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Travel News Fit to fly: COVID tests for travel explained

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Fit to fly: COVID tests for travel explained

US rules around COVID tests for travel are not as complicated as you might think. You’ll have an easy time exploring domestically, but there are some requirements you need to know about when returning from a trip abroad.

Remember that the destination you’re flying to will have its own rules and regulations. Double-check whether you need to take a test before departing from the US or after arrival. The regulations will likely differ depending on whether you’re fully vaccinated or unvaccinated.


1. COVID tests: The latest changes for US travelers

Testing is generally not required for domestic travel within the United States. However, Hawaii maintains its own entry rules. To bypass the state’s mandatory quarantine, domestic travelers need to show either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result through one of Hawaii’s pre-approved testing partners.

On December 6, 2021, the CDC introduced new rules for all air passengers two years or older, including Americans, with a flight departing to the US from a foreign country. Regardless of vaccination status or citizenship, travelers are now required to get a COVID-19 viral test no more than 1 day before they fly into the US. Passengers must show their negative results (or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 in the past 90 days) to the airline before boarding.


2. Local regulations for COVID tests

Every country has its own rules surrounding COVID tests for travel. Before booking your trip, check the latest guidance from the U.S. Department of State to find out if you need a pre-departure test. Some countries won’t require this if you’re fully vaccinated, but you will need to be certain that the CDC-issued vaccination record card will be accepted as proof of COVID-19 vaccination. Alternatively, you might be required to use a specific app or digital platform to share your vaccination status electronically ahead of travel. If your vaccination record isn’t accepted for whatever reason, you’ll likely be treated the same as an unvaccinated passenger.

US local rules for COVID tests

3. What you need to do before and after international travel

   Fully vaccinated or ages 2-4

  • For your return to the US, book your test in advance.
    You’ll need to be tested within 1 day of your departure for the US.
  • Take either a nucleic acid amplification test or antigen test.
    Be sure your results document indicates the type of test, collection date, results, your identifying details and the issuing entity (such as a lab).
  • The CDC recommends getting a viral test 3-5 days after your return.
    Self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms. Get tested and isolate if you feel symptomatic.

   Partially vaccinated or unvaccinated

  • The CDC recommends testing 1-3 days before your departure from the US.
    Get tested with a viral test.
  • For your return to the US, book your test in advance.
    You’ll need to be tested within 1 day of your departure for the US.
  • Take either a nucleic acid amplification test or antigen test.
    Be sure your results document indicates the type of test, collection date, results, your identifying details and the issuing entity (such as a lab).
  • The CDC recommends self-quarantine for a full 5 days after travel.
    Self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms. Get tested and isolate if you feel symptomatic.

Children under 2 years old are not required to submit a negative test result. COVID-19 vaccines have not yet been authorized for kids 4 years and under.


4. The difference between COVID-19 tests

Viral tests, such as nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) and antigen tests, look for protein markers on the outside of the virus. NAATs involve collecting samples from the inside of the nose or the back of the throat. This can be performed in a laboratory or at home. When done in a lab setting, NAATs can take up to a day for results but are considered to be more accurate.

Antigen tests, commonly known as rapid tests, can be performed in a lab or easily done at home. The results are usually available within minutes. Antigen tests involve a swab of your nose and throat to collect a sample. The swab is then inserted into a tube of liquid for a short time and dropped on a test strip. After 10-30 minutes, depending on the type of test, you get a result.


5. How much does a test cost?

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has made low- and no-cost testing available to Americans. Those who have health insurance should double-check their coverage details with their provider. Generally, the insured will not have any out-of-pocket costs for a covered COVID-19 test. Those who do not have health insurance should discuss with the testing clinic whether the cost of their test can be submitted to the federal program for the uninsured. Those who wish to pay out-of-pocket might see costs around $139 (CVS).


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