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What to do if you test positive for COVID-19 overseas

The Points Guy logo The Points Guy 5 days ago Victoria M. Walker
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A positive COVID-19 test can throw a wrench in even the best-laid plans. And if you’re abroad and trying to get back to the U.S., prepare to stay put for a while.

All travelers entering the U.S. — vaccinated or not — must provide proof of a negative coronavirus test. That means you won’t be allowed to board a flight bound for the U.S. if you don’t provide the necessary documentation, including a negative test result or proof of recent recovery from COVID-19.

So, what do you do if you test positive while abroad and can’t reenter the U.S.? Let’s take a closer look at how you should plan for this possibility and your next steps if it should happen.

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Current quarantine requirements for popular destinations

a building in the background: Lisbon, Portugal (Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy Lisbon, Portugal (Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

Some countries with robust tourism and COVID-19 infrastructure have specific regulations in place if you test positive upon arrival or during your stay.

Bahamas

All travelers to the Bahamas must opt-in to mandatory COVID-19 health insurance when applying for their Travel Health Visa. The insurance covers travelers for the duration of their stay in the Bahamas. It includes medical expenses incurred on-island due to COVID-19 up to $50,000, trip interruption and delay for quarantine up to $500 per day with a maximum of $7,000 and medical evacuation due to COVID-19 up to $50,000.

People who test positive while in the Bahamas must quarantine at a private residence or rented accommodation or a hotel or private club in an unoccupied bedroom with its own connected bathroom or private boat. Travelers who can’t quarantine at these facilities must stay at a government-mandated quarantine facility at their own cost. Travelers with a positive RT-PCR test must quarantine for 14 days or the duration of stay, whichever is shorter, according to the U.S. Embassy in the Bahamas.

Costa Rica

According to the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica, the country’s Ministry of Health mandates quarantine to any person who receives a positive COVID-19 test, which can last between 10 to 12 days. The mandate cannot be appealed, even if subsequent test results taken during the 10- to 14-day mandatory quarantine are negative, which means you’ll have to fulfill the entire quarantine requirement before being allowed to leave the country.

Through Aug. 1, all travelers bound for Costa Rica need to provide proof of medical insurance to cover any COVID-19 related medical treatment or quarantine lodging while in Costa Rica. The policy must cover at least $50,000 in medical treatment and at least $2,000 for extended lodging expenses. However, Costa Rica will allow entry without travel insurance to minors under 18 and adult tourists fully vaccinated beginning Aug. 1. It’s unclear if travelers quarantining in Costa Rica are allowed to quarantine at a hotel or must stay in a government-designated facility.

France

Travelers aren’t required to have travel insurance to enter France, but those who test positive in the country will be required to quarantine. According to Politico, French authorities seek to mandate a 10-day quarantine in light of a surge caused by the delta variant.

Germany

Like France, travelers aren’t required to have travel insurance to enter Germany. Travelers who test positive must quarantine for at least 10 days, but the length varies depending on the duration and the severity of the disease. Quarantining at a hotel is permitted.

Iceland

Travel insurance isn’t required, but travelers who test positive will be required to isolate for 14 days. Isolation can end if 14 days have passed from the positive COVID-19 test and the traveler has been symptom-free for at least seven days. Home isolation is permitted, but those who cannot meet the country’s requirements must stay in an official quarantine facility or hotel.

Italy

Travel insurance isn’t required to visit Italy, but travelers who test positive upon entry or in Italy must quarantine.

Mexico

The U.S. Embassy in Mexico says it’s “advisable” for travelers who test positive for COVID-19 to quarantine for 14 days.

Portugal

Travel insurance is not required. Travelers who test positive must quarantine for 14 days.

Spain

Travel insurance is not required. However, travelers who test positive must quarantine (seven to 10 days minimum) at a local hotel at their own expense, according to the U.S. Embassy.

Regardless of where you travel, it’s best to check with each country that you plan to visit to see what will be covered — or what you’ll have to pay for at your own expense.

Where to stay if you test positive while abroad

a tree in a pool of water surrounded by palm trees: Baha Mar in the Bahamas. (Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy Baha Mar in the Bahamas. (Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

If you test positive, you’ll have to find a place to stay abroad until you recover. As I mentioned above, some destinations will require you to quarantine at a government-mandated facility.

However, other destinations permit quarantining at a hotel. Some properties may allow you to extend your stay to quarantine on the property, but most that do will require you to pay out of pocket. There may be exceptions, however.

For instance, the  Four Points by Sheraton Hong Kong Tung Chung offers a “Fun-filled Quarantine Stay” through Aug. 31, 2021. However, guests cannot leave the room during quarantine and don’t have access to housekeeping facilities.

Other properties, such as the Baha Mar resort complex in the Bahamas, have taken a different approach. Here, if a guest tests positive, he or she will be allowed to complete a quarantine period on the property or fly home via “private aircraft” arranged by the property.

Guests who test positive and choose to stay will receive “courtesy suite accommodations” and a daily resort dining credit of $150 per person per day for up to 14 days or until receiving a negative COVID-19 result.

Insurance options that cover COVID-19 related expenses

The prospect of a positive coronavirus test should be on every traveler’s mind.

For international passengers traveling now, it’s essential to budget for — or purchase insurance coverage for — an unexpected quarantine should it be necessary after a positive test abroad. Keep in mind that a quarantine period could stretch for days, if not weeks or longer, after the initial positive test.

Your insurance options will vary depending on your destination, trip duration and many other factors. One way to narrow your search is by using insurance marketplace websites like InsureMyTrip or Squaremouth.

Related: TPG’s comprehensive guide to independent travel insurance — including coronavirus coverage

If you’re worried you may need to cancel your trip for a pandemic-related reason, a “cancel for any reason” insurance plan could be an excellent investment to hedge your bets. However, while you can usually purchase basic travel insurance up to 24 hours before departure, most premium add-ons such as “cancel for any reason” coverage must be purchased within a certain number of days from when you made your initial trip payment.

With Squaremouth travel insurance, for instance, you’ll have to purchase “cancel for any reason” insurance within 14 to 21 days of making your initial payment on vacation expenses, and you also have to insure 100% of your trip costs. This will typically increase a policy’s premium by roughly 40%.

If you’ve already had a trip planned for some time but haven’t purchased insurance yet, do some research to see if you’re still within the correct timeframe from your initial trip payment to qualify for cancel for any reason coverage, or other time-sensitive benefits.

Another option is medical transport coverage such as Medjet. There are two types of medical transport memberships: MedjetAssist and MedjetHorizon. Both memberships include the following medical transport benefits:

  • Hospital-to-hospital medical transfer regardless of medical necessity
    • All-expenses paid air medical transport in the U.S. and abroad (on trips at least 150 miles from home)
    • Including for COVID-19-related hospitalizations in the 48 contiguous United States, Canada, Caribbean, Costa Rica and Mexico (Medjet may expand this coverage to additional regions)
  • You decide to which medical facility you’ll be moved
    • You can choose one at home or a specialty hospital in your home country
  • Travel medical emergency referrals, monitoring, telephone interpretation and message relay
  • Transfer of mortal remains

The MedjetHorizon membership offers the following additional benefits:

  • 24/7 travel security response and evacuation services due to political threat, terrorism, natural disaster, pandemic and violent crime
  • 24/7 crisis response to kidnap for ransom, disappearance, wrongful detention, blackmail and extortion
  • Emergency medical cash advance
  • Ground ambulance and specialty hospital transfer (under 150 miles)
  • Trip intelligence and e-alerts
  • Legal referrals

So, if you’re hospitalized due to COVID-19 in a covered country, Medjet will transport you to a home hospital of your choice for treatment. Of course, the hospital must accept you, and your transport must not violate any quarantine requirements.

Airlines with COVID-19 insurance

a propeller airplane parked at the airport: (Photo by Ryan Patterson for The Points Guy) © The Points Guy (Photo by Ryan Patterson for The Points Guy)

Throughout 2020, airlines started rolling out COVID-19 insurance packages to entice travelers to take to the skies again. But these policies are now getting renewed interest from travelers in 2021, particularly in light of the delta variant’s spread.

However, you’ll want to read the fine print before booking your airline ticket or insurance. For instance, Air Canada’s coronavirus insurance applies to all round-trip international flights made between Feb. 1 and June 30 for travel completed on or before Oct. 31, 2021. However, there’s a big catch: The policy is only available for Canadian residents. Additionally, coverage is for a maximum of 21 days and is no longer available for any new bookings made after June 30.

Other airlines that offer COVID-19 insurance to American travelers include:

  • Cathay Pacific: Cathay Pacific’s free COVID-19 insurance is automatically included for trips through Sept. 30, 2021. Coverage applies to anyone with tickets issued by Cathay Pacific, including codeshare or interline partners. The policy covers overseas medical expenses and quarantine costs, including all overseas PCR tests, whether positive or negative. However, Cathay Pacific notes that you will not be covered for any medical treatment costs, quarantine expenses or costs of PCR tests within your home country or medical expenses unrelated to COVID-19.
  • Emirates: The Dubai-based carrier has some of the most comprehensive (and generous) benefits. The policy covers up to $500,000 for overseas medical expenses and emergency evacuation and up to $7,500 if your trip is canceled or cut short for a variety of coronavirus-related reasons (such as you contracting COVID‑19, or if you fail a COVID‑19 test or medical screening at the airport). Finally, it covers $150 per day, per person for up to 14 consecutive days if you test positive for COVID‑19 and are unexpectedly placed into mandatory quarantine while overseas.
  • Etihad: The airline will cover medical expenses and quarantine costs in case of a positive test but won’t cover the cost of PCR tests. The coverage is provided by AXA and is automatically effective following the first flight outside of your home country, and is valid for up to 31 days. Medical costs are covered up to 150,000 euros (about $177,000), and even quarantine costs up to 100 euro per day (about $118) for 14 days.
  • Japan Airlines: JAL is another carrier to include free COVID-19 insurance. The coverage is provided by Allianz Travel and is similar to other airlines’ plans. This provides coverage of up to 150,000 euros (about $177,000) in total medical costs and up to 100 euros per day (about $118) for 14 days. The policy is valid for up to 31 days after the departure date of the first international flight on a JAL-operated flight with a JL flight number or upon entering your country of residence, whichever is earlier. The policy is valid for bookings made through Sept. 30, 2021.
  • Virgin Atlantic: The British carrier’s policy covers a whopping ​​15,000,000 pounds (about $20.6 million) in medical and assistance in the event of illness or an accident while away, which includes COVID-19. It also covers up to 5,000 pounds (about $6,900) if you have to cut your trip short, including if you are denied boarding due to having COVID-19 symptoms.
  • WestJet: The Canadian carrier offers no-charge COVID-19 insurance coverage for travel to and from the U.S., Europe, the U.K., Mexico and the Caribbean through Oct. 31, 2021.

You’ll note that several large U.S. carriers, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, don’t offer travel insurance that explicitly covers COVID-19 expenses.

Regardless of which carrier you fly, it’s still wise to reach out to your carrier immediately upon receiving a positive COVID-19 test result to see what they may be willing to do.

Visa requirements

Your contingency plan also needs to consider what will happen if you’re forced to spend an extra week or two in another country (or however long it takes to recover and be cleared by a doctor).

While some hotels and resorts may help, many others won’t be able to — or won’t know the rules. For instance, if you’re in a country that offers a 30-day visa upon arrival, will it expire when your quarantine is completed? Make sure to contact the local U.S. embassy for assistance.

Bottom line

If you test positive for COVID-19 while abroad, don’t expect to return to the U.S. until you recover and get a negative test.

If you’re traveling now, there are a few ways to ensure you don’t incur an excessive amount of expenses while quarantining. One option is to prepay for the appropriate travel insurance before you depart the U.S. Another is only to visit countries or fly with airlines that offer a robust COVID-19 insurance policy. Finally, you could also stay at properties that will help out with the cost of isolation.

If you’re unvaccinated, the CDC still recommends you get tested three to five days later and stay home for a full seven days upon returning to the U.S. after being cleared for travel. If you are vaccinated, the agency recommends getting tested three to five days after travel, but quarantine isn’t required.

Featured photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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