International Travel as an American During COVID Isn’t Easy

I was supposed to go to southern Portugal for a week and southern Spain for a week during June of 2020. When the pandemic started I thought surely I would be able to go later that summer and postponed the trip until August. When I saw the pandemic wasn’t going to be over any time soon I postponed the trip indefinitely.

Finally after vaccinations were available and countries started opening up for Americans I changed my travel plans to include a week in southern Portugal in April of 2022. This was in July of 2021. I knew I was taking a chance things might change again and borders could shut down before April but I also knew I could cancel my airline and Airbnb reservations with no change fees.

As spring was approaching I started checking the Portuguese travel website weekly along with the CDC guidelines for international travel. Many European countries dropped their requirements for COVID tests for Europeans but the United States held steadfast. Because there are often reciprocal agreements between countries, since the US required testing before entry, other countries also required Americans to be tested before entry. For Portugal that meant I would have to get a COVID PCR test within 48 hours of arrival.

I scheduled a PCR test at a small pharmacy a friend of mine had gone to for his test when he went to India the month prior. He said he got his results back in around 30 hours. Because I would be arriving in Portugal on a Sunday morning that meant I had to get my test results back sometime between Friday morning and Saturday evening. My insurance paid for the test so at least I didn’t have to pay for it. Still, I began to get nervous that my results wouldn’t come back in time. Although I was arriving in Portugal Sunday morning I was flying to New York Saturday morning and flying from there to Portugal that evening, meaning I really needed my test back by Friday evening for my peace of mind.

After obsessing about what I would do if I didn’t get my PCR test results back in time I scheduled another test with the county where I live and spoke to someone who told me on the phone the PCR tests were free (no insurance cards were even asked for) and I would get my result back within 4 hours. It turns out I got the pharmacy test result back much quicker than I thought I would so I ended up with both test results that Friday. I breathed a sigh of relief.

One step done, I now had to figure out what to do about the testing requirement for Americans upon arrival from another country. After much research I determined I would “only” need an antigen test, which usually costs around $25-$30, compared to the much more costly PCR test, which I’ve seen can cost anywhere from $100 to $150 and I didn’t think my insurance would pay it if I was in another country. Big difference. Even though I was able to get free PCR tests in the US, I knew that wouldn’t be the case in Portugal and I would have to pay for the tests out-of-pocket. I found a great Portuguese website that listed every place in the Algarve (where I would be) that did COVID testing and included the name, address, phone number, email address, cost, and hours. I did all of this before I even flew to Portugal so I would be prepared once I got there.

The only photo I had from an actual COVID test, although not one from this trip

Since there were literally dozens of places in the Algarve that did COVID testing, I felt confident it wouldn’t be a problem finding a place for that on the day before I would be flying back to the US. But then while I was in Portugal it hit me that I would be there on Good Friday and Easter weekend and I was flying back on Easter Sunday. That meant some places would likely be closed over the holiday weekend. Shit. I started to panic. I should have brought some test kits with me, I thought. What am I going to do if I can’t find a place that’s open on Saturday, the day before Easter?

I started scrolling down the list from the Portuguese travel website I had found earlier and saw many of them were not only closed on Good Friday but were closed the entire weekend. Shit. Hands shaking, I began going to website after website for each company (usually pharmacies) until I finally found one that stated they had openings for reservations that Saturday. Yes! Even better they had openings for late that morning, which would be perfect since I was flying out early Sunday morning. Not only that but they were only 15 minutes away.

The antigen tests were $30 each and within thirty minutes I had an email with both my daughter’s and my test result- negative. Yay! Now I could finally breath a sigh of relief. Not only had I managed to get our PCR tests before our trip to Portugal in time, we had also managed to get the required COVID tests in time before we flew home.

I have to say, the whole process was nerve-wracking. The fact that I was not only vaccinated but double-boosted didn’t mean a thing to anyone. I wished I could have just shown my vaccine card and skipped the whole testing process entirely, like so many other people in other countries can do, or even better, skip any requirements at all, like many countries are now dropping all requirements at all when it comes to COVID, thanks to the drop in hospitalizations and good treatment options.

Do you know, too, after all of my fretting and worrying about finding a place to get tested in Portugal before I flew home the airline I was flying home with (British Airways) never once asked for my COVID test result? Basically I did all of that for nothing. I’m glad I did it and would have done it again because I guess you never know if someone will ask for the result. Had I not had the test done and they asked to see the results they could have denied boarding to me.

So, was it worth all of it? Absolutely, 100% resoundingly YES! Would I do it again? Yes, especially now that I’ve gone through it and am a bit more educated about the process. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t still be nerve-wracking, with all of the timelines in place but it would be worth it.

Have you travelled internationally lately? If so, where did you go and what were the requirements for travel? Have you been waiting for the restrictions to drop before you travel out of the US again? If so, I can’t blame you, as it’s certainly not an easy process!

Happy travels!

Donna

Author: runningtotravel

I'm a long distance runner with a goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states in the US. I also love to travel so I travel to other places when I'm not running races. Half the fun is planning where I'm going to go next!

16 thoughts on “International Travel as an American During COVID Isn’t Easy”

    1. At least going to another country is easier now that most places have dropped their entry requirements but getting back to the US is still difficult. It’s definitely easier to just fly domestically now.

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      1. I won’t go anywhere abroad except for Mexican border towns because I’m afraid of a false positive. By this point IMO, all restrictions should be lifted unless there is a country with an extremely deadly variant. COVID is less deadly now but it’s not going away and the jab’s protection is short-lived. Time to live again.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. False positives are yet another thing to worry about. Most countries have recently removed restrictions except for the US. You’re right, it’s not going away. It’s an endemic at this point as many leaders in other countries have stated.

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  1. This year, we travelled internationally twice – Spain (September) and to the Dominican Republic (December). The small window (24-48 hrs) of accepted COVID results for returning to the States made me so nervous for both trips. Getting testing in Spain was an experience because I think the nurse swabbed a bit of my brain for nasal swab. The DR was tough because my husband received his antigen test results within a few hours. However, my results were lost so I had to do a lot back and forth with the medial office regarding my results. For some reason, I was not receiving the medical office’s emails, and (just as my luck would have it) the office’s printers was not working.

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    1. That tight window is so difficult! You must have been pacing the floors waiting for your result in the DR (I would have been)! I can’t believe they lost your result. I hope you were at least close to the medical office so when you had to go back it wasn’t too far.

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      1. Fortunately, the resort had an onsite testing facility. The hubby and I joked that it would not have been THAT bad if they did not find my test results and we had to stay at the resort for an additional couple of days. Gotta turn lemons into lemonade.

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  2. That is really interesting (and disappointing): I had no idea that countries that had dropped the test-to-enter requirement are still requiring it of US citizens because of reciprocity. Blast!! Will I ever travel abroad again?? I’ve written to Biden to ask him to remove the requirement, but so far… crickets. And here I thought I was an influencer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You had a much worse experience than I did so I wouldn’t blame you for not wanting to leave the country for some time.
      Too bad Biden didn’t listen. I guess you’ve got to pull some more strings.

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  3. My brother is currently traveling to Portugal& Spain — he said they actually have to FaceTime with someone while they test so that the person can watch!

    I don’t have plans to travel abroad any time soon — besides, most of our future travel will be exploring potential states to retire to.

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    1. There are different options for testing and some do require someone watching you take the test. I didn’t need to do that since I took the test in Portugal at a pharmacy and I had a PCR test in the US before flying out.
      Do you have a list of states that are potential retirement spots?

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  4. That sounds like a total headache and stress inducer to me. The window is just so tight! I agree it would be much nicer to just show our vaccine cards.

    We’re going back to Vermont shortly and if it weren’t for Covid I would’ve looked into going to Canada for a night or two. I’m not about dealing with testing for such a short period of time so we’ll just explore more places in Vermont!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, if you would only be out of the country for a day or two it wouldn’t be worth the hassle and expense of testing. Luckily Vermont is such a beautiful state I’m sure you’ll be able to find plenty to do there.

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