How to Get an International COVID Test in Under 24 Hours

More swabs, less panic.

The days of booking a dreamy vacation and just showing up to the airport with naught but bags and a passport are pretty much over (at least in the near future). Keeping up with the constantly changing testing requirements for traveling and re-entering the United States definitely takes a bit more planning than before, but as the French say: c’est la vie!

As of December 6, 2021, the CDC updated the travel guidelines for all travelers ages two and older entering the US. Proof of a negative COVID test result (PCR, rapid antigen, and others) will be required no more than one day before travel to the US, regardless of vaccination status. Previously, the testing period was three days, which gave travelers plenty of time to make arrangements before their departure. But nothing says vacation more than having to scramble on your last day in paradise to find a COVID testing center, am I right?

Luckily, we’ve done some of the work for you and rounded up ways you can prepare to get an international COVID test before you head back home.

Doctors or nurses come to your hotel; you can even take the test in your room. | Pekic/E+/Getty Images

Check with your hotel to see if they provide a COVID test

Say goodbye to breakfast buffets and say hello to the new amenity that hotels are brandishing: on-site COVID testing. It’s a convenient option, since it doesn’t require a lot of planning ahead and everything is done at your hotel. Some hotels may require you to book your appointment upon check-in, but everything else is taken care of at the resort or in your hotel room, and then you can be on your merry way (unless you test positive for COVID, that is).

Some resorts charge an additional fee for the test, while testing is complimentary at other resorts such as select Marriott International Resorts in the Caribbean and Latin America (terms and restrictions apply). A Hyatt spokesperson also confirmed that all Hyatt properties in Latin America and the Caribbean provide guests with access to COVID testing to meet US requirements for international arrivals (guidelines and services vary by destination). Aside from hotel brands, destinations that heavily rely on tourism such as Los Cabos San Lucas or Thailand have also made testing widely available across hotels, resorts, villas, timeshares, hospitals, clinics, and the local airport.

Pro-tip: Request a paper or digital copy of your results, and if it’s the latter, make sure to take a screenshot of the results just in case cell service at the airport is poor.

DIY testing kit
DIY testing just changed the game. | Catherine Falls Commercial/Moment/Getty Images

Order a self-test kit

Self-test kits or over-the-counter tests that require a nasal swab collection are another option that you can just pack in your suitcase, and forget about trying to make an appointment anywhere. Results for rapid antigen test kits come back in 30 minutes or less. They’ve been somewhat hard to come across due to high demand, so it may be easier to order an at-home test well before your takeoff. They last for about eight months to a year, so plan to get it for a trip in that time frame.

Not all at-home self-test kits are approved by the FDA, so make sure to check this list before you purchase a kit. A few examples of kits that are FDA-approved are Abbott’s BinaxNOW Self-Test, iHealth Antigen Rapid Test, and InteliSwab Rapid Test.

“United is collaborating with Abbott and became the first U.S. carrier to set up an easy way for international travelers to bring a CDC-approved test with them, self-administer while abroad, and return home,” says Christine Salamone, a United spokesperson. “Customers can purchase Abbott BinaxNOW tests through eMED and Optum Store.”

rome airport
Security screening, nasal swab, bathroom: check. | Alessia Pierdomenico/Shutterstock

Check if the airport has a testing center

Several international airports have also launched COVID testing centers since the onset of the pandemic. A few of those include:

  • Istanbul Airport: Tests are available 24/7 at the Arrivals floor at gate number 14; fees apply
  • London Heathrow Airport: Tests must be pre-booked and fees apply
  • Rome Fiumicino Airport: Tests are available at Terminal 3 only for passengers with a travel document; fees apply

You can also check with your airline to see if they offer any resources for passengers. For example, United Airlines is making it easier for customers to meet the travel requirements directly through their app. “Travelers can now easily access testing or vaccine requirements needed for their specific destination, upload testing and vaccination records, and schedule a Covid-19 test all in United’s app and on,” says Salamone. Customers can also locate testing providers across the country, book appointments, and have their results sent directly to United for review, she says.

Other airlines like TAP Air Portugal provide exclusive discounts and priority access to COVID tests for air passengers from Lisbon. An appointment may be required, so you should check the airport or airline website. It doesn’t hurt to confirm the type of test given meets the requirements and if the results will be turned around in the allowed timeframe.

test center
It’s always clear where the Covid testing sites are, even in other languages. | Michael Derrer Fuchs/Shutterstock

Go to a local testing center or pharmacy

Check the local government’s website or tourism website for a list of local testing centers or pharmacies near your hotel that offer COVID testing. For example, the Switzerland tourism website has compiled a list of places where you can get tested here. A quick Google search of the U.S. Embassy and Consulate page in Portugal leads to this travel check-in page, which includes a list of authorized laboratories that provide COVID testing.

AirFrance also offers this interactive map, where users can input an address and it will populate local testing sites based on the turnaround time of results.

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Leila Najafi is a contributor for Thrillist. Follow her on Instagram at @LeilasList.