It’s now a federal mandate that you must test negative for COVID-19 72-hours (or less) before being allowed back into the U.S. via commercial flight.


troubleshooting travelers in airport with masks

A positive test could mean you get stuck for extra days or weeks in another country under quarantine. This new rule is causing lots of reasonable people stress and confusion, but there are a few things to remember so you’ll be prepared just in case.

Get Travel Insurance Beforehand

Maybe you’ve never gone in for travel insurance before. Make 2021 the year you do. If you do have to self-quarantine for 14 days in a foreign country, there are third-party insurance carriers that can cover those additional accommodation and testing costs.

It’s best to consult with a travel insurance provider about the best policy to cover these potential costs. Costs for these plans vary depending on the age of the travelers, the destination and the policy inclusions.

Know the Contact Details of the American Embassy

Even though the State Department doesn’t have medical resources abroad, many embassies will offer basic assistance, like a directory of places you can acquire a test. Just navigate to the country you’ll be visiting, go to the embassy site and look for “emergency assistance for U.S. citizens” or “COVID-19 information” so you’re proactive and have this information before you go. There’s usually a phone number to call and most countries have after-hours service as well.

Understand the Different Kinds of Tests

Rapid antigen tests are controversial as they sometimes do offer false negatives in the asymptomatic. Still, because the U.S. now requires the test to happen within 72-hours of your flight, a rapid test will be accepted. This is good news because the rapid tests are often easier to find.

Rapid tests also turn up false positives (around 5%), but once you turn up with a positive test you’ll still have to quarantine. So if you do suspect a false positive in a rapid test (when you have no symptoms), you should secure a PCR test as quickly as you can.

Explore Hotels Offering Quarantine Discounts

Some savvy hotel properties are offering free or discounted quarantines for guests that test positive. Do a little extra research and you might not have to pay for those extra days at all. Of course, the properties who sign on to this program will require positive guests to isolate in their rooms and not partake of the other hotel amenities.

“Free” stays are the exception rather than the rule, but some of the larger American chains do offer COVID-19 testing for guests for a fee.

Know Your Options for Health Care

While the majority of people who test positive for COVID-19 don’t require hospitalization, you might want to see a doctor or pharmacist. Again, larger hotel chains may have a doctor on staff, or may be able to direct you to a reputable clinic. In addition, your travel insurance may offer medical treatment as an inclusion.

The possibility of getting stuck overseas with an illness like COVID-19 is an unpleasant reality right now, but keeping simple personal safety measures in place like washing your hands frequently, using hand sanitizer, and masking up can mitigate the risk. There are also countries exempt from the rule if acquiring a test is difficult.

Arming yourself with as much information as possible will go a long way to making this situation manageable. Please let us know if you have additional questions in the comments section below.

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