Will you need a clean bill of health for your next international trip? Here’s how to get a medical certificate last minute

Mar 9, 2020

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As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread worldwide, nations are tightening their entry regulations. On March 9, Israel announced a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all travelers entering the country from abroad, while travelers from restricted countries are automatically barred from entry.

Related: Should I travel right now during the coronavirus pandemic?

Beginning March 9, all travelers entering the island nation of French Polynesia must present a clean bill of health dated within five days of departure. This requirement applies to all major tourist destinations in the country including Tahiti, Mo’orea, Papeete and Bora Bora, and expands on an earlier measure implemented in February out of an abundance of precaution, which required a medical certificate of good health from travelers who recently left high-risk coronavirus regions.

Related: These are the U.S. State Dept. travel advisories for March 2020

check local country health requirements before departure

For many travelers, the biggest concern isn’t the coronavirus itself, but the possibility of being quarantined or turned away upon arrival. Travel restrictions, requirements and policies are changing daily at this time, so if you plan on keeping your travel plans, it’s imperative that you check local requirements on both the country’s website, as well as on your airline and hotel’s websites before you depart.

French Polynesia and Israel aren’t the only countries implementing strict health requirements for incoming travelers. As of March 7, Samoa’s requirements are even more draconian: All travelers entering the country, including flight crews and Samoan passport holders who live in the country, must provide medical clearance dated within three days of the date of departure.

The new Samoan requirements dictate that a traveler’s medical certificate must be validated at check-in in the country of origin before a boarding pass will be issued. The document must be signed by an attending physician, and will be counter-signed by the office of the Samoan Director of Public Health upon approval. Furthermore, nationals from 15 high-risk nations including China, Italy and South Korea must undergo automatic self-quarantine for 14 days at the country of last port, then present medical clearance dated within three days prior to final route to Samoa.

Myth-busting: Will a face mask keep you safe while traveling?

A number of other countries have been screening incoming travelers for some time now, with varying degrees of strictness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers an official checklist for consideration at a pre-travel doctor’s appointment. The list isn’t specific to coronavirus-related travel, although it does provide a holistic overview of how you should evaluate your own well-being before leaving on a jet plane.

Related: TPG’s coronavirus coverage, all in one place

If you need a doctor’s note last-minute before your big international trip, check out TPG’s suggestions below, including some tips from our seasoned travelers in the TPG Lounge Facebook group.

Here’s where you can get a medical certificate of good health before departure 

Each country’s medical requirements differs slightly, but emergency physician Dr. Amy Faith Ho told TPG that a basic note should include the patient’s name, the date of the wellness check, and a statement verifying that the patient had no signs of detectable infection such as fever or cough, along with the doctor’s signature, name and credentials.

Related: What to do before, during and after flying to stay healthy

Here are a few ways you can obtain this doctor’s note:

Reach out to your primary care provider or look into telemedicine

Dr. Ho suggests getting in touch with your primary care provider to request a wellness check. You can also look into booking a virtual consultation to save yourself an extra trip, especially to avoid germ-infested waiting rooms.

Related: Here’s how older travelers can stay healthy while traveling

Alternatively, check to see if telemedicine from another provider is an option through your workplace or your employer — where certain medical providers offer consultations video calls conducted over HIPAA-compliant technology.

Visit a travel clinic

Travel clinics such as Passport Health specialize in trip-related medical appointments, including immunizations and travel-specific medications. Many offer same-day appointments for last-minute travel, and tend to have common vaccines on hand — such as the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccination you’ll need on record in order to enter Samoa.

Avoid urgent care facilities and emergency rooms

Dr. Ho cautions travelers against visiting urgent care centers and emergency rooms for everyday needs. “I would stay far away from emergency departments, which should be reserved for patients who are ill,” she said. “Especially if you are not ill, going to the ER just to be exposed to many people who are ill seems to be counterproductive. The ‘walking well’ are going to be flooding the healthcare system already due to COVID-19, so adding another category of ‘walking well’ to be hitting an already stressed healthcare system just worsens the situation.”

Related: What do medical experts say about traveling during the coronavirus outbreak?

Minute clinics” and urgent cares can be used as a last-resort option if a traveler does not have a primary care doctor, or needs a last-minute option, Dr. Ho told TPG. Once again, however, Dr. Ho stressed that quick-access care facilities are likely to be strained from increased demand from symptomatic patients.

What if you can’t get a doctor’s note?

Unfortunately, TPG has heard anecdotal evidence that some providers have declined to provide documents of clean health, including at certain travel clinics. And many travelers have reached out to us, wondering what to do when they are already halfway through a current trip.

Once again, requirements vary from country to country. But Air Tahiti Nui, for instance, is setting up dedicated medical personnel in its major gateway airports to screen travelers before departure. So check in with your airline before departure to see what options are available.

Bottom line

Many health authorities and employers are urging people to stay home where possible.

Related: What kind of travel insurance will cover coronavirus-related cancellations? 

If you do plan to travel during this time, make sure you are maintaining vigilant standards of personal hygiene; stay home if you show even the slightest signs of being sick; carefully read and follow all of the travel requirements for your destination(s) before departure; and be prepared for things to change at the last minute.

Featured photo by Getty Images.

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