Do the new COVID-19 testing rules apply to cruisers?

Dec 3, 2021

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The Biden Administration on Thursday announced a more stringent COVID-19 testing requirement for travelers entering the U.S. from foreign countries.

But the new rule doesn’t apply to all travelers.

As in the past, cruisers will be exempt from the testing requirement if they arrive in the U.S. by ship.

The new rule, which takes effect on Monday, Dec. 6, only applies to travelers flying into the U.S. In addition to travelers arriving by ship, travelers arriving by car and other vehicles at border crossings with Canada and Mexico also will be exempt from the rule.

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This means that some — but not all — cruisers will be unaffected by the changing testing rules. Here, everything you need to know about the new COVID-19 testing requirement if you have a soon-to-depart cruise in the works:

How is the COVID-19 testing rule changing?

Starting on Monday, Dec. 6, all travelers flying to the U.S. from a foreign country, whether they are vaccinated or not, must produce a negative COVID-19 test taken within one calendar day of their departure.

This includes international visitors as well as U.S. citizens and residents returning home. This is a significant change from the current policy, which allows a three-day window for fully vaccinated individuals to get a pre-travel COVID-19 test before flying to the U.S.

The change comes just days after the new omicron variant of COVID-19 was deemed a “variant of concern” (the most severe category) by the World Health Organization.

Will I need to take a COVID-19 test to enter the US by cruise ship?

No. Since the testing requirement announced on Thursday only will apply to travelers arriving in the U.S. by airplane, travelers arriving in the U.S. by cruise ship will not need a negative result on a COVID-19 test to enter the country.

In other words, if you cruise out of a U.S. port such as PortMiami to such international ports as Cozumel in Mexico or Nassau, in the Bahamas, you won’t need a COVID-19 test before disembarking at the end of the voyage.

But that doesn’t mean cruisers won’t have to take any COVID-19 tests in connection with such a sailing.

In keeping with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, cruise lines operating out of U.S. ports currently are requiring passengers to test negative for COVID-19 before boarding ships. Passengers typically have to test negative for COVID-19 within two or three days of arriving at a ship.

How does the new rule affect me if I’m sailing on a cruise overseas?

In this case, the testing rule for cruisers is changing.

Cruisers who fly from the U.S. to catch a sailing in, say, Europe or South America, will now need to get a COVID-19 test (and test negative) no more than one day before they fly back home from the cruise.

Until now, they’ve had a three-day window before flying back home to get such a test.

Most cruise lines have been offering onboard COVID-19 tests to passengers in such situations either for free or for a modest fee in the day or two before the end of a sailing. This means that cruisers typically have been able to walk off ships at the end of overseas sailings with the paperwork they need to fly home to the U.S. that same day.

What kind of COVID-19 test will I need to fly home from an overseas cruise?

As in the past, travelers entering the U.S. by airplane can show a negative result from either an antigen or PCR test for COVID-19.

There was talk in recent days of the Biden Administration requiring the more-involved PCR test. But that was not part of the final rule. This is good news for cruisers worried about getting results of a COVID-19 test back in the new, tighter one-day window, as antigen test results normally come back very fast.

The only change to the rule is that the COVID-19 test must now be performed no more than one day in advance of flying home instead of up to three days in advance.

Can I use an at-home COVID-19 antigen test to return from an overseas cruise?

It appears so. But only supervised at-home tests will qualify. The CDC earlier this year said passengers could use proctored at-home tests to meet the testing requirement for flights to the U.S., and the new rule announced Thursday did not mention a change to this policy.

The at-home tests that have been allowed (on a supervised basis) for entry into the U.S. have included the ​Abbott BinaxNow COVID-19 Home Test and Ellume’s COVID-19 Home Test.

Are there exceptions to the new COVID-19 testing rule?

Travelers who are 2 years of age and younger are exempt from the new rule, as with the original rule.

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Featured image courtesy of Royal Caribbean.

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