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How I used a government-provided COVID-19 test for international travel

June 14, 2022
9 min read
ihealth test with result from virtual proctor
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For many (myself included), the most nerve-wracking part of international travel has undoubtedly been the need to present a negative COVID-19 test result to return to the U.S. While the U.S. has lifted this requirement for entry as of June 12, some countries still require an entry test to visit, which is why it's important to remain aware of your options should you choose to travel abroad.

In my previous international travels, the Abbott BinaxNow test with eMed telehealth service had been my go-to choice. Since I only needed one test for myself as a solo traveler, I tended to buy the two-pack option from Optum for $69.99 so I always had one test to take and another as a backup in case my results were unclear or I ran into other issues. However, Optum recently started adding shipping fees for orders less than $75, so I began researching more cost-effective options.

That's when I discovered that the free iHealth COVID-19 tests I ordered through the U.S. Postal Service could be used to fulfill many countries' entry requirements. So, during a recent trip overseas, I decided to use a virtual proctoring service where you can bring your own test and pay for the telehealth aspect separately so I could use one of my free iHealth tests. Here’s how my experience of picking a proctor, getting my results and submitting them before traveling went.

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Narrowing down the options

In my online search for virtual proctoring, I came across several services that offered appointments 24 hours a day, seven days a week. While there are others, I focused on the first four services I came across:

iHealth: This is the company that manufactures the tests provided by the government. It offers a Verified COVID Test Service for Travel, which The Washington Post wrote about back in April, likely leading to increased demand. The service costs $24.99, but the iHealth website showed it as being sold out, so it would not be a viable option unless appointments opened back up, which they did not.

MyLabsDirect: With this company, you can pay for Virtual COVID-19 Testing for $19.95. An added benefit is that flexible spending accounts and health savings accounts are also accepted for payment, according to the website. However, you do need an advance appointment.

OnPoint Testing: This company offers Certified Teleservice COVID Testing for $9.99. Keep in mind that you'll need to make an appointment in advance.

Total Testing Solutions: Another company that offers virtual testing services, Total Testing Solutions has an option that costs $19, though it cost $14.99 when I was doing my research. You can schedule an appointment and either pay out of pocket or submit your health insurance information for no out-of-pocket costs. However, whether the service itself is eligible for insurance coverage varies.

After weighing my options, I decided to book the insurance appointment option with Total Testing Solutions. I made an appointment for the day before I was set to return to the U.S. from Spain.

The testing process

Locking in my appointment with Total Testing Solutions was a cinch. I received a confirmation email immediately after making the appointment, and I also got a reminder email the day before my appointment.

(Screenshot from Total Testing Solutions)

When I clicked the link from my email at the scheduled time, the virtual proctor soon joined by chat. He asked me to wash and sanitize my hands and also said to have my ID and a pen handy. Once I confirmed I was ready, he began the video call. I was surprised that I could see him, which was unlike the eMed tests I had taken where I could hear but not see the proctor.

After showing my proctor my ID and the unopened test box, he asked me to upload a screenshot of my health insurance card to a link he provided. He also took a screenshot of me, which he said would be used in my result. It was then time to open the test kit, which included a test card, an empty tube, a sealed solution and a swab. I had taken the iHealth test on my own a couple of times at home, so I was familiar with the components of the kit and how to administer the test.

The proctor asked me to jot down my initials and the date and draw a star on the test card. He then instructed me step by step on how to administer the test, which was the same way I had previously done it without proctoring. Once the test was completed, he started a timer for 15 minutes and said I was free to get up from the computer while waiting, though I needed to leave the test in its place.

(Photo by Senitra Horbrook/The Points Guy)

Confirming the results

When the 15-minute waiting period passed, I returned to the computer and held up my test card to the camera, showing my negative results. The proctor confirmed it was negative. Within a minute or two, I received a text message with a link to my results. Once I clicked that link, I needed to enter my date of birth to view the results.

(Screenshot from Total Testing Solutions)

The "not detected" result included the name of the testing service, the type of test (antigen), my name, my birthdate, the test date and the result date and time. It also had a QR code, which linked to the screenshot of me the proctor took before the test.

(Screenshot from Total Testing Solutions)

The proctor asked if I would like a PDF of the result as well, which I requested out of an abundance of caution. The PDF was sent to my email shortly after our call ended.

(Screenshot from Total Testing Solutions)

Related: What to do if you test positive for COVID-19 overseas

Submitting my results

Following my relatively smooth testing process, I sent my results and other necessary documentation virtually to Iberia (the airline I was flying) the evening before my departure. I was admittedly concerned the airline would not accept the test result, as the report didn’t look very official. It was far simpler in design than the lab reports I'd received for eMed tests during previous trips.

Still, it was what I had to work with, so I submitted everything and waited to hear back. The next morning, an email appeared in my inbox with the welcome news that all of my documentation was verified and correct. I was then able to complete the check-in process online and receive a mobile boarding pass, allowing me to bypass the counter since I was traveling with only carry-on luggage. At the gate area, an Iberia representative checked my passport and negative COVID-19 test again, and soon after, I proceeded into the gate area and flew home as scheduled.

(Screenshot from Iberia)

Although I haven't received official word my health insurance accepted my claim, I have yet to hear from Total Testing Solutions' billing department saying I need to pay, so I am hopeful my insurance provider has covered the service. This was a concern of mine, as I wasn't sure if the service would be covered based on my research. Fortunately, the proctor told me during my test that he has typically seen my insurance provider cover the cost for others.

Bottom line

Even though you no longer need to show proof of a negative test result to enter the U.S., it's still helpful to know what to expect if you need to do so when traveling to other countries. Plus, there's a chance the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may reinstate the testing requirement in 90 days should a new variant emerge.

If you have a self-test kit or two lying around at home and need to show negative results the next time you travel, consider using one of those tests with a virtual proctoring service. However, you’ll want to confirm that the country you’re visiting accepts the results from these tests. You'll have a number of telehealth services to choose from, most of which cost less than $25 and are covered by some insurance providers. My experience with Total Testing Solutions was pain-free.

Featured image by (Photo by Senitra Horbrook/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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  • Annual Fee

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

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  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases