International travel at the moment requires passengers to keep up to date on constantly changing COVID rules. Vaccination and testing requirements can be confusing and have been known to change suddenly in response to an increase (or decrease) in cases at the places you are traveling.
There are a seemingly endless number of websites and smartphone apps you need to register for, upload documents and show QR codes at various points during your travel. In addition, you may need to carry a hard copy of your documents (vaccination card or test results) to show whenever you’re asked.
When we traveled to Iceland, this was the only part of the trip where I was obsessed with the details. When we went there, the only requirement to enter Iceland was to prove you were fully vaccinated or confirmed a past infection (this has since changed and you need to show proof of a negative COVID test 72 hours before entry, regardless of vaccination status).
When returning to the US, all passengers 2 years of age or older need to take a COVID test no more than 3 days before their flight departs and present the negative result or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 to the airline before boarding the flight. If you’re looking for the most up-to-date information about entry requirements, look to the CDC website.
I read over the page carefully and decided to get the Rapid Antigen self-test sold by eMed. This is the same test you can buy at the drugstore but includes supervision during the test via the internet to ensure the results are actually from the patient listed on the account. This is required for the test to be accepted for entry into the US.
We did the test at our hotel 2 days before our departure and received our negative results, which they emailed to us and uploaded into the NAVICA smartphone app.
When we arrived at the airport to check in for our Icelandair flight to New York, there was a representative at the entry to the line saying, “Make sure to have your PCR result ready for inspection! Only PCR tests are acceptable for re-entry to the United States!” When we entered the line, he provided us a form to fill out and asked if we had our PCR test results ready. I said that we did and he told us to keep them ready for when we got to the counter. I know that was, in essence, a lie but I wasn’t going to try to tell him that we didn’t need to have a negative PCR test to enter the US.
Not to get too complicated about the types of COVID tests, but a PCR test is done with lab equipment. The tests may be done at a lab or another location with the necessary equipment and certifications. The at-home rapid tests are antigen tests, which use a different process to look for signs of a COVID infection.
Here are the types of tests acceptable under the CDC requirements:
Passengers must be tested with a viral test that could be either an antigen test or a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT). Examples of available NAATs for SARS-CoV-2 include but are not restricted to reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP), transcription-mediated amplification (TMA), nicking enzyme amplification reaction (NEAR), and helicase-dependent amplification (HDA)
Even though I knew I followed the rules and took an acceptable test to enter the US, the agent’s confidence in saying a PCR test was required still made me nervous as we waited in line. I even pulled out my phone and rechecked the CDC website to ensure nothing had changed since we left.
When we got to talk to an agent we handed over our passports and letters affirming we’d received a negative test within the last 3 days. She asked to see our test results and we opened up the NAVICA app and handed over our phones. She read the results and handed our phones back to us.
That’s the end of the story. We waited for our flights and this was the one and only time anyone asked to see that we tested negative for COVID when returning to the US.
Even though I had obsessed about making sure we checked all of the boxes for our return, all it took was one person with incorrect information to make me doubt myself. To anyone traveling to the United States, I’d say to make sure you’re following all of the rules and keep the CDC page with requirements pulled up on your phone. That way, if you have any problems, you can use that to prove your case.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary