It’s the third summer of the pandemic, and now we know one thing: If you’re traveling, you may need to think about if, when, where, and how to get tested for COVID-19.
If you are a US traveler to another country, you will need to show evidence of a negative COVID-19 test (or documentation of a recent recovery from COVID-19) before you can board a plane back to the United States.
Plus you may need or want to get tested for COVID-19 one or more times while you are away. It will depend on where you go, what you do, who you spend time with, and how you feel day in and day out.
In general, the higher the rates of COVID-19 at your destination, the more likely it is that testing will be part of your travel experience. With infections increasing again in many states and other countries, it’s important to stay informed — and prepare for testing.
“A lot of things are changing very quickly,” says David Banach, MD, MPH, an epidemiologist at UConn Health in Farmington, Connecticut. “I think the key is to be alert to what’s going on right before you travel.”
Here, doctors and other expert sources offer advice on how and when to get tested, and how to keep yourself and those around you safe no matter where you travel.
1. Long before you leave home, be informed of your destination
Especially for international travel, you’ll want to do your research to find out the latest COVID-19 entry regulations and to know a strategy.
Many countries, such as England and Mexico, do not currently have COVID-related entry rules in place, whether they include testing or vaccination.
But if you plan to travel to France from the United States and have not been vaccinated, you will need to show evidence that a negative PCR test was taken less than 72 hours before departure or a negative (rapid) antigen test was taken less than 48 hours before your flight.
The only way out of these testing requirements is to show documentation of a recent recovery from COVID-19 or medical exemption from vaccination.
2. Rules or no rules, consider testing before traveling
No matter what regulations are in place at your destination, says Dr. Banak: “In general, a cautious approach would be to test before you travel.”
The CDC advises anyone traveling within the United States or internationally to “consider getting tested as close as possible to the time of departure (no more than three days) before your flight.”
Should you get a PCR test, or is an antigen test or home test okay? “The increased sensitivity of the PCR test provides a higher level of reassurance,” Banach says.
3. Pack the tests at home in case you start to feel nauseous while you are away
Bring a set of test kits with you at home so that it is more convenient to do a quick check during your trip. “When you travel, if you develop any symptoms, you will need to have easy access to tests,” says Luis Ostrosky, MD, chief of infectious diseases at UTHealth Houston and Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center.
“You should definitely get tested when you have the slightest symptoms,” he adds. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, ‘I thought it was just an allergy. “
He states that FDA-authorized home test kits are good at detecting COVID-19 in people with symptoms, such as a sore throat or cough. If the test at home is positive, that means you have COVID-19.
There is a greater chance of false negatives with household kits, which means that your test result tells you that you are not infected when in fact you are. Dr. Ostrosky stresses that don’t let a negative result from a single home test give you a false sense of security.
To increase accuracy, “we recommend that you repeat the test several times,” he says. That’s why kits generally contain two tests, to use from 24 to 48 hours.
4. Find out where to get a PCR test at your destination
If you have symptoms but test negative on several home tests, it’s a good idea to get a PCR test as well.
Additionally, if you feel absolutely fine but want to make sure you’re infection-free — because you’re planning to spend time with an elderly person who is at high risk of severe COVID-19, for example — you may want to get a PCR test. sequencing (PCR) in addition to taking other precautions such as concealment.
For domestic travelers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website can direct you to a testing site near you anywhere in the United States.
If you’re traveling internationally, you may want to do some digging ahead of time. A quick Internet search may be all you need to find a PCR test site, or the staff at your hotel may be able to direct you to a local hospital, urgent care center, or other testing location.
Make sure to find out if your insurance will cover the test, or expect to pay out of pocket.
5. If you are a US traveler abroad, be prepared for the test before boarding your home
Anyone traveling to the United States from a different country needs to show a negative test taken at least one day prior to departure, or prove they have recently recovered from COVID-19; Check out the CDC website for more information.
In many international destinations, local pharmacies administer antigen tests and provide the documentation you will need for the airline. Airports may also offer tests, but consider the time if you have to wait in line.
As another option, you can use a home test linked to telehealth services. With these types of tests, the observer monitors the video call while you are testing yourself; You will then receive proof of the result via an application.
This is the only type of self-test that meets the CDC’s requirements for re-entry into the United States, so you may want to pack one in your luggage and download the app before leaving on your flight.
Among the most frequently used options are Abbott’s BinaxNOW home tests paired with telehealth by eMed (note: Everyday Health’s chief medical and health editor, Patrice Harris, MD, FAPA, is co-founder and CEO of eMed) and Ellume Tests Household with video supervision from Azova.
6. Consider whether you should test again when you get home
Should you test when you get back from your trip? The CDC recommends doing this in certain scenarios, even if you don’t have symptoms (as long as you haven’t had COVID-19 in the past 90 days).
The agency advises, “Get tested after travel if your trip involves situations with a higher exposure risk, such as being in crowded places while not wearing a suitable mask or respirator.”
You also want to think about what you will do once you get home, and the possibility of spreading the virus to other people should you become infected. “Are you going to participate in group activities? With others at higher risk? There are a lot of factors,” Banach says.
Note that any infection you may have picked up in transit can spread to others even before virus levels are high enough to be detected at home or a quick test, so plan your first few days at home accordingly.
7. Practice COVID-19 safety throughout your trip and after you get home
Testing for COVID-19 will not prevent you from contracting COVID. You still need to practice other key safety measures — including staying up to date on your vaccines and boosters, masking, social distancing, and hand hygiene — to help keep you safe and reduce the risk of infecting others.
Although airlines no longer need masks, wearing masks while you’re at the airport and on the plane is still a smart idea, says Banach: “I think wearing masks while traveling, especially air travel, is still important. I encourage People should wear a high-quality mask while traveling, to protect yourself and others who will be on the flight with you. [wear a mask] If you are using another method of travel, such as a train or bus.”
Ostrosky adds, “The airflow in airplanes is excellent and HEPA filtered. The problem is when you’re sitting next to someone with COVID – the airflow won’t help. You have to mask it, either with a double surgical mask or with N95 or KN95, and not remove it at all.”
Ostrosky says. “The best thing to keep yourself safe is to disguise yourself in high-density public places like airports, airplanes, concerts, and theme parks – indoors or outdoors. It is definitely better to eat outdoors rather than indoors.”
No matter where you’re headed and how often you plan to get tested, keep this tip in mind throughout your trip, says Ostrosky: “Mask, mask, mask.”