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I Traveled Abroad and Faced New U.S. Entry Requirements for Return. Here’s What You Need to Know

PHOTO: Malika Bowling

Nose swab, antigen testing, attestation forms? How to property navigate negative COVID test traveling.

After a year of no overseas travel, when an opportunity to visit the Caribbean popped up, I jumped on it. Little did I know that would coincide with the first week of new restrictions requiring proof of a negative COVID test to re-enter the U.S. Part of me wanted to cancel the trip, but the adventurous part of me wouldn’t give in. So, with a little trepidation, I boarded a plane (my first in over a year) outside the U.S. borders.

Thinking I could purchase a COVID test here in the U.S. and bring it with me I felt fine about the new requirements, but after a little research, I learned I would need a more specific test. You’ll need the rapid test that is done with a nose swab that provides results in just 20 minutes if you are traveling back to the United States. Other countries may require a different test so make sure to check all requirements.

Coordinating a COVID test with a letter from the doctor is essential before your visit. The demand is high, so make sure you book ahead so it doesn’t interfere with your itinerary.

Since my trip happened the first week the new mandatory testing went into place for return entry, I made sure to confirm testing was available with my hotel in the Dominican Republic. Several hotels have adapted seamlessly to these procedures. Atlantis Paradise Island in The Bahamas “offers two on-site testing facilities that are open daily and offer Rapid Antigen (free for up to two guests per room)  and RT-PCR swab testing ($165 pp) with same-day results,” said Audrey Oswell, President of Atlantis Paradise Island.

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Coordinating a COVID test with a letter from the doctor is essential before your visit. The demand is high, so make sure you book ahead so it doesn’t interfere with your itinerary. Your hotel should be able to schedule the test for you. Some resorts are even converting conference rooms into makeshift testing sites. Atlanta resident, John Jackson, a guest at the Secrets Akumal said “it was so easy with a converted ballroom being used for COVID testing. We were in and out in no time.”

When I contacted my hotel, Casas del XVI in Santo Domingo, they already knew of the requirements and had secured a doctor to administer the test at the hotel.

grand velas maya resort review
me getting covid test
1. Grand Velas Maya ResortMalika Bowling 2. Malika Bowling receiving a COVID-19 test while abroad

Since the test must be within 72 hours of your return flight, try to schedule the test as close to that time as possible. My trip was quite short, so I scheduled it for the day I arrived which met the 72-hour imposed requirement.

Always make sure to inquire about the form of payment, as this may be made directly from the patient to the doctor with no interaction from the hotel other than the coordination. If you are in the Caribbean, it may be as easy as bringing U.S. dollars to pay. Used to traveling with little cash, my husband and I barely scraped the $70 together to pay our doctor, but it was worth it after a probing swab up our noses brought forth the sweet words “no reactivo” just 20 minutes later.

Within 24 hours our hotel was issued the documentation signed by the doctor which would allow us to board our return flight. You will also need to sign and present an attestation form that you do not have COVID-19 or have been exposed to it. You can find this on the CDC site.

Here are some questions you should ask about your resort.

1. Will They Arrange the COVID Test or Am I Responsible for It?

Don’t assume that your hotel will provide this or you may be in for a shock, or worse, you’ll be spending your vacation trying to find a doctor for the COVID test.

2. What Is the Cost of the Test? Can I Pay With a Credit Card?

Tests can range vastly from the $35 I paid in the Dominican Republic to $150 in some other destinations. While some hotels may accept credit card payments, a doctor may not, so make sure you know payment terms prior to travel.

3. Will the Hotel Arrange for a Discount or an Extension of My Stay if I Test Positive? And for How Long?

As if it isn’t bad enough catching a virus that has brought the world to its knees, imagine catching it in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. Make sure to ask your hotel what policies they have in place—since they depend on tourist dollars, many are offering a free extension including meals.

“If a traveler tests positive for COVID-19, we offer a 75% discount for an extended stay. Designated suites are reserved away from other guests,” says Juan Vela, Vice President of Velas Resorts. Grand Velas Resorts in Riviera Maya and Nayarit (Puerto Vallarta) are offering complimentary COVID-19 antigen tests as well. Palmaïa, also in  Riviera Maya, is offering guests complimentary antigen tests, with same-day results. Additionally, should a guest test positive, they are extending 14 complimentary nights and three meals daily.

grand velas yucatan resort review
1. Guest room at the Grand Velas Resort MexicoMalika Bowling; 2. Grand Velas Yucatan Resort

4. Are There Any Apps I Am Required to Download for Communication Before Visiting?

The last thing I was thinking about is using an app to communicate, but when I arrived at my Santo Domingo hotel, part of the contactless stay included communication via Whatsapp. We texted our butler everything from requests for extra towels to dinner orders to arranging a driver. If you don’t consider yourself a techie person, find this out ahead of time, so you aren’t blindsided.

5. If the Hotel Won’t Offer a Stay Extension, Where Can I Go to Get a Discount Stay While I Recover?

It wouldn’t be great press for resorts to kick people out if they have COVID, so this is probably unlikely, but nevertheless, ask the question so you know, and print or have an electronic statement of what they will provide should you contract  coronavirus.

6. Ask Your Insurance if There Is Coverage Overseas if You Test Positive.

It isn’t set in stone that anyone struck with COVID makes a full recovery in two weeks. While it may seem dreamy to be quarantined in a Caribbean country, it could mean loss of work/income and even the possibility that insurance wouldn’t cover your treatment while not on American soil. We packed our laptops just in case.

Departing from the Dominican back to the U.S., our forms were scrutinized at the airport when we arrived for check-in. While travel may not get back to the maskless frolicking it once was anytime soon, at least we can take solace in the fact the process seems rather smooth.

23 Comments
Avatar for elmoalso
elmoalso March 7, 2021

So, we have a Travel Agent who is wagging his/her finger because the author didn't use a travel agent for this trip (we don't blame you, I can imagine what business has been like the last year), a couple of people judging the author for some unknown reason that has nothing to do with the article (and whose language of writing seem suspiciously similar) and of course there has to be the always grumpy people who want to politicize something because, well, because they're grumpy. I wonder if (you know who I'm talking about) sees the irony of lamenting about missing travel and then bitching about someone who also missed traveling, but finally got to go somewhere. I'll probably be scratching my head all day on that one. Of course the real gem of humor in the comments is the 3 days vs 72 hours. Give the reader and the author a little more credit. I'm pretty sure we can work out the math and understand the authors meaning.

I found the article informative and valuable. I have planned our first travel in over a year for the end of April. While I'm pretty certain the process will change by that time, it is good to have a frame of reference and an idea of what the process will generally look like.
Thank you.

R
renni March 7, 2021

Shame on you.  There are so many of us missing travel.  You flaunt that you've taken the chance - and that the suggestions, rules and regulations don't really apply to you.

D
Discover1995 March 7, 2021

If you would have used a travel agent they would have found you a resort that offers the test for FREE and if you were to test positive would offer you a free stay while you quarantine for up to 14 days. 

P
pianoetudes7620 March 6, 2021

Your article said "Since the test must be within 72 hours of your return flight...".

CDC never requires the test within 72 hours of return flight to the US. CDC says THREE days before the return flight. There is a big difference between 72 hours and 3 days. I encorage you to visit CDC FAQ page which explains why the ruling is 3 days, instead of 72 hours.

T
Tdiddy12 March 5, 2021

Malika - Thanks for your article. What I didn't read was what happened after you got back into the United States. I'm guessing it was absolutely nothing. We got tested in Mexico, tested negative, flew home on a plane filled with other people who tested negative. Arrive in LA and not a single person through Customs etc. asked about our test, only showed test paper to get on plane.
We took all the necessary precautions in Mexico, distanced, washed our hands etc. As we sat in Mexico and watched the cases soar in the United States, we were happy to be out of the country. This is not a political issue. Blue States aren't "hiding" under our beds, there are just as many idiots in California as Mississippi. I felt safer in Mexico than at my local grocery store. Renin, if you want to complain, call the governor of Texas and Florida before going after Malika.