The U.S. threw a major wrench in international travel earlier this month by requiring all passengers flying to the U.S. to present a negative COVID-19 test no more than one day before departure. And yes, that includes fully vaccinated Americans heading home from abroad.
That's a much stricter requirement than what had been in place for much of the last year, when most travelers had a three-day window to test negative. It puts a major roadblock in many upcoming international trips as the new Omicron variant spreads rapidly, forcing travelers to find a negative COVID-19 test in a foreign country – and risk quarantining abroad if they test positive.
Luckily, many hotels and resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean have stepped up with complimentary onsite testing available to guests. Still, it's a complication for international travel for the foreseeable future. From the hotels to the government to the airlines, there's a lot to work through.
I saw that firsthand during a recent trip to Cancún, Mexico with a stay at the incredible new Hyatt Ziva Riviera Cancún, one of the nearly 20 properties in Latin America where Hyatt has been offering free testing to guests returning to the U.S.
Read on to see how these testing requirements work – in my case, flying with Delta after a stay at Hyatt in Mexico.
Checking In At the Hyatt Ziva Riviera Cancún
When we arrived at the Hyatt Ziva Riviera Cancún from the Cancún (CUN) airport, we were immediately ushered into an area of the lobby where we could relax as they prepared our check-in documentation.
We were quickly informed of the new U.S. entry restriction and informed – as we had hoped – that the property would offer complimentary testing that would satisfy the U.S. entry requirements enacted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
We were given a slip of paper informing us to head to room 4104 that Sunday – the day before our return flight home. Remember, there is no requirement that the test be completed 24 hours before your flight. Any time on the calendar day before your scheduled departure will work.
Our check-in host also informed us that if we tested positive, we would be required to quarantine at the property for 14 days.
We were also offered an insurance policy that would cover all additional expenses (including lodging) of up to $10,000 in the event of a positive test. It cost just $34 per person, total, though it was unclear if this was being offered by the Mexican government or from the property itself.
This seemed like the logical choice, and everybody in our party opted for the $34 coverage.
Taking Our COVID-19 Test Before Departing
On the afternoon before our scheduled flight home, we headed to room 4104 to take our COVID-19 test required for re-entry into the United States.
Occupancy during our stay was low – roughly 10% of total capacity – so they were doing the testing in a vacant room. It worked well, as it was relatively hidden – you would never see it unless you were looking for it.
We provided our passports to the Hyatt Ziva staff members who went over a few things with us and had us complete a quick Google form with some additional questions we needed to answer before completing our test.
One by one, we were each ushered into the chair for a test. From there, the healthcare professional confirmed our information and explained how the testing process would work.
If you haven't yet had a COVID-19 test via a deep nasal swab….woof. It isn't the most comfortable feeling. Thankfully, it only lasts a few seconds.
One thing we found odd in the testing room is that there was a tip jar prominently displayed on the table. It didn't look like there was much in it, and generally, it just seemed like a strange thing to tip for.
Once we were done with our testing, we were told that the results would be sent via email by Monday morning, the day we were leaving Mexico. Sure enough, we all received our results as we were having dinner that night. And thankfully, everybody was negative which was our ticket to get back to the United States.
Arriving at the Airport for Our Flight Home
Keep in mind: The CDC has left it to the airlines to ensure that passengers have a negative COVID-19 test result in hand before flying back to the U.S.
When it was time to check in for our flight home, we were provided a link from Delta where we could upload our negative test results. This certainly helped speed things up a bit.
Upon arriving, an employee at the Cancún (CUN) airport looked over our test results to ensure a negative test result before we were allowed to enter the check-in line. Once we got to the counter, the agent was also able to see that my information had already been fully verified.
After getting our boarding passes, it was unclear if we would still need to keep our negative test document. To play it safe, we all kept ours in our carry-on bags in case we needed to present it again upon entry to the United States.
Getting Back into the United States
About 30 minutes before landing, a Delta flight attendant had come overhead to announce we were starting our final descent into Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP), our final destination.
She indicated that the Customs and Border Protection officers may ask to see our negative COVID-19 test results. We were glad we hung onto our documents.
After deboarding the plane, we headed through the customs line. Throughout that process, neither we nor any other travelers around us were asked to show their test results. However, the CDC may perform random audits at airports from time to time to ensure passengers have the required testing documentation. We have seen many reports of passengers being asked to provide this information.
So be sure to hang onto your test results until you have arrived at your final destination.
Free At-Home COVID Tests Upon Arrival
Starting on Dec. 13, the day we returned to the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began handing out free rapid at-home COVID-19 test kits to international travelers after clearing customs at several airports across the U.S., as part of a brand new program quietly rolled out to increase post-travel testing supplies and monitoring.
To start, the free take-home tests are available at just four major international airports: Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), Miami (MIA), and Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP). It will roll out to four more yet-to-be-announced airports “soon,” according to a CDC spokesperson.
If you're worried about getting a test, Mexico and the Caribbean are some of the easiest places to travel abroad right now. Testing negative so you can fly back home? That's up to you.
Staying at a hotel or resort providing complimentary testing on site is key, so be sure to check with your accommodations on your options. The process at the airport was well-organized as well. And airlines seem to have quickly implemented a way to easily verify each traveler had the proper documentation to get back to the U.S.