As the world begins to open up, travel has begun to rebound and there's a good chance you might be thinking about taking a trip, either for work or pleasure. Of course, you're probably also wondering whether it's safe, and what the experience is like traveling while the world is learning the delicate dance involved with reopening while fighting off new variants of Covid-19.
I flew to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress a few weeks ago and got a first-hand look at the experience of traveling internationally since the pandemic began. Though I had traveled a dozen or so times over the last 16 months, this was the first time I left U.S. shores.
For Americans, traveling internationally is relatively easy as most countries--especially in Europe--have removed quarantine restrictions on Americans who have been fully vaccinated. I'm sure there are some people that wonder whether it's safe to travel internationally. To that, I will say this: I've flown a dozen or so times since the beginning of the pandemic, and I've always felt safer in terms of protection from Covid-19 on an airplane than at the grocery store.
Airlines have extensive cleaning and safety protocols in place designed to keep passengers and crew safe. By comparison, I've yet to see anyone walking through the grocery store fogging the aisles and wiping down all the things people touch. If you are fully vaccinated, you should be smart, but you shouldn't be scared.
As far as being smart, there are really two major things to keep in mind if you're traveling internationally: entry requirements for American citizens traveling abroad, and testing in order to re-enter the U.S. Everyone traveling by plane to the U.S. are required to show proof of a negative Covid-19 PCR or Antigen test result, taken within the previous three calendar days. (More on that in a minute).
As for entry requirements, if you're an American, forget anything you might have heard about vaccine passports. While the European Union (EU) does have such a thing, it's only for citizens and residents there. American citizens traveling abroad can't get one. The good news is, you don't need one. Every country in the EU that requires proof of vaccination for entry will accept the paper CDC card.
For the specific requirements, I suggest you get familiar with the State Department website for wherever you're traveling to. Requirements change frequently, so make a plan to check three days before you leave, and then again the day before you leave.
In addition, Delta has a destination planner that gives you an at-a-glance look at the specific requirements for your trip. Even if you aren't traveling on Delta, you can enter your location and your destination, and it will give you the entry requirements including documents required, whether you'll have to quarantine, and whether you need a test.
In most cases, countries require some combination of proof of vaccination and/or a negative Covid-19 test. Spain, for example, only requires Americans to show proof of vaccination.
On the other hand, some countries also require Americans to show proof of a negative test result taken within the previous three days or 72 hours. Rules are different depending on where you're headed to be sure to note the timeframe. Most PCR tests take 24 to 48 hours to get results so you'll need to plan accordingly.
The good news is that getting tested in the U.S. is relatively easy. Most healthcare providers offer testing, and Walgreens has both PCR and rapid Antigen testing available.
Home Testing Options
Also, LabCorp offers a home PCR test that provides results within 24-48 hours. If you qualify, you can even get the LabCorp test sent to you for free. The company will ask you a series of questions, and if you do qualify, it will simply bill your insurance company.
If you live in an area where it's harder to get a PCR test, this is the route I recommend. You simply self-administer the test, send it back via the included FedEx bag and label, and you receive results within the next day or two.
Returning to the United States
Fortunately, the U.S. does accept rapid antigen tests for your return trip, which usually provide results within 15 minutes, and are relatively easy to come by. If you're staying at a major hotel chain, I suggest you start there. Many of them, especially those in popular tourist destinations, have arrangements for rapid testing for their guests.
Or, you can purchase a rapid self-test like the Ellume Covid-19 Home Test. With this test, you schedule a video appointment and take the test from your home or hotel. The results are validated via video and you receive them within 15 minutes. [UPDATE 10/7: The Ellume test is currently unavailable due to a voluntary recall. The company says it has resumed manufacturing and will resume distribution of updated test kits soon. If you previously purchased this kit, you can check to see if is affected at https://www.ellumecovidtest.com/return]
This test meets CDC requirements and can be used for re-entering the U.S. The only downside is that this type of test is more likely to report a false-positive, meaning you may want to consider packing two of them.
The U.S. requires the test be taken during the three calendar days preceding the date of your flight (and not 72 hours like some countries). This means that if your originating flight for your trip back to the United States leaves on Friday, you need a negative test result taken Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday.