Last Friday, US President Joe Biden announced new travel rules for all foreigners entering the United States. In a bid to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, travellers now have to take a pre-departure COVID-19 test no more than one day before travel. Previously, travellers had to take a test three days before travel. If you’re travelling in the weeks ahead, here’s what you need to know.
When do the new rules come into force?
From 1:01 am T&T time tomorrow, all non-US air passengers two years and older are required to show a negative COVID-19 test regardless of vaccination status or nationality. If you recently recovered from COVID in the 90 days before your flight, no test is required. Instead, you’ll have to show proof of a positive COVID-19 viral test result and a letter from a licensed healthcare provider or a public health official stating that you're cleared for travel. Children under two years of age also do not need to provide a test.
Remember, only fully vaccinated travellers are allowed entry into the United States, unless exempt.
Which tests are accepted?
Both rapid antigen and PCR tests are accepted for travel to the US. The test you will need depends on your travel plans. The general rule of thumb is if you are on a nonstop flight from T&T to a US destination, you can take an antigen test. If your flight includes a connection, you may need a PCR test depending on which country the flight is connecting through. And no, it doesn’t matter if you’re not coming off the plane, if you have the wrong test, you will be denied boarding. Contact your airline beforehand if you need clarification.
How much does a test cost?
Antigen tests start at $300TT with results available in as little as 15 minutes. PCR tests start at $900TT and usually take 24-48 hours to get results. Depending on the lab, results can come in quicker. There sometimes is the option to pay for expedited test results, ask your provider if this is an option. Remember to print out your results if they came by email.
There are several Ministry of Health accredited labs offering COVID-19 testing for travel. Here are a few:
Victoria Laboratories Limited
Rapid Antigen - $300 (results in 2-3 hrs), RT-PCR - $1,000 (results in 24 hrs)
Locations: San Fernando, Port of Spain, Chaguanas, Point Fortin, Princes Town, Couva, Curepe, Maraval, and Crown Point
Contact: 320-4289 / 308-3433
Rapid Antigen - $550 (results in 15 mins), RT-PCR - $900 (results in 24 hrs)
Location: St. Joseph
Contact: 704-2075 or book an appointment here
St Clair Medical Centre
Rapid Antigen - $550 (results in 20 mins), RT-PCR - $1,650 (results in 24 hrs)
Location: St. Clair, POS
Maitri Diagnostics TT Ltd
Rapid Antigen - $400, RT-PCR - $900 (results in 8-12 hrs)
Locations: El Socorro and Port of Spain
Contact: 680- TEST(8378)/678- TEST(8378)
What does one day before mean?
According to the CDC, the one-day period is one day before the flight’s departure and not 24 hours before. For example, if your flight is at 3 pm on a Saturday, you could board with a negative test taken any time the Friday before. This offers travellers flexibility, especially, when changing time zones.
Will I have to quarantine?
No. At this moment, there is no post-travel quarantine requirement. However, the CDC recommends that all travellers get a COVID-19 viral test 3-5 days after travel and monitor for any COVID-19 symptoms. If you develop any symptoms, isolate and get tested. Remember being fully vaccinated doesn’t mean you are immune from catching COVID-19.
Are masks still required on flights?
Yes, masks are to be worn on board all flights unless eating or drinking. Several people have tried to break this rule, only to find themselves on the no-fly list. Unless you want to see your face plastered all over the internet with some dude in the background shouting ‘Worldstar!’ (IYKYK), keep your mask on. Plus, you can be fined US$500-$3000, so there’s that.
Also, bear in mind that most airlines no longer block the middle seat which means there is no social distancing on board unless, by some miracle, the flight happens to be somewhat empty or you pay for an extra seat.
As always, check your destination’s entry requirements as well as your airline’s policies before heading to the airport. I find the Sherpa tool quite useful when I’m planning trips.