How to Get a COVID-19 Test on a Trip

Navigating the process in a foreign country can be intimidating

Rapid test device for COVID-19
Paul Biris / Getty Images

Beginning today, any U.S. citizen returning from abroad will need to show proof of a negative test taken no more than three days before their flight departs. This order comes directly from the CDC and only applies to travelers returning from foreign countries, not territories of the U.S. like Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands. The test must be either a PCR test, which uses the nose swab and returns results in two to three days, or the antigen test, which can return results in 30 minutes.

You might know where your local testing site is, but navigating the process in a foreign country may sound intimidating. However, there are a few ways to find a testing site and making sure the process goes smoothly, whether you choose to book the appointment yourself or go through your hotel.

Book a Hotel with On-Site Testing

Many hotels in popular tourist destinations worldwide are happy to facilitate testing for their guests, and some are even including it as part of their stay. Before you book, look to see if any hotels in your destination offer on-site testing. Many hotels have relationships with doctors who will come directly to your room to administer the test, so you don’t even have to leave the property. If you’ve already booked your hotel and they don’t offer testing on-site, try asking if they can arrange an appointment for you at a testing center nearby.

Get Tested for Free

If you’re worried about the cost of the test, some hotel chains are offering free testing for all their guests. Karisma Hotels, Palace Resorts, and Royalton Luxury Resorts, which operate resorts worldwide from Mexico to Montenegro, are just a few of the hotel brands offering complimentary on-site testing for their guests. If you book a tour package, some tour operators are also taking care of this. For example, the Voyagers Travel Company, which has been navigating the complex testing requirements of the Galapagos Islands for months, a difficult task in this remote part of the world, will be including the cost of the return test in its package.

Find the Right Resources

If you’re not staying in a hotel or can’t find a hotel to facilitate testing for you, you may have to find out where to get tested independently. If you can’t find the testing information after some internet searching, try going directly to the country’s tourism board page or on the U.S. embassy website for that country. For example, the Jamaican Tourism Board has a page dedicated to testing sites around the island. The U.S. Embassy in Belize lists out different testing centers with prices, hours, and contact information.

Make Your Appointment in Advance

If you’ve got your flight booked already, then you know exactly when you need to get tested, and you should book your appointment as soon as you know your dates. Try to get a timeslot as early as you can within 72 hours. Test results are usually returned quickly, but it doesn’t hurt to play it on the safe side. If you’re short on time, you can try to get the rapid antigen test, which typically returns results in 30 minutes. It will take longer to get PCR test results back, but if you get it at the top of the 72-hour time period, you should have them back in time.

Fill Out Your Information Accurately

Like any doctor’s visit, you will likely need to fill out a form before your test is administered. Take care to ensure that your name matches exactly what’s written on your passport. This is the information that will wind up at the top of your test result, which the airline will use to confirm that you’re good to go. The last thing you want is a misspelling or omitted middle name to delay your travels.

Print Out Your Results As a Back-Up

When checking in for your flight, you can present your results digitally, but it doesn’t hurt to have a paper back-up, especially if you’ll be transiting through multiple airports. Some countries may even require it. You won’t be asked for it, most likely, but if you have any technical difficulties, a hard copy can save you a lot of hassle.

Stay Safe to Ensure a Negative Result

A positive test doesn’t just mean that you won’t be able to get back into the United States—it also means that you’ll have to quarantine in a foreign country for two weeks, or, in some cases, until you test negative. It’s even more imperative that you practice social distancing, wear your mask, and follow all the health protocols in place. Risky behavior like eating in a crowded restaurant or dancing in a large group increases your chance of testing positive and being forced to quarantine abroad.

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