CDC says rapid at-home tests are sufficient for international flights to the US

May 10, 2021

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its guidance and widened the kind of tests it will accept for international travelers looking to enter the country. On Friday, the CDC said that it’s updated its guidance to accept at-home COVID-19 tests for international travel to the U.S.

As of Friday’s update, all travelers coming from international locations into the U.S. will be able to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test that was taken at home.

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Since Jan. 26, 2021, all travelers looking to enter the U.S. from abroad have been required to have proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 72 hours before scheduled departure. While both a gold-standard PCR test as well as rapid antigen tests had been accepted as valid viral tests for entry, the CDC said that those taken at home were not sufficient.

Now, however, travelers can take a self-administered COVID-19 test at home. They must still meet some specifications, however. Home tests have to be a SARS-CoV-2 viral test (either a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) or an antigen test) with Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Additionally, approved at-home tests must be completed using “a telehealth service affiliated with the manufacturer of the test that provides real-time supervision remotely through an audio and video connection.” The health authority must be able to see the traveler perform the test in order to certify it was taken correctly and the results are accurate.

Related: 17 things you need to know about getting COVID-19 tested for US-bound international flights

The telehealth service provider must confirm the person’s identity, as well as the result. They must then issue a report that meets the CDC’s order and the travel provider must be able to review and confirm the test result and match it to the traveler’s identity.

Overall, this is a positive change for travelers who might otherwise have trouble sourcing a COVID-19 test in a foreign country where capabilities might not be as widely available. The option to take a test at home will allow travelers to pack a COVID-19 test in their bag and take it prior to traveling back to the U.S. after having performed it in front of a telehealth provider.

“This is an encouraging step in facilitating the international travel process, while continuing to prioritize the safety and well-being of all travelers and employees seeking entry to the U.S.,” Airlines for America said of the change.

While the CDC is making the testing requirement for international travel easier on return to the country, the agency still advises against international travel for travelers who aren’t fully vaccinated.

“International travel poses additional risks and even fully vaccinated travelers are at increased risk for getting and possibly spreading new COVID-19 variants,” the CDC says on its website. “CDC recommends delaying international travel until you are fully vaccinated.”

Related: Where you can go once you are vaccinated: A country-by-country guide

Featured photo by Aimur Kytt/Getty Images.

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