TPG reader question: What are the pre-departure testing requirements to enter the United States?

Nov 14, 2021

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Editor’s note: This article is part of a weekly column to answer your credit card, points and miles and general travel questions. If you’d like to ask us a question, tweet us at @thepointsguyuk, message us on Facebook or email ben.smithson@thepointsguy.co.uk.


It’s been an exciting week for U.K. travellers as the United States has reopened for non-essential travel after a 600-day lockout on Monday. TPG was on the very first British Airways flight following the easing of restrictions, and it was an emotional day for both staff and passengers onboard.

I’ve received plenty of questions about U.S. travel this week – if you’re planning to visit the always-popular New York City you can read about what it’s like there right now, from mask-wearing to vaccination certificate requirements.

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But what about the pre-departure test requirement to enter anywhere in the United States? That brings us to this week’s TPG reader question of the week.

I am travelling to California soon now that the US has reopened. I am fully vaccinated and know I need a pre-departure test but what tests are acceptable? Can I use a cheap lateral flow and when do I need to take the test?

Andrew, TPG reader

While some destinations such as the United Kingdom have done away with pre-departure testing requirements for those fully vaccinated, the United States requires evidence of a negative COVID-19 test for travellers to enter the country, even if fully vaccinated.

Related: US travel ban lifts: Everything Brits need to know about travelling Stateside right now

This requirement may seem onerous though the rules for the test are fairly generous. The (rather technical) list of acceptable test types are:

  • reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR)
  • reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP)
  • transcription-mediated amplification (TMA)
  • nicking enzyme amplification reaction (NEAR)
  • helicase-dependent amplification (HDA)

While this sounds confusing it’s really not – it means you can use either a lateral flow test or a P.C.R. test. You may recall from the dreaded traffic light system earlier this year that lateral flow tests are much cheaper than P.C.R. tests so you don’t need to be forking out £100+ for a test.

While there are many affordable lateral flow tests on the U.K. government’s list of Day 2 testing providers it is critical that you purchase a test that is conducted in person (or by video) and a certificate for travel is issued afterwards. Note that many Day 2 tests have neither of these features as the U.K. entry requirements do not require it so do choose carefully.

For my recent trip to New York I purchased a Qured lateral flow test (with the £10 video conference add-on) as I’ve used them many times this year already and they reliably deliver your test, you take the test via a video appointment and then they issue a certificate for travel shortly after.

The timeline for testing is also generous. The test can be taken up to three calendar days before your flight’s departure which means it could be more than 72 hours in advance. For example, if your flight to the United States was at 5 p.m. on Monday, you could take the test at any time from the previous Friday at 00:01 onwards. This gives you plenty of notice to take your test and receive your certificate to travel before you fly – so no more last-minute, overpriced panicked PCR tests.

You will be asked to produce your negative test results to board your flight from the U.K. though I have not been asked to show it once while in the United States.

Enjoy your trip to California, Andrew!

Featured image by Ben Smithson / The Points Guy

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