If you will be heading or returning to the U.S. from abroad anytime soon, you’ll want to make sure you have a strategy in place for getting a COVID-19 test prior to your departure to the states. As of January 26th, it’s required in order to board a U.S.-bound international flight.
The good news? Testing has ramped up the world over, and is becoming more widely available, including at airports and now increasingly at hotels. Travel companies, including airlines and travel planners, are also stepping in to help international travelers either actually get tested or find testing sites in their destination.
Making sure you have access to relative quick and reliable testing abroad is just one piece of the international travel puzzle, however. Another piece is making sure you are aware of the latest COVID-19-related travel rules and restrictions for any international destination you are flying to. And U.S. officials have cautioned that in addition to having a plan for getting tested to meet the new requirement, international travelers should also have a contingency plan in case their test comes back positive.
“If you were to test positive for COVID-19 while overseas, you would need to postpone your trip back to the United States, potentially for several weeks. All travelers should have a plan B,” said the U.S. State Department’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, Ian Brownlee, during a January 26 media briefing about the testing requirement for international travelers entering the U.S.
Brownlee noted that U.S. travelers should consider where they would stay, the cost of an extended stay, and the repercussions they would face if they could not immediately return, whether for work, for childcare issues, or other responsibilities.
“Think through the answers to these important questions carefully” prior to committing to travel plans, Brownlee said. Another recommendation he has for international travelers: Consider travel insurance that covers COVID-19 medical treatments and COVID-19 related travel disruptions.
What is the new testing requirement for travel to the U.S.?
Effective January 26, all international passengers flying into the United States who are two and older—including returning U.S. citizens and permanent residents—must provide proof of a laboratory-generated negative COVID-19 test result procured no more than three days prior to departure, according to the CDC’s new rule. The tests must be either a viral antigen test or a nucleic acid amplification test, such as a polymerase chain (PCR) test, reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) test, or a transcription-mediated amplification test.
The test result must be either a paper or electronic document provided by a laboratory. It must include the passenger’s name, specimen collection date, and the type of test.
Airlines will be required to confirm the negative test result for all passengers before they board and must deny boarding to those passengers who do not have a negative test result. For those with a connecting flight, the test must be procured no more than three days before the initial leg of their journey (provided the layover is not more than 24 hours). Passengers will need to get retested if a flight delay causes the test result to fall outside of the three-day predeparture testing period by more than 24 hours or by more than 48 hours for a connecting flight.
Passengers under the age of two are exempt, as are airline crew members, federal law enforcement personnel, and U.S. military while on duty. Limited exemptions will be granted for those who have a medical emergency or are traveling because their health or life are in grave danger.
Those who have already had COVID-19 prior to their travels can show proof of a positive test result combined with a healthcare professional declaring that they have recovered from within three months prior to departure in lieu of the negative COVID test result requirement.
For travelers who test positive prior to their flight to the U.S., they will need to self-isolate in their destination and delay their travel until they have recovered from COVID-19 and can present a negative test result and/or documentation of recovery from a healthcare professional clearing them for travel.
Where can travelers find information about international COVID-19 testing sites?
To get a solid overview and some helpful tools for finding COVID-19 testing sites in a country you are planning to visit, the State Department is an excellent place to start. Its thorough country specific information for COVID-19 includes rules and regulations for traveling to the destination, as well as an entire COVID-19 testing section. This testing section covers whether PCR tests are available for U.S. citizens and if test results are typically available within 72 hours. There is often a link or contact details available for how to get more information about testing.
Another good resource is TestforTravel.com, a website on which you can search any international destination for testing centers and filter by the specific type of COVID-19 test you are looking to obtain.
International hotels and resorts offering COVID testing
As the U.S. testing requirement went into effect, hotels throughout the world rolled out programs to assist guests with accessing tests. (We’ve compiled some of them here, but know that the list continues to expand.) Travelers should check with any hotel or resort they book abroad to see if testing is available for guests, or if the hotel can assist in making testing arrangements. There is a stronger focus on destinations such as Mexico, Costa Rica, and the Caribbean that are easier for Americans to travel to at the moment. (Travel to numerous countries in Europe and Asia, for instance, still remains off limits to the majority of U.S. citizens.)
One of the biggest hotel groups to announce such a program is Hyatt Hotels Corporation, which is now offering complimentary on-site COVID-19 testing through May 31, 2021, for guests traveling to the United States and staying at any of its 19 resorts in Mexico, Costa Rica, the Caribbean, and South America. Participating resorts include Park Hyatt St. Kitts Christophe Harbour; Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo; Thompson Playa del Carmen Beach House, Mexico; the Cape, a Thompson Hotel, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; Andaz Mayakoba Resort Riviera Maya, Mexico; and Thompson Zihuatanejo, a Beach Resort, Mexico.
If you test positive and must delay your travel to the U.S., Hyatt will also let you extend your stay at the majority of the participating properties for up to 14 additional nights at a rate of up to half off the standard price.
Turks and Caicos has at least a dozen testing facilities throughout the Caribbean islands that travelers have access to, including several locations at resorts. Properties that offer testing include Amanyara, Grace Bay Club, Sailrock Resort, the Palms Turks and Caicos, and the Shore Club. More information on testing locations is available through the tourist board website.
On St. Lucia, hotels including Cap Maison Resort & Spa, Jade Mountain, Marigot Bay Resort and Marina, and Sugar Beach—A Viceroy Resort are offering testing. Additional testing options are available on the St. Lucia COVID-19 travel advisory page.
When the Rosewood Baha Mar in Nassau, the Bahamas, reopens on March 4, 2021, it will have a dedicated testing center on the property where guests can receive complimentary COVID-19 antigen and PCR tests; results will be ready within 30 minutes.
Casa de Campo Resort & Villas in the Dominican Republic is offering complimentary health insurance coverage to guests through March 31, 2021, and has on-site PCR testing available for $150 or free of charge if a guest has COVID-related symptoms.
Numerous hotels in Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit can help guests either get tested on-site or at nearby hospitals, clinics, and laboratories. Properties offering testing include the W Punta de Mita, Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, the St. Regis Punta Mita Resort, and the Conrad Punta de Mita, among numerous others. Banyan Tree Mayakoba in Riviera Maya, Mexico, has partnered with local healthcare providers to offer onsite COVID-19 testing to all guests.
Many hotels in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, are also offering on-site testing, either for free or for a fee. Properties in Puerto Vallarta have reported that they are prepared to host guests who test positive for COVID-19 on a designated floor or room and will provide three meals a day, laundry service, Wi-Fi access, and medical support as needed either for free or at a reduced rate. Participating properties include the Hilton Puerto Vallarta Resort and Costa Sur Resort & Spa, among others.
The Retreat Costa Rica, a luxury wellness resort in Costa Rica’s mountains, is offering complimentary on-property PCR tests for guests who book a seven-night wellness package. Luxury resort Tierra Magnifica located in Nosara, Costa Rica, will cover the cost of two on-site antigen tests and Costa Rica’s mandatory travel insurance for guests who stay 10 days or more in the property’s Vista category rooms. The boutique Casa Chameleon villa resorts in Costa Rica are now offering complimentary on-property COVID-19 testing for all guests who stay five nights or more. (For shorter stays, the tests are $145 per person.) Results are available within 24 to 48 hours.
Private island resort Cayo Espanto off the coast of San Pedro, Belize, reports that it will “work with each guest to ensure [the CDC testing] requirement is met easily and conveniently during their time on the island.”
Tour operators and travel planners helping to arrange a COVID test
In light of the CDC’s new testing requirement, some tour operators and travel planners are offering clients COVID testing as part of their travel arrangements.
Luxury tour operator Classic Journeys, which creates curated itineraries throughout the world, ensures that it will make all the arrangements for guests to get tested before they return to the U.S. In most cases, the tests will be conducted in their hotel room.
Bespoke travel agency Embark Beyond has introduced a $43-per-day add-on for its travel itineraries, which includes in-room COVID testing for clients prior to their flight to the United States. Also included in the plan is a guaranteed return to the United States via private medical transport plane for those who test positive for COVID, provided in partnership with evacuation insurance company COVAC. The option is for a minimum of 15 days of travel (which can be split up between different trips).
Airlines and airports assisting passengers with getting COVID tests
American Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta Air Lines have all developed resources to provide passengers with international testing information. American is doing so with the VeriFly app, a global health pass that allows users to more easily upload their health data. American has said it is working to make it easier to access and upload testing information abroad.
Through its United app, United has added a feature called the “Travel-Ready Center” (located in the “My Trips” section of the app or online at United.com). Once passengers access the Travel-Ready Center, they can identify COVID-19 travel requirements for upcoming trips, find local testing options, and upload proof of test results (and eventually, vaccinations). In the coming weeks, passengers will also be to schedule a COVID-19 test at international testing sites through the app.
Delta, too, has developed an easy COVID-19 testing search function on its website through which travelers can find testing center locations in numerous global destinations.
Beyond what the airlines are doing, there are also options at international hubs. While you may not want to wait until the absolute last minute to get tested for COVID prior to your return to the United States, there are a growing number of airports offering COVID testing—if it comes to that. They include:
Germany: Berlin-Tegel Airport, Frankfurt am Mein Airport and Munich Airport offer testing. Greece: The Thessaloniki Airport offers daily testing with results available within six hours. Ireland: Dublin Airport has testing available to the public. Italy: Rome’s Fiumicino Airport opened a COVID testing center in partnership with the Italian Red Cross. Japan: The Haneda, Narita, and Kansai Airports have integrated rapid-result coronavirus testing into their passenger arrival procedures. United Kingdom: London’s Heathrow Airport has introduced testing facilities in its T2 and T5 terminals. Gatwick and London City Airport also have testing options for passengers.
Testing sites are being constantly added at airport terminals around the world, so be sure to check.
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Michelle Baran Michelle Baran is the senior travel news editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, pandemic coverage, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.