Will you need a coronavirus test to fly? Everything we know right now

May 18, 2020

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As travel begins to slowly resume across the globe, it’s abundantly clear that preparing for a trip abroad will be much more complicated than simply checking your passport’s validity and packing enough clean socks.

In April, Emirates became the first airline to test passengers for COVID-19 prior to check in. For travellers departing Dubai (DXB) en route to Tunis, Tunisia (TUN), Emirates’ rapid blood test was designed to provide results in as little as 10 minutes. Travellers who tested negative are cleared to fly — and provided with a clean bill of health, which is quickly becoming a common requirement for entry to many countries.

Visit TPG’s guide to all coronavirus news and updates

Countries are cautiously reopening, but the future of travel is shifting at a rapid pace. And health screening measures may become an increasingly prominent part of the travel experience in the coming weeks and months.

Whether or not you need a coronavirus test to fly will depend largely on your origin and destination — and as this global health crisis develops, the methods for screening and testing travellers will likely evolve in kind. In some instances, such as the Emirates route connecting the United Arab Emirates to Tunisia, travellers may be required to submit to on-site coronavirus testing before boarding an aeroplane. In other instances, negative results may be required before you can enter a country, or leave the airport.

When a coronavirus test isn’t required, temperature checks and other precautions are likely to play an outsized role in the screening process. Airlines such as Air France and Air Canada have added passenger temperature checks to their own safety procedures, and travellers could be denied boarding if they present a fever.

Related: These European airlines now require passengers to wear face masks

Though the situation is still very much evolving, here are some of the instances when you might need a coronavirus test to fly.

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Coronavirus tests on arrival

Iceland

Iceland recently unveiled ambitious plans to welcome back international travellers by mid-June. But unless you want to immediately enter a two-week quarantine, you may be required to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival at Kevlavík International Airport (KEF). Same-day results are expected, and travellers will be permitted to wait for the results at their hotel or other accommodations.

The details: Reports suggest the Icelandic government will initially pay for the cost of the test, but travellers will later be expected to reimburse the cost. Travellers may be able to avoid both the on-site test and the 14-day quarantine by presenting an acceptable clean bill of health obtained prior to departure.

Austria

Though only travellers from within the Schengen Area and exempt individuals are allowed to travel to Austria at this time, Austria recently introduced on-site coronavirus testing at Vienna International Airport (VIE). Similar to the testing process in Iceland, results are available in approximately two to three hours and — if negative — allow travellers to skip the requisite 14-day quarantine.

The details: The tests cost 190 euros (about £169). Travellers can also provide a health certificate from home that shows a negative test result.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong‘s borders remain closed to nonresidents, but travellers are encountering an arduous screening process upon arrival. One Hong Kong-based journalist, Laurel Chor, flew to Hong Kong International (HKG) from Paris (CDG) on 14 May and described an eight-hour ordeal involving paperwork (a quarantine order and a good-health declaration) and a transfer to the AsiaWorld-Expo convention centre to self-collect a deep-throat saliva sample for an on-site test. After more than six hours, Chor received her results — negative — and was allowed to leave. Still, she was required to enter a 14-day quarantine and take a follow-up test later.

The details: All asymptomatic, inbound travellers are required to immediately take a shuttle bus to the convention centre for specimen collection and testing. Only residents are allowed entry to Hong Kong, and a two-week quarantine is required regardless of the test results.

Related: When will international travel return? A country-by-country guide to coronavirus recovery

Coronavirus tests for entry

Even if you don’t technically need a coronavirus test to board a flight, you may very well need one to enter your destination upon arrival.

The Czech Republic, for example, is currently allowing travellers from nearby countries to visit – but only if they can provide a negative COVID-19 test at the border.

Before shutting its borders, French Polynesia required travellers, regardless of nationality, to provide a clean bill of health dated within five days of arrival. Travellers bound for Samoa needed medical clearance dated within three days of the flight.

As countries evaluate the global health crisis and make plans to reopen, travellers should expect to see many more destinations welcome only travellers who can provide an official clean bill of health. The requirements for what documentation will be valid will likely vary.

Where can I get a coronavirus test?

Coronavirus tests continue to be in short supply, so you may need to be displaying symptoms or fall into one other category in the U.K.

In the U.K., you can apply for a coronavirus test if you’re an essential worker with coronavirus symptoms, aged 65 or older with coronavirus symptoms or someone who cannot work from home and has coronavirus symptoms. For example, construction workers or delivery drivers.

Anyone with coronavirus symptoms can apply if they live with an essential worker, a person aged 65 or older or someone who travels to work.

While viral tests show whether or not you’re currently infected with COVID-19, an antibody test may indicate whether or not you were exposed to the coronavirus or if you previously had an infection. Unfortunately, just because antibodies are present doesn’t necessarily mean you have current or future immunity — which makes antibody tests an unlikely method for screening travellers, at least at this time.

Antibody tests can also return conflicting results — something The Points Guy himself, Brian Kelly, experienced firsthand.

Hanh Le, M.D., head of medical affairs at Healthline Media (owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures) told TPG that many antibody tests were “rushed to market without the requisite testing”.

Either way, if you’re seeking or require a COVID-19 viral or antibody test, consult your healthcare provider for more information.

Feature photo by PeopleImages / Getty Images.

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