I just visited Turks and Caicos: 4 things you should know before you go
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This week marked a milestone for my own travels during the COVID-19 pandemic. A wedding brought me out of the country for the first time since the virus complicated international travel in a way we’ve not seen previously.
The destination: Turks and Caicos. Coincidentally, my trip came just weeks after the Caribbean archipelago dropped its most significant COVID-19 restrictions, eliminating testing and insurance requirements for visitors.
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This was a major step in simplifying travel to a popular vacation destination for American travelers, at a time when many countries – including those in the Caribbean – have relaxed many of the protocols.
I visited Turks and Caicos for the first time seven years ago, before returning during the waning days of the country’s remaining restrictions. I thought I’d share four key takeaways from my travels, and what they might mean for you as you consider, plan and prepare for travel.
Keep an eye on the restrictions … they might change
I’ve written many stories about COVID-19 restrictions here at TPG – most of them about countries loosening or eliminating requirements altogether in recent months. I knew better than to assume the restrictions that were in place when I booked the trip back in February would be in place when we actually traveled in May.
The same could be said for the requirements in place just a few weeks ago.
As recently as late April, my wife and I knew there was a strong possibility we would have to go through two sets of tests: one to get into the islands, and one to return to the U.S.
For many months, Turks and Caicos also required supplemental insurance for travelers. That all changed late last month, when government officials got rid of both testing and insurance requirements, drastically simplifying the arrival protocols.
For me, it served as a firsthand reminder that even now over two years since the pandemic began, things can still change drastically (often for the better) just days prior to your trip. So stay tuned to pages like TPG’s country-by-country reopening guide and the official government and tourism sites for the country you’re visiting.
Most of the work happened before I flew
I write this midway through my trip to Turks and Caicos, so I have yet to contend with the reentry requirements to the U.S. That said, when it comes to Turks and Caicos’ restrictions, here’s the list of COVID-19-related steps I had to take to prepare for travel:
Upload my vaccination card to an app as I checked in to my flight.
That’s it. That’s the whole list.
I flew with American Airlines. The airline actually made it pretty easy for me. When I checked in on American’s app 24 hours before my trip, the system wouldn’t let me retrieve my boarding pass until I submitted my vaccination information to a third-party app.
The airline app prompted me to download the VeriFly app.
The app required I answer questions about my COVID-19 vaccination history, which I proved by uploading my vaccine card. It took a few minutes, maybe five.
American’s system then requested I “Come back to check in” while officials reviewed my vaccination responses.
About an hour later, I received a notification my responses had been approved and I was good to go.
That was by far the most significant step. When I filled out immigration documents during my flight to Providenciales International Airport (PLS), there were some health-related questions to check through. However, no one on the ground in customs took my temperature, asked me a virus-related question or asked for a vaccination card.
I’d estimate I waited in the customs line for 5-10 minutes, at a moment when three or so flights had recently arrived at the airport. I imagine those waits could fluctuate a bit depending on how busy the airport is at the time of your arrival.
When you consider the fact that checked bags arrive about 15 yards behind the customs booths, and you’re literally outside the airport a couple dozen steps later, the trip through the airport can be incredibly quick and easy.
It appears that things on the island are back to normal
Like I mentioned, the last time I visited Turks and Caicos was 2015. I would dare say, if I didn’t know about the pandemic already, I probably wouldn’t notice any changes if I were dropped on the main island today.
The country removed its mask mandates in conjunction with the lifting of testing and insurance requirements at the beginning of May.
There’s an occasional visitor, hotel or business employee, or government official wearing a mask. However, they are the exception.
People are gathering at resorts, restaurants and coffee shops, enjoying fully restored services. They’re all doing so without masks or other restrictions.
Confused about reentry testing rules? Ask the front desk
Without a doubt, the most significant COVID-19 protocols I’ll have to adhere to during my entire trip will be the U.S. reentry requirements. This is now often the case for U.S. travelers returning from many international destinations.
Numerous groups, travel industry companies and advocacy groups have called for the U.S. to end its testing mandate for returning travelers. However, there have been no signs that’s going to happen anytime in the immediate future.
If you’re confused, here’s the good news: The hotels know what they’re doing at this point. Numerous Caribbean destinations, including Turks and Caicos, serve a clientele that’s predominantly from the U.S. – and thus returning to the States. The staff is intimately familiar with the testing requirements, and many of the properties provide on-site testing.
The first hotel I stayed at, the Ritz-Carlton in Turks and Caicos, dedicated a ballroom just off the main lobby to COVID-19 testing.
As part of the wedding I’m attending, I’m spending the second part of my trip at the Beaches All-Inclusive Resort. Upon check-in, the staff gave us a sheet laying out test-scheduling procedures and explained exactly what we need to do to obtain a COVID-19 test within the appropriate time frame for travel.
International travel for much of the pandemic has involved significant, arduous and — at times — stressful procedures to adhere to COVID-19 requirements. However, you won’t spend much more than a few minutes on virus-related steps when you visit Turks and Caicos.
Other than uploading a vaccine card and filling out a form or two, getting in is not complicated. Life at the country’s resorts and restaurants feels entirely like pre-pandemic times. Additionally, the local staff is so familiar with the U.S. reentry testing requirements, you should be able to navigate your entire trip with little confusion.
Featured photo by Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy.
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