With the ever-changing guidelines and rules around COVID-19, it can be incredibly confusing and expensive to take a trip right now. I buried myself in CDC documentation, forums and airline sites to make sure I had exactly what I needed to return to the USA after our trip to the Dominican Republic, and Max and I filmed our experience getting COVID tested to share what it was like for you all. Didn’t see it? Check it out, here!
I wanted to sum up the top 5 questions for our travelers to help you make informed decisions about what you need to do to get back home safely.
For reference, the most accurate and up to date information is found here.
1. WHAT TYPES OF TESTS ARE APPROVED TO GET INTO THE USA?
The fancy name for the approved tests are: “antigen test or a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT), such as reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP), and transcription-mediated amplification (TMA)”
What this actually means for you is that you will likely have two main options, the Rapid Antigen test or the RT-PCR test. These are the two MOST common tests that you will find. They are similar in that they both do a deep nasal swab (sometimes throat swab for the Antigen), but the Antigen test is much quicker and uses a completely different method of detection. The RT-PCR is considered the most accurate test at this time because it involves a process of heating and cooling the specimen and replicating it in order to accurately read the result. The RT-PCR is the notoriously difficult, expensive and time-consuming test to get. The Antigen test is much simpler and uses a strip, sort of like a pregnancy test, to confirm the result.
Max and I took an Antigen test (as you can see in the video) and our documentation stated: “ANTIGEN” + “NEGATIVE” on the doctor’s letterhead. This was all that was needed to enter the US.
The US also allows for “proof of recovery”. Proof of recovery can be, for lack of a better word, proved by showing a positive antibody test as well as a doctor’s note confirming that you recovered from COVID-19.
We received our results via Whatsapp in the form of a PDF and that is all we needed to show at the airline check in counter. I gave my phone to the agent who reviewed the document and confirmed we were good to go.
2. WHERE CAN I FIND A TESTING CENTER ABROAD?
There are a few ways to find a testing center, depending on where you are. Your airline, like United or Delta, offer fairly comprehensive options for certain destinations like Hawaii. But, if you’re not headed to Hawaii, reaching out to the embassy or consulate is a great option.
Max and I found a local Facebook group for our town, Cabarete. It happens to be a flourishing expat community so we were able to find a local doctors office very quickly. Our recommendation here is if you are staying at an airbnb or home, google local clinics or doctors and start calling around. Chances are they, or someone they know, will offer COVID testing for travel.
Many hotels around the world, particularly in the Caribbean and Mexico, are also offering free, or paid, COVID antigen tests on site for their guests. Brands like Le Blanc, Hyatt etc are providing free tests for guests before departure. This is a GREAT option for guests traveling during this time. Be sure to check the hotel website before booking to ensure this option is available to you. Typically, these brands have a banner across their homepage that details their COVID policies and options for guests.
Here are some of our favorite hotels that offer FREE antigen testing:
- AM Resorts
- Fairmont Mayacoba (stays of 3 nights or longer)
- Karisma Hotels & Resorts
- La Colección Resorts (which includes Live Aqua, Grand Fiesta, Fiesta Americana and The Explorean)
- Palace Resorts
- Playa Hotels & Resorts
- Royalton Resorts
- Velas Resorts
- Bahia Principe
- Conrad Punta de Mita
The Master List by Forbes is found here.
3. DOES IT HAVE TO BE PRINTED OR CAN IT BE DIGITAL?
The COVID test results can be digital OR printed. We did not have access to a printer and simply brought the PDF of our test on our phone to show to the airline. According to the CDC website, both options are fine.
Things to keep in mind are that the results must be “formal” – do not expect a text message from a doctor to fly. Be sure the clinic or doctor provides you with a written document that lists the name of the facility, the doctor, the date AND time of the test sample as well as the results clearly. This is VERY important. If the airline cannot identify what the result or date is easily, you risk them turning you away for not following the rules.
According to the US, they use the designation 3 days, NOT 72 hours to give more flexibility to the traveler. The time stamp is not as important as the actual date, so be sure that is clearly stated.
4. WHERE DO YOU SHOW THE TEST RESULTS?
The test result verification process occurs at check in for your flight. We had two layovers in JFK and LAX and our test result was checked on our first leg flying to the USA. If you are flying through another country, be sure to keep your results handy before you board your flight to the US as they may ask again.
Our best practice is to be sure you keep your test results on you until you get to your final destination in the event that someone asks you along the way. It could also be crucial in the event you are pulled aside for a random screen or inquiry.
5. ARE MASKS REQUIRED FOR TRAVEL?
The short answer is: it depends. Depending on the country, airspace and airline, you may be required to wear a mask. Flights in the United States no longer require masks on board, however, it's important to check the regulations for your destinations.
While you may not be required to wear a mask on the plane, some countries may require masks on arrival or at certain venues so it's important to pack a mask for your trip.