Flawed COVID-19 testing protocols for international travel need to be fixed immediately

Nov 18, 2021

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

I’m a big proponent of vaccines, masks and COVID-19 testing.

(If you don’t like that, feel free to stop reading now. Seriously.)

In the past two weeks, I’ve taken two trips out of the United States – my first since the pandemic. And in both cases, I’ve been baffled by the COVID-19 testing procedures.

The most recent came during a one-night trip to Montreal to meet with some Air Canada executives.

I got a rapid PCR test in New York Sunday morning, a day before my Monday flight. Canada only requires it to be 72 hours prior, but I’m lucky enough to have a testing location in New York that guarantees results within four hours.

This is a sound policy given the struggles we still have with getting fast, accurate tests nearly two years into this pandemic.

For more TPG news, deals and reviews delivered to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Upon arrival in Montreal, I was pulled aside for a random test.

Great!

While slightly annoyed at the added time, I honestly appreciated the extra step and level of caution.

But here’s where my frustration starts.

After being swabbed for the PCR test, the nurse released me into the country and said I would get results within 72 hours.

What?

Here I was at a massive, very efficient COVID-19 testing center inside the airport, and the Canadian government couldn’t find a way to process results faster? If you want to have a strong border and keep your country safe, isn’t that step one?

I ended up spending 28 hours in Canada and boarded my flight home to the U.S. and still hadn’t received my test results.

Overall, Canada’s testing policy for international arrivals is great, but if you are going to do random testing, make sure you have the test results before actually letting folks into the country.

Canada has been doing a good job but some of its systems might not be able to handle quick turnarounds. (Photo by Cole Burston/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Related: Canada reopens to Americans — my experience crossing the border

As for reentering the U.S. on Tuesday afternoon? All I had to do was show that same negative test from Sunday morning.

I know that “three days” or “72 hours” has become the accepted standard. It’s close enough to your travel but long enough to let those without easy access to a fast test still get results.

But I find it absolutely ridiculous that the test I needed to get home to New York was the same test I took in New York before leaving the country.

If we are worried about Americans catching COVID-19 in other countries – something possible, even during short trips – then we should rethink our testing requirements.

Should we have rapid antigen tests required within a few hours of travel?

I don’t know the answer, but the current procedures seem like they’re full of holes. (Note: Unvaccinated Americans have additional hurdles to jump through.)

Related: The US requires a negative COVID-19 test taken within 3 days to get in the country. But what if your flight is delayed?

A minor, or maybe not-so-minor, tangent: I’ve flown to California, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada and Texas this year. None of these domestic destinations required any type of COVID-19 test to visit, nor was I required to take a test to return to New York.

We need the freedom to travel without tons of paperwork and testing. However, there is a disconnect between the testing needed to return from highly vaccinated countries like Canada and the United Kingdom and the lack of testing needed within our own country – one with vastly different state vaccination rates.

But I digress.

My other international trip was to London, at the start of the month.

England doesn’t require tests before arrival for vaccinated visitors. (I took one the day prior anyway; I’d rather cancel my trip than risk being stuck overseas.)

But England does require a COVID-19 test upon your second full day in the country.

I left New York the Sunday night of Halloween, landed in London Monday morning and was required to test by Wednesday but could do it earlier. A confirmation number of your prearranged – and prepaid – test is required by the government for your entry forms, which you must fill out before boarding your flight.

The U.K. policies are not enforced well if you are traveling in from another country. (Photo by Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Nobody ever checks to see that you actually took the test, though.

I took mine that Tuesday and also used it as my test to reenter the U.S. on that Thursday.

Related: Here’s how I’m navigating the UK COVID-19 testing requirements

Nobody actually reviewed my negative COVID-19 tests before I returned to the U.S. from Canada and England. In both cases, I simply added them to an app and, seconds later, was cleared to get a boarding pass.

COVID-19 testing adds an extra challenge to travel these days. While I do find the time required to fill out different forms annoying, especially since each airline and country has a different process, I’m OK with taking that step if it stops the spread of the virus.

However, these burdensome requirements do very little to actually limit cross-border transmission. They are better than nothing but far from perfect.

I know there are limits to test availability and the speed of PCR tests, but if we are really going to fully reopen international borders and catch breakthrough COVID-19 cases, we need to have more reasonable testing policies.

This is a great opportunity for a group, such as the International Air Transport Association, to lobby governments – and its own airline members – for more standardization and practical policies.

Without those changes, it’s going to be hard for travel to return to normal, whatever that is anymore.

Featured photo by Ergin Yalcin/Getty Images

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,600

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3X points on dining and 2x points on travel, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
Regular APR
16.24% - 23.24% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.