COVID Testing: What to Do If You Plan to Travel Outside U.S. This Summer

International travelers who are vaccinated will still need to take a COVID-19 test before they return home to the U.S. -- and if you don’t plan ahead, the rapid results can be pricey

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Most people can agree with this sentiment: After a year of a raging pandemic that forced families to conform to safety requirements and hunker down in their homes, everyone could use a vacation. 

But if you're planning on hitting the skies and traveling internationally, there's one thing you'll need to have before you return home: a negative COVID-19 test result. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) requires international travelers to have a negative COVID-19 test result no more than three days before travel back to the U.S., even if they're vaccinated. 

The CDC also says people should be tested three to five days post-travel.

If you don't have a plan before departing, the requirement can be costly and take a lot of time to find rapid results abroad. 

Luckily for Carlsbad's Nicole Hammond, she planned for the requirement before taking a vacation out of the country this past spring. 

"I'm a planner, and having three kids under the age of 5, I definitely err on the side of mitigating any risk I can," Hammond said. 

Hammond and her family had their eyes set on Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, after positive reviews from friends who traveled there. 

Mapping out her family's trip, Hammond discovered the new reality of COVID-19 testing requirements for international travel. Depending on where you're traveling, many countries have testing requirements to enter, while some have no testing rules to enter.

Most airlines are taking the step of informing passengers ahead of time of the testing requirements. In addition, the International Air Transport Association created an online map showing the requirements to enter each country.

No matter the requirements to enter another country, you'll need a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of your recovery before crossing back into the U.S. 

TSA screened over 2 million travelers at U.S. airport checkpoints Friday. NBC 7's Allie Raffa has more on what this increase in air traveling means for San Diegans.

The CDC requires all international travelers aged 2 and older to have a negative COVID-19 test result or recovery documentation produced within 72 hours of the date you're returning to the U.S. 

The rule applies even if you're vaccinated, according to the CDC guidelines

"Airlines must refuse to board anyone who does not present a negative test result for COVID-19 or documentation of recovery," according to the CDC website. 

For Hammond and her trip to Mexico, she was surprised that the only testing rules in place were for coming home. 

"I was surprised that there was no need to test to enter the country [Mexico] but only to exit, because I've heard discrepancies based on where you're going as to what they require," Hammond said. 

Hammond found some testing companies can charge hundreds of dollars to provide rapid results of COVID-19 tests in time for a departing flight. 

Another option the CDC approved is to use a self-administered test that you can buy in the U.S. and bring along with you. 

But this option comes with its own rules. 

The CDC requires you to use a "SARS-CoV-2 viral test (nucleic acid amplification test [NAAT] or antigen test)," and you have to have a telehealth appointment or doctor witness you administer the test. 

NBC 7's Allie Raffa has more on the risks the Delta COVID-19 variant poses.

Some FDA-authorized self-tests that include a telehealth service may require a prescription, the CDC states online.

Hammond knew all of this and lucked out: the Mexican resort her family stayed at provided rapid testing on site. The cost? Only $20 per person. 

"I've heard numbers for Hawaii that are like $100," Hammond said. "So, $20 per person wasn't bad."

The Hammond family's return home went pretty smoothly. She said the only hitch she experienced was some trouble sharing her negative test results using an app on her phone. But luckily, the resort had printed out hard copies of the test results, and she was able to use those to board her returning flight home. 

A good reminder to always have a backup plan, Hammond said. 

"My advice to other families is plan ahead: Do your due diligence to understand where you're going and what the protocols are," Hammond said. 

Hammond also recommends verifying which test you're taking and that it's the proper COVID-19 test the CDC requires to board your flight home. Apps like VeriFly will share with users the requirements based on the country they're visiting and will assist with sharing the test results with airline staff. 

The Hammonds' vacation went smoothly, and they booked another trip for Mexico this fall. After many months of keeping her family indoors, Hammond said these trips are beneficial for the family and support businesses internationally. 

"In hospitality, supporting businesses is important for our country and for the globe," Hammond said. "I would encourage people to start looking at traveling."

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