Dear Tripped Up,
I am a fully vaccinated United States citizen and I am considering traveling to France or Italy next month. For international travel, how does one find a coronavirus test to get back into the country if on-site testing isn’t offered at the hotels? Alexander
Although traveling internationally has been confusing throughout the pandemic — especially in Europe, where entry allowances and restrictions continue to change — there’s been one constant since January: Regardless of vaccination status, Americans (and all other passengers) flying to the United States must show proof of a negative coronavirus test — either an antigen or a nucleic acid amplification test, taken in the previous three days — before they are allowed to board their planes. What’s changed, just recently? Come November, unvaccinated Americans will have to take a test within one day of flying and then take a second test after returning home.
While ranging in cost, on-property virus tests have become increasingly common at hotels and resorts throughout Mexico and the Caribbean, as the tourism industry seeks to attract Americans after last year’s slump. Although virus testing isn’t as widely available at European hotels, travelers will find solid testing infrastructure at pharmacies, medical clinics and dedicated sites. And there are plenty of good online resources that can help make sense of what’s what. Here are some tips:
Tap airline websites for pre-departure research.
Before the pandemic, few would have raved about the helpfulness of airline websites. But over the last 18 months they’ve evolved into hubs of coronavirus information, including maps and lists of testing facilities abroad. One doesn’t need to have a ticket booked in order to search.
The reason for that is simple, said Scott Keyes, the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, a flight-alert email subscription service.
“The airline is the one tasked with verifying your negative tests before allowing you to check in,” Mr. Keyes said. “Airlines have skin in the game to make sure that you, the traveler, know what you’re doing and that you’re well-prepared for this.”
A quick Google search — “Air France where to get a Covid test” — leads directly to an Air France interactive map where users can input a destination (say, Paris) and sort the search results by how long it takes for the virus test results to come back (say, within 48 hours). Fueling that map is TrustAssure, a travel-data platform that’s now being used by several airlines, including Delta Air Lines (and other Air France SkyTeam alliance partners) and United Airlines.
Local resources — human and digital — are treasure troves.
Cydney Lembersky, a SmartFlyer travel adviser based in Rome, said that even when on-site testing isn’t a permanent hotel fixture, staff will know exactly where to point Americans.
“I’m constantly reminding clients they need to work with the concierge to set up their Covid tests,” Ms. Lembersky said. “Four- and five-star hotels often have doctors they can call to come and test people, or they’re working directly with certain pharmacies that are close to the hotel, and that’s where they’ll send you.”
Ms. Lembersky has found that individual pharmacists can also be helpful.
“There’s a pharmacy on every corner in Europe — we know this,” she said. “They don’t all offer Covid tests, but they’re all used to being asked which ones do — at this point, by locals and Americans alike.”
Ms. Lembersky has also had luck with Italian-language resources like Salute Lazio, which has a map of pharmacies that conduct virus tests in the region of Lazio, as well as MedInAction, where users can book testing “house calls” throughout Milan and Rome.
Meanwhile, the travel medicine company AmbiMed maps out — and allows users to book — coronavirus tests throughout The Boot.
Certain U.S. Embassy websites can also be useful, but the information is by no means uniform, and travelers may need to click around. The website for Spain, for example, has a seven-page document in English with testing locations organized by region, while the website for Switzerland directs users to another site, with a list of testing sites by Swiss canton. The website also offers English-language links for the Swiss Department of Public Health.
Regardless of where your research lands you, be sure to book tests in advance, to be administered no more than three days before the return flight. (And starting in November, one day before flying for those unvaccinated Americans.) Triple-check that the final results contain the information required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Whereas many E.U. countries are allowing residents to be tested for free, visitors will likely have to pay somewhere in the range of $25 to $100 per test, with antigen tests generally less expensive than P.C.R. tests. France, for example, is charging foreigners 29 to 49 euros (around $34 to $57).
Weigh the pros and cons of “home” or self-tests.
Most major airline websites now include information about how passengers can order F.D.A.-approved, in-home tests before their flights. Some, like American Airlines, are also offering discounts on certain brands, like Qured.
Reflecting on a recent trip to France, a Times reader named Allison wrote me to say she believed that buying self-tests through United’s Travel-Ready Center would have been a better move than what she encountered:
“We had to make an appointment with a lab and then drive over an hour each way,” she wrote. “The labs are closed on weekends; with an early-morning flight on Tuesday, we had to get tests on Monday. The tests cost $75 each and while the results were emailed to our phones, the results were in French and we did not receive them until late Monday evening.”
In-home tests are great for travelers who don’t speak the language or want added reassurance, but they, too, have logistical challenges. According to C.D.C. guidelines, home tests for U.S.-bound flights must be monitored in real time by a telehealth provider who, among other measures, watches the test being taken and issues the final report. That means you’ll need to book your video conference in advance and have decent internet or cellular service.
“It’s not as simple as taking an at-home test, seeing the results and bringing them to the airport,” Mr. Keyes said. “You have to get a medical professional to sign off that you did it correctly.”
As a fallback, there’s always the airport.
From Abu Dhabi to Zurich, scores of international airports are now offering travel-ready coronavirus testing, a strategy that works in a pinch. The Business Traveller website has a reasonably up-to-date breakdown of which types of tests are offered, at which airports, plus information about pricing. Prices do vary, but are generally a bit higher at airports than at local pharmacies and other types of testing facilities.
Because an airport testing facility may be more crowded than a random pharmacy in town, always book in advance. And don’t forget one last obvious — or perhaps not obvious — thing:
“Make sure the testing facility is outside of security,” Mr. Keyes said. “If it’s past security, you can’t actually check in for your flight because you don’t have your negative results — and that’s a real Catch-22.”
If you need advice about a best-laid travel plan that went awry, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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