Planning an overseas trip? Here's your checklist to handle the new COVID-19 requirements

Prepare for Takeoff: Exclusively for subscribers, travel reporter Melissa Yeager shares tips for saving money, picking the perfect destination and making trips go smoothly. New stories weekly.

Melissa Yeager
Arizona Republic

Though you may be fully vaccinated and itching to take a long-awaited vacation abroad, the coronavirus pandemic is still something you have to take seriously in your planning. 

The delta variant has caused cases to spike. Travel restrictions are still in flux.  

I can't say it enough: Do not travel internationally until you are fully vaccinated. Fully vaccinated means you are 14 days past the final dose of your vaccine. If you haven't been vaccinated yet, the Arizona Department of Health Services has a list of locations where you can get one. This is the single most important thing to do before traveling. 

You'll have some protection against developing severe illness and it might help you skip a required quarantine or COVID-19 testing. 

If you get sick, stay home. Airlines and hotels are extremely flexible right now. Unlike in the past, if you want to postpone that trip, you probably can. 

But if you're fully vaccinated, healthy and ready to go, here's a checklist of things that will help your planning go smoothly in this new travel era.

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Before you book: What's your destination's COVID-19 situation? 

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of State have country-by-country information concerning COVID-19. 

The CDC website will tell you the health risks of traveling to a country. The State Department's website has information about travel restrictions in general, availability of COVID-19 testing and current travel restrictions for U.S. citizens.

Other good resources: the website for your destination's embassy here in the U.S., local news reports and tourism websites in the country you plan to visit.

Your airline will send you important information about what is required at your destination. Don't ignore those emails. If you don't have those things in order, you probably won't be allowed to board your flight. Make sure your airline has your contact information on file so you receive this information. 

Finally, consider registering your trip with the State Department's STEP program. This lets the U.S. Embassy know where you will be and gives you safety alerts about the country you are visiting. Registering can help the embassy locate you in case of emergency.

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Know your destination's travel restrictions, quarantine requirements

With the REAL ID bill in the recycling bin, those with Arizona drivers licenses will probably need a passport to board a flight in 2016.

Next, dive deep into travel restrictions and quarantine requirements for your destination. Learn the answers to these questions:

  • Are U.S. citizens allowed to visit?
  • Is there a quarantine requirement?
  • Do you need a negative COVID-19 test prior to travel? 
  • If you need a negative test, how far in advance must it be completed?
  • How much will preflight COVID-19 testing cost you? Will insurance cover it? Can you pay for it with your HSA?
  • Does the country allow unvaccinated visitors? If not, how far in advance must you be fully vaccinated before arriving?
  • Do you need to file any forms or upload information such as your vaccine card or negative test result before you arrive?
  • Do you need COVID-19 medical insurance coverage to enter the country?

If you're planning to visit multiple countries, you'll need to repeat this list for each country plus determine whether each country you plan to enter has requirements for each country you left. 

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Plan your COVID-19 test to reenter the U.S. 

Finally, to get back into the United States, you'll need a negative COVID-19 test administered no more than three days prior to your reentry. 

Before you depart for your trip, plan how you will get tested so you can return home. See if your airline, hotel or the airport you are flying through offers testing. Schedule an appointment in advance if you can. Find out the price and how quickly results are available.

Or consider using an approved self-test kit. These can cost about $30 for a single test to $150 for a pack of several. Be careful with this option because not every type of self-test is accepted. 

According to the CDC, to use a self-test to return to the U.S, the test must:

  • Be a SARS-CoV-2 viral test (nucleic acid amplification test [NAAT] or antigen test) with an emergency use authorization from the FDA.
  • Include a telehealth service that supervises the test through audio and video. 
  • Have a telehealth provider confirm your identity, watch you take the test, confirm the test result and issue a written report.
  • Provide you with documentation that you can present to your airline, U.S. customs and health officials.

You need an internet connection for a health professional to observe you taking the test, so make sure you have access to reliable internet if you choose this option.

Finally, schedule your test with enough time to get the results before your flight. 

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Weigh whether it's smart to travel to that country

A country may allow Americans to visit, but it's worth considering whether you should. What are the health care capabilities of that country? If you get sick or injured, would you be another person taxing already limited resources? 

What are the vaccination rate and access to vaccines in that country? Would you be doing more harm than good traveling even as a vaccinated person?

You'll also want to check what coronavirus restrictions are in place in the country and weigh whether those might affect the quality of your visit. Are certain businesses or attractions closed? Are there curfews? Mask requirements?

You may want to evaluate what the overall experience might be like and consider postponing until you'll have a more enriching visit.

You can connect with Arizona Republic Consumer Travel Reporter Melissa Yeager through email at melissa.yeager@azcentral.com. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram

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