It is time we finally addressed the burning question every traveler in the Covid era, no matter how experienced, keeps asking themselves: “how soon will I be able to fly home to the U.S. in case I test positive abroad?”
Now more now than ever, and especially with Omicron cases on the rise, travelers are highly susceptible to having their travel plans disrupted. This means that some may face prolonged quarantine periods while on holiday and, what’s worse, a delayed return home.
But just how complicated is it for Americans to return to their home country following a positive test? And more importantly: what about those who fully recover from an infection yet continue to test positive for weeks on end?
There is a lot to unpack here, but we hope this guide on how to fly home safely, and quickly, after testing positive abroad will help you should you ever find yourself in that tricky situation:
What Are The Current Rules For Traveling To The United States?
The rules for traveling to the United States from foreign territories are pretty straightforward: as of December 6, all air passengers must satisfy border authorities with a Covid test taken no more than 1 day before arrival.
This applies whether you’re an American, U.S. resident or simply a tourist, and irrespective of vaccination status. Previously, vaccinated arrivals were given the option to test up to 3 days preceding arrival, which is no longer possible.
So what of those who end up testing positive at the very last minute and have to postpone their flights? Do they have a right of return if they’re Americans? Are they required to self-isolate at their destination until they’re negative again? What is the official CDC guidance?
What To Do If You Test Positive Right Before Boarding Your Flight
With the updated testing requirements, which state all U.S.-bound travelers should test within a day of flying, some may fay victim to the dreaded last-minute positive test.
The first step, naturally, is to contact your airline directly and cancel or postpone the flight. Most airlines are now waiving cancelation fees or even issuing travel vouchers to be used through 2023, so you normally should not worry about missing your flight due to Covid.
Next, you should follow quarantine regulations for the particular country you’re staying in. Be it either Mexico, the Dominican Republic or even popular European destinations such as France, policies may vary considerably and the self isolation period may be shorter or longer.
Mexico, especially areas like Cancun, have been very openly following the CDC’s new 5-day requirement.
In case the time you’re allowed to stay as a tourist in the country is about to expire, which has recently proven to a major setback for Mexico-bound travelers, you are strongly advised to contact local authorities and formally ask for a temporary extension of your visa, if possible, in order to avoid legal obstacles when finally leaving the country.
Unfortunately, there are countless reports of people who continue to test positive for Covid for weeks, or even months, after an infection, even if they’re no longer symptomatic or infectious.
As a result, travelers be left in an indefinite limbo until a negative test is finally presented. And, as astonishing as balcony views over some unspoilt beaches of the Mexican Riviera may be, putting your life and commitments on hold while you isolate for days on end, and hotel bills pile up is no enviable position to be in.
Luckily, there is a way for Americans to bypass the requirements for flying back home at a more reasonable date, and one that does not involve presenting a negative test in case they have a persistent viral load.
According to the CDC, those who have recently recovered from Covid can fly back to the States by presenting, at the check-in counter, proof they have recovered from a past infection.
What Kind Of Proof Of Recovery Is Accepted For Travel To The U.S.?
A proof of recovery ordinarily includes the original positive Covid test, on a sample taken no more than 90 days before the intended departure, and a letter from a licensed healthcare provider or public health official declaring the person is no longer infectious and thus fit for travel.
This option is particularly favored by Americans who are unable to prove they are eligible for travel due to consecutive positive results, even weeks after having been infected.
As per CDC instructions, the letter must:
- Contain personal information matching your ID or passport number, including name and date of birth;
- Be on official letterhead containing the name, address, and contact details of the healthcare provider;
- Be signed and dated by the official who wrote it.
Along with a positive Covid test, these documents constitute a “documentation of recovery“, and are the only option for those with a lasting Covid infection to return to the U.S. sooner.
The CDC has also recently halved their isolation period guideline from 10 to 5 days, meaning passengers are now allowed to fly back less than a week following a positive test, so long as they do not have symptoms and present a recovery letter.
Many airlines are accepting passengers to board in just 5-days after their previously positive testing, including Frontier, Southwest, United, JetBlue, and American. Delta’s website is still showing 10-days, but a representative told TravelOffPath they will be updating this to 5 days soon.
Those who have a short-lived case of Covid and test negative again on the days following a positive result can simply present the most recent test before boarding.
Finally, What You Can Do To Minimize Risks Traveling In 2022?
A positive test may not be the perfect ending to any dream holiday, but by following these tips, at least you’ll be better prepared. And, as we have seen so far, Covid could run a lengthy course and isolation usually entails major travel disruption.
For that reason, we would like to remind our readers to always take out Covid travel insurance before going abroad in these unprecedented times. Besides covering treatment resulting from Covid while in a foreign country, they help with flight cancelations and quarantine-related costs.
We also strongly advise you to make contingency plans and be ready to possibly extend your time abroad in the unfortunate event that an infection is picked up. Additionally, make sure you refer to the CDC Travel Recommendation page for official advice on epidemiological risks for individual countries.
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Disclaimer: Current travel rules and restrictions can change without notice. The decision to travel is ultimately your responsibility. Contact your consulate and/or local authorities to confirm your nationality’s entry and/or any changes to travel requirements before traveling. Travel Off Path does not endorse traveling against government advisories