Do I need a COVID-19 test for my cruise? Your pre- and post-cruise testing questions answered

May 23, 2022

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The road to the cruise industry’s restart has been a long one with lots of twists and turns. Although COVID-19 infections in the U.K. are at the lowest levels we’ve seen in 2022 and cases have generally fallen across North America recently, the U.S. still requires anyone entering from another country to be tested no more than 24 hours prior to arrival. Canada also requires random testing for entry, even for vaccinated travellers.

However, there is a catch — and it’s good news for cruisers. Testing is not required for anyone entering either country via boat, ship or ferry.

Over the past couple of months, many cruise lines have also relaxed testing requirements for passengers who have received their COVID-19 booster shots, in many cases extending the testing window by a day.

With all of the changes and exceptions to the rules, TPG is here to answer some of your most pressing questions about COVID-19 testing for cruises.

Editor’s note: This article is intended to highlight general rules for most cruise lines. Testing requirements can vary by cruise line and embarkation port; check with your line for the most current information relevant to your itinerary.

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In This Post

Pre-cruise COVID-19 testing

Taking a pre-cruise antigen test. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

Do I need to take a COVID-19 test before my cruise?

Yes. All cruise lines are currently requiring passengers, regardless of vaccination status, to take a COVID-19 test prior to embarkation day and show a negative result before being allowed to board.

When sailing with most lines, passengers vaccinated against COVID-19 are allowed to present negative results from antigen tests, which often take less time and are less expensive to process than PCR tests. PCR results are also accepted for vaccinated cruisers. However, PCR test results are the only ones accepted for cruisers who have not received their shots.

Additional pier-side testing might be required for unvaccinated cruisers on embarkation day.

Keep in mind that, if you’re flying to another country to board your cruise, that country could have its own set of testing rules separate from those of the cruise line. Be sure to check the government website for your country of embarkation to make sure you’re in compliance.

How close to my cruise do I need to be tested?

In order to board their ships, travellers who are fully vaccinated must provide negative antigen or PCR test results that are no more than 48 hours old on embarkation day. Those who are unvaccinated must provide negative PCR test results no more than 72 hours old.

Passengers who are up-to-date on their shots — those who are fully vaccinated and have received at least one booster — are allowed to show negative antigen or PCR test results that are 72 hours old.

It’s helpful to know that cruise lines don’t necessarily count down to the exact hour of testing. Rather, they go by day. In other words, if you’re up-to-date and take your test early in the morning but don’t plan to board until the afternoon three days later, your results will be a little more than 72 hours old. As long as you’re still within the same day during which the 72nd hour falls, you’ll be permitted to board.

Where can I find an approved test that will give me my results in time?

Some pharmacies offer walk-in antigen and PCR testing by appointment. However, with the tight window in which the results are needed, there’s no guarantee you’ll have them in time to cruise, particularly because the demand for testing is so high right now.

Abbott’s BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card Home Test ordered online. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

The best option for vaccinated passengers is to order at-home antigen testing kits. Some cruise lines sell them, but you can also find accredited suppliers through the British government’s website.

The U.K. government publishes a list of certified COVID-19 test providers who have had their self-declaration against the government’s minimum standards successfully assessed.

All you do is order the kit from your chosen provider. Then, within two days of your departure, you take the test and submit a photo of your result alongside your official travel document through the provider’s secure portal. A validation team or doctor will then verify your result and email your “fit to fly” certificate within eight hours.

The safest bet for unvaccinated passengers flying to their embarkation ports is to make an appointment for a rapid PCR test at the airport — either the one from which they’re departing or the one at which they’re arriving. (For travellers who are not flying, some airports will still take appointments even if you don’t have a flight booked.) Results are returned in anywhere from one to 24 hours, depending on the type of test chosen, so be sure to plan accordingly.

Will my cruise line provide testing at the embarkation port?

This area at PortMiami is for unvaccinated cruise passengers awaiting their pre-boarding test results. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

Although most cruise lines have committed to sailing with nearly all passengers and crew fully vaccinated, they do make allowances for young children and people who are unable to receive the vaccine. In addition to showing a negative test result from a test taken prior to embarkation, anyone who is not immunized could be required to take a second test at the port on the day of the sailing. Most of the major cruise lines currently require this.

Some lines provide complimentary testing for passengers at the pier. Other lines might also provide testing as a backup for passengers who were unable to obtain test results prior to embarkation day, but you should absolutely not count on that.

If you’re cruising to a country that requires you to be tested before entry, it’s likely your ship will provide testing services on board. Check with your cruise line for details and to see whether you’ll be responsible for footing the bill.

How much does a COVID-19 test cost?

COVID-19 test costs depend largely on the type of test, how and where you have the test done, and whether or not you’re specifically asked if the test is for travel purposes. At walk-in pharmacies, prices vary from £40 to several hundred pounds.

If you’re opting instead to order a test online, you’re looking at about £40 for a single test or as much as £120 for a pack of six, plus shipping.

I’ve also heard horror stories of this type of testing overseas running into the hundreds, and it is not covered by the NHS. Ultimately, what you’ll pay depends on the airport location, the type of test you choose (antigen tests are also available if you’re vaccinated and find yourself in a pinch) and how quickly you need results. In general, antigen tests are cheaper, while PCRs are more expensive, especially if you need the results in just a few hours.

If you’re unvaccinated, all testing required by the cruise lines — which could include pre-cruise, during-cruise and post-cruise testing — is provided by the cruise lines, but the cost will be passed along to you. If you’re cruising with the major lines and you’re not fully vaccinated, you can expect to pay somewhere around £120 for everything. Disney Cruise Line provides the required testing for free.

COVID-19 tests during a cruise

Passengers’ antigen test swabs await processing. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

Will I be required to test during my cruise?

If you are unvaccinated, some cruise lines could require you to test periodically throughout your voyage. The longer the sailing, the more likely it is that you’ll need to test while you’re on board. Most lines will charge you for the cost of administering and processing these tests.

Additionally, if a passenger feels ill and subsequently tests positive for COVID-19 on your cruise, you could be required to take a test if the vessel’s contact tracing program determines you were in close contact with the ill passenger. Testing under these circumstances is covered by the line.

In most cases, any post-cruise testing required for passengers to return home is conducted onboard the ship on one of the last days of the sailing at the expense of the cruise line. We’ll get into that more in the section below.

Post-cruise testing

Coronavirus test
(Photo by Paul Biris/Getty Images)

Do I need to take a COVID-19 test after my cruise?

That depends on where your cruise ends. If you’re arriving back to the U.K. directly via your ship, then no, you will not need a post-cruise test.

However, if your voyage ends in a country outside of the U.K., some countries will ask you to show proof of a negative test result that’s no more than 24 hours old, regardless of your vaccination status. Either type of test (antigen or PCR) will satisfy the requirement. Be sure to check the rules of the country in which you are disembarking on the Foreign Office website.

Additionally, some countries do require cruise passengers to test before they disembark, so if your sailing concludes in a nation outside the U.S. or U.K., you might have to test before leaving the vessel. Check the government website for your country of debarkation for specifics.

Do cruise lines provide tests for passengers who need them to disembark or to return to the U.K. and is there a cost?

If you’re flying to the U.K. from an international location after your voyage or disembarking in a country that requires cruisers to be tested, your cruise line will likely cover the cost of testing and processing. However, some charge a nominal fee. Check with your cruise line for details.

Featured photo by Ergin Yalcin/Getty Images.

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