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I have not travelled internationally in the last 2 years and I still don't see how it is possible.

Many countries require pre-travel testing. For example, this is a direct quote:

All incoming travellers aged 5 years and over must provide a negative result from a PCR or certified antigen-detecting rapid diagnostic test (LFT) taken no earlier than the day before departure.

Obviously this is an unacceptable risk for many people including myself. If I setup appointments and book reservations at hotels, cars, and aircraft, and then am blocked from traveling because of a test failure I face thousands of dollars in costs, not to mention the completely unacceptable situation of having to break appointments I have made with friends or business partners.

Is there some special way people are getting around these requirements, or are the people travelling just people who can afford to make all their reservations, take vacation from work, and then are fine with having everything cancelled because of a test failure?

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JonathanReez
    Apr 29, 2022 at 22:16
  • I'm curious to know where is that requirement from? Most places have removed restrictions around testing
    – njzk2
    May 11, 2022 at 19:16
  • The answers cover a lot of ground already (how high the risk really is, what people do to manage it, other risks you haven't mentioned) but one simple fact is that people tend to underestimate risks in many situations. It doesn't mean we are fine with all the consequences when the worse scenario does happen, just that we make our decisions assuming it will not happen to us.
    – Relaxed
    May 11, 2022 at 22:43

9 Answers 9

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Having taken 5 flights that required pre-departure tests, I'll take a stab at this.

First, pre-departure tests are an increasingly endangered species, fewer and fewer countries require them anymore if you're vaccinated. If you're not, the answer is simple enough, get the shot!

Second, in countries that do require tests, both airlines and hotels tend to be understanding and offer free date changes. So if you have some flexibility, and the test comes up positive, you can generally try again in a month etc without incurring too much financial cost.

Third, since your main concern is avoiding infection in the few days before the flight, many people choose to be extra careful and effectively isolate at home for the previous week or so before the test. If you don't have any contacts, it's hard to catch COVID! (Of course this assumes you have a job that lets you work at home, no kids going to school, etc.)

Fourth, for antigen tests in particular, you are unlikely to get a positive test before you start showing symptoms. In practice this means that you get a few days' extra notice, and even without the test, you wouldn't really want to travel while actively sick with COVID.

Finally, for me personally, living in a country that used to (but no longer does!) require pre-departure tests in order to return, the biggest risk was getting stuck on the way. Fortunately both my partner and I have jobs that we can perform from anywhere with an internet connection, so we brought our laptops along just in case. If we had faced getting fired over getting stuck overseas, we probably would not have risked it.

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  • "so we brought our laptops along just in case". I've done the same
    – Auspex
    Apr 29, 2022 at 11:00
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Many people plan these trips taking into account the chance the whole trip might be cancelled if they test positive. For example, choosing airlines that allow a refund for this reason, booking hotels but not prepaying, and so on. And they tell the people they are visiting there is a chance they might cancel on the day of travel. Some places also sell insurance to help cover costs in these instances.

Yes, some people will not be willing to travel on these terms. Travel is still way down from pre-pandemic levels. But some people will, especially if the trip is important. I've travelled once on urgent family business (and put up with two-week quarantines on both ends of the trip) and just a few weeks ago on normal business, and yes, I knew it might all go sideways on the day of travel and I just had to live with it. I will say that for the normal business trip, one of the reasons I was willing to go was that neither my destination nor my home demanded these tests any more.

As for your chances of testing positive, it depends on how many times you've had it already, how many vaccine doses you've had, the prevalence of the virus in your area, and your lifestyle (for example, I'm still masking and not going to restaurants or really anything with strangers other than essential shopping.) The math will be different for each person. For you, it leads to "no way, I'm not going." To me, it has led that way for most trips, but there are two I have done.

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    Two vaccinations + booster hugely reduce your risk of severe illness. They somewhat reduce the risk of getting infected, and the infection lasts much less long (from personal experience unfortunately). So basic common sense also reduces your risk of having to cancel your journey.
    – gnasher729
    Apr 28, 2022 at 15:17
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    @gnasher729 ... and death. My mate just spent a week in hospital with Covid. But he was fully vaxxed, so while it was very serious he was never intubated and it was only a week.
    – Auspex
    Apr 29, 2022 at 10:59
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Obviously this is an unacceptable risk for many people including myself.

Than you cannot travel. That's the rules and if you don't like them you have to stay home.

I'm currently travelling with a test I did yesterday. It can be done and many people do it.

I once failed a test while travelling: you just need to figure it out. Hotels can be rebooked, flights can be changed, meetings can be re-scheduled or virtualized, rental cars can be extended, etc. It's a hassle but it can be done and it wasn't outrageously expensive either.

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There may be something big I'm missing here, because I cannot see it in the other answers, but you wouldn't incur costs if you bought insurance that covered them. I can see that such policies exist; https://www.smartraveller.gov.au/CHOICE-travel-insurance-guide-COVID-19 I'm not recomending one in particular, because that's likely out of scope for this site. Just highlighting that they are available.

I've actually never bought them, because I tend to travel cheaply (like sleep-on-the-coach cheaply), so the cost of insurance would likely be more than the cost of cancellations. But it would make a lot more sense to buy it if you had spent a lot on reservations.

As for not being able to make appointments if you test positive; one might say "that is a feature, not a bug" (though you would in fact have a bug in that case...). If it turns out a person is sick with this particular pathogen, we would rather they didn't use public transport/aeroplanes or travel too far. We would also rather then didn't meet other people in person, so no appointments. Frustrating, but it is the point of the test.

As mentioned in the other answers, if do your best to avoid infection in the weeks before your trip, you can greatly reduce the chances of a positive test to start with. Best of luck, I hope it all goes well.

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Just a supplementary answer: If a trip is very important to you, you can minimize the risk of a positive test by quarantining 7-10 days before your test (if your work and circumstances allow this). And if you are afraid of a false positive or another test failure/delay you could arrange tests with two (or more) independent test providers.

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  • Or at least try to avoid mass gatherings of unmasked children such as birthday parties and other relatively high-risk situations. Apr 29, 2022 at 16:44
  • Also you could get a lot of cheap antigen tests and test regularly the few days before the trip. That way if you do test positive on an antigen test you don't have to pay for the PCR test and you get a few extra days to change your plans.
    – Rob
    Apr 29, 2022 at 16:54
  • Me and my wife start wearing N95 (or equivalent) masks 'religiously' around 7 days before a PCR test. And of course a whole bunch of hand washing and all that 😅 . It really can quite significantly lower risks. Apr 30, 2022 at 4:17
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There are ways to avoid getting a Covid test these days or at least minimize the risks of a late test:

  • If you’re vaccinated or boosted, many nations waive the test requirement.
  • Covid recovery certificates are sometimes accepted instead, so if you already tested positive in the last 90 days you can avoid getting a new one for traveling
  • Rules are often different at land borders. I.e. in the case of the US, you can avoid getting tested by flying to Mexico or Canada and then crossing overland, as the US does not require Covid tests to go through the land border.
  • There are now plenty of “remote” antigen Covid tests that let you run the test while supervised by a remote nurse, which allows you to get an official test certificate without having to rely on a test center.

Overall Covid restrictions are currently being dropped all over the world so it’s unlikely that any nations other than China will require pre travel testing by the end of the year. So if you’re extremely stressed by the current rules, choose a test-free destination for now and schedule the other trip for later.

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  • You are pretty sure the restrictions are dropped for good. Not everybody is. And seeing the situation in China, I would not yet say that restrictions are gone.
    – Willeke
    Apr 28, 2022 at 10:42
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    @Willeke China is an extreme outlier, willing to starve their own citizens in Shanghai for the sake of fighting the virus. Even Taiwan is now dropping restrictions and abandoning zero Covid.
    – JonathanReez
    Apr 28, 2022 at 13:46
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    @Willeke seeing the reaction of the press to China's stunt, I would say that China is actually contributing to making other countries not want to impose restrictions again. Of course, traveling to China is out of the question in the foreseeable future.
    – wimi
    Apr 28, 2022 at 18:37
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can afford to make all their reservations, take vacation from work, and then are fine with having everything cancelled because of a test failure

If you can afford to pay for all reservations and go on vacation, you can also afford to pay for all reservations and not go on vacation¹. Vacation is a luxury. Of course, it's a pity if you have to cancel and are out of money and out of vacation, but that risk already existed before the pandemic (you could have a car accident on your way to the airport or train station, for example). The PCR testing requirement has zero impact on the affordability of travel.

If this is business travel, then it is up to your employer to carry the risk of you being unable to travel. Depending on the business, a cancelled business trip may have high costs for the employer. It is up to them to send someone in your place if you are unable to travel, or to organise alternate arrangements.

If you want to get some money back if you can't travel, you may consider travel insurance. Some travel insurance policies may refund (part of your) trip if you cannot travel due to illness. Check their policy if asymptomatic infection with SARS‑CoV‑2 is covered.


¹Unless you spent every last cent on an all-inclusive holiday, including food, and will not have money for necessities in case of a cancellation. Don't do that.

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  • For me it was not the cost of the travel, it was the risk of not being able to return home in case of infections. It resulted in me not traveling till the need to test on this itinerary stopped. I lost money from the planned travels when Covid restrictions started but I am not bothered about those.
    – Willeke
    Apr 28, 2022 at 8:52
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    Fair enough, the risk of being stuck abroad can be costly in various ways, which may only be partly covered by travel insurance.
    – gerrit
    Apr 28, 2022 at 10:36
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    FWIW, PCR tests can be pretty expensive, if you're traveling with (say) a family of four you're looking at hundreds of dollars for testing alone. Antigen/rapid tests are cheap though. Apr 29, 2022 at 10:55
  • 1
    Affordability of travel has been affected by covid. PCR tests alone can add significantly to the cost of short jaunts, and the cost of travel to China, where even feasible, has increased by about 10:1. Sometimes extra insurance is mandatory. If the destination requires quarantine for all travelers (eg. Taiwan) that is an extra cost- 10 days in that case in a mandated quarantine hotel. Apr 29, 2022 at 15:16
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    @SpehroPefhany If this pandemic leads to more sustainable travel (travel closer to home, less trips that are longer rather than many short trips) then that is one great benefit that this pandemic has brought. I've always found weekend leasure city trips by airplane criminally irresponsible to the planet. The world is better off if those are no more.
    – gerrit
    Apr 29, 2022 at 15:20
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The tests add an extra layer of stress and logistics to travel, but for many destinations it's not insurmountable. After all, you could break your leg or a family member could suffer a mishap or get ill just before a trip too.

On a recent trip to Europe and North Africa I needed a full PCR test before departure (due to the North African destination's requirements), which required booking and waiting some 20 hours before the results were ready. The requirement was that the test be administered no more than 48 hours before boarding, which allowed the cheapest PCR test (still rather pricey, around $150 USD). Upon arrival they administered another test (this one free) and required contact information but released passengers immediately. Then upon return, antigen tests at the two departure points were required, which were relatively cheap ($30-ish) and results were almost immediate (45 minutes to a couple hours). In fact the European one was done at the airport just before boarding. Obviously if you test positive under those conditions you're in for additional costs and inconvenience so you need to be able to deal with that. I had a smaller laptop and over 150 books to read in epub form so a week or so would not be too irritating.

Personally, I was willing to take the risk of paying for extra accommodation, and booked (mostly) cancelable things in case departure had to be canceled due to failing the test, other illness, serious illness or death in the inner circle etc., so the total risk was acceptable to me even without insurance (have medical insurance, of course). I made a spreadsheet with items and the latest cancellation dates. There was some logistics involved in the return testing because of language barriers and opening hours allowed only a narrow window for testing. Usually you can trade money for convenience in getting faster test results.

Most destinations that I've looked at allow PCR tests to be administered 48 to 96 hours in advance, but rapid antigen tests have a much shorter window (like 24h), which is fine because the results of the former can take more than 24 hours (unless you shell out USD $300 or so) but the antigen tests are almost immediate. It's particularly confusing (and sometimes alarming) because "PCR" has become a bit genericized in some locations and even officials sometimes refer to 'PCR test results' to mean COVID-19 test results, when the cheap and fast (but less reliable) rapid antigen tests are perfectly acceptable.

Unfortunately, where I really want/need to go (mainland China) is still quite impractical- basically special permission (new visa issued with more documentation since the old visas are suspended), self-quarantine for some time before travel with multiple tests of different types, few flights (which must be direct) and then likely 21 days of supervised quarantine with many tests at the other side, something of the order of $10,000 USD in expense and a month's lost time for something that used to be $1000-ish and a day's time. Hopefully that can change in a few months but I'm not especially optimistic for 2022 as they've actually been tightening requirements even before the latest outbreaks.

So: TL;DR Review all cancellation rules before booking (some accommodation sites allow you to filter) to know and limit risk. Research what requirements are in the unlikely event that you fail a required test before leaving for home or between destinations and, at least roughly, what the costs might be. Research test locations, costs, and opening times and add those to your itinerary, and have a plan 'B' in case they are, for some reason, unavailable or you are delayed in reaching your departure city. Review insurance coverage to see exactly what you are covered for and arrange supplemental insurance if deemed worthwhile. If, after all that, the costs or risks are too high, you can always stay at home. Or go with the peace of mind that most eventualities, even unlikely ones, are covered.

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If test failure = test result not within 24h:

Antigen rapid tests, as your quote offers as alternative to PCR, just take a few minutes to get the results, and are therefore straightforward to get the same day. Some airports such as MEX even offer it before check-in. It's very uncommon to require a 24h PCR test while not accepting antigen tests, but still feasible in many places if willing to pay for it.

Note that your quote says the day before, not 24h, which gives your more time if not taking an early flight.


If test failure = positive test, see jcaron's comment + getting a positive test has a very low probability, typically much lower than 0.1 % unless if currently in a covid hotspot. That's one of these low-probability events than one has to live with when traveling (delayed plane, lost passport, visa issue, immigration non-sense, custom trouble, airport security headache, etc.). It can be partly insured against, e.g. for this flight from Seattle to San Francisco:

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Some places explicitly exclude COVID-related cancellation from their policies, e.g. Airbnb:

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Also, see this list of airline policies on COVID-related fare flexibility.

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