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Americans Flying Abroad Must Obtain Covid Tests Before Returning | Frommer's UlyssePixel/ Shutterstock

Americans Flying Abroad Must Obtain Covid Tests Before Returning

Starting Tuesday, January 26, anyone flying into the United States will be required to produce proof of a negative Covid-19 test. 

That requirement, announced by the Centers for Disease Control on January 12, might have slipped your notice, or maybe you thought the rule would only affect incoming tourists.

Wrong. It's for everyone. Including American citizens.

The CDC is explicit. The announcement plainly states that the new requirement for a viral test (NAAT or antigen) applies to "all air passengers, 2 years of age or older, traveling into the U.S., including U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents."

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Even though the pandemic has never raged with less restraint than it does today, there are still some Americans who are deciding—against all educated advice—to slip away to kill a few days on a Caribbean beach or to party in places like Rio de Janeiro and Puerto Vallarta.

As of January 26, though, vacationing abroad will be much more complicated, because soon any American outside of U.S. borders will be forced to figure out how to obtain a Covid-19 test in a foreign country before being allowed to return home. Compliance will be enforced by the airlines.

Thousands of Americans are about to discover the Kafkaesque pleasures of navigating another nation's health systems at a time of intense crisis and service shortages.

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Travelers must also figure out how to obtain results within the valid time window—tests may be no older than three days, yet many testing sites aren't able to deliver results faster than 24 hours.

And that's just to fly home to the U.S.A. Many countries are also demanding a similar testing process to be completed before the vacation begins, too. (That part is easier for most Americans to figure out, since it's done at home before leaving.)

The United States isn't the only country to begin enforcing coronavirus testing for homecoming citizens in January. Canada and the United Kingdom are instituting the same mandate at their own borders: Arrive at the airport with a test result or you can't come home. 

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A few tourist-savvy destinations can already see trouble brewing. Country after country is scrambling to issue press releases to let the world know they're ready for the new pressure on their testing facilities.

The authorities in Mexico's Riviera Nayarit preemptively published a list of area hospitals that can hopefully oblige visitors who come begging for the tests that airlines will soon demand. The cheapest PCR test in that region is $150, while the cheapest antigen test is $50—and those costs are at the visitor's expense. 

Many destinations are not able to be as specific. The head of tourism in the Caribbean nation of Anguilla, for example, could only say, "We are increasing our testing capability to ensure that we meet the anticipated demand." 

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In many destinations, tourists will be on their own. That means they'll be susceptible to testing scams and rip-offs.

And in some places, locals already have a lot on their minds and might be more interested in helping their own countrymen before assisting visitors. 

Frommer's, like many in the travel industry, does not recommend international travel right now. Use this temporary pause to plan future adventures—there are even companies that will help you start paying for travel now so your credit card won't take a hit.

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For the people who insist on going abroad (or cannot avoid it), it's imperative that they research where and how to obtain a Covid-19 test result in their destination country. They can ask hotel managers, call tourism offices, or consult international government agencies—but if a legitimate source for a timely coronavirus test cannot be found, those travelers are not coming back home.

Read the CDC's complete webpage on the new requirement here.

Pictured above: temporary Covid-19 testing tent outside a Paris pharmacy, November 2020

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