If you have a positive COVID test overseas, can you fly back to the U.S.?

People in airport shuttle with facemasks - positive covid test overseas
Photo via Sanshiro KUBOTA/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

On his first day in office, President Joe Biden enacted new policies, including a mask mandate and a vaccination campaign, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 domestically. Some of the new guidelines will even affect international travelers. If you receive a positive COVID-19 test overseas, you will have to quarantine before returning to the states, because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now requires a negative COVID-19 test from all travelers entering the United States.

The policy, which goes into effect on Jan. 26, requires a negative test from all travelers, whether they are U.S. citizens or not. The test must be taken within three days of the flight, and travelers will not be allowed to board any inbound flights without providing proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Travelers who received a positive COVID-19 test overseas will be allowed to provide proof of recovery. 

If you do test positive for COVID-19 while abroad, you will have to quarantine until you are no longer contagious. Some hotels are even accommodating for guests who may test positive for COVID-19. Hard Rock properties will provide complimentary on-site medical assistance for guests.

That includes two antigen tests per room and covers the cost of an extended stay if you have to quarantine, according to the Points Guy

The CDC recommends getting tested again three to five days after arriving in the U.S. and quarantining for a minimum of seven days, even if you tested negative. 

Many believe the new testing requirement is necessary to keep U.S. citizens safe during the ongoing pandemic, but some in the travel industry believe it is too early to implement such measures. Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy of the U.S. Travel Association Tori Emerson Barnes said the CDC should not enact the testing requirement until travel restrictions and quarantine mandates are lifted.

Others see the new requirement as a positive sign of a recovering travel industry. Scott Keyes, the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, told Travel and Leisure he believes the testing requirement is a “step in the right direction.”

Canada and Australia also require negative COVID-19 tests to enter the country. Some experts fear the U.S.’s testing policy won’t be as effective as those in other countries, because the U.S. accepts rapid antigen tests. Rapid antigen tests are less accurate, particularly with the new strains of COVID-19.

New Zealand, Hawaii, and Australia have all experienced cases in which travelers boarded a flight without testing positive but then tested positive upon landing. Experts worry that, though well-intentioned, the new testing requirement won’t be as effective as hoped, according to the Washington Post.

If you do test positive while overseas, don’t expect to get help from a nearby U.S. Embassy, because of the State Department’s “limited medical resources” outside the U.S.

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Sources: the Points Guy, Travel and Leisure, Travel Pulse, Washington Post

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