Getting Back Home Safely from Abroad with Rapid Testing

With the CDC's new international travel guidelines, getting home from abroad can put a wrench in your plans. But, it doesn't have to! Find out how to test on your own time (within 1 day of travel) and take back your vacation.

Sam Johnston
Church in Europe

As of September 20, 2022, this post will no longer be updated.

Update June 13, 2022: As of June 12, 2022, the CDC no longer requires travelers to provide a negative COVID-19 test before returning to the United States.

As we approach the end of the year, many of us are planning or undertaking holiday travel. However, the thought of an international getaway can be daunting, given the need for carefully scheduled COVID-19 tests — especially overseas. I had a similar feeling this past summer, when my wife and I embarked on our first international trip since the start of the pandemic: a week in Croatia. In the end, we found a simple solution to the COVID-19 testing problem that you can use, too. Here’s our story.

As we prepared for our trip, we knew that getting a test in the US before departure would be easy, but I was nervous about how we would meet the federal requirement that we test negative for COVID-19 before we returned home. While Croatia had testing facilities, it was difficult to book an appointment at one of the local clinics. We could get a test at the airport before our departure, but that was very expensive. So when and how could we get a test for COVID-19 so that we could fly home?

Fortunately, I found that the CDC permits travelers to use self-administered COVID-19 tests that are under Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA, as long as the test is proctored by a telehealth service. The service confirms the traveler’s identity, supervises the test, and then issues a report confirming that the traveler is negative. This testing option is what we chose.

A week before we left on our trip, I walked into my neighborhood pharmacy and purchased two Ellume COVID-19 Home Tests. Then I scheduled telehealth sessions for my wife with Ellume’s telehealth partner, Azova, for $15 each. The sessions were scheduled two days before our return flight. (Please note: As of December 6, 2021, CDC now requires a negative test taken within a day of one's return trip, regardless of vaccination status.)

On the day of our test, I logged in for my scheduled telehealth appointment from the hotel room. A friendly representative appeared on my smartphone’s screen to monitor the test. I showed her my passport to confirm my identity. She then walked me through the testing process, including watching me as I swabbed both my nostrils and then mixed the sample with the solution. After 15 minutes, the test came back negative, and a few minutes later, Azova issued a pdf document in their app with all the required information to show the agent at the airport. My wife went through a similar process (she also tested negative). Once we got to the airport, we showed the agent the documents on my phone, and we were allowed to board the plane.

In total, we each spent about 20 minutes going through the entire testing process from the comfort of our hotel room, at a time that was convenient for us. And with that requirement complete, we were able to embark on our return trip - with much more confidence that we wouldn’t be bringing the virus home with us, too.

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