Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

It’s Easy to Get Tested to Come Back to the United States: Your Questions Answered

by | February 7, 2021

The biggest concerns we hear from travelers these days are about how to get tested for and during a trip and for their return flight back to the U.S., especially with the arrival of the Omicron variant.

So far we’ve heard of only four travelers, of thousands, who have tested positive before returning to the U.S.

One reason why travelers appear to be staying safe is that WOW List experts know how to optimize for Covid safety in their destinations.  Here’s the proof.  Another reason is the entry hurdles that many countries have put in place: vaccine requirements, negative tests, or both. We keep track of these requirements in The Countries That Are Open to U.S. Travelers and How To Get In.

Here are answers to the most frequently asked questions about travel during Covid.

Do I need to get tested before leaving the U.S., and how do I do it?

To enter many countries, you need to be able to show negative results from a Covid test taken within anywhere from 24 hours to a few days of your arrival. Check our list of entry rules by country for testing requirements and time frames. Then review your options (home-testing kits, in-person clinics, etc.) in How to Get a Quick Covid Test for Travel.

What kind of test is required to return to the U.S.?

The CDC requires a negative test for re-entry into the U.S. for all citizens and legal residents who are two years of age and older.

Getting these tests when you’re abroad is a lot easier than you might think. Here’s why:

First, the CDC’s criteria are looser than those you likely had to follow for your pre-trip test. The return test does not have to be a PCR test. Many rapid antigen tests qualify (see the CDC’s FAQ for a full list of acceptable tests).

Second, if you opt for one of the international test kits described in How to Get a Quick Covid Test for Travel, you can order the kits before your trip, pack them in your suitcase, self-administer the test from anywhere you can make a video call, and you’ll receive results within one hour. We recommend doing this as early as your flight home allows, so that if you encounter any issues connecting to the telemed visit or obtaining negative results, you have time to test again.

When before returning to the U.S. do I test?

All travelers entering the U.S. via air—regardless of vaccination status or citizenship—must present a negative Covid test conducted within one day of their flight.

What’s the easiest way to get tested abroad?

If your trip is being arranged by a WOW List local expert, they know the easiest, fastest ways to get tested locally and will organize it for you. Typically, they’ll arrange for a health-care technician to administer the test at your hotel in the morning, with the results delivered to your mobile phone a few hours later. Many WOW Listers have been doing this for travelers for more than a year now—since long before the U.S. even started requiring a test for re-entering.

Alternatively, you can order an international test kit before leaving home, throw it in your suitcase, and self-administer the test (see above).

Who checks my test result for getting back into the U.S.?

Airlines are the ones responsible for checking test documents before travelers come back to the U.S.  So even though the CDC accepts a wide range of Covid tests, it’s worth asking your airline (especially an internationally based carrier) whether they have any additional rules about what they will accept.

If I should test positive, how long would I have to isolate?

The length of isolation depends on the country, so it’s a good idea to discuss this with your WOW List trip planner (and your insurance provider; see below).

In some places, you may be able to exit isolation early after getting a designated number of negative tests; in others, you’ll still have to complete the full term.

Where would I isolate?

It varies from country to country, but it’s often your hotel.  One of the four readers who recently tested positive was in Belize, and the resort provided a free stay for the duration of isolation.

Who pays the quarantine expenses?

It varies by location and also depends on whether and what travel insurance you bought. See more below about insurance, but also talk to your trip planner because they will know if the local government covers any of the costs (Greece pays for isolation at designated quarantine hotels, for instance).

If I test positive, can my travel companions fly home without me?

Maybe.  If your companions or family members test negative, they may be eligible to fly. Two of the four positive test results from our readers were in Iceland and Istanbul—and family members who tested negative were able to fly home as planned. However, they may also need to self-certify with the airline or other authorities that they haven’t been exposed. In some countries, though, anyone who was in contact with the positive person may be required to quarantine.

What insurance do I get to protect myself?  Will it cover health care costs overseas, the hotel for quarantine, and getting me back home?

Each travel insurance provider is handling Covid differently. Many policies will cover Covid-related medical bills; some will reimburse a portion of quarantine-related expenses under their “Trip Delay” coverage.

We lay out all the big questions (and answers) in How to Buy Travel Insurance: What It Covers, When You Need It.  But we recommend asking your WOW List expert if there’s a particular insurance they recommend: They will know if their country has specific requirements for insurance (as, for instance, Costa Rica and the Seychelles do), and they may also know of a policy that is better tailored for their location.  Check with your airline too: Emirates and Etihad offer free coverage for Covid-related costs to all passengers.

When it comes to medical evacuation, only a few services will transport travelers with Covid. To learn more about your options for that, read What Medical Evacuation Coverage Do You Need?.


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