Everything you need to know about traveling to St. Lucia right now
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The jagged green peaks and lush interior of St. Lucia evoke comparison to Kauai — without the long-haul flights required for us East Coasters. Last week I went on a four-day trip to the Caribbean island, staying two nights in Stonefield Resort in a private pool villa overlooking Petit Piton, and another two nights in a plunge pool villa at Ti Kaye Resort & Spa — both located on the west coast. The destination didn’t disappoint — but planning did require a fair amount of steps, attention to detail and follow-up.
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St. Lucia, a country with a population around 180,000, made news a few months ago when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added it to its Level 4: Very High Level of COVID-19 travel warning list, joining 17 other Caribbean countries. In fact, both the CDC and The U.S. State Department discourage travel to St. Lucia in general, and urge only those fully vaccinated to consider it. I received my second dose of Pfizer vaccine back in March, but as with all the international travel I’ve undertaken the past few months, I was a little skittish about a breakthrough infection. However, the rum, chocolate, beaches and sunshine ultimately won out.
If you decide to venture to the land of cliffside-perched accommodations, romance aplenty, restorative natural mud baths, frolicing in refreshing waterfalls and hiking to the summit of Gros Piton, here is what you need to know before you go:
complete an online form and upload documents
Everyone 18 and over needs to apply online for a Travel Authorization Form on the St. Lucia government website. In addition to all of the basic information like name, address, contact info, passport details and flights, you’ll also need to upload booking confirmation numbers as well as the actual confirmation documents for the hotel(s) or resort(s) at which you will be staying.
If, like me, you don’t actually have that info in PDF or Word formats, there’s an easy workaround, at least for Gmail: select the print option from the email from the hotel, “print” it as a PDF, save it to your computer and then upload it.
The first time I launched the application process. I didn’t have the hotel information. I thought I could save my progress and come back to it later. Not so. The only thing you are permitted to add later on is your COVID-19 negative test result (more about test requirements below). After getting through several pages of the lengthy form, only to learn about the hotel info requirement, I had to close it and start again later. Pretty annoying.
Any time you want to log back in to check the status of your authorization, you need to provide your email address and receive a one-time password (OTP) to access your account.
You can apply for the Travel Authorization Form up to a month before your trip begins, and it’s recommended you do it at least seven days before you leave. My accommodations weren’t finalized until a few days before I left, so I was left sweating it out wondering if I was going to get approved in time.
If you are booking a last-minute trip or just aren’t content to sit and wait it out, you can forward the automatically generated registration email you receive when you first submit the form to firstname.lastname@example.org. I applied on a Thursday, and when I hadn’t yet been approved on Saturday morning (I was traveling the next day), I forwarded the registration email with a friendly note that my flight was quickly coming up; I was approved that afternoon.
Get a COVID-19 negative test result no more than 5 days before arrival
Everyone 5 years and older traveling to St. Lucia is required to get a lab-based COVID-19 PCR test and a negative result. Antigen, DIY nasal swabs or saliva samples are not permitted. There is a five-day testing window, counting backward from the day of arrival.
Since I was arriving on a Sunday, I could test on or after Wednesday. This is something to keep in mind if you are arriving on a Wednesday or Thursday, as testing on the weekend may delay your results, depending on your medical provider.
As mentioned above, you must upload your negative COVID-19 test result as an attachment as part of your Travel Authorization Form application, either when you initially apply, or after you receive your results. The following information must be included on the results:
- The name, address and telephone number where the sample was taken
- Your name
- Your date of birth
- The date the test was done
- The type of test and the method of testing
- The result
Be sure to be accurate with the address where the sample was taken; while my PCR test was administered at a drive-through Kaiser Permanente facility in Northern Virginia, it was actually processed in Rockville, Maryland.
Travel insurance isn’t required — but it’s a good idea
Before the pandemic, I only purchased travel insurance if it was absolutely necessary. Generally, that meant for destinations that were especially far-flung or remote, if the trip included high-risk activities or if the tour operator required it.
But since I’ve started traveling internationally in the post-COVID-19 era, I think travel insurance provides much-needed peace of mind, especially considering that a breakthrough infection while abroad could cost thousands of dollars of quarantining at a hotel, food and flight changes. I purchased a policy from Tin Leg that covered the cost of the trip as well as medical care, evacuation and trip interruption.
Travel with printouts of everything
I’ve learned from recent trips to places like Mexico, Aruba, Barbados and St. Vincent and the Grenadines that all the handy government travel apps, websites, QR Codes and PDFs are no match for actual printouts.
You will be asked for them several times: at the airline check-in counter, upon arrival at the airport and maybe even at your hotel or resort. Don’t stress out trying to pull up documentation from your phone or a website or worrying about availability of data or Wi-Fi.
Tote with you a waterproof, closable plastic folder holding your Travel Authorization Form, a printout of your COVID-19 negative test result and the Ministry of Health and Wellness Health Screening Questionnaire, which must be completed, signed and dated the date of your arrival in St. Lucia.
If you are fully vaccinated, you must show proof of vaccination when you get there. Though some countries have switched to requiring digital proof, St. Lucia still requires Americans to bring their original vaccination card. This made me a bit salty; I’m used to just showing a photo from my phone and it makes me very nervous to travel with it in case I lose it.
Anticipate a long wait upon arrival
International travelers landing at Hewanorra International Airport (UVF) will be ushered to a dedicated tent for a health screening before heading to immigration, baggage and customs. Unfortunately, the arrival of my Delta connection from Atlanta coincided with that of an American Airlines flight from Miami, so while my seat in Delta Comfort+ toward the front of the plane gave me an edge in line, we still waited more than 45 minutes to present our passports, travel documents and receive our white wristband, which designated us as vaccinated travelers who could move about the island at will. (Anyone anticipating a bathroom break might want to go before deboarding the plane rather than upon landing, lest it puts you even farther back in line.)
If you aren’t fully vaccinated, you must quarantine at one of the island’s 280 COVID-19-certified accommodations for 14 days or the duration of your stay, whichever is longer; you will be allowed to take part in certified activities and excursions and dine in certified restaurants.
If you do show any COVID-19 symptoms upon arrival, the official isolation units on the island are located at respiratory clinics at Victoria Hospital and St. Jude’s Hospital.
Be prepared for extensive COVID-19 protocols
Locals are fastidious about preventing the spread of COVID-19, starting with the temperature check you get as you enter the health screening tent at the airport. Be prepared for endless forehead or wrist checks: when you arrive at your hotel, walk up to the host stand at any restaurant (even ones at your resort) and hail a cab.
You’ll also be reminded to sanitize your hands — the light spritz of sanitizer coming from the automatic stations here was a welcome departure from the ooey-gooey gel I so often encounter.
Masks are required in public places — even outside. You can remove it at the pool, beach and once you are seated at a restaurant.
A departure test is required before you head home
As with travel to other international locations, the U.S. government requires a negative COVID-19 test not more than three days before arriving back in the U.S. But it’s a little easier on the return trip, as either a PCR or Antigen (rapid) test will do, and lots of accommodations offer testing on-site. If not, you can get one at Lab Services St. Lucia or Rodney Bay Medical Centre.
Our appointments at Ti Kaye Resort & Spa were scheduled for 7:30 a.m. the morning of our departure (our flight was at 3:30 p.m.). After the nurse discovered our flight time, she said she would put a rush on the results. They were printed out and ready when we checked out. Since they were sent as an attachment, we couldn’t upload them to the Delta app, but we just showed them to the agent at the ticket counter. Only departing travelers are allowed to enter the airport — we were stopped at the door to show our info and get one last temperature check.
Guests who receive a positive departure test will be required to immediately isolate. Those who are asymptomatic or who have mild symptoms must remain in isolation at their accommodation for a period of 10 days from the date of their positive diagnosis, while those who require medical attention will be transported via ambulance or COVID-19-approved taxi.
The most annoying part of the process to travel to St. Lucia was the online travel form, but once I had all the necessary info to complete it, it wasn’t too bad. Looking back, I wish I had finalized my accommodations sooner so I wasn’t stressed about not receiving approval.
The relatively high COVID-19 numbers and low vaccination rates on the island did make me a little nervous. Still, being fully vaccinated (and for the purposes of traveling here, that means at least two weeks after receiving the second dose of Pfizer or Moderna, or the single dose of Johnson & Johnson) and seeing all the protocols in place made me feel safe.
Quite honestly, during my stay, I was actually more concerned about not getting car sick, as the mountainous terrain equates to lots of nausea-inducing switchbacks and elevation changes. But the island lived up to its reputation, with stunning scenery, pretty beaches and seafood in spades, including what may just be my new favorite way to start the day: a St. Lucia breakfast of curried cod, cucumber salad and bakes.
Featured photo by Kelly Magyarics.
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