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The Biggest Mistakes Travelers Make When Getting a Covid Test

by Billie Cohen | October 26, 2021

Many countries and states require a pre-trip Covid test (here’s how to get a quick one), and you won’t be allowed in without proof of a negative result—even if you’ve been vaccinated, in some cases. But it’s not as easy as showing up with a piece of paper. Each destination has different requirements and processes, and travelers can run into unexpected complications that torpedo their trips. Such complications can be avoided by booking your trip through the right WOW List destination specialist—someone who knows the nitty-gritty of what’s needed for your destination and knows the local options that will make your life so much easier. We have plenty of first-hand reviews from travelers who’ve taken recent trips with their help, but we know that some people are determined to try to troubleshoot on their own. So here are the most common Covid-testing snafus that are currently tripping up travelers—and how to avoid them:

You thought you didn’t need a test because you were vaccinated—and you were wrong.

A few countries are allowing fully vaccinated travelers to bypass testing requirements, but many still demand a test. That’s not the only kind of pothole to watch out for. For example, while Ecuador doesn’t require vaccinated travelers to get a test to enter the country, those same travelers do need a test if they want to travel on to Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands.

Questions about when, where, how, and if vaccine passports will be implemented still abound, so, to be safe, carry a hard copy of your vaccine card or other official proof that you’ve received your shots. And remember that most places only consider a person “fully vaccinated” 14 days after they’ve received all doses.

Your test wasn’t taken within the required time frame.

Different destinations are specifying different time frames for when incoming travelers should take their Covid test (including the U.S., which now requires a one-day window for non-vaccinated citizens and a three-day window for those who are fully vaccinated). Whereas most countries specify that a test be taken within a certain number of hours of your departure from your home, a few require the test to be taken within a certain number of hours of your arrival—a distinction that is easy to miss but has big consequences. WOW List trip-planning experts, who are regularly in touch with government officials in their regions, know how to avoid potential timing pitfalls, such as the time zone to use for calculating your testing window (your home’s or your destination’s) and whether a flight delay could invalidate your test results.

You didn’t get it from an approved lab.

Your destination might accept tests only from an approved list of labs (as Hawaii does) and may not accept any results from rapid tests or at-home kits (like St. Kitts and Nevis). Finding the right lab near you can be stressful, and that is where a WOW List trip planner can help. “I don’t think we could have found testing, if it were not for Kleon,” reader Jeff Goble told us about his trip to Bora Bora and the French Polynesia specialist he used for it. “We actually had to fly to LAX the Saturday before our Tuesday departure because it was not possible to get a PCR test with a quick turnaround in Arizona. Kleon worked really hard to help manage this with us and found a testing location in L.A. that met French Polynesia’s requirements and that would give our results back within 24 hours.”

The results don’t explicitly state the type of test you took.

The Covid test that’s required is usually a specific kind (for example, nasal swab versus saliva, in-person test versus mail-in kit), and the officials checking your documentation will look for proof of that on your certificate. If it’s not there, you could have a big problem. When my colleague Brook got her test results before her Maldives trip, she saw that the urgent-care clinic did not state on the certificate that it had performed a PCR test. Thanks to the Maldives specialist who had planned her trip, she knew that would be a dealbreaker. So she returned to the lab and had them add that wording and re-issue her documentation.

The results are dated wrong.

In addition to checking that the type of test is stated clearly on your certificate, confirm that your correct name and correct test date are printed there too. You don’t want to be stopped at the border because the lab’s computer stamped the wrong date or printed a different name from what’s on your passport. This happens!

You need an in-country test but don’t know where to find one.

Researching Covid-testing labs at home is hard enough. Imagine having to track one down in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. For her trip to the Maldives islands, Brook used a Maldives specialist on The WOW List who, when she needed a test in the Maldives in order to travel onward to Dubai, made it happen locally: He arranged for her Maldives resort to test her there (which involved a brief stop one morning at the resort’s clinic, after which her sample was sent by ship to a nearby lab and her butler was emailed the results the next day). In Turkey, this WOW List trip designer arranges for healthcare workers to administer tests to travelers at their hotels in the morning before they head out for the day; then by the time they get back in the evening, the results are ready for them.

You need a time-sensitive test in order to include an additional location.

Say you want to go to the Galapagos Islands. You’ll need to show your test results twice: once when you arrive in mainland Ecuador, and again before flying from there to the islands. (Even fully vaccinated travelers must get tested before going to the Galapagos.) You’re allowed to take the Ecuador test as many as three days prior to arrival, and the Galapagos test has to be within four days of arrival. This means you could need to get tested again in-country, depending on your itinerary and when you took your first test. One WOW Lister who just returned from the Galapagos figured out a solution: A private company can come to your hotel and administer the test. “We paid about $100 per person, and they emailed us results the next day,” he told us in an interview about his Galapagos trip during Covid.

The rules changed, and you didn’t know it.

Remember, testing rules (like so many other Covid-related travel requirements) are changing all the time. For example, time frames for tests may suddenly get shorter or longer, or the list of approved labs may be altered without notice. Just before Brook left for the Maldives, its government announced that the allowable window for testing had been increased from 72 to 96 hours; there was also some confusion about whether the documentation now needed to include the traveler’s passport number. The WOW List specialist who booked her trip spotted the potential problem and saw that it could lead to Brook being barred from her flight if Emirates didn’t have the updated info. So he contacted the Emirates staff himself to make sure they had the correct guidance from the Maldives government and that she could make her trip without a hitch.

The good news is that you do not need to figure all this out of your own or spend hours on the Internet trying to decipher other people’s experiences. You just need the right destination specialist to arrange and troubleshoot your trip. Check out these trips during Covid as examples of how the right specialist can be your savvy resource and safety net, and ask us to connect you with the best one for your needs here: Get a personalized trip recommendation.


Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

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  1. Angela Ney

    How far in advance can one purchase one of the at home/mail in COVID tests for flights? I will need a minimum of FOUR for my upcoming flight to the UK. (one before leaving, 2 during quarantine in the UK and one 3 days before flying home). Other than waiting to see if the rules change, is there any reason not to purchase tests in advance to make sure of having them on hand?

    1. Brook Wilkinson

      There is no immediate deadline to use a kit soon after you purchase it. So there is no reason–other than the one you mention–to hold off on ordering an at-home testing kit as soon as you book a trip that requires it. However, you would want to inquire with the test manufacturer about mailing kits to their labs from the U.K. We list several mail-in kits here: Those companies are all based in the U.S., so there may be some delays and additional costs if you use them to run a sample that you collect while in the U.K.

  2. Catherine Bittel

    Please look into what is required for folks who have had both vaccine shots. Do they still need the Covid test?

    1. Brook Wilkinson

      Right now, even a traveler who has received their full Covid vaccination will need to abide by a destination’s entry requirements, which in many cases require proof of a recent negative Covid test. (You can read about these requirements in “The Countries That Have Reopened to U.S. Travelers With No 14-Day Quarantine and What You’ll Find There”: In the coming months, some countries will likely shift to allowing proof of vaccination for entry as well, while others may decide it’s simpler to continue requiring test results; after all, not every country agrees on which specific vaccines are safe and effective.

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