As British travellers start returning to the US after a 20-month travel ban, they face significant costs for coronavirus testing – before departure and after arrival in America, and on returning home.
Back in the USA: Passengers at Orlando airport in Florida arriving on the first flight from the UK – Virgin Atlantic from Manchester
– Simon Calder
A family of four (where the parents have been fully vaccinated but the children have not) will need to undergo a minimum of 10 tests between them to comply with US and UK law, plus two more recommended for the adults.
The total cost could run into hundreds of pounds.
A test before departure for the US is mandatory even for fully vaccinated visitors.
A rapid antigen/lateral flow test is acceptable, but the only self-administered tests that are recognised by the American authorities are those conducted by video with US-approved providers.
Most travellers will therefore need to take a professionally conducted test before departure.
After arrival, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – the American health regulator – insists unvaccinated children aged two to 17 to take a Covid-19 test between three and five days after arrival.
In addition, even fully vaccinated visitors are recommended – but not required – to take the same test.
The “day 3-5” test can be antigen/lateral flow, but a survey conducted by The Independent reveals high prices for such tests at specialist travel clinics in the US.
At Orlando International Airport, a rapid antigen test with AdventHealth costs $65 (£47) – well above comparable prices at UK airports.
Downtown Medical in San Francisco charges $75 (£54) for the same service, while the price at the Washington Travel Clinic in the American capital is $100 (£73).
Denver airport XpresCheck only does PCR tests, starting at $75 (£54) with results in “a few days”.
British travellers are likely to see widespread advertisements for free Covid-19 tests at drugstores and testing centres. But they are usually provided by the authorities exclusively for local residents or are funded by the individual’s healthcare provider.
The cost will not be covered by a visitor’s travel insurance.
Fortunately, unlike the pre-departure test there is no obligation for the day 3-5 test to be medically supervised.
Travellers cannot use free NHS lateral flow tests for international journeys.
The traveller could therefore buy lateral flow tests, for example from the giant pharmacy firms, Walgreens and CVS Health.
A pack containing two tests typically cost $25 (£18).
Visitors need not upload the test results – nor is there any opportunity to do so.
Visitors who want to ensure they have proof could video a self-test – but with no system in place for checking compliance, returning travellers will not be challenged at the airport about the day 3-5 test.
They will, however, be asked to provide a passenger locator form for the UK, which can be obtained only when a post-arrival test is booked.
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