CRC Daily: What to know about new Covid testing travel policies

FAQ for the US, Canadian and England travel policies

The governments of the United States, Canada and England all require travelers to obtain a negative coronavirus test before flying into their respective countries.

Because our audience is (largely) U.S. and Canadian, we’re sharing answers to Frequently Asked Questions about these new policies:

FAQ: The United States

Via the CDC: As of January 26, get tested before you travel by air into the United States (US), or be prepared to show proof of a recent positive viral test and a letter from your healthcare provider or a public health official stating you were cleared to travel.

Does this requirement apply to US citizens?

This applies to all air passengers, 2 years of age or older, traveling into the US, including US citizens and legal permanent residents.

When do I need to get a test to travel to the US? And what kind of test do I need?

Get tested no more than 3 days before your flight to the US departs. Make sure to be tested with a viral test (NAAT or antigen test) to determine if you are currently infected with COVID-19. Also make sure that you receive your results before your flight departs and have documentation of your results to show the airline.

What if I recently recovered from COVID-19?

If you have had a positive viral test in the past 3 months, and you have met the criteria to end isolation, you may travel instead with documentation of your positive viral test results and a letter from your healthcare provider or a public health official that states you have been cleared for travel. The positive test result and letter together are referred to as “documentation of recovery.”

Who is checking to make sure that people have a negative test or documentation of recovery before they board a plane to the US?

The airline will confirm a COVID-19 negative test result or documentation of recovery for all passengers before boarding.

What happens if I don’t take a test and want to travel to the US?

Air passengers traveling to the US are required to present a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery.  Airlines must confirm the negative test result or documentation of recovery for all passengers before boarding. If a passenger chooses not to present a test result or documentation of recovery, the airline must deny boarding to the passenger.

What happens if I test positive?

People should self-isolate and delay their travel if symptoms develop or a pre-departure test result is positive until they have recovered from COVID-19. Airlines must refuse to board anyone who does not present a negative test result for COVID-19 or documentation of recovery.

What is a verifiable test result?

A verifiable test result must be in the form of written documentation (paper or electronic copy) of a laboratory test result. Testing must be performed using a viral test (NAAT or antigen), and negative results must be presented to the airline prior to boarding. The test result documentation must include information that identifies the person, a specimen collection date and the type of test. A negative test result must show test was done within the 3 days before the flight. A positive test result must show the test was done within the 3 months before the flight.

What kind of documentation of my test result do I need to present?

CDC requires that air passengers arriving in the US have a paper or electronic copy of their test result for review by the airline before you board and for potential review by public health officials after you arrive in the US.

If I tested negative before my flight, do I need to get another test when I get to the US?

CDC recommends (but does not require) that travelers get tested 3-5 days after travel and stay home or otherwise self-quarantine for 7 days after travel. Even if you test negative, stay home for the full 7 days. If you don’t get tested, it’s safest to stay home for 10 days. There may be additional state and local requirements related to travel.

Do I need to get a test before leaving the US?

CDC recommends (but does not require) that you get tested with a viral test (NAAT or antigen) 1-3 days before you travel internationally. Travelers should additionally follow any requirements at their destination.

When does this order take effect?

This Order will go into effect on January 26, 2021.

If I have one or more connecting flights to the US, does the 3-day period apply to the first flight or the last one?

If you are arriving on a direct flight to the US, your test must be done within the 3 days before your flight to the US departs. If you are arriving to the US via one or more connecting flights, your test must be done in the 3 days before the first flight in your itinerary, but only if the connecting flights were booked as a single passenger record with a final destination in the US and each connection (layover) is no longer than 24 hours long. If your connecting flight to the US was booked separately or a connection in your itinerary lasts longer than 24 hours, you will need to get tested within the 3 days before your flight that arrives in the US.

What happens if my flight is delayed and it goes over the 3-day limit for testing?

If your flight is delayed before departure, you will need to get re-tested if the delay causes your test to fall outside of the 3-day pre-departure testing period requirement.

If I am connecting through the US to another country, do I still need to get tested?

Yes. Any flight entering the US, even for a connection, will require testing before departure.

What if I have had a COVID-19 vaccine? 

All air passengers traveling to the US, regardless of vaccination status, are required to present a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery.

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Canada requires PCR test

Via Transport Canada: Effective January 7, 2021, at 12:01 a.m. EST, all air passengers five years of age or older will be required to test negative for COVID-19 before traveling from another country to Canada.

Documentation of a negative laboratory test result must be presented to the airline prior to boarding a flight to Canada. The test must be performed using a COVID-19 molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and must be taken within 72 hours prior to the traveler’s scheduled departure to Canada.

Anyone who receives a negative test result and is authorized to enter Canada must still complete the full, mandatory 14-day quarantine.

The negative laboratory test result must include the following:

  • Traveler name and date of birth

  • Name and civic address of the laboratory/clinic/facility that administered the test

  • The date on which the test was conducted

  • The method of test conducted (e.g. PCR or LAMP)

  • The test result (such as “negative” or “not detected”)

England policy effective today

Via the UK government: As of 4 a.m. on Monday 18 January 2021, you must have proof of a negative coronavirus (COVID-19) test to travel to England.

You must take a test even if you are a UK citizen and even if you are coming from a country on the travel corridors list. You must take the test in the 3 days before you start your journey to England.

If you don’t present proof of a negative test result certificate, you may not be able to board your transport to England. If you arrive in England without proof of a negative test result, you could be fined £500.

You must make sure that the test provider can meet the standards for pre-departure testing. The test must:

  • meet performance standards of ≥97% specificity, ≥80% sensitivity at viral loads above 100,000 copies/ml

  • this could include tests such as:

    • a nucleic acid test, including a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or derivative technologies, including loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) tests

    • an antigen test, such as a test from a lateral flow device

Your test result must be in either English, French or Spanish. Translations will not be accepted, and you must provide the original test result certificate. It must include the following information:

  • your name, which should match the name on your travel documents

  • your date of birth or age

  • the result of the test

  • the date the test sample was collected or received by the test provider

  • the name of the test provider and their contact details

  • the name of the test device

Children aged under 11 do not need to take a test.

You must also complete a passenger locator form before you travel to England.

Where to get tested in Costa Rica

Many private labs and hospitals in Costa Rica offer on-demand PCR coronavirus testing that is available to citizens, residents and tourists. These include: Laboratorios Echandi, Hospital La Católica, Hospital Cima, Laboratorios Labin, Hospital Clínica Bíblica, Laboratorio Páez, Laboratorios San José and Hospital Metropolitano.

This post by Two Weeks in Costa Rica is an excellent resource for tourists. It’s being continuously updated with testing locations, prices and contact information for labs across Costa Rica. The Tourism Institute hopes to expand test sites for visitors.

Tests cost about $100 in San José with results delivered within 48 hours. Prices and result times may be higher outside the San José area. No Costa Rica airport offers on-site testing. Results are delivered via email in Spanish, or English if requested.

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