I Traveled Abroad and Faced New U.S. Entry Requirements for Return. Here’s What You Need to Know

After a year of no overseas travel, when an opportunity to visit the Caribbean popped up, I jumped on it. Little did I know that would coincide with the first week of new restrictions requiring proof of a negative COVID test to re-enter the U.S. Part of me wanted to cancel the trip, but the adventurous part of me wouldn’t give in. So, with a little trepidation, I boarded a plane (my first in over a year) outside the U.S. borders.

Thinking I could purchase a COVID test here in the U.S. and bring it with me I felt fine about the new requirements, but after a little research, I learned I would need a more specific test. You’ll need the rapid test that is done with a nose swab that provides results in just 20 minutes if you are traveling back to the United States. Other countries may require a different test so make sure to check all requirements.

Coordinating a COVID test with a letter from the doctor is essential before your visit. The demand is high, so make sure you book ahead so it doesn’t interfere with your itinerary.

Since my trip happened the first week the new mandatory testing went into place for return entry, I made sure to confirm testing was available with my hotel in the Dominican Republic. Several hotels have adapted seamlessly to these procedures. Atlantis Paradise Island in The Bahamas “offers two on-site testing facilities that are open daily and offer Rapid Antigen (free for up to two guests per room)  and RT-PCR swab testing ($165 pp) with same-day results,” said Audrey Oswell, President of Atlantis Paradise Island.

Coordinating a COVID test with a letter from the doctor is essential before your visit. The demand is high, so make sure you book ahead so it doesn’t interfere with your itinerary. Your hotel should be able to schedule the test for you. Some resorts are even converting conference rooms into makeshift testing sites. Atlanta resident, John Jackson, a guest at the Secrets Akumal said “it was so easy with a converted ballroom being used for COVID testing. We were in and out in no time.”

When I contacted my hotel, Casas del XVI in Santo Domingo, they already knew of the requirements and had secured a doctor to administer the test at the hotel.

1. Grand Velas Maya ResortMalika Bowling 2. Malika Bowling receiving a COVID-19 test while abroad

Since the test must be within 72 hours of your return flight, try to schedule the test as close to that time as possible. My trip was quite short, so I scheduled it for the day I arrived which met the 72-hour imposed requirement.

Always make sure to inquire about the form of payment, as this may be made directly from the patient to the doctor with no interaction from the hotel other than the coordination. If you are in the Caribbean, it may be as easy as bringing U.S. dollars to pay. Used to traveling with little cash, my husband and I barely scraped the $70 together to pay our doctor, but it was worth it after a probing swab up our noses brought forth the sweet words “no reactivo” just 20 minutes later.

Within 24 hours our hotel was issued the documentation signed by the doctor which would allow us to board our return flight. You will also need to sign and present an attestation form that you do not have COVID-19 or have been exposed to it. You can find this on the CDC site.

Here are some questions you should ask about your resort.

1. Will They Arrange the COVID Test or Am I Responsible for It?

Don’t assume that your hotel will provide this or you may be in for a shock, or worse, you’ll be spending your vacation trying to find a doctor for the COVID test.

2. What Is the Cost of the Test? Can I Pay With a Credit Card?

Tests can range vastly from the $35 I paid in the Dominican Republic to $150 in some other destinations. While some hotels may accept credit card payments, a doctor may not, so make sure you know payment terms prior to travel.

3. Will the Hotel Arrange for a Discount or an Extension of My Stay if I Test Positive? And for How Long?

As if it isn’t bad enough catching a virus that has brought the world to its knees, imagine catching it in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. Make sure to ask your hotel what policies they have in place—since they depend on tourist dollars, many are offering a free extension including meals.

“If a traveler tests positive for COVID-19, we offer a 75% discount for an extended stay. Designated suites are reserved away from other guests,” says Juan Vela, Vice President of Velas Resorts. Grand Velas Resorts in Riviera Maya and Nayarit (Puerto Vallarta) are offering complimentary COVID-19 antigen tests as well. Palmaïa, also in  Riviera Maya, is offering guests complimentary antigen tests, with same-day results. Additionally, should a guest test positive, they are extending 14 complimentary nights and three meals daily.

1. Guest room at the Grand Velas Resort MexicoMalika Bowling; 2. Grand Velas Yucatan Resort

4. Are There Any Apps I Am Required to Download for Communication Before Visiting?

The last thing I was thinking about is using an app to communicate, but when I arrived at my Santo Domingo hotel, part of the contactless stay included communication via Whatsapp. We texted our butler everything from requests for extra towels to dinner orders to arranging a driver. If you don’t consider yourself a techie person, find this out ahead of time, so you aren’t blindsided.

5. If the Hotel Won’t Offer a Stay Extension, Where Can I Go to Get a Discount Stay While I Recover?

It wouldn’t be great press for resorts to kick people out if they have COVID, so this is probably unlikely, but nevertheless, ask the question so you know, and print or have an electronic statement of what they will provide should you contract  coronavirus.

6. Ask Your Insurance if There Is Coverage Overseas if You Test Positive.

It isn’t set in stone that anyone struck with COVID makes a full recovery in two weeks. While it may seem dreamy to be quarantined in a Caribbean country, it could mean loss of work/income and even the possibility that insurance wouldn’t cover your treatment while not on American soil. We packed our laptops just in case.

Departing from the Dominican back to the U.S., our forms were scrutinized at the airport when we arrived for check-in. While travel may not get back to the maskless frolicking it once was anytime soon, at least we can take solace in the fact the process seems rather smooth.

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