Ask a Travel Nerd: What COVID Test Is Required for Travel?
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Note: Certain regulations mentioned below, including the CDC's requirement of a negative COVID-19 test to enter the U.S., have changed since publication. Check the CDC's news page for the most up-to-date information.
So you’re looking to get back into traveling — but things have changed since the last time you hopped on a plane. From new testing requirements to quarantine concerns, the experience of travel is different from what it once was. It can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.
Let’s take a look at what COVID tests are required for travel and where you can get them.
The different types of COVID tests
Not all COVID-19 tests are the same. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there are two major types of COVID tests: diagnostic tests and antibody tests.
Diagnostic tests can show if you have an active COVID-19 infection. These tests can be further broken down into molecular and antigen tests, both of which detect an active COVID-19 infection.
Antibody tests look for the presence of antibodies against the coronavirus in your immune system. Since it can take days or even weeks for antibodies to develop, antibody tests aren’t good at testing for active COVID infections.
Plenty of countries require a negative diagnostic COVID test for travel from outside their borders, including the U.S. and many countries within the European Union.
» Learn more: The majority of Americans plan to travel this year, according to recent NerdWallet study
Where can I get a COVID test for travel?
Whether you need a COVID test to get where you’re going depends on your destination. Thankfully for travelers based in the U.S., there are many COVID testing centers located around the country.
Where to get a COVID test for international travel
As already mentioned, different countries may or may not require a COVID test. Before scheduling your testing, check the regulations for your intended destination.
Once you’ve found the travel requirements for that locale, make an appointment for your test. It’s simple to find COVID test locations online; the easiest method is by doing a search on your local pharmacy's website. You may also want to go through your health insurance if that’s an option.
Be aware that each country has a validity period for accepting COVID tests. Israel, for example, requires that a test be taken within 72 hours of departure.
Restrictions vary by country, but some will allow you to enter without a COVID test if you’re fully vaccinated.
Where to get a COVID test for travel to the U.S.
If you’re already overseas and want to return home, you also need to take a COVID test. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, beginning Dec. 6, 2021, you need to have a test completed no more than one day prior to your air travel back to the U.S. if you're vaccinated. Unvaccinated travelers must complete a test within one day of their flight. If you’ve recently been infected with COVID-19, you can also opt to show proof of recovery.
This requirement is for all air passengers at least 2 years of age.
The U.S. will accept several different COVID tests for reentry, and many countries have COVID testing readily available. You can check U.S. embassy websites to see if a given country has tests available for U.S. citizens. It's also a good idea to check directly with the hotel you're staying at. It may have on-site COVID testing available or a list of local providers.
Alternatively, you can take advantage of a virtually proctored at-home COVID test (one that's done over a video call with a health professional) in order to satisfy U.S. requirements. Just confirm beforehand that a lab report is provided and the test is FDA-approved. These tests are highly convenient; you can purchase them before traveling and bring them with you. There are a few different at-home testing options available, including some in a multipack if you’re traveling with family.
If you need a COVID test to travel
Travel in the COVID-19 era isn’t quite as straightforward as it used to be. However, preparing now can save you a headache down the line. Do your research, figure out your destination’s requirements and schedule your COVID test to make your travel as simple as possible.
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