Many international destinations are currently requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test for travelers looking to enter the country. Finding a test that meets the requirements and gets results back in time for your flight can be stressful, but these six tips can help. 

Nurse opening a COVID-19 test wearing blue gloves

Check What Kind Is Required

Most countries seem to be requiring RT-PCR tests, which means a rapid (Antigen) test won’t suffice. Be sure to carefully read the requirements for what kind of test will be accepted at the border. Since your airline will most likely be checking the test before allowing you to board, follow the guidelines on their website. 

Confirm What Information Is Mandatory on the Results

In addition to confirming the type of test required, make sure you also note what information the test results must include. Again, you’ll likely find this information on the airline’s website. For example, if you were flying to the Azores, you would need test results that state (in English or Portuguese):

  • Your name
  • The name of the laboratory and the lab’s certification
  • The methodology of the test (RT-PCR)
  • That the sample was taken by "nasopharyngeal or oropharyngeal swab" sample, "nasopharyngeal or oropharyngeal exudate", "respiratory sample" or "respiratory exudate"
  • The test date
  • Negative result

Results: 5 Important Vaccine Card Tips for Travelers

Try Major Pharmacy Chains: Walgreens and CVS

To get a free preflight COVID-19 test, try the major pharmacy chains near you, like Walgreens and CVS. Both stores offer free COVID-19 tests without having a health-related reason for the test (like a confirmed exposure). 

Both CVS and Walgreens allow you to easily schedule a COVID-19 test online. Most CVS locations offer appointment scheduling about two weeks in advance, whereas Walgreens only allows appointments made a few days ahead of time. 

Neither chains promise to have results back within a certain time, but I recently went to Walgreens for a COVID-19 test and had my results back within 24 hours. 

Check With Your City/Nearby Cities

Many cities and communities are offering free COVID-19 tests to anyone who needs one. Search the name of your city and “COVID test” to find a testing location near you. For example, in Massachusetts, there is an organization called Project Beacon that administers free COVID-19 tests in a number of locations throughout the state. 

Schedule Two Appointments if You Can

If you want to make sure you’re able to board your flight and actually be allowed into a country, you might want to consider making two appointments for COVID-19 tests. By doing this, you’re doubling the chances that your test will come back in time for your flight. This can also be a good tactic if you’re unsure about the information that will be displayed on your results and want to have options at check-in. 

Book As Early as You Can

Try to time your test for the start of the 72-hour window (or whatever the requirement is at your destination) so that you have as much time as possible to get the results back. Worried about a delay? Most airlines have the requirement that the COVID-19 test must have been taken within 72-hours of the scheduled departure time and will still honor the test if a flight is delayed. 

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