Two months ago, I flew on my first international flight since the start of the pandemic. And while I’ve spent the better part of two years researching and writing about how COVID-19 is reshaping the travel landscape – including changing air travel requirements – I still find the process of planning compliance with said requirements confusing.
For the first time, I had to make decisions about how I will stick to – for example, should I book COVID-19 tests locally, or buy home tests to bring with me? – And also how do I prepare for the worst – as in, what is my plan if I test positive abroad?
Like many travelers, I’ve seen my destination requirements change from the time I booked my flight, to the time I actually made my flight, and of course after I got back from my flight as well (looking at you, Omicron).
Due to the changing nature of international travel requirements, here’s what you (as a US traveler) need to know to be as prepared as possible for compliance and travel.
Who needs the test for international travel?
In short, everyone. Because regardless of vaccination status (or international destination), all travelers arriving in the US must submit a negative test result before boarding. Effective December 6, 2021, all passengers traveling to the United States must be tested (and provide a negative result) for COVID-19 only one day prior to departure. Previously, the requirement was within three days of departure.
But let’s go back. What about the requirements for your destination outside the United States? This is where requirements can vary widely – and are constantly changing.
For example, in November, I flew from Detroit (DTW) to Edinburgh, UK (EDI) via Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (AMS). At the time, I was required to take two tests – the second day test in the UK and the pre-departure test required by the US
Since I was on the road and for the specified length of time, I didn’t need to show proof of vaccination or test results while I was on AMS. However, if I had plans to stay in Amsterdam, I would be subject to additional requirements.
advice: Always check the destination requirements for your layover airports. Some countries have entry requirements (including proof of vaccination and/or testing) that apply to travelers regardless of your length of stay.
As you plan your next international trip, be sure to research and prepare to comply with the testing requirements at your destination as well as the requirements when you return home. Keep in mind that these requirements may change between booking and travel – or even during your trip.
Also keep in mind that vaccination requirements vary from country to country as well. Although you may not need a vaccination to enter, you may be required to self-quarantine and/or undergo additional testing during your trip.
Read more: TripIt adds new travel navigation improvements based on your vaccination status
Where can I find information about my destination test requirements?
To stay on top of testing requirements related to my trip, I consulted TripIt’s COVID-19 Guidance feature as well as the official government website for my view (in my case, the Scottish Government’s advice on COVID-19 for international travelers).
The airline may also provide you with this information, as well as provide guidance to help you meet these requirements.
For example, after I booked my flights, Delta Air Lines sent me a pre-flight checklist, including resources for determining test requirements at my destination, as well as what I needed to get back to the US
Other airlines have also provided similar resources. United Airlines has launched the Travel Turnkey Center to help passengers understand and comply with travel requirements. American Airlines has also created a similar toolkit.
Where can I get a COVID-19 test?
…the magic question. Fortunately, TripIt’s COVID-19 Guidelines feature showed me that my airline provided assistance with booking tests. Some of the options available to me are:
- Pre-purchase the home tests that I can take with me on my trip
- Book exams at a testing facility, for example, a domestic airport
I chose to purchase two pre-tests to bring with me: a self-administered PCR test that I would need to send in the mail to meet the requirements for day two testing, and a quick test performed via live video surveillance to meet the pre-test requirements. Departure test requirements for entry to the United States
While the pre-purchase tests were certainly the more expensive option (versus booking locally), I was willing to pay for peace of mind. However, I know other travelers who have preferred to book tests at their hotels, local drugstores, and/or local testing sites.
advice: Make sure to research the requirements regarding the tests you need to take during your trip. For example, the UK requires all international travelers to complete a passenger locator form prior to departure (I had to show this form upon check-in at DTW). On this form, I had to provide the confirmation number for the pre-booked second day test. In other words, I couldn’t have left booking/taking this test to chance, or even my arrival in the UK. Had to book it before my flight.
This may not be the case at your intended destination, but be sure to find out this information before your trip.
Read more: Coming now: TripIt’s COVID-19 travel advisory
How will I present my negative test result(s) at the airport? What other documents will I need?
While many airlines have adopted vaccine passport apps where you can upload your test results directly, others haven’t gone the digital route yet.
In my case, I got the negative test results on my phone (in a PDF document in my email, as well as in the test provider’s app). On my return to the US, I submitted my digital test results at the airport check-in desk at EDI. I was also required to submit my CDC COVID-19 vaccination card at this time. (Note: As a US citizen, I did not have to be vaccinated to return to the US, however, at the time of publication, all non-citizens are required to show proof of vaccination to enter the US)
During my return layover at AMS, I was required to complete a Certificate of Entry into the United States form stating that I had tested negative for COVID-19 (or recovered/can provide a certificate of recovery) and that I had fully received the vaccination. The completed document is required for check-in and/or boarding, as per US federal law.
All of my travel documents – certification form, CDC card and negative test results – were reviewed by an airline employee before boarding.
What happens if I test positive for COVID-19 when I’m abroad?
Let’s face it: This is a very real risk.
One you should plan in advance, because if you test positive while abroad, you will have to quarantine – at your destination – until you recover.
Some destinations have specific requirements, such as purchasing mandatory COVID-19 health insurance before your flight and/or quarantining at government facilities. Others have a less robust infrastructure, but still require you to quarantine in a hotel or rent a vacation spot – most likely at your own expense.
Some travel insurance policies can help offset the costs of extending your trip with a positive test result. There are also services available to drive you home – privately – if you test positive and need medical evacuation.
No matter what level of preparedness you choose, always remember to take necessary safety precautions to prevent infection (and/or spread) of COVID-19 while you travel, including following all local guidelines and authorizations.
As a reminder, you can find out the vaccination and testing requirements for your destination as well as information about scheduling COVID-19 tests with your airline directly in TripIt’s COVID-19 Guidelines feature. These details are available to all TripIt users.
And if you’re a TripIt Pro user, you can also search the feature to find this information for the destinations you plan to visit without having to be part of your TripIt itinerary. forefront Application tab.