The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has announced that all international airline passengers flying to the United States must show proof of a negative Covid-19 test before boarding their flight.
The new policy will take effect starting January 26, 2021. It mandates that all air passengers — including U.S. citizens and permanent residents — get tested for the coronavirus within three days of their flight.
Costa Rica relies heavily on U.S. tourism, and the CDC’s decisions to implement new testing requirements will likely have significant impacts on the sector.
Below are answers to pertinent frequently asked questions about the new policy, from the CDC’s website.
Frequently asked questions
Does this requirement apply to US citizens?
This Order applies to all air passengers, 2 years of age or older, traveling into the US, including US citizens and legal permanent residents.
When do I need to get a test to travel to the US? And what kind of test do I need?
Get tested no more than 3 days before your flight to the US departs. Make sure to be tested with a viral test (NAAT or antigen test) to determine if you are currently infected with COVID-19. Also make sure that you receive your results before your flight departs and have documentation of your results to show the airline.
What if I recently recovered from COVID-19?
CDC does not recommend getting tested again in the three months after a positive viral test, as long as you do not have symptoms of COVID-19. If you have had a positive viral test in the past 3 months, and you have met the criteria to end isolation, you may travel instead with documentation of your positive viral test results and a letter from your healthcare provider or a public health official that states you have been cleared for travel. The positive test result and letter together are referred to as “documentation of recovery.”
Who is checking to make sure that people have a negative test or documentation of recovery before they board a plane to the US?
The airline will confirm a COVID-19 negative test result or documentation of recovery for all passengers before boarding.
What happens if I don’t take a test and want to travel to the US?
Air passengers traveling to the US are required to provide a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery. Airlines must confirm the negative test result or documentation of recovery for all passengers before boarding. If a passenger chooses not to provide a test result or documentation of recovery, the airline must deny boarding to the passenger.
What happens if I test positive?
People should self-isolate and delay their travel if symptoms develop or a pre-departure test result is positive until they have recovered from COVID-19. Airlines must refuse to board anyone who does not provide a negative test result for COVID-19 or documentation of recovery.
What is a verifiable test result?
A verifiable test result must be in the form of written documentation (paper or electronic copy) of a laboratory test result. Testing must be performed using a viral test (NAAT or antigen), and negative results must be provided to the airline prior to boarding. The test result documentation must include information that identifies the person, a specimen collection date and the type of test. A negative test result must show test was done within the 3 days before the flight. A positive test result must show the test was done within the 3 months before the flight.
What kind of documentation of my test result do I need to provide?
CDC requires that air passengers arriving in the US have a paper or electronic copy of their test result for review by the airline before you board and for potential review by public health officials after you arrive in the US.
If I tested negative before my flight, do I need to get another test when I get to the US?
CDC recommends that travelers get tested 3-5 days after travel AND stay home or otherwise self-quarantine for 7 days after travel. Even if you test negative, stay home for the full 7 days. If you don’t get tested, it’s safest to stay home for 10 days. Always follow state and local recommendations or requirements related to travel.
Do I need to get a test before leaving the US?
CDC recommends that you get tested with a viral test (NAAT or antigen) 1-3 days before you travel internationally. Travelers should additionally follow any requirements at their destination.
When does this order take effect?
This Order will go into effect on January 26, 2021.
Does this order apply to all flights? Or just commercial flights?
This order applies to all flights, including private flights and general aviation aircraft (charter flights). Passengers traveling by air into the US are required to have proof of testing regardless of flight type.
If I have one or more connecting flights to the US, does the 3-day period apply to the first flight or the last one?
If you are arriving on a direct flight to the US, your test must be done within the 3 days before your flight to the US departs. If you are arriving to the US via one or more connecting flights, your test must be done in the 3 days before the first flight in your itinerary, but only if the connecting flights were booked as a single passenger record with a final destination in the US and each connection (layover) is no longer than 24 hours long. If your connecting flight to the US was booked separately or a connection in your itinerary lasts longer than 24 hours, you will need to get tested within the 3 days before your flight that arrives in the US.
What happens if my flight is delayed and it goes over the 3-day limit for testing?
If your flight is delayed before departure, you will need to get re-tested if the delay causes your test to fall outside of the 3-day pre-departure testing period requirement.
If I am connecting through the US to another country, do I still need to get tested?
Yes. Any flight entering the US, even for a connection, will require testing before departure.
What if I have had a COVID-19 vaccine? Do I still need a negative COVID-19 test or documentation of recovery from COVID-19?
Yes, all air passengers traveling to the US, regardless of vaccination status, are required to provide a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery.
Where to get tested in Costa Rica
Many private labs and hospitals in Costa Rica offer on-demand PCR coronavirus testing for a fee. These include: Laboratorios Echandi, Hospital La Católica, Hospital Cima, Laboratorios LABIN, Hospital Clínica Bíblica, Laboratorio Páez, Laboratorios San José and Hospital Metropolitano.
The majority of private labs and hospitals can guarantee results within 72 hours. Contact them for more information.
Costa Rica citizens and residents can get tested for free through the Caja, though these resources are typically reserved for people who are symptomatic. Call the coronavirus hotline (dial 1322) for more information.
In a statement to The Tico Times, Costa Rica’s Tourism Board (ICT) says it’s working on expanding testing options for visitors across the country.