Where Can I Get a COVID-19 Test for Travel?
Last updated: 21, February 2022
It seems a negative COVID-19 test taken within 1-3 days of travel is going to be the standard for awhile as international borders slowly reopen. Hooray! We will gladly shove an extra-large Q-tip up our nose holes if it means the chance to travel the world and support the hard-hit local businesses dependent on tourism!
Here are some ways you can get COVID-19 test results in time for your next adventure. Check it off your travel-prep to-do list and get back to the important stuff—like deciding if it’s more important to pack your push-up bra or your razor. (Bra. Always.)
What are the types of COVID-19 tests, anyway?
First, it’s important to understand there are two main types of COVID-19 tests: the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test and the antigen test (popularly known as the rapid test).
Okay, yes. It’s true: technically there are three types. But the third type, an antibody test, will do you zero good if you’re looking to jet-set. This test only tells you if your body’s producing antibodies for the virus — AKA you’ve had the virus before or you’re producing antibodies due to the vaccine.
These tests get the gold star of COVID-19 testing. They provide the most accurate results since they’re able to detect the genetic material of the virus, using that chain reaction they’re named for. (Using fancy science and all that.) You’ll most likely need to provide a negative PCR test result to travel.
Rapid Antigen Test
These are considered less reliable than PCR tests, but you will find them being utilized as a one-off at airports and hotels. This is mainly because they’re great at detecting the virus at the peak of infection, but if someone isn’t showing symptoms the results are less reliable. The rapid test works by identifying the protein fragments specific to the virus. Although you can get your results in as little as 15 minutes, there’s an increased risk they could be falsely negative or positive.
Therefore, it’s crucial you plan for a PCR test ahead of time! A positive result (whether it’s accurate or not) could spell a pricey trip cancellation or two-week quarantine in an unfamiliar city.
Wait. So what’s a rapid PCR test, then?
A rapid PCR test is a service, not a different type of COVID-19 test. As with most things in life, you’ll pay for this convenience. The cost (usually a few hundred dollars), however, may be worth it if you snag a last-minute travel deal or need to provide proof of a negative PCR test ASAP.
Search “rapid PCR test locations near me” to find the options nearest you, since they all vary by state.
Negative test required to re-enter the U.S. from abroad
Leaving the States for vaca means you’ll need to provide proof of a negative test taken no more than 1 day before your return flight. (Yes, this even goes for those who have been vaccinated.) While both antigen and PCR tests are acceptable for re-entering the U.S., remember a PCR may be required to enter certain countries.
Need a test before heading back to the U.S.? We got you!
If you booked a trip with us we’ve got you covered. We certainly don’t want you frantically trying to make testing arrangements in the middle of a desert safari or sea kayaking trip! Heck no! Your Explorer Chick Dream Team will have your return to the United States tests arranged as part of the end of your Adventure. Our Team will be in contact with all of our travelers leading up to their adventure with all of the details including associated costs. Your Explorer Chick guide will be in the field with you assisting everyone. Because, after all, Explorer Chick is the best! (Sorry, we couldn’t resist!)
PCR test options
Walgreens, Wal-Mart, CVS, Kroger, Rite Aid, and other major national chains provide PCR tests on an appointment and sometimes walk-up basis. If scheduling an appointment, keep in mind that some places require you to fill out an online questionnaire first.
Nicki Bruckmann’s Experience with CVS PCR Testing for Travel
Explorer Chick founder Nicki Bruckmann had her first PCR test experience at a CVS prior to leaving for a trip to Uganda. Luckily, she was willing to share her, uh, very detailed experience with us!
I took my first PCR test…at a CVS in Pigeon Forge, TN. Uganda has a 120 hour PCR test requirement. The 120 hours starts when you depart on the leg of your trip entering Uganda. In my case, when I would leave Istanbul. Oh, hello not just math, but also time travel…and let’s not forget an extra cushion for delayed results.
My math solved for Friday after 9:30 a.m., so I set my appointment for 12:00 p.m. (in case my math was wrong). On the day of, I simply drove up to the drive-thru following the signage. I showed my ID and confirmation number to the pharmacist.
She then sent a ziplock pack out to me. Shit. I’m doing this myself. I slightly panicked, but pulled up my big girl panties as I listened intently to her directions.
Ya’ll, I discovered the final frontier of my nasal passage. The first part easy—[if you’re] used to stuff going up there like the occasional finger. [Then] I hit a “wall”, but with a gentle nudge it broke free. (Okay, call me ignorant, but I was tickled by how far up my nose goes). Eventually, I hit a dead end with a pinch of pain. Swirl three times. Repeat on the other side.
CVS had me download an app and 2 DAYS LATER I had my results. Opening the result was the toughest part! I now know how all them daddies on Maury feel.
Honestly, it was easy. A bit weird but hey, I’m not in the medical field. My advice? Just go slow and easy, enjoying the journey to the Great Beyond.
If a testing site isn’t convenient (or you’d just rather be in the comfort of your own home while sticking things up your nose or in your mouth) there are plenty of mail-in test options available. Again, these can vary greatly in terms of process, price and requirements. The good news for travelers? Some airlines have partnered with in-home test companies to provide priority testing for their passengers. In fact, if the airline you plan to fly has done this, definitely go this route.
It’s important to note most of these companies won’t bill your insurance, so again—you’ll pay out-of-pocket for convenience.
In-home COVID-19 test kits:
- Azova (available on Costco.com)
- Quest Diagnostics
- Pixel by Labcorp (will bill your insurance)
- BinaxNOW by Abbott
Airlines who have partnered with in-home test companies for their passengers:
Airport On-Site Testing Centers
If you live within reasonable driving distance of your departure airport, this could be a great option. Here are some airports around the country offering COVID-19 tests for travel:
- Los Angeles International Airport
- Oakland International Airport
- San Diego International Airport
- San Francisco International Airport
- Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (Honolulu)
With a little extra planning, you can be on your way to checking off that next travel bucket list adventure!