Tech Matters: International travel tips during COVID
While many countries have opened their borders to international travelers, restrictions remain in place and vary by destination, making travel far more complicated than in pre-COVID days. Further, travel restrictions remain unpredictable — what was true when you arrived could change while you’re on the ground — which means you must be prepared for a number of scenarios if you choose to travel at this time.
Of course, you may not have much of a choice. Earlier this week, I returned from a 10-day work trip to Dubai, which entailed COVID testing before I left and again before I returned with a number of unfamiliar procedures along the way. I am sharing those experiences with you as a guide, but do your own research as well. The key to a successful trip abroad is planning, so that you know exactly what to do in airports, hotels and other public venues.
First, know the testing or proof of vaccination requirements for the country you are visiting and the cities of any connecting flights. For my trip, no proof of vaccination was required, but I still took my vaccination card with me and took a photo of it on my phone as a backup in case proof was requested. A negative PCR test was mandatory to enter Dubai and that documentation had to be shown at check-in at the airline desk in Salt Lake and at a health check gate in Amsterdam prior to going to the main gate of departure. Print your test result and keep it with your passport. Keep the electronic document in an easily accessible location on your phone.
Know exactly what type of test each place requires. For travel, you will need a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test from a lab. (Hawaii allows test results only from approved labs.) The Salt Lake City Health Department offers the test for free, along with a rapid antigen test. I took both so that I would know if I had COVID within a few hours via the rapid test and would have to cancel my trip. I then waited for the PCR test result within the mandated window of 48 hours. The window for results varies and can be as short as 24 hours or as long as 72 hours before your flight, so make sure you’re within the limit.
If your flight is delayed, have a backup plan. My colleague’s flight was delayed due to bad weather in New York, which meant his result expired and he had to take another test at the airport. Salt Lake International has private testing onsite, but be prepared to pay $250 or more, and this firm does not accept insurance.
You’ll also need to arrange for testing to come home and that test needs to be within 24 hours of your return flight. Your hotel should be able to arrange this for you — a nurse will come to your room — and there are local health care companies who will do the same. Check with a local colleague, the embassy or the tourism board for a referral. I paid around $75 for my good-bye test.
All airports in the U.S., Europe and many other countries require masks to be worn at all times. You’ll also have to wear a mask on your flight. Disposable N95 masks are more comfortable and effective than cloth ones. In Dubai, the government rule was a mask at all times, indoors and out, unless you were eating or drinking, but you had to be sitting down to remove a mask for these reasons. Pay attention to local mandates and follow them because the consequences for not doing so can be serious.
The biggest international travel risk is testing positive for COVID while abroad. If this happens, you will get the bad news just hours from your planned departure. What will you do? Before you finalize your travel plans, make sure you know the quarantine rules for your destination. In some places, this means you’ll spend an extra 10 days in your room at your own or your company’s expense if you test positive. Discuss the plan with your employer, who should have an insurance plan in place for employees on work trips. If you’re on your own, you may want to consider private COVID insurance to cover your quarantine expenses. Also think about what needs to be done back home if your absence is extended and discuss a plan with those who will be covering for you.
While an extra 10 days stuck in a hotel room may be inconvenient and expensive, it’s not the worst case scenario. There are countries like Hong Kong and Singapore that move travelers to the hospital or to a quarantine facility if they test positive upon arrival. In that case, I would postpone the trip.
Leslie Meredith has been writing about technology for more than a decade. As a mom of four, value, usefulness and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at email@example.com.