OCTOBER 26, 2021
FOR AMERICANS returning home from abroad, few things are more of a hassle than the requirement to get a COVID test. The government mandates that returning citizens be tested within three days of their flight, regardless of which country they’re coming from. Airlines will not let you board without proof of a negative result.
There was talk of eliminating this requirement as of November 8th — the date when foreign citizens will again be granted entry to the U.S. But in fact the rule is getting tougher: if you’re an unvaccinated American, you will now need a test within one day instead of three.
Tracking down a testing location in a foreign country can be challenging. They often aren’t available where you’d most expect them to be: at the airport. Even when they are, hurrying to the airport for a last-minute test hours before departure can be stressful. Before coming home from Dubai not long ago, my friend and I spent half a day traipsing around the city in a taxi. The hotel had given us directions to a facility that turned out to be closed, forcing us to hunt down a different one. Once we found it, the lines were long and the forms and document checks took forever to complete. Then, it took almost 24 hours to receive our results, instead of the promised twelve hours. A little nerve-wracking when you’re flight is leaving the next day.
Traveling back from Colombia a few weeks ago, however, was a whole different experience, thanks to something I didn’t know existed until just prior to leaving home: a CDC and FDA-approved self-testing kit that you carry with you on your trip. You take the test when you need to, and the results are certified through video call supervision.
Initially, CDC stipulations required that a traveler’s COVID test be administered in a laboratory. That changed as of last May, when the approval was given for self-tests that meet certain criteria. At least three companies are now providing this service, selling under the brands BinaxNOW, Ellume, and Qured.
The one I used was Qured. I don’t typically go the route of shameless product plugs, but this time I can’t resist. I can’t say enough about how affordable and convenient this service was.
It works like this:
First, you order the Qured kit prior to your trip. It costs about $50. It’s a small box containing two do-it-yourself tests and instructions. You then create an account and schedule a video consultation to take place prior to your flight home (within that three-day return window). Throw the kit into your carry-on bag and take it with you.
When the time comes, you assemble your kit and dial in to a video chat. A Qured representative then talks you through the test — it’s a simple nasal swab, which you then place in a tube of solution along with a paper strip — and explains how to photograph and submit the results via email. A short while later you receive a confirmation document, which you’ll show to the airline prior to boarding.
That’s it. The test can be completed in the privacy of your hotel room and takes no more than ten minutes. All you need is WiFi and a phone. I had my email confirmation less than fifteen minutes after the call.
Consumer reviews of BinaxNOW have mentioned long wait times and lack of video call availability, and Ellume was forced to recall a number of kits due to a high number of false positives. Presumably these issues will be ironed out; in the meantime, I had no such problems with Qured. There were slots open pretty much around the clock, and I was able to begin the consultation a few minutes earlier than was scheduled.
It’s really that easy.
Wisely, airlines have begun partnering with these providers, allowing you to order when booking your flight reservations. Check with your carrier to see what’s available. The only potential sticking point is that not all countries allow the importation of medical test kits. CDC advises travelers to “contact authorities at their destination.”
Regardless of what you think of the thee-day test rule, we’re stuck with it for the foreseeable future. Fortunately there’s now an alternative to the hassle of trudging to a clinic or testing center. It’s fast, ultra-convenient, and actually less expensive than what many labs will charge. Frankly, I can’t understand why any traveler wouldn’t take advantage of this.