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As of Jan. 26, you must have the results of a negative COVID-19 test result in hand to reenter the U.S.
If you’re planning international travel, one of your top considerations should be the ease of getting a reliable (and fast) COVID-19 test result while abroad. And in just a few short weeks, destinations have adapted with breakneck speed.
Hundreds of hotel properties and chains unveiled massive testing initiatives for guests. Some resorts are even providing free accommodation in the event a traveler tests positive and can’t return home. All of this is an effort to lure travelers with easy access to testing and a safety net in case things go wrong.
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But visitors who prefer an off-the-beaten-path trip, far from the mass-market resort experience, are faced with a dilemma. Is there too much risk in venturing beyond the confines of a gated retreat right now?
In many cases, an Airbnb, vacation rental or even a boutique hotel stay abroad can still be possible despite these new testing requirements. And with more private accommodations, in fact, those types of accommodations may actually be preferable. From airport testing to boutique hotels banding together, here’s how to navigate it all.
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Bigger hotel chains have the testing upper hand
The new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) mandate requires passengers to get a viral test within three days of their departure to the U.S. Your airline will confirm the negative result (or recovery from COVID-19) before you’re allowed to board.
Undoubtedly, this new policy makes travel more difficult, wherever you choose to stay. But hotel chains and property groups have a distinct upper hand: scale and infrastructure.
For instance, Hyatt announced it will offer complimentary on-site COVID-19 testing at all 19 Hyatt resorts in Latin America. The Baha Mar hotel complex in the Bahamas is a collection of properties with a robust testing system in place. In fact, TPG editor Nick Ellis visited this “resort bubble” after the new testing requirements started.
Easy, effective and affordable (often free) testing is a key part of the value proposition.
“[This CDC requirement] is making me do a lot more research. I would prefer to look at hotels versus Airbnbs just for the concierge aspect in case I need help finding a testing center or need to stay there longer,” said Sibylle Gorla, a TPG reader and member of TPG’s Facebook group.
Airbnbs and boutique hotels can still be possible
Other travelers may prefer an Airbnb or boutique hotel — and one that’s not on the main tourist strip. These accommodations are not just for the more seasoned or intrepid travelers, either.
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More privacy and less foot traffic also mean more limited contact with other guests (or even no contact at all). That’s the appeal with smaller properties. Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH), an assortment of over 500 independent hotels in 90 countries, sees that as a distinct advantage.
“With just 50 rooms on average, SLH properties are able to offer guests secluded, discreet options with the highest safety standards,” said Kenan Simmons, senior vice president of the Americas for SLH. Besides fewer shared spaces, of course, the key will be providing convenient COVID-19 testing.
“As we foresee more countries requiring a negative COVID-19 test for entry, convenient medical testing will become the new luxury amenity. Most of our SLH hotels have implemented measures to address this,” Simmons told TPG in a written statement.
While Airbnb may not have a central concierge service, your host may be able to assist with testing information, too.
“We had guests inquiring on where they can be tested and what the rules are for flying in and out of Mexico. While we had a few cancellations when it was first announced, we haven’t had any since as we provide [our clients] all the local testing center info,” Leslie Lynch, a Tulum-based Airbnb host, told TPG.
Along with her Ikal Bungalows property, Lynch says that most Airbnbs and boutique hotels in Tulum are providing testing information to their guests.
Strategies to ensure you get a test
Arrange a test before you arrive
The appeal of a more private retreat may outweigh the hassle involved with finding a quick and reliable COVID-19 test. Working with your Airbnb host, boutique hotel or another accommodation provider prior to arrival is a great place to start.
“We chose to stay in a remote beach town [in Costa Rica] and rent a private bungalow in a very small six-bungalow resort. We will have to drive over an hour to a small clinic to get our COVID-19 test. It was a challenge to get an appointment, but we finally secured one so we feel confident to travel,” said Margaret Smith, a member of TPG’s Facebook group.
Stay in a city or resort at the end of your trip
Another option is to position yourself for testing at the end of your journey. That means you may have to bake in a few days to stay in a city that has testing readily available, or perhaps even check into a resort that offers complimentary tests.
While this may involve shortening your overall trip, it’s the compromise of being able to guarantee a timely test result. Several TPG readers told us this is their preferred approach.
“I will hopefully be visiting [Mexico] for a few weeks and had originally planned to stay entirely at an Airbnb, but now am thinking of staying at a resort for the last week to do on-site testing before returning to the U.S.,” Nitya Survasula told TPG.
Another traveler said she now plans to shorten her surfing trip in Panana by returning to Panama City three days before departure to make sure she’s tested in time.
Leverage airport testing
If all else goes awry, there’s another possibility when it comes to testing: Some international airports have set up COVID-19 testing infrastructure to ensure passengers can get a test result before catching their U.S.-bound flight.
For instance, several Mexican airports have added rapid testing (at a cost) for travelers who have a final destination in the U.S. and who have not been able to take their test previously.
The U.S. federal government has issued new, stern warnings about overseas travel. But if you’re still planning on a trip abroad — and want to stay at a non-resort property — it may be possible.
Have an idea of your testing plan before you arrive anywhere outside of the U.S. and secure backup options in case things go wrong. And should that test result actually come back positive, don’t panic. There are ways to prepare for that, too.
Travel now has a new guidebook with a strict set of rules. And if you plan to travel, remember that a negative COVID-19 test doesn’t completely eliminate the risk of spreading the virus.
Featured photo courtesy of Airbnb.
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.