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No sign of US ending testing rules for international travel

March 14, 2022
5 min read
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Over the last month, many countries have made international travel during the pandemic easier and more convenient by easing COVID-19 testing requirements, particularly for vaccinated travelers. As of now, despite some calls to loosen the rules, U.S. travelers returning from abroad must still present a negative test.

TPG reported that the U.S. Virgin Islands became the latest territory to announce vaccinated travelers would no longer have to present a negative test upon arrival, and countries like the United Kingdom dropped its testing requirement last month.

Related: Country-by-country guide to coronavirus reopening

Still, according to the CDC’s guidance last updated in December, the U.S. requires all incoming air travelers over the age of 2 to submit a negative COVID-19 test taken within one day of departure from a foreign country in order to enter the U.S.

The good news is, with COVID-19 cases a fraction of what they were earlier this year, it may be a lot easier to find an at-home test — whether it’s one you hope to submit to the government for re-entry or one for your own peace of mind while abroad.

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At-home tests eligible for submission

As TPG reported in December, the U.S. government’s international travel guidance does allow at-home tests, which of course would not have been possible much earlier in the pandemic before a number of companies made them widely available.

This provision in the guidance allows for international travelers to buy an approved at-home test before leaving the country, and use it while abroad before boarding a flight back to the U.S.

The key in the federal government’s guidance is that tests must be proctored. With at-home tests, this often means a virtual visit with a testing official who will guide you through the process.

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BinaxNow at-home COVID-19 test being proctored. (Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

The CDC accepts widely-used tests from Ellume, Qured, and Abbot’s BinaxNow home test, which has been used extensively throughout the country. It’s important to note that buying a test at a store over-the-counter (such as the the BinaxNow self test) and taking it on your own, is not acceptable to use for re-entry into the U.S.

The CDC requires that tests are supervised by a live attendant via a video call. In the case of the BinaxNow at-home test, you can purchase the test through the site eMed. Once purchased, the company will ship it to you prior to your trip, and then you can take it with live video guidance. More on how that works here.

Related: Getting a COVID-19 test from the comfort of your home

Self tests for peace of mind

There’s another reason travelers heading abroad during a global pandemic might want to purchase an at-home test before leaving: peace of mind.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had minor symptoms like a headache or fatigue prior to a big event or trip during the pandemic and worried it might be COVID-19. (In my case, it never was.) Between airports, flights and tourist destinations, an extra test or two in the luggage is a good idea.

However, a couple months ago that was easier said than done.

In December and January, as omicron surged, TPG reported on how difficult it was to find a self test. Pharmacies struggled to keep them on shelves as those exposed and with symptoms got tested.

Things have changed significantly though. The U.S. saw more than 1.3 million new COVID-19 cases on January 10, but on Friday, March 11, the CDC reported just over 38,000 new cases, a 97% drop. Combine that with manufacturers like Abbott ramping up production in late 2021 to meet demand, and there’s no doubt it’s easier to find a test.

I drove to two major local pharmacies and found a large supply of self tests where they were hard to find just a couple of months ago.

This pharmacy in North Carolina had plenty of tests available. (Photo by Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy)

In a statement to TPG, a CVS spokesperson said the company’s stores “have the ability to meet our customers’ needs with at-home test kits both in store and at CVS.com,” adding that the company has “simplified the digital process” so customers can order and pick up a test kit with no up-front, out-of-pocket cost or the need to submit a claim to insurance.

Walgreens said it "worked diligently with our suppliers to ensure we have enough supply to meet customer demand at nearly all locations."

Looking ahead

Even as a number of other countries and territories take steps to ease testing requirements for international travelers, there are no signs that the U.S. plans to follow suit. That means an extra level of planning for international travelers remains.

The good news is that there are more options than ever for procuring a test for both government submission and your own peace of mind while abroad.

Featured image by AFP via Getty Images
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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  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
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  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
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  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
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Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees