Of all the concerns my travel clients have approached me with lately, the most common is: "What if I test positive for COVID in a foreign country, and can't fly back to the United States? What will happen to me?" This is a legitimate concern, since the United States requires overseas travelers to produce a negative test in order to return to the country, regardless of vaccination status. Also: Omnicron.
Well, as luck (or bad luck) would have it, this happened to me recently. I had been traveling around Italy for 2 weeks, and it was time to come home. The day before I was due to fly back from Florence, I took my required COVID test, expecting things to be business as usual, and lo and behold, I tested positive. I was confused, because I was mostly asymptomatic. While I did have a scratchy throat that week, I assumed it was from running myself ragged for days on end. Who wouldn't feel crappy? In disbelief, I tested again. Still positive. I reluctantly accepted the fact that I must have COVID.
While I now know a few people that this has happened to, at the time, I was in the dark about how to handle the situation, despite working in the travel industry and having access to lots of information.
Here's what to do:
1) Always get travel insurance before you travel so if this happens to you, you won't have to pay out-of-pocket for the extra week (or more) you'll be required to stay in another country, and those unanticipated hotel nights and meals can get costly. Most travel insurance plans aren't too expensive, and will cover this sort of circumstance if you ask for it.
2) Bring COVID self-test kits with you on your trip. Not only can you test online (live) and eliminate the need to go to a testing place (which can be expensive), you'll be glad you have these tests with you if you're stuck in another country and want to test yourself repeatedly throughout the week. If you have a box of 6, say, that's 6 times you can test yourself cheaply without having to visit a doctor an approved pharmacy for an official test.
3) As soon as you test positive, if it's not documented (because you tested yourself), go get an official positive test, and hold on to it. Why? Because if you test positive for COVID, you only have two options for getting on a plane and going home -- a negative COVID test OR a doctor's note clearing you to travel. But you can't use (or get) a doctor's note until 10 days after you first tested positive, so you need to have a record of that date if you are going to use this option.
4) If you didn't get travel insurance before your trip (and even if you did), you'll want to ask your hotel or resort if they offer special lodging rates for guests who test positive for COVID. Many properties will cut you a break and allow you to stay on with them until you recover at substantially lower rates. This might come with a stipulation, such as canceling your housekeeping services (to keep staff from getting exposed) or asking that you eat your meals in your room instead of in their restaurants (so you don't infect other guests).
5) Once you get a negative test result, if it's not official (because you tested yourself, say), go get an official test result from a doctor or approved pharmacy so that you can fly home. But make sure you get an Antigen test, because Antigen tests are much less sensitive. (Other types of COVID tests such as PCR tests might show you as "positive" for weeks on end). Fortunately, the US accepts Antigen tests for re-entry.
6) If you've been testing positive for more than a week, and you don't feel symptomatic, it may be time to start thinking about getting a doctor's note to clear you to fly back home. These doctor's notes, called Documentations of Recovery, can be used to board a plane when accompanied by a positive COVID test result more than 10 days old. To get yourself a Documentation of Recovery letter, you have a few options. You can get one in-person from a doctor in the area in which you've been traveling, or you can get one online through a provider like QuickMD for a cost of around $75. Note: no doctor will give you one of these unless you can prove to them that you tested positive more than 10 days ago. This is why it's so important to keep hold of your first official positive test.
7) If you're biding your time overseas, waiting for a negative test result, don't try any wacky "remedies" in the hopes of cheating the system and getting a false negative. Not only is it unethical to travel in close quarters on cramped planes while you're contagious and symptomatic, but doing things like putting hand sanitizer up your nose (yes, I know someone who admitted to doing this) doesn't work, and you could end up harming yourself.
I have more tips, but I think this is a good start. For more guidance on how to handle testing positive for COVID while traveling, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Safe travels!
by Meaghan Clawsie, Elated Escapes (www.elatedescapes.com)