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The US will soon require pre-departure COVID-19 testing: What does this mean if you're already abroad?

Jan. 13, 2021
6 min read
The US will soon require pre-departure COVID-19 testing: What does this mean if you're already abroad?
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On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that all international travelers will need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test in order to enter the United States. The move will now require that all travelers — regardless if they're U.S. citizens — to show a negative test result before boarding their flight.

As of Jan. 26, 2021, passengers traveling to the U.S. from abroad will have to take a viral test within three days of their scheduled departure. According to the CDC, passengers will need to provide their airline with written documentation (paper or electronic copy) of their lab test result.

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The CDC has placed the onus on the airline to confirm all passengers have a negative COVID-19 test result before they're allowed to board. If a passenger doesn't have the required negative test, the airline will deny boarding.

But what about those abroad now who will now be required to have a negative COVID-19 test before they can come home? In some countries where there isn't the infrastructure or testing capacity available, some travelers may find themselves stuck without an option to get home.

While the CDC made this announcement on Tuesday, Jan. 12, the requirement doesn't take effect until Jan. 26 — two weeks later. The agency said that the delay should give both airlines and travelers enough time to seek out and comply with the requirement.

Late last week, England's government also announced a requirement for international travelers entering the country from abroad to have a negative COVID-19 test result. From when the country first made the announcement, it gave just more than one-week notice for travelers. When pre-departure testing comes into force at 4 a.m. local time on Friday, Jan. 15, all travelers — including British nationals — will have to abide by the new requirement.

Related: International arrivals will need a negative COVID-19 test to enter England from Friday

But with the reduced warning period, the English government has allowed for more exemptions to the rule. Cargo workers, children under 11, airline crews and those "traveling from countries without the infrastructure available to deliver the tests," will be exempt from the pre-departure testing requirement when it launches on Friday. Additionally, travelers entering England from the Falkland Islands, Ascension Islands and St Helena are permanently exempt.

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They also temporarily exempted some countries include Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia and Barbados. It should be noted. that England is only allowing country-specific exemptions until 4 a.m. on Jan. 21 — six days after the initial rollout.

(Photo by BEN FATHERS/AFP via Getty Images)

At this time, the only exemptions to the U.S. requirement are airline crew, military personnel and passengers under 2 years old. There are no country-specific exemptions, and this is likely because the lead time on the U.S. requirement is two weeks.

But for those already abroad or who are planning to be when the regulation comes into effect, it may take some additional planning. But hotels are aiming to make testing easier on the guest.

At Baha Mar in the Bahamas, for example, guests can elect to take an optional PCR or rapid COVID-19 test before they depart. The tests, which cost $125 and $25 for PCR and rapid, respectively, are at the cost of the guest. But, if it saves the hassle of trying to find a test through a third party, the cost will likely be worth it for those returning to the U.S.

Related: Your next hotel check-in may include a COVID-19 test

At the Sofitel Hotel at London Heathrow, guests can book an overnight test package, which allows them to submit a self-administered PCR test the night before their flight. The next morning, the passenger will have a certificate with their test result. The package, which also includes breakfast, starts at £179 (about $250) per room.

With the United States' new pre-departure testing requirement, it's likely that we may see more hotels and resorts offering COVID-19 tests before leaving the property. With the travel industry already upended by the coronavirus pandemic and the constantly changing rules and regulations, hotels may wish to provide guests with the comfort of knowing they're covered when it comes to booking a test before they return home.

If you're currently abroad and worried about not being able to secure a COVID-19 test before the pre-departure testing requirement comes into place, contact your hotel. Alternatively, contact the local U.S. embassy for advice on how to find testing.

In addition to the new testing requirement, the CDC advises that international travelers get tested again three to five days after arrival and stay home for seven days after traveling.

“Testing does not eliminate all risk,” CDC Director Robert R. Redfield said in a statement. “But when combined with a period of staying at home and everyday precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, it can make travel safer, healthier and more responsible by reducing spread on planes, in airports and at destinations.”

Since March 2020, the U.S. has banned entry for non-nationals coming from the U.K., Ireland, 26 European countries, Brazil, Iran and China. Late last year, there were reports that the White House was considering removing the ban on travel from Europe, however, that's yet to happen and a President-elect Biden will likely make any decisions on bans going forward.

The pre-departure testing requirement was a long-awaited announcement for some.

“We learned that the opening strategy of banning locations and asking about exposures and doing fever checks just didn’t cut it,” said Martin Cetron, who leads the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine. “We had to pivot.”

More than 22 million cases of COVID-19 have already been reported in the United States, including more than 375,000 deaths.

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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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
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10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
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Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023