Yesterday evening the US announced the full rules of what international arrivals will need to do from 8 November (12:01am EST which is 5:01am GMT) when it reopens.
Here I will look at the details behind the announcement to ensure you choose the right test. Don’t forget you will need an ESTA and if you had one before, check as it’s probably expired!
- Only those fully vaccinated adults (except US citizens and certain family members) can enter the US from 8 November (there are limited exceptions which you can find here)
- All UK issued vaccines are acceptable for entry plus any US or WHO-approved vaccines
- The NHS app (and EU app) will be accepted for proof of vaccination – personally, I’d still request a paper copy of your vaccine certificate now in case of technical issues. Paper copies are also accepted. See full list here.
- Adults will also need a PCR or Rapid Antigen Test to enter taken within 3 days of entry
- If you had a positive viral test on a sample collected during the past 90 days, and you met the criteria to end isolation, you may travel instead with your positive viral test result and a signed letter from a healthcare provider or a public health official that states you have been cleared for travel. The positive test result and letter together are referred to as “documentation of recovery.”
- Children aged 2-17 can be unvaccinated but need to have a Covid test within 3 days of entry
- Under 2 are exempt from testing or vaccination
- 2 weeks (14 days) after your dose of an accepted single-dose COVID-19 vaccine; or
- 2 weeks (14 days) after your second dose of an accepted 2-dose series COVID-19 vaccine; or
- 2 weeks (14 days) after you received the full series of an active (not placebo) COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S.-based AstraZeneca or Novavax COVID-19 vaccine trials; or
- 2 weeks (14 days) after you received 2 doses of any “mix-and-match” combination of accepted COVID-19 vaccines administered at least 17 days apart.
The details of testing
You can have a PCR or rapid antigen (lateral flow) test. However, there is one big watch out – the testing must be “supervised”. So many of the home tests such as the Prenetics test by Virgin would not be acceptable. The NHS tests are not allowed. You can however use a video-supervised services such as Qured. You can read my review of Qured here.
Here are some companies that do video supervised tests from home:
If you plan to use a video link one, book well in advance since there are not many companies are currently offering this and appointments can be scarce. Most testing companies offer an in-person lateral flow test which you can use as well.
The timeframe is pretty flexible as it is 3 days before your flight departs. That is not the same as 72 hours. So if you leave on Saturday, you could get tested on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. (or even Saturday with a rapid flow).
Should I use PCR or Antigen (lateral flow)?
Firstly, if you have had Covid within the last 90 days I would always go for antigen as otherwise, you can still test positive after having Covid for up to 90 days, particularly with a PCR test. You could instead choose to provide proof that you have recovered as per the above guidelines but this can be more hassle given you need a letter stating you have had Covid. You could try an NHS test first to see if you are still testing positive before deciding which to do.
I would also tend towards picking a lateral flow for other reasons. Obviously, it is much cheaper with supervised tests costing around £30. Secondly, it gives you more flexibility when you have it since you don’t need to allow days for the test results to come back. Finally, if something goes wrong and you don’t get your test results, the test provider would have time to give you another test and get the results back.
If you are staying at the airport the night before, you may want to consider getting there early and getting a lateral flow test the day before. That is my plan when I got to the US. Often tests at the major airports are slightly cheaper since they are sometimes subsidised for passengers.
When choosing a test provider for a lateral flow test, make sure you read the fine print. Most lateral flow tests give you results within an hour. However, some companies only guarantee the certificate to come back within 24 hours, so double check when you would actually get the paperwork. The Covid Testing Network lists most test providers in the UK and you can sort by location, postal tests, type of test and rating.
If you are unsure about entering the US you can use this page to guide you through the questions.