What Happens If I Test Positive For Covid-19 While Traveling?

As the world continues to slowly open back up after shutting down in 2020 due to the Covid-19 worldwide pandemic, it only makes sense that the urge to get back out and explore the world will strike many of us –– and for some of us, it strikes with a vengeance. Unfortunately, so does the virus, as the new Omicron variant has shown.

And while the ethics of whether or not you should travel remain to be debated, the fact is that many are traveling. If you do choose to embark on an adventure during the pandemic era, it’s important to recognize that the risk of contracting Covid-19 during your travels is very real and can leave you in a predicament. In fact, even with enhanced security measures and vaccination requirements, Covid can still happen to you.

So, what will happen if you do find yourself testing positive for Covid-19 during your travels? Let’s dig into it and see.

What Do I Do if I Test Positive on Arrival?

You get to your destination and hop off of the airplane. You then undergo additional screening only to find out you are symptomatic. Remember, “symptomatic” is defined by the person examining you, not you.  And in some countries, like India, you might be subjected to random testing even if you show no symptoms at all.

Depending on where in the world you find yourself, the process will vary, but for the most part, following the detection of symptoms related to Covid-19, you will be swept away for testing and put into some form of isolation until your results return.

If the test comes back as positive, you’ll most likely be forced to stay in quarantine until the mandated incubation period has ended and you are no longer at risk of spreading the virus. The range for this is usually no less than 10 days and all the way up to 21 days if you remain symptomatic. Once again, the details like the duration of mandated quarantine required will all vary depending on where in the world you are currently located. Some of these stipulations even vary from city to city, not just individual countries, so make sure to do your research beforehand.

The definition of “quarantine” also varies widely.  In some countries it means just staying in your already booked hotel room or vacation rental, ordering room service, and checking in via an app.  If you’re at a beach property with a nice balcony, this might not seem like the worst thing in the world.

But in others, it means staying locked in a government-chosen hotel getting cold sandwiches delivered once a day. And you’ll be the one paying for that lodging that some “guests” have compared to “living in a cage”. You are well advised to have travel insurance that covers the cost of a quarantine.

What Do I Do if I Test Positive During My Travels?

In this situation, you’ve made it out of the airport and are having a great time enjoying your locale when suddenly you feel “off.” And then you just know because you’ve read all of the signs and understand the symptoms –– it’s got to be Covid-19.

The first step after you recognize these symptoms is to make sure to stay out of close contact with others. Next, you will need to get in touch with the local health department who will set you up with testing. Most destinations ask that you do not go out in public to find a test so as to help decrease the chance of spreading the virus.

The CDC provides an international health department directory, which you can access here. Another helpful resource provided by the CDC is this Guide to Healthcare While Traveling.

Once you are identified, you will be under the purview of the local health department at your destination.  Again, your treatment will vary widely.

You might be tempted to self-test and not report it or to not test at all.  Neither is prudent advice if you want to be a responsible traveler, protecting others as well as your own self-interests.

What Do I Do If I Test Positive Before Boarding?

Current testing requirements for flying make this scenario unlikely. Most countries, for example, require proof of a negative test to even enter the airport, let alone board the flight. You can find a full list of the rapidly developing requirements for travelers to Europe here.

If for some reason you test positive before you board, though, it’s vital that you isolate yourself from others as quickly as possible. Do not board the flight.

Contact your doctor as soon as possible. If you are at your home airport, return home and continue to isolate yourself from others. If you are still at your destination, prepare for an extended stay at a hotel or government-chosen lodging.  A stash of hotel points and/or travel insurance will be invaluable in this situation.

What Can I Expect?

Whether you come down with Covid-19 at the airport or mid-travels, the odds are that you will be required to isolate yourself from others. Mandatory isolation can range from staying inside your Airbnb or whatever accommodation you have booked, to full on state run “quarantine hotels.” These are usually secluded facilities the government has designated to hold and isolate those with the virus. They can range from top of the line accommodations to the most basic room. Once again, whether you can quarantine at a hotel or must stay at a “quarantine hotel” will depend on the country and its protocol.

Some countries will actually foot the bill when visitors are required to quarantine at a government-mandated facility, but a significant number of countries will not. If you are in a country that does not cover the charges, you will be held responsible for all of the costs involved with quarantine. Some of these costs can be significant, as well.

The country of New Zealand, for example, charges around $2,100 USD per adult and $323 for children over the age of three to stay in a state approved “quarantine hotel.”

How Can You Prepare?

Arming yourself with information and knowledge of the protocol for positive test results at the place or places you will visit is vital. Not only for your own safety and health, but also for your wallet.

Pandemic Travel Insurance

One of the best ways to protect yourself during your travels is with trip insurance, whether it’s in the pandemic-era or not, but especially in this time of uncertainty. Not all insurance providers offer pandemic protection, though, so it’s especially important to make sure to find a company that will protect you from the costs that can arise from Covid-related complications.

Pandemic travel insurance plans, unlike regular travel insurance, will help to safeguard you from problems and costs incurred for issues like trip cancellation due to borders closing. But potentially, the most important coverages these plans will provide will be for both medical and quarantine costs. As mentioned earlier, if you do have to quarantine, the odds are that this cost will fall on you. Having pandemic travel insurance can cover this extra cost and keep you from having to fork out potentially thousands of extra dollars.

In a worst case scenario where hospitalization from complications due to Covid is required, pandemic travel insurance can make the difference between affordable healthcare and bankruptcy. If things get really bad, a proper insurance policy will even cover a flight out of the country to your home country.

Each of these instances can cost travelers thousands to even hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the level of care needed, the form of quarantine required, and more. Make sure to thoroughly research and compare insurance policies before purchasing one to make sure it provides all of the essential coverage you may need.

Note that some countries actually require travel insurance with pandemic protection in order to enter its borders. For a more thorough breakdown and comprehensive list of insurance companies that offer pandemic travel insurance, you can read more here.

Stay Flexible

If you are planning to take a trip while the pandemic rages on, try to keep your plans as flexible as possible. The more wiggle room you leave for yourself, the more time and options become available.

Other ways to be flexible include:

  • Making sure to have plenty of time on the front end and back end of your trip for potential issues which could arise
  • When booking flights, stick with airlines that offer free flight changes or cancellations.
  • Bringing along your own at home, FDA approved, testing kits which will provide an easy and smooth testing process for returning home. Check with your airline and home country to make sure these tests are allowed.
  • Allotting extra time for transit via any method. Airports are not the only transportation facilities that may require extra screening measures.

Bottom Line

Being prepared with knowledge on what will happen if you do happen to test positive for Covid-19 while traveling is the best way to make sure you are provided with quality care in a worst case scenario. Make sure to inform yourself on the requirements and protocol for the country or countries you are planning on visiting. And lastly, strongly consider a pandemic travel insurance policy for the unexpected, which is ironically, expected more than ever these days.


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