’t social distance in Newark.” And that summed up the whole trip to America. Coming from a banned country that is considering mandatory vaccines, that has had mandatory masking since March 2020, that promotes social distancing, that operates under a curfew, that sanitizes at every entrance to every store, building, and office, that checks temperatures at every occasion, that has extended its National State of Disaster 18 times since March 2020, I walked into one of the countries that banned us only to be told “we don’t social distance here.” The level of frustration was high. 

For Americans who want to travel to or from South Africa to America, it is still very easy to do. With three daily direct flights to South Africa (United with direct flights to Johannesburg and Cape Town and Delta with a direct flight to Joburg), all Americans or returning South Africans need is a Covid test (currently 72 hours to enter SA and 24 hours for US) and a whole lot of patience while everyone figures out what they are doing.

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