COVID-19 Testing for Travel in 2021 [Airlines, Airports, Hotels]

COVID 19 Testing Center

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Now that travel restrictions are starting to ease, you might be planning for a trip. Whether you are traveling domestically or internationally, you will possibly be required to provide a negative COVID-19 test in order to travel. Some are free (with or without insurance), while others might require you to pay a fee. Some countries even build COVID-19 testing fees into their entry requirements.

In addition to cost, something else to consider is that your results are time-sensitive, meaning that you need to have your test completed during a certain amount of time prior to arrival or departure. We’ve pulled together some common locations that offer these COVID-19 tests and take these requirements into consideration so that you can get back to traveling as soon as possible!

What COVID-19 Tests Do You Need To Travel?

There are many different types of tests for coronavirus, but which test do you specifically need for travel? 

Types of Tests

Antibody Tests

Antibody tests are blood tests that can identify if a person has COVID-19 antibodies, meaning that they have already recovered from the virus. These tests aren’t regularly used for travel since antibody tests can’t be used to diagnose an active COVID-19 infection. 

Diagnostic Tests

Diagnostic tests can show if you have an active COVID-19 viral infection and whether you might need to take steps to quarantine or isolate yourself from others. There are 2 types of diagnostic tests — rapid and PCR tests.

Rapid antigen tests can show an active COVID-19 infection by detecting specific proteins on the surface of the coronavirus. These rapid tests are popular for their quick turnaround times but are rarely accepted when it comes to travel due to the high number of false-positive results. These are normally used at airports in addition to the traveler providing PCR test results, so it may still be important that you can find a rapid COVID-19 test near you.

The other common option is a Polymerase Chain Reaction (or PCR) test. These PCR tests are the most reliable option for detecting active COVID-19 infections as results are sent to a lab to be confirmed. Due to this, a negative PCR test is what is typically required to travel. Our guide will specifically note sites that are providing PCR tests.

Bottom Line: Ultimately, what test you need and when you need to take it depends on where you are traveling.

Requirements for Returning to the U.S.

If you’re traveling back to the U.S. from abroad, the CDC now requires that you provide a negative COVID-19 test result before boarding your flight back. Travelers must obtain a PCR test within 3 days of departure (even with evidence of vaccination). According to the CDC, “Rapid tests are acceptable as long as they are a viral test acceptable under the Order.”

Travel Airport COVID-19
Image Credit: Anna Shvets via Pexels

Without this information, you will be prohibited from flying to the U.S.

There are several exemptions to this rule:

  • Travelers flying back from U.S. territories
  • Travelers arriving via a land border (Mexico or Canada)
  • Flight crew members do not need to present a negative COVID-19 test
  • If you get a negative test, travel, and return within 3 days, you can use your original negative test

Bottom Line: If your travel doesn’t involve an exception, you will need to find a way to obtain a negative PCR test internationally before your return flight.

Where Are COVID-19 Tests Required?

Domestic Locations

There are a number of locations within the U.S. where having either a COVID-19 test result or evidence of completed vaccination can help you to avoid a quarantine (self or supervised) period upon arrival.

You must provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test if you have not been fully vaccinated to visit the following locations:

International Locations

Each country has its own requirements related to COVID-19 testing. These requirements relate to what tests are acceptable, what tests will be required before arrival vs. upon arrival, as well as how recently you must have taken the test. Be sure to check out our guide to where Americans can travel internationally for more information about these country-specific requirements.

How Much Does a COVID-19 Test Cost?

COVID-19 tests are available at no cost nationwide at health centers and select pharmacies. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act “ensures that COVID-19 testing is free to anyone in the U.S., whether or not you have insurance.”

If you choose to get your test at a location outside of these supported locations, COVID-19 PCR tests can cost anywhere from $20 to $1,419 per single test (according to recent studies) but these costs are usually covered by insurance unless noted otherwise.

If you are traveling internationally and are required to get a PCR test upon arrival at your destination or prior to your return trip to the U.S., you will need to refer to that country’s COVID-19 embassy site to determine your cost.

How Long Do Results Take To Get Back?

Most states or countries that require negative COVID-19 tests for entry or to avoid quarantine use a 48- to 72-hour timeframe. This can start with either the time of your departure or arrival at your final destination. Depending on the distance of the location, this may be extended to accommodate travel time. Knowing this, it is clear that it is important to find a location that can provide timely results.

Results vary greatly depending on where you are located, but generally take 1 to 7 days to be returned per the FDA. Ultimately, the best way to find out how long it will take in any particular area is to go to the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) website and look at the option by state. The facilities listed may include the expected wait time to receive the results.

What Proof Do I Need To Travel?

IATA Travel Pass
Image Credit: IATA

Once you’ve received your negative test result, what do you do with it? Most airlines have partnered with a third party or created a system to upload your test results. This means that you will either upload an electronic result or even take a photo of your negative test in the case of some rapid tests.

Here are a few examples:

Other airlines, such as Delta and Hawaiian Airlines, are allowing you to upload test results to their websites directly. At the end of the day, be sure to check with your airline directly to see how to upload your negative test result.

COVID-19 Testing Options by Airline

Airlines are partnering with other companies to make it easier for travelers to get tested for COVID-19.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines offers multiple options for getting your COVID-19 PCR test.

At-Home Testing

Alaska Airlines is working with Costco Wholesale to offer an at-home testing option for travelers ages 5 and up. These tests cost $114.99 each and you must also complete a video appointment with a doctor. Once completed, you ship it back via UPS overnight and results are available in 24 to 48 hours.

Alaska recommends that you purchase these tests at least 1 to 2 weeks before your trip to ensure that you can confirm a video appointment slot.

In-Person Testing

Alaska Airlines has partnered with Carbon Health to offer in-person testing for Alaska flyers. These Carbon Health tests cost between $150 and $165, and you must schedule your appointment in advance.

You’ll receive the same or next-day results at all of their testing sites in the following cities:

  • Los Angeles
  • Portland
  • San Diego
  • San Jose
  • Seattle

American Airlines

American Airlines uses VeriFLY, a mobile app, to help streamline test results and other AA preflight travel requirements. There are also many options offered for COVID-19 testing.

At-Home Testing

American has partnered with LetsGetChecked for at-home PCR tests. American recommends purchasing your test at least 5 days before departure. Passengers flying to all of the international locations that American Airlines currently serves can use these test kits.

You will have results within 48 hours of receipt, but you will also need to complete a virtual visit with a medical professional. This kit costs $119.

You can also order a testing kit through eMed if you have a roundtrip flight. You will receive a rapid test for departure and 2 rapid tests to bring along with you on your trip. You can mail these in without having to find a lab in the country that you visit. Tests cost $150.

In-Person Testing

American Airlines has partnered with over 150+ CareNow clinics that offer testing at $139. Results are available within 15 minutes.

GoHealth is another option for in-person testing. You can get a test at any of over 150 locations with results in 15 minutes. Testing is conducted through your insurance or at rates available upon request.

Delta Air Lines

Passengers can use FlyReady to upload their COVID-19 test results to ensure acceptance of results for entry.

At-Home Testing

Delta has partnered with AZOMA to offer the Ellume COVID-19 test so that passengers can test themselves and upload the results before departure and pack another test to take before returning back to the U.S. Test kits are $50 and come with a video observation to validate results.

In-Person Testing

Delta offers a list of in-person providers that it recommends using based on your location.

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaii is one of the only states requiring evidence of vaccination OR evidence of a negative test to avoid a 10-day mandatory quarantine.

At-Home Testing

Hawaiian Airlines is going through Vault Health to provide any at-home tests for $119. Results are available within 24 hours after receipt.

Drive-Through Testing

Hawaiian Airlines has partnered with Worksite Labs to provide drive-through nasal swab appointments at Las Vegas (LAS), Los Angeles (LAX), and San Francisco (SFO). Each test costs $90 with results provided within 24 hours or $150 for results within 12 hours.

In-Person Testing

Travelers originating from Seattle (SEA) and Portland (PDX) can schedule an appointment with US BioTek Laboratories. If you need results within 36 hours, tests will cost $90 to $105, but if you need results within 24 hours, your test will cost $90 to $165.

For travelers originating from LAS, you can receive a nasal or throat swab test at the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada. Tests cost $130 per person for results within 36 hours.

JetBlue Airways

JetBlue has a few options for international travelers.

At-Home Testing

Like Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue has also partnered with Vault Health to provide at-home test kits for travelers to Aruba, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, or Mexico. Each kit costs $119 and results will be provided within 72 hours.

In-Person Testing

JetBlue offers many in-person location options through XpressCheck.

Locations are available at:

  • Boston (BOS)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • New York (JFK and LGA)
  • Newark (EWR)
  • Orlando (MCO)

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines has recommended partners for those travelers heading to Hawaii.

At-Home Testing

Southwest has partnered with Vault Health for COVID-19 testing. This test costs $119 and you will receive results within 24 hours after its arrival at the lab.

In-Person Testing

Southwest lists a few recommended partners, including CVS MinuteClinics, Kaiser Permanente, and Walgreens.

United Airlines

United has multiple options for testing.

At-Home Testing

United is using ADL Health to provide at-home PCR test kits for flyers at their request. If you’ve already booked a trip, visit the Travel-Ready Center to find more information about the test and order one.

Travelers must mail their test back 72 hours before travel and get the results 24 to 48 hours before their flight. Each test costs $119.

Drive-Through Testing

Color United COVID At Home Test
Image Credit: COLOR

United has partnered with Color to offer both day-of and drive-through testing for travelers flying from San Francisco (SFO) to Hawaii and Canada. Eligible passengers will receive information and a sign-up link via email 1 week before departure.

These tests cost $105 at the United Technical Operations parking lot at SFO. You must make an appointment for approximately 72 hours before travel, with most results coming back within 48 hours.

In-Person Testing

United has partnered with XpressCheck at many airport locations (which we’ll list in more detail below).

COVID-19 Testing Options at Airports

XpresCheck COVID 19 test site
Image Credit: XpresCheck

Domestic Airports

The following airports are providing COVID-19 testing. Keep in mind that the types of tests vary based on how quickly you need the test results and what type of test you get, and some locations are only allowing passengers traveling on certain routes to obtain a test.

AirportCostNotes
Anchorage (ANC)FreeTesting is available 24/7. Travelers are encouraged to preregister for a test online
Bradley (BDL)$125The airport has partnered with Genesys Diagnostics to conduct testing 7 days a week between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 a.m.
Boston (BOS)$75 to $250XpresCheck is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (or later) for online appointments and walk-in customers. 
Chicago (MDW)$120 to $145Simple Laboratories offers COVID-19 rapid antigen tests ($120) with results available in 20 minutes and PCR tests ($145) with results available within 72 hours.
Chicago (ORD)
Dallas (DFW)$79 to $249Collisions Group is offering 3 testing locations, all within Terminal D.
Denver (DEN)$75 to $250XpresCheck is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for online appointments and walk-in customers. 
Fort Lauderdale (FLL)$69 to $99Nomi Health of Utah operates daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m, but you can register for appointments online. You are required to show proof that your flight is in or out of the FLL. A rapid antigen test (with results ready in 30 minutes) is available for $69 or a PCR test (with results ready within 48 hours) is available for $99.
Grand Rapids (GRR)$75 to $125TACKL Health offers both PCR testing and rapid antigen testing. Your PCR test results will come back in 2 to 3 days, on average. The rapid antigen test results come back in 15 to 30 minutes, on average. Tests are offered from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Hartford (BDL)$0 to $125Genesys Diagnostics provides PCR testing with results typically available within 3 to 10 days. You must have a flight to get access to this testing. Time slots are available between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 a.m every day, but reservations are strongly recommended. The test is free with insurance; otherwise, the cost is $125.
Honolulu (HNL)$125Tests are available to adults and children over the age of 5. No appointment is needed and the site is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Results are available within 3 to 6 hours.
Houston (IAH)$75 to $250XpresCheck is open daily, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for online appointments and walk-in customers.
Los Angeles (LAX)$80 to $199Clarity Labs is providing testing in Terminals 2 and 6, as well as the International Terminal. Cost varies depending on the type of test and how quickly you need the results. Appointments can be booked online.
Minneapolis-Saint Paul (MSP)$0 to $94Testing at this site is free for Minnesotans and $94 for out-of-state residents. Results are available after few days via email. The testing site is open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for online appointments and walk-in customers. 
New York (JFK)$0 to $250XpresCheck is open daily, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. for online appointments and walk-in customers. JetBlue also offers free walk-in PCR testing daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Results are typically made available within 48 hours.
New York (LGA)FreeThe testing site is free for all passengers, and no insurance is required.
Newark (EWR)$75 to $250XpresCheck is open daily, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for online appointments and walk-in customers in Terminals B and C.
Oakland (OAK)$140The North Field location is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can schedule an appointment 3 days or less prior to your flight at the CityHealth website
Orlando (MCO)$65 to $175AdventHealth is offering rapid test results Thursday through Monday from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The rapid antigen test is $65 and the rapid PCR test is $175.
Philadelphia (PHL)$70 to $130Rapid tests ($70) or PCRs ($130) are offered with results ready in 2 to 3 days. This facility is not able to bill insurance. Testing is available from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and appointments are available, though not required. Those interested can preregister online.
Phoenix (PHX)$75 to $250XpresCheck is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for online appointments and walk-in customers. 
Portland, OR (PDX)$135 to $165Carbon Health offers COVID-19 testing at PDX for all travelers in need of a travel clearance. Visit the Carbon Health website to learn more and schedule an appointment.
Salt Lake City (SLC)$75 to $200XpresCheck is open daily, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for online appointments and walk-in customers. 
San Diego (SAN)$135 to $165Carbon Health offers COVID-19 testing at SAN for all travelers in need of a travel clearance. Visit the Carbon Health website to learn more and schedule an appointment.
San Francisco (SFO)$119 to $250United passengers heading to Hawaii and Cathay Pacific passengers can get tested through Dignity Health-GoHealth Urgent Care. It is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m and results are ready in less than an hour. XpresCheck is also open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for online appointments and walk-in customers. 
San Jose (SJC)$135 to $165Carbon Health offers COVID-19 testing at SJC for all travelers in need of a travel clearance. Visit the Carbon Health website to learn more and schedule an appointment.
San Juan (SJU)$110PCR tests with guaranteed results electronically within 24 to 48 hours are available from Terminals A, B, or C. Testing is available daily from 6 a.m. to midnight.
Seattle (SEA)$250Discovery Health MD has made PCR testing available to ticketed passengers (both inbound and outbound). Appointments must be made in advance online up to 72 hours prior to travel. The clinic is open daily from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. XpresCheck is also open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for online appointments and walk-in customers. 
Tulsa (TUL)$70 to $125Alpha Medical Laboratory is conducting COVID-19 testing. The site is located inside the B Terminal baggage claim area. Testing services are offered on a walk-in or appointment basis, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Washington D.C. (DCA)$75 to $250XpresCheck is open daily, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for online appointments and walk-in customers.
Washington D.C. (IAD)

International Airports

Here are some notable international airports offering COVID-19 testing options. This list is not all-inclusive, so be sure to check your destination airport to see if tests are available to you.

AirportCost
Athens (ATH)€60 (~$72)
Abu Dhabi (AUH)Free
Amsterdam (AMS)Free at designated testing centers (through October 1, 2021)
Cancun (CUN)Mex$290 to Mex$2,000 (~$14 to $99)
Dublin (DUB)€49 to €89 (~$59 to $107)
Düsseldorf (DUS)€59 (~$71)
Edinburgh (EDI)€50 to €99 (~$60 to $120)
Frankfurt (FRA)€59 to €139 (~$71 to $168)
London (LHR)£50 to £99 (~$70 to $138)
Hong Kong (HKG)HK$499 (~$64)
Keflavik (KEF)€52 to €65 ( $63 to $78)
Mumbai (BOM)£40 (~$56)
Nassau (NAS)B$50 to B$150 ($50 to $150)
Nice (NCE)Free
Paris (CDG or ORY)Free
Singapore (SIN)SG$196 (~$147)
Toyko (NRT)¥39,800 (~$365) with an appointment, ¥46,500 (~$426) without
Vienna (VIE)€35 to €120 (~$42 to $145)
Zurich (ZRH)CHR195 (~$214)

COVID-19 Testing Options at Hotels

Offering COVID-19 testing at hotels is also becoming more common as a way to draw travelers back by offering convenient testing options. Testing is common at many resorts throughout Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. A few examples include:

Hotel Chains

  • Accor — For Accor-managed properties in the U.S. or Canada, guests can request a free PreCheck PCR testing kit by x.labs to complete at home before checking in.
  • Bahia Principe Hotels & ResortsFree COVID-19 antigen testing is available at all of the brand’s resorts in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Mexico as long as you book a stay of at least 3 nights. If you need to extend your stay due to a positive result, your stay of 10 nights is also covered.
  • Karisma Hotels & Resorts — All properties in Riviera Maya, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica are offering free COVID-19 antigen testing to guests while CDC requirements are in place. PCR testing will also be available for a discounted fee. If you need to extend your stay at the resort due to a positive test, your stay of up to 14 days is covered.
  • Marriott — If you stay at least 3 nights at a select Marriott hotel or resort in Mexico and the Caribbean, you (and 1 other guest) are eligible to receive a free COVID-19 test prior to your departure back to the U.S. In addition, if travel is delayed for a related reason (like a positive or delayed test), you can extend your stay at a discounted rate of 50% off the available flexible rate.
  • Meliá Hotels International — Select properties throughout Mexico and the Dominican Republic have launched free, on-site antigen tests. In addition to COVID-19 testing, these properties are also providing free travel insurance with all reservations, which allows for free stays of up to 15 days if you must quarantine.
  • Playa Hotels & Resorts — Playa offers free COVID-19 antigen testing on-site to registered guests returning to the U.S. at all 17 of its resorts across Mexico and throughout the Caribbean.
  • Sandals & Beaches Resorts — Free COVID-19 testing is available at all Sandals and Beaches properties while the CDC has its requirement for a negative test in place. For more information on the tests and other COVID-guarantees, see its website.
  • Velas Resorts — Guests at a Velas resort can get a free COVID-19 antigen test provided at your resort in Mexico. If you need to quarantine, you will be offered a stay at a 75% discount.

Government-Approved Hotels by Destination

  • Anguilla — Per the Anguilla Tourism Board, your entrance fee to Anguilla of around $300 per traveler covers the cost of 2 tests (1 when you first arrive at the airport and the other before returning to the U.S.). Government-approved hotels in the link above will conduct this test for you for free.
  • Puerto Vallarta, Mexico — Many hotels in Puerto Vallarta will offer either free testing or tests for a fee. Travelers will also find testing sites at medical facilities around the region where they can receive the necessary tests for their travel back to the U.S. To see a list of these locations (including hotels), visit the Visit Puerto Vallarta website.
  • St. Lucia — According to the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority, there are currently 21 government-approved hotels in St. Lucia offering free antigen tests to guests who need to show a negative result in order to return home.

Hot Tip: Many resorts are offering these services for free or a discounted fee, so it would be a good idea to inquire about the procedures before booking your stay.

Additional COVID-19 Testing Resources

If you’re looking for other options, know that tests are available at no cost throughout the country at health centers and some pharmacies.

Local Medical Resources

Private clinics and academic labs are available for COVID-19 tests and will bill your insurance provider directly. If you don’t have insurance, you may have to pay the full amount. You can get a COVID-19 test at:

To find a place to get a rapid or PCR COVID-19 test near you, you can contact your primary care doctor or search the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) website.

Drugstores

Neighborhood drugstores often offer PCR testing at no additional cost if using insurance or if you fall under some federal programs for those without insurance.

CVS Drive Through COVID Test
Image Credit: CVS Health

Pharmacies that may offer COVID-19 testing include:

Evidence of Vaccination

Something else to consider is that many countries are now allowing evidence of vaccination in lieu (or in addition to) a negative COVID-19 test.

We have an article detailing all the different options for standardized immunity passports and how this might be implemented, but for now, each country has its own requirements as to what is required for Americans to enter. Be sure to check out that article to get all of the specifics depending on which country you are traveling to.

Final Thoughts

Getting a negative COVID-19 test in order to travel will likely be the new normal for the foreseeable future. Making sure you know which test is required and when is the first step needs to occur. The next step is finding a good place to get your test.

There are many options that provide this testing — ranging from your local pharmacy to airports, and even hotels at your destination. Between all of these options, the hope is that travel can be safe once again.


Frequently asked questions

What is a rapid COVID-19 test?

A rapid test is also known as an antigen test. This test detects protein fragments specific to the COVID-19 that show if you have an active case of the virus. Results are usually back in as little as 15 minutes, but often have a high number of false positives. The more reliable option is known as a PCR test, but these results usually take longer to arrive (between 1 and 3 days).

Does American Airlines require COVID-19 testing?

American Airlines does not mandate COVID-19 testing, but it does enforce requirements based on where you are traveling to. Be sure to check out AA’s COVID-19 travel page for current requirements based on your destination.

Do I need to get tested for COVID-19 before I travel?

If you are traveling domestically, you may want to get tested to avoid quarantine, period. In addition, Hawaii requires proof of a negative COVID-19 result or evidence of completed vaccination.

If you are traveling internationally, it is likely that you will have to provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test or completed vaccination to enter, but be sure to check travel requirements here. Additionally, you will need to provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test to return to the U.S.

Do I need a COVID-19 test to fly domestic?

While it is not required to have a COVID-19 test to travel domestically, you may still want to get one. If you fly to certain locations within the U.S. that require a quarantine, like Hawaii, it may come in handy. If you have evidence of a negative COVID-19 test, you could avoid either a recommended or mandated quarantine.

Christy Rodriguez

About Christy Rodriguez

Christy was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but lived in Texas the majority of her life. Now, work has her living in the Bay Area with her husband and yellow lab. Her first international travel experience was for a summer study abroad program in Italy. After that, she knew that she was destined to travel as much as possible. Luckily, her husband worked at Southwest Airlines, so they were introduced to the exciting world of “non-rev” travel.

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