A lot of work to go on vacation: 5 things to know before visiting Turks and Caicos

Sep 9, 2021

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I needed a vacation like a cat needs an afternoon nap. Enjoying three nights at the new Ritz-Carlton in Turks and Caicos wasn’t going to be a long respite — but it was a much-needed one.

But there’s trouble with visiting paradise. Getting to Turks and Caicos right now is anything but simple. The COVID-19 cases are currently comparatively low and the country is open to tourism without a quarantine upon arrival, but there are plenty of hoops you have to make it through before you arrive.

In fact, I wasn’t approved to enter the country until less than an hour before we had to leave for the airport and we spent more than $600 in additional insurances and testing fees just for my husband and me to be able to make the trip even though we are both fully vaccinated.

I’ll let you decide whether or not all the trouble to visit paradise is worth it — but here are the five things you need to know if you plan on visiting Turks and Caicos under the current entry rules.

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You must be fully vaccinated

The easiest part of going to Turks and Caicos is that as of Sept. 1, you must be fully vaccinated to enter.

This means you are at least 14 days beyond your second dose of the Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca vaccine. In the case of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it translates to 14 days after receipt of the single dose.

Those under 16-years-old or those who have documentation that they were not able to be vaccinated due to medical reasons are exempt from this requirement.

While the country had announced that it would require digital proof of vaccination (as opposed to just the paper card issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), that requirement was backed off for now and vaccine cards are still acceptable proof of vaccination.

A weird caveat to this was that when I applied, there was no prompt or place to upload vaccination documentation. I had to wait to be contacted after submitting my form with a request and link to upload my proof of vaccination. Hopefully, that is rectified over time to skip one round of back-and-forth.

(Photo by Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

Negative lab-based COVID-19 tests required within 3 days of entry

The second part of entering Turks and Caicos is where things get harder.

All visitors who are 10 years of age and over must have a lab-processed negative COVID-19 test result taken within three days on file. This is in addition to the vaccine requirement.

Acceptable test types include:

  • Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction tests
  • Nucleic acid amplification tests
  • RNA or molecular tests
  • Antigen tests completed via nasopharyngeal swab

That comes with the caveat that the laboratory that processes your test must be accredited and the certificate from the laboratory should include the following:

  • Name (must be the same on the TCI Assured application and test result)
  • Date of birth (must be the same on the TCI Assured application and test result)
  • Laboratory name and contact details
  • Indication of laboratory credentials (CLIA, ISO 15189)
  • Date and time of sample collection
  • Type of test
  • Type of sample
  • Test result

This means those at-home monitored tests that do work to return to the U.S. won’t work to enter Turks and Caicos. And while three days sounds sufficient to get test results in some locations like New York City or San Francisco, it’s not always as generous as you’d think for two reasons. First, in areas experiencing COVID-19 surges, lab testing appointments are in short supply and it can take a few days for labs to process and report results.

Second, you don’t really have three days to get results because you need to have this result uploaded into the Turks and Caicos portal before you can even start your application to visit.

That means you really need to test as soon as you enter the three-day window and have results turned around within 24 to 36 hours, at most, to have enough time to complete the rest of the steps. I paid $150 per PCR test at a cash-only type of local clinic that was able to turn results around within about a day, but that’s far from a guarantee in Texas right now.

Related: Where to get COVID-19 tests for travel 

Travel insurance (mostly) required

You have your vaccine and negative COVID-19 test, but you’re not done yet.

To visit Turks and Caicos, you also need travel insurance that “covers COVID-19 medical costs and full hospitalization, doctors’ visits, prescriptions, air ambulance and quarantine.”

Based on conversations I had with other travelers on the flight and while on the ground in Turks and Caicos, they do read the fine print on the travel insurance documents you upload to their portal to ensure it covers all of those elements. If it doesn’t, I have heard stories of visitors being able to write a letter stating they would cover the additional expenses themselves and that was accepted.

But personally, I wouldn’t push it. If they say travel insurance is required, I’d buy it if you want to go. We bought a plan via Travel Insured International for $125 per person that included an additional “bed rest” rider that covered the island’s quarantine coverage stipulation.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

You need to upload documents and bring printed copies

To visit Turks and Caicos, you need to upload all of those previously mentioned items — and complete more information — in the country’s TCI Assured portal, which is also where you will ultimately need to gain approval to travel.

You also need to bring those documents (vaccine card, negative COVID-19 test and proof of travel insurance) with you as they are also checked upon arrival at the airport in Turks and Caicos.

Your approval to travel may not come quickly or easily

I saved the worst for last.

You can do all of those steps and spend all of the money necessary to book travel and add on the required tests and travel insurance and still be left sweating bullets as to whether you’ll be approved in time or not.

In my own three-day window, I tested on a Tuesday. Got my negative results and applied for TCI approval with those results on Wednesday. On Thursday, I was asked to upload the vaccine proof that wasn’t initially requested in the application.

And then … I waited. After calls and emails all saying just to be patient, I woke up at 3 a.m. on Friday, my day of travel, panicked.

Our applications were still showing as “pending,” and we had a flight around 9:30 a.m. We’d done all the things, flown in grandparents to watch the kids, packed our bags and we weren’t approved to travel.

In the middle of the night, I sent another round of emails and calls to the TCI personnel, as I had heard they process approvals at all hours. I didn’t get a response, but I was trying as hard as I could.

Finally, at 6:38 a.m., with less than three hours to go before our flight and under an hour before we’d have to depart for the airport, we got our individual approvals in our inbox one at a time.

Some passengers on my flight had it cut even closer, with approval coming just 15 minutes before their flight.

In fact, our flight was mostly empty, which may or may not have been related to this whole process. But every one of the couple of dozen travelers I spoke to on our flight or while in Turks and Caicos over the Labor Day weekend had a very stressful time getting approved and they all came down to the wire.

One man on our flight from Houston said he had to call The Ritz-Carlton where he was staying and get them to contact the TCI approval team — and only after that did the last-minute approval come through.

The TCI team does answer emails, sometimes. I recommend reaching out to the TCI team as your own countdown clock ticks by, but the response doesn’t always come when you hope it will.

And to eliminate any doubt, you can’t just show up in Turks and Caicos with the needed documents and assume it will be sorted out there — you won’t be able to check in for your flight without the TCI approval.

Related: County-by-country guide to international travel during COVID-19

Bottom line

It was great while on vacation in Turks and Caicos knowing that virtually everyone had been vaccinated and tested. The whole process self-selected travelers who ultimately had a lot in common and really wanted to be there.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

And while cumbersome and challenging in some parts of the country with more limited testing options, the requirements to visit themselves weren’t the hardest part. The part that almost derailed the whole trip was how long it took for travel approval to come back from Turks and Caicos. It was not only down to the wire but incredibly stressful given how much effort it took to try and piece together the trip and required components to visit.

Since the COVID-19 test expires after the third day and flights to the island are limited, if approval hadn’t come when it did, there wouldn’t have been a plan B.

Hopefully, the process becomes easier as time goes by. It’s also possible our delay may have been exacerbated by more travelers hoping to visit over the Labor Day weekend. While Turks and Caicos took our breath away with its beauty once we were there, the process to visit took our breath away with stress and anxiety.

Featured photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.

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