As countries begin to open up and international travel resumes, things are not as they used to be, many countries have now established restrictions and safety protocols for departing and arriving travelers in a bid to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

With new highly contagious variants of coronavirus beginning to emerge, borders have been further tightened across countries and a COVID-19 PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test is now mandatory for many destinations. This test is conducted to detect if the COVID-19 is present in a person’s body, and it involves looking for the presence of RNA of the antigen if an active infection has occurred or not.

A swab from the mouth or nasal passage is taken for the test. This takes only a moment, and results are available usually between 12-48 hours. This is why it is advisable to get tested within 3 days of your flight. Getting tested on time ensures postal delays don’t affect your travel.

In addition to a negative PCR result requested for traveler access, some countries have gone further to enforce stricter measures like denying entry or mandating compulsory 7-14 days quarantine in a government designated facility on entry or restricting entry from certain countries altogether.

This article seeks to provide a comprehensive insight into coronavirus travel testing and other requirements for various countries.

Why Countries Require Negative COVID-19 Test Or Health Check For People Travelling

Several destinations worldwide now require travelers to either have a negative COVID-19 test certificate or undergo a health check on arrival to gain entry to their territory. These requirements ensure those intending to travel,  if infected, get to know their status, get isolated and treated before they travel, or get tested when they arrive depending on country-specific requirements.

Getting tested before a trip prevents the virus from being spread across countries by travelers especially now that vaccine-resistant strains are being discovered all over the world. In the same way, getting tested at the end of the trip helps to avoid spreading the virus while home or traveling. A post-arrival test is required in many cities.

The following countries listed below all have compulsory COVID-19 travel rules and testing requirements that all travelers should know. 

Rules for Coronavirus testing when traveling to and from the following countries

1. USA

Apart from specific exceptions, entry has been suspended or limited for foreign nationals who have passed through or have been in the following countries preceding their entry or attempted entry into the united states:

  • China
  • Iran
  • European Shengen area
  • Ireland
  • Brazil
  • South Africa

Starting on January 26,  all air passengers 2 years and older (US citizens, as well as  any other nationality) regardless of their COVID-19 vaccination or antibody status have been mandated to present a negative COVID-19 or antigen test result issued within 72 hours before arrival in the US. And if they have been infected before, they must show proof of recovery from the virus 90 days before departure from the origin country[1]. 

A disclosure and attestation form available on the CDC website must be completed as well, to confirm that the information presented is true.

The CDC can grant waivers or extensions to testing requirements but this is only on a limited basis when traveling for emergency reasons (such as preservation of life) must occur and testing could not be completed before the travel date.

A medical certificate of negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test issued 3 days before departure must be presented by US citizens and permanent residents arriving from the UK. Travelers are advised to take a test within 3-5 days upon arrival and self-quarantine at home for 7 days and if they test negative, complete another 7 days, or isolate to protect others from getting infected if they tested positive.

While some COVID-19 PCR tests are free, others require a copay or are covered by insurance. Test at private facilities requires full cash payment and typically costs between $100 to $900 depending on location in the US and the projected time result will be ready. [4]

2. The United Kingdom

A national lockdown has been reimposed in the UK since January 4, and foreigners are subject to “stay at home regulations”. All travelers from any foreign country are required to produce a negative COVID-19 PCR test and must undergo a 10-day self-isolation upon arrival except travelers from Ireland, the Channel Islands, or the Isle of Man. Traveling from England is restricted to limited circumstances like work or education.

Travelers who have transited or been in this list of travel ban countries in the last 10 days will be refused entry to the UK. A “Public Health Passenger Locator Form” must be completed and submitted to immigration by all travelers upon arrival in the United Kingdom.

Travelers departing the UK must have a medical certificate with a negative COVID-19 PCR, antigen, or Loop-mediated Isothermal Amplification (LAMP)test (Sagepub) that was taken 72 hours before boarding their plane. However, Children under 11 do not require pre-departure testing.

Face coverings must be worn on flights to the UK and on public transport upon arrival. From March 8, a new travel declaration form stating that a trip is permitted by UK national lockdown rules must be completed by passengers traveling abroad. This form must be downloaded and presented before access can be granted.

Prices for COVID-19 tests vary across the UK. Private testing is offered by clinics and health centers and the average cost of a Covid-19 PCR is £120, while a swab test to determine status typically costs £100-£200 for an antibody test to show any past COVID-19 infection[5][16].

3. Germany

Germany has reinstated a national lockdown, however, entry restrictions have been relaxed for travelers arriving from the European Economic Area, Australia, Uruguay, New Zealand, Thailand, and Singapore. Entry of passengers from outside the European Economic Area is restricted, except for German nationals, residents with a residence permit, and holders of D-Visa.

All passenger flights from the UK have been restricted. UK nationals resident in Germany will require proof of residence to travel to Germany on exempt transportation. Travels from third countries are restricted but possible if travelers can demonstrate the importance of their travel, while travelers who have stayed in a designated risk area abroad during the previous 14 days must undergo mandatory COVID-19 testing.

All travelers from the US, UK, UAE, Spain, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, Panama, North Macedonia, Palestinian Territory, Mexico, Latvia, Lithuania, Kosovo, Andorra, Albania, Israel, Iran, Ireland, Czechia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Egypt, South Africa, Brazil, Colombia, and Bolivia must present a valid medical certificate that contains a negative COVID-19 PCR, Antigen, RT-Lamp, or TMA test (Covid-19 test types) issued within 2 days before arrival. Children under 6 years of age do not need to present a COVID-19 test result.

Also, a medical certificate with a negative COVID-19 test result issued within 48 hours before arrival must be presented by travelers from the UK, South Africa, Brazil, Ireland, and Portugal transiting through Germany. While travelers who have visited a high-risk area within the last 10 days, must complete a digital registration before they will be allowed to enter Germany. When traveling out of Germany, a negative COVID-19 PCR test must be provided on departure, however, all non-essential travels are currently not allowed.

In Germany, rapid test kits are available for €25 or even €50 ($30-60) and can be purchased at supermarket chain Aldi but they sell out quickly.

4. Nigeria

Travelers to Nigeria are required to complete an online “Health Declaration Form and present a negative COVID-19 PCR test issued not more than 4 days(96hours) before departure. Another PCR test must be taken upon arrival and travelers are subject to self-isolation.  Port Health Officials will screen all passengers and may ask for full contact details, including the address traveler will stay in Nigeria.

In Nigeria, COVID-19 PCR tests are conducted across government-designated private laboratories and range between $100 to $150 which must be paid through a government covid portal[6].

All new arrivals are expected to self-isolate at a location in the city of arrival until a second PCR test (taken on the 7th day of arrival) is known. If the test returns negative, individuals can self-isolate for up to 8 days, but if positive, the traveler will be managed according to national guidelines for COVID-19 treatment, which may require quarantine at a government monitored treatment center.

5. Ghana

The Accra Kotoka International Airport is reopened to International travelers to Ghana, however, travelers are mandated to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours before departure and must undertake a mandatory COVID-19 test on arrival. Children under the age of 5 are not required to present a PCR test result.

A Port Health Declaration Form must be completed by Travelers before departure. A mandatory medical screening and COVID-19 test is conducted at the airport for all arrivals, except children 5 years and below. The test costs $150 and should be paid online by the traveler, with proof of payment provided to the airline before boarding. The test results are available within 30 minutes to 1 hour[7].

6. South Africa

Commercial flights have resumed in South Africa, although International air travel is restricted to certain airports. But travelers will not gain entry into the country unless they present a valid medical certificate with a negative COVID-19 PCR test result, proof of accommodation in case they need to isolate on their trip, and undertake a medical screening upon arrival.

Travelers leaving the country must provide a medical certificate with a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken 72 hours before departure and need to have medical travel insurance with international coverage that covers COVID-19.

Before traveling, an online health questionnaire available on the South Africa Department of Health website must be completed and produced on the passenger’s device before arrival.

Travelers arriving in South Africa must undergo medical screening and those who have been in contact with an infected person, or show symptoms of the coronavirus will be required to take a mandatory COVID-19 test, bearing the costs themselves. Persons who test positive are subject to a 10-day quarantine at a government-appointed facility at their own expense.

COVID-19 RT-PCR and Rapid Antigen tests are done at several public and private health facilities in South Africa. They are done free of charge in public facilities such as state hospitals or clinics, while private testing costs anything from R450 to R1150, except covered by insurance [8].

7. Brazil

Travelers departing Brazil need to have a negative PCR test result and complete a Health Declaration Form before departure. Flights from the UK and South Africa have been suspended. Foreigners are allowed entry into Brazil and to stay up to 90 days but they must present a negative COVID-19 PCR test result issued 3 days prior to departure. Children who are 2 years and below and children up to 12 years accompanied by adults with proof of negative test are exempt from presenting a COVID-19 test result.

Brazil nationals and travelers who have transited South Africa or the United Kingdom in the past 14 days are required to quarantine for 14 days. Travelers can freely transit but must remain within the international airport area and have a ticket for onward travel.

COVID-19 antibody tests in Brazil ranged from BRL 240 ($42) to BRL 420 ($73) [9].

8. China

All foreign nationals are restricted from entering or transiting the country, except holders of Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan passports, and people with diplomatic, courtesy, service, or C visas. All flights from the UK have also been suspended.

Foreign nationals that have a residence permit and can demonstrate the purpose of work, personal matters, or reunion can re-enter China. Foreign nationals must complete a “Health Declaration Form” upon arrival and those from specific countries like South Africa, Brazil, UK, and the US, among others, must have a QR code and declare their health status daily for 14 days in the WeChat app. They must present a green QR code generated from the program before departure.

Foreign nationals from specific countries must present a Health Declaration Form issued by the Chinese embassy or consulate of their departing country. A medical certificate with a negative COVID-19 nucleic acid test issued at most 72 hours before departure is required to obtain the form.

Travelers from these countries must also present a COVID-19 nucleic acid test issued within 48 hours, as well as a negative Immunoglobulin G (IgM) antibody test (Covid-19 test types) result issued 2 days before departure. Travelers who will not arrive directly in China must undergo another test and complete a new health declaration form in the transit countries they pass through. Travelers are subject to medical screening and mandatory 14 days quarantine at government-designated facilities at their own expense.

Travelers leaving China must provide a negative COVID-19 test result no more than 72 hours before travel or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 within the past 3 months. 

China offers one of the cheapest COVID-19 testing costs in the world, with 25 of the 32 provincial mainland China regions setting a fixed price of 80 yuan ($12.45) for a COVID-19 Nucleic Acid test and some locations offering it for free through inclusion in public medical insurance[10] [11].

9. Australia

Australia has restricted the entry of all foreign nationals except nationals of New Zealand living in Australia, and other nationals of Oceania countries transiting through to their home countries. Travelers are required to present a medical certificate with a negative COVID-19 PCR test result issued 3 days before departure, complete the Australia Travel Declaration form, and may be subject to quarantine.

All travelers arriving in Australia, and this includes Australian citizens, must quarantine for 14 days at a designated facility (such as a hotel at the port of arrival), while taking responsibility for all the expenses. Passengers arriving on a quarantine-free flight from New Zealand are exempted.

Foreign passengers transiting Australia don’t need to apply for travel restriction exemption if they are already booked to depart on a connecting flight from the same airport in 72 hours and will remain within the airport area.

In Australia, a COVID-19 real-time RT-PCR test cost about $150 while a COVID-19 RT-PCR test as well as an IgM antibody test costs $210. [12]

Testing Requirements By Countries

 Country Arrival Requirements DepartureRequirements
USAAll air passengers 2 years and older (US citizens and all passengers by air) regardless of their COVID-19 vaccination or antibody status have been mandated to present a negative COVID-19 or antigen test result issued within 72 hours before arrival in the US. Passengers 2 years and older must present a negative COVID-19 or a negative antigen test result administered within 72 hours before departure. 
UKThe UK requires travelers to present a medical certificate with a negative COVID-19 PCR, antigen, or Lamp test taken 72 hours before boarding their plane. All travelers from any foreign country must undergo a 10-day self-isolation upon arrival except travelers from Ireland, the Channel Islands, or the Isle of Man. Travelers departing the UK must have a medical certificate with a negative COVID-19 PCR, antigen, or LAMP test that was taken 72 hours before departure. However, children under 11 do not require pre-departure testing. 
GermanyAll Passengers besides children under the age of 6 are mandated to present a medical certificate that has a negative COVID-19 PCR, Antigen, RT-Lamp, or TMA tests issued within 2 days (48 hours) before arrival. A negative COVID-19 PCR test must be provided on departure. All non-essential travels are not currently allowed.
NigeriaTravelers to Nigeria are required to complete an online form and present a negative COVID-19 PCR test issued not more than 4 days  (96 hours) before departure from the origin country.  A “Health Declaration Form” must be completed by all passengers. Passengers will be screened medically and a PCR test will be administered on arrival.Travelers have to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test before departure, however, different airlines and travel destinations have their specific negative COVID-19 test requirements.   Requirements for COVID-19 PCR negative tests depend on the airline and travel destination.
GhanaInternational travelers to Ghana must present a negative COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours before departure. Mandatory temperature screening and COVID-19 tests are conducted at the airport for all arrivals, except children 5 and below.Travelers leaving Ghana will undergo temperature screening before boarding their flight.   
South AfricaTravelers arriving must: present a valid medical certificate with a negative COVID-19 PCR test result. Show proof of accommodation.  undertake a medical screening upon arrival. Travelers must fill an online health questionnaire available on the South Africa Department of Health website.  Travelers leaving the country must provide a medical certificate with a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours before departure.
BrazilForeign travelers must present a negative COVID-19 PCR test result from an accredited laboratory issued 3 days prior to departure. All arrivals must fill a health declaration form. Travelers from Brazil need to have a negative PCR test result and complete a health declaration form before departure.
ChinaFlights from the UK to China are suspended. Foreign nationals must complete a “Health Declaration Form” upon arrival. Foreign nationals from specific countries must have a green QR code to declare their health status for 14 days. Travelers from these countries must also present a negative COVID-19 nucleic acid test and IgM antibody test issued within 48 hours before departure. Travelers from China must provide a negative COVID-19 test result no more than 72 hours before travel or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 within the past 3 months. 
AustraliaForeign travelers (except those younger than 5 years) are required to present a medical certificate with a negative COVID-19 PCR test result issued 72 hours before departure, and complete the Australia Travel Declaration form on arrival or when transiting. Travelers may be screened on arrival. All travelers arriving must quarantine for 14 days at a designated facility. Australia has enacted a travel ban on all non-residents and non-Australian citizens traveling from Australia. Australian citizens and permanent residents can apply for an exemption to travel. Certain Airlines like Emirates and Etihad request a COVID-19 test to board. 

(*Information will continue to be updated as new changes occur)

Conclusion

While this list is by no means exhaustive, it gives you a general idea of what you’ll need to do before choosing to travel. It is important that you find all the information about testing requirements and quarantine policy for your departure location and final destination. 

This may seem a tad tedious at the moment, as more people get vaccinated and travel demand rises, restrictions will be relaxed and more ways to get around will open up, including the possibility of a vaccine travel passport. Make sure you check all travel restrictions, rules, and requirements before traveling to any destination so you aren’t surprised by any changes.

References

1. Requirement for Negative Pre-Departure COVID-19 Test Result or Documentation of Recovery From COVID-19 for all Airline or Other Aircraft Passengers Arriving Into the United States From Any Foreign Country https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/01/28/2021-01977/requirement-for-negative-pre-departure-COVID-19-test-result-or-documentation-of-recovery-from

2. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/travel-advice-novel-coronavirus 

3. https://www.dw.com/en/traveling-germany-coronavirus/a-54124541 

4. How to Get a Quick Covid Test for Travel

https://www.wendyperrin.com/how-to-get-a-quick-covid-test-for-travel/

5. Covid: How to get a test for coronavirus

https://www.bbc.com/news/health-51943612#:~:text=Some%20clinics%20and%20health%20centres,had%20Covid%20in%20the%20past.

6. https://covid19.ncdc.gov.ng/nitpfaq/

7. https://myfrontierhealthcare.com/#pricing

8.  https://traveldoctor.co.za/home/corona-testing-for-travellers/ 

9.  https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/09/28/three-in-four-brazilian-women-cant-afford-COVID-19-tests/ 

10. https://news.cgtn.com/news/2021-01-30/Chinese-provinces-cut-COVID-19-test-cost-fix-12-price-ceiling-XtkBevYODS/index.html

11. https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202101/1214531.shtml 

12. https://consumer.healius.com.au/ 

13. Ghana COVID-19 Information

https://gh.usembassy.gov/ghana-COVID-19-information/

14. https://blog.wego.com/covid19-travel-restrictions-by-destination-country/ 

15. Travel restrictions by country

https://www.kayak.com/travel-restrictions

16. Direct on-the-spot detection of SARS-CoV-2 in patients

Nadav Ben-Assa, Rawi Naddaf, Tal Gefen, and co. July 16, 2020 https://doi.org/10.1177/1535370220941819

17.https://www.which.co.uk/news/2021/03/how-much-does-a-covid-19-test-cost-to-travel-to-france-greece-spain-italy-and-the-us/