How to find a COVID-19 test while traveling abroad

Dec 25, 2021

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COVID-19 testing is a reality of traveling during the pandemic, especially with the threat of the new omicron variant.

In addition to finding a predeparture COVID-19 test in the U.S., depending on where you’re going, travelers will also need access to COVID-19 tests while abroad. At the very least, all travelers must show proof of a negative test taken no more than one day before flying to the U.S.

Unfortunately, getting a test abroad can be just as challenging — if not more so — than getting one close to home. Here are several locations where you can find a COVID-19 test while abroad during your next trip.

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Hotel or hostel

Hyatt Cap Cana (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Your hotel (or hostel, if that’s your thing) should be the first place you look if you need a COVID-19 test to travel back to the U.S. During the pandemic, a hotel offering complimentary COVID-19 testing is as valuable of a perk as a free upgrade or meal voucher. Many hotels worldwide provide free (or reduced-cost) COVID-19 testing for travelers headed back to the U.S. or travelers arriving at the hotel.

Examples of current hotel COVID-19 testing programs available around the world include:

  • Carlton Hotel Dublin Airport: The Test, Rest and Fly package consists of an overnight stay, breakfast and one PCR test with results in 24 to 36 hours. The package starts at $295.
  • Sofitel London Heathrow and London Gatwick: The hotels have a Test and Rest program, a package that includes a room and a PCR test. Test results can be returned overnight.
  • The Baha Mar hotel complex in the Bahamas offers a complimentary rapid antigen test upon arrival and departure.
  • Marriott Renaissance Wind Creek Aruba Resort: Offers on-property COVID-19 antigen tests to all guests staying at the resort for $50 per person or a PCR test for $125 per person.
  • Hyatt Ziva Cap Cana: Offers one complimentary antigen test per guest per stay and charges $25 per additional antigen test. The resort also offers one complimentary PCR test with a seven-night minimum stay, or $79 for fewer than seven nights.
  • Park Hyatt Dubai: PCR test costs $54 per person with a 24-hour turnaround. Express PCR tests costs $95 per person (expect a six- to 10-hour turnaround).

During a trip to Mauritius in November, the Hilton Mauritius Resort & Spa and the JW Marriott Mauritius offered complimentary coronavirus testing upon arrival. Travelers have to test negative to move freely about the island.

But, things got tricky when trying to arrange for a test to fly back to the U.S. As I wrote earlier this month, my resort did provide COVID-19 tests for guests – but only PCR tests that came with a 36-hour turnaround. That time frame didn’t work for me as I was leaving for the U.S. later that night.

So, before you check in to your hotel, you should inquire about exactly which coronavirus tests your resort or hostel provides and how long it’ll take to get your results. You’ll also want to confirm that you’ll receive an official copy of your test results, which you will need to travel to the U.S.

You’ll also want to do some research to see if there’s a testing shortage at your destination, which may complicate getting a test in time for travel.

Hospitals or urgent care

empty hospital bed(Photo by Westend61 / Getty Images)

When it became clear I wouldn’t be able to get a COVID-19 test for travel at my resort in Mauritius, I needed to come up with another plan quickly.

During the drive to the resort, I noticed a hospital and asked the staff if I could take a COVID-19 test there. The staff warned me that there was a backlog in tests, and supply was scarce, but the hospital was more than happy to take me in after calling about my situation. However, this should be a backup and not your first option.

If you do plan to get tested at a local hospital, you should make a reservation a couple of days in advance to avoid any undue stress. You’ll also need to bring identification documents such as your passport and travel itinerary. Lastly, you’ll want to double (and triple-check) the cost of your test before arriving and see if your travel insurance covers it. Otherwise, you may get an unwelcome surprise when it’s time to pay your bill.

Pack an at-home COVID-19 test

(Photo by Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

If your destination has a shortage of COVID-19 tests, you may want to pick up a couple of at-home test kits before your trip. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control now allows proctored tests to be used to fly back into the U.S. However, non-proctored tests can also be helpful to determine your test status.

There are several at-home testing options, varying in price, that will qualify for travel to the U.S. Just be sure to order in advance so you can pack your test with you before you leave home:

  • Abbott’s BinaxNOW COVID-19 Home Test: This test is CDC-approved for travel to the U.S. (There’s a second Abbott rapid test you can buy at the drugstore, but it isn’t proctored and can’t be used for travel.) Cost: $150 for a six-pack of tests from eMed or $69.99 for a pack of two from Optum.
  • Amazon’s COVID-19 Test Collection Kit DTC: This test has received emergency use authorization from the FDA. Cost: $39.99
  • Ellume COVID-19 Home Test: This test is currently only sold in-store at local pharmacies. (Note that Ellume voluntarily recalled more than 2 million tests in October, citing “higher-than-acceptable false-positive test results,” so make sure your test isn’t impacted.) Cost: $38.99 plus a $20 fee for an online video observation to take a proctored test virtually.
  • Cue Health: This membership option says it offers test results in 20 minutes and can detect the new variant. Cue Health offers two options for travelers: the Cue+ Essential membership, which starts at $49.99 (a more expensive option costs $89.99 per month,) or a one-time purchase with a pack of three or 10 tests starting at $225.

Featured photo by GERARD BOTTINO/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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