I tested positive for COVID while traveling … now what?

by Nov 10, 2021COVID

Boston Airport Sunsrise Tested Positive For Covid

Testing positive for COVID while traveling is a fear many new and veteran travelers share. Who wants to get stuck for an extended period far from home, let alone while sick with COVID? Know your options before you travel so you stay as comfortable as possible and get home quickly, too.

A positive COVID-19 test result while you are traveling will cause a major disruption to even the best-laid travel plans. Especially if you are traveling in a different country. Whether or not you can return to your home or a hospital of your choice rather than being stuck and quarantined where you are will depend on several very distinct factors, including what type of medical evacuation membership plan you have.

It is important to understand that all travelers seeking to enter the United States on a flight (meaning both returning citizens and residents as well as foreign nationals) must provide proof of a negative coronavirus test, whether vaccinated or not. Without being able to show the necessary documentation that demonstrates a negative test, you will not be able to board a flight bound for the United States. As of December 6, 2021, that negative test must be taken no more than 24 hours before boarding a plane for the United States whether you are fully vaccinated, recovered or not vaccinated.

For many travelers, even veteran ones, the fear of contracting COVID and getting stuck in a mandatory quarantine hospital ward, government-mandated facility or hotel abroad is real. Spending up to two weeks or more in quarantine until you recover or test negative, in a strange place, in an unfamiliar country, can be very intimidating, often tedious, not to mention costly.

What do you need to do if you test positive for COVID while traveling and what steps can you take before you travel to plan for this possibility? I’ll guide you through a few things to consider ensuring you can get home as quickly as possible, with the least amount of disruption or extra financial burden.

Understand the entry and exit requirement for the countries you are visiting

 Long before you leave for your trip, and then immediately prior to departure on any international trip, consult the U.S. State Department’s travel advisories page for the country or countries you will be visiting. The entry and exit requirements, including vaccination status, testing and other documentation required is covered for each country and are updated frequently – since they can and do change frequently. There is also information on local resources for testing labs. I’d recommend you bookmark or take a screenshot of each page to keep with you on your phone.

Travel with a CDC-approved COVID self-test kit

Therese and I travel with the Abbott BinaxNow Covid-19 Home Test. There is also the Ellume Covid-19 Home Test with Azova, which we have not used. Both have Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and both tests are what are known as “antigen tests,” which are not as accurate as the other test, known as a “PCR test.” PCR tests are conducted through authorized labs and require a medical professional to be administered.

The advantage of the self-test is you can purchase the tests in advance, pack them along (we always pack two each in our carry-ons) and then conduct the test in the privacy of your hotel room before returning home. The downside is you will need to have a very good internet connection as the tests must be taken live while a telehealth representative is watching you and then the result must also be witnessed live. If your internet connection is not strong enough, you won’t be able to get your test result properly approved and documented.

Covid Test Card Self Test For Covid

Another downside is the possibility of a false positive result, which is why we always pack two test kits with us. We’ve yet to get a false positive, but it can happen. You can then take a second test to be certain it really was positive. You also want to leave yourself plenty of time to take yet another test, for example to head to a local lab and get the more accurate PCR test, so you can show a negative result … your golden ticket to get home.

Make sure your travel insurance will cover COVID-related expenses

Now, more than ever, you absolutely need travel insurance that includes excellent emergency medical coverage that includes COVID-related illness, travel cancelation and interruption coverage, as well as advisory services if you have emergency needs or questions.

I spoke with World Nomads spokesperson, Lisa Cheng, to find out what sorts of COVID-related expenses good travel insurance will cover.

Trip cancelation. Trip cancelation reimburses your pre-paid, non-refundable trip costs when you must cancel your trip for a reason that is covered, such as a sudden sickness. “World Nomads considers COVID-19 as a sickness but other travel insurance companies may not. Make sure to read your plan carefully,” says Cheng. Trip cancelation helps when you’ve spent a significant amount on making deposits and payments upfront – guided trips, hotel reservations, etc. Without this coverage, you could lose your entire trip investment.

Emergency medical. Travel medical coverage supports you in the case of a medical emergency, reimbursing you for example for hospital stays, emergency room visits, surgical procedures, and prescription medications. If you get a severe case of COVID-19 and are hospitalized, this coverage can save you from getting stuck with big medical bills.

Emergency evacuation. Emergency evacuation is the benefit that can cover transfers to hospitals or repatriation, depending on your medical needs. “Paying for an evacuation on your own can cause serious damage to your wallet,” says Cheng. “Without it, you may need to dip into your savings or perhaps set up a Go Fund Me account to help pay for the evacuation.”

Trip interruption and trip delay. Because any trip – especially in the age of COVID-19 – is prone to hiccups, coverage for trip interruption and delay can act as a backup to any type of setback. “We’ve all heard of and read about flights being delayed and connecting flights missed because a passenger was asked to leave the plane for not wearing a mask. Trip delay would help cover basic expenses that you’ve had to incur because of the delay, such as meals, an overnight stay at a hotel, toiletries, or a change of clothes,” says Cheng. In the event you yourself test positive for COVID-19 during your trip, and you are required to quarantine, trip interruption could reimburse you for the pre-paid, unused portions of your trip, plus a one-way, economy-class ticket home once you recover.

Know where you may need to stay if you test positive for COVID 

Though we all hope testing positive for COVID will not happen, it pays to know what your quarantine options are prior to traveling. Frequently, a hotel will allow you to quarantine on the premises and extend your stay, although in most cases they will move you to a special quarantine section. Some places will move anyone who has tested positive for COVID into government-mandated quarantine sites, which can vary from five-star resorts to student dormitories and military barracks. Although some quarantine facilities are paid for by the government, in most cases you will be required to foot the bill for lodging and meals – and it’s often not cheap.

If you need to find a hotel for your quarantine, it pays to have assistance. “World Nomads has a concierge service that can offer hotel recommendations, arrange for meal deliveries to your room, or even set up babysitting for the kids you’re now too sick to take care of,” says Cheng.

It is important to recognize, however, that quarantines are mandated by governments and medical officials so while a travel insurance company’s emergency assistance provider can help see that you’re comfortable and cared for during a quarantine, they can’t speed up the quarantine itself.

Know your visa requirements and limitations

Being quarantined for an extra week or two or even three in a foreign country is not the only worry you will have. The other is knowing how long your visa is valid (assuming you needed a visa) and if it can be renewed. If, because of your quarantine, your visa will be expiring before you are able to depart, you’ll be faced with one more hurdle to overcome just to leave the country. The local U.S. embassy will be able to help, so be sure you have documented the embassy’s contact information.

If you have travel insurance with World Nomads, or a medical evacuation membership plan with companies such as Global Rescue, Covac Global or Medjet, they will have experts and travel advisors available 24 hours a day who can also provide assistance.

Consider a medical evacuation membership plan that includes COVID

Most good travel insurance plans cover emergency medical evacuation to the nearest hospital that can treat you if you become injured or sick. But it is the insurance company that typically chooses the hospital. And most travel insurance medical coverage won’t move you to another hospital unless the move is deemed medically necessary by a physician. Meaning you could end up stuck far from home at a hospital you didn’t choose if your injury or COVID-19 complications require an extended hospitalization. Medical evacuation membership plans, different and separate from travel insurance, can provide a bridge home even if you are sick with COVID.

“One of the biggest pandemic revelations among travelers was discovering the limitation of travel insurance and the value of having a separate, stand-alone rescue, medical assistance and an evacuation safety net that includes COVID-19,” says Dan Richards, CEO of Global Rescue.

It is a common misconception that after a positive COVID-19 test you are now stuck in the country you are staying in and will not be allowed to leave until you test negative. In truth, you are just not permitted to travel home on a commercial airline. You are in fact allowed to travel home on a private plane designed for medical evacuations IF you have all the appropriate documentation, permissions and can cut through the red tape. If you were to pay for your own private plane for a medical evacuation and deal with all the necessary paperwork, costs could easily reach $250,000 — well out of financial reach for most travelers. And this is where a medical evacuation membership becomes so valuable.

Therese and I will not even consider leaving home without a medical evacuation membership that will come get us if we’re hurt, in trouble, or we test positive for COVID. And this is in addition to the travel insurance coverage we always travel with. There are currently three companies that offer evacuation home if you’ve tested positive for COVID, but each are decidedly different in the extent to which they will trigger a plane to bring a member home.


With Medjet, a member must be hospitalized with COVID-19 before the company will send a plane to bring the member home to a local hospital of choice. Which means you must have gotten ill enough to have been admitted to a hospital in the country you were traveling in – not always desirable. Medjet offers an annual Horizon-level membership for a family that covers international and domestic travel with a maximum of 90 days abroad for each trip. The cost is currently $578 a year.

Global Rescue

Under a Global Rescue plan, if you test positive for COVID-19 and are symptomatic, but do not require hospitalization, Global Rescue’s medical advisory team will work with you to help you find accommodations if needed, testing sites, and more. If your symptoms worsen and hospitalization becomes necessary, then Global Rescue will provide medical evacuation to the nearest medical facility capable of providing appropriate care. If you’re lucky, that nearest medical facility might turn out to be close to your home like this  recent rescue from an island. Typically, though, it will be a hospital located in the country where you are traveling. Once a member is hospitalized, Global Rescue will then work to transport that member home to his or her hospital of choice. Annual membership plans for a family with a maximum trip length of 90 days start at $729.

Covac Global

Covac Global is the newest company of the three, launched in Spring 2020 to respond to the need for COVID transport. The company’s founders have deep roots in medical and security rescue and as of July 2021 provide medical, security and COVID-related services under the Covac Global banner. Covac Global’s approach is to ensure members can get home quickly without a requirement they be hospitalized first.

“Once a person is hospitalized with COVID, it gets infinitely more complex to bring them home,” said Ross Thompson, CEO of Covac Global. “We felt it was much better and more efficient to offer a plan to get a person who tests positive for COVID from hotel to home, no hospitalization needed.”

The company has a London-based operation that operates 24/7, staffed with in-house doctors and paramedics. That base of operations will work closely with a local government to get all the necessary permits, as well as working with the CDC and Department of Homeland Security to arrange for a member’s rapid transport home Thompson explained. “We arrange for ground transport from the hotel to our private plane,” he added, “and then from the private plane to your home.”

Covac Global Medical Transport Airplane

Inside a private plane / medical transport operated by Covac Global. Photo courtesy of Covac Global.

Covac Global memberships are open to any nationality except French. An annual COVID-19 membership currently costs $4,750 for a family of two, although if you only need to buy coverage for a single 15-day trip, for example, the cost drops to $2,283.

Testing positive for COVID-19 before your flight home is stressful enough, but if you’ve prepared appropriately, purchased the best travel insurance possible, and added an emergency medical and evacuation membership to the mix, you’ll be well taken care of and hopefully on a plane home without too much delay.

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