I’m not sure if everyone knows this or not but as a general reminder, not all Coronavirus/Covid-19 tests are the same. There are actually three different tests for Covid-19 and depending on which country you intend to visit, having the incorrect test may bar you from entry (or force you into a mandatory quarantine upon your arrival). It’s also important to note that airlines also have their own specific requirements, which may or may not be stricter than your destination country’s requirements. Some airlines will allow you to travel based on the requirements of the destination country but others may require you to have proof of a negative Covid-19 test before they will even let you board the plane.
Keep in mind that these are challenging times for countries, especially those that depend on tourism as a major source of income, and entry restrictions will vary from week to week, if not from day to day. For example, some destinations such as Croatia, French Polynesia and the Maldives are open for international tourism but their requirements today may be completely different a month from now. It’s definitely a moving target so my best advice is to avoid any leisure travel at this time until things settle down a bit.
The same goes for the different airlines. It’s best to check your airline’s website or information page frequently, especially prior to travel, to make sure you have the correct test completed within the specified timeframe. Not only will you have to adhere to the requirements of your destination country, but you will also need to adhere to the requirements of your transit country as well. Most countries are requiring a recent negative test within 72 hours (3 days) of departure but others may be more strict. Croatia, for example, now requires a negative Covid-19 test within 48 hours of arrival. And with no direct flights to Croatia from the United States, meeting this new testing requirement will be a lot more difficult.
Here are the three different tests for Coronavirus/Covid-19.
Covid-19 Antigen Test
This is the most common and basic of the Covid-19 tests. Also known as a “rapid diagnostic test,” this test can show if you have an active Covid-19 infection by detecting specific proteins located on the surface of the virus. Antigen tests are simple and most results come back the same day, depending on your testing facility. However, keep in mind that antigen tests aren’t 100% reliable. Positive results are usually highly accurate but a small percentage of people with active Covid-19 infections will still test negative from an antigen test. Because there is a higher chance of a false negative, most countries will NOT accept an antigen test for entry.
Covid-19 Antibody Test
This is probably the least useful Covid-19 test for international travel so don’t waste your time or money. Antibody tests look for antibodies that are made by your immune systems in response to a prior Covid-19 infection. Antibody tests do not show if you have an active Covid-19 infection or not; it only shows if you were previously infected. This test is not used for international travel as it doesn’t prove whether or not you are at risk of infecting others. In fact, a negative antibody test may lead to a false sense of security as you may be currently infected with Covid-19 and your body just hasn’t produced the antibodies yet.
The much-debated part about antibody tests is that some people believe once you develop Covid-19 antibodies, you will be “immune” from future Covid-19 infections, similar to how you can’t get chickenpox twice. However, there is still much for researchers to learn about Covid-19 and this is one of the areas they are still studying. And because the research is still undecided here, having a positive antibody test will not allow you a free pass to travel the world.
Antibody tests are also known as serological tests, serology blood tests or serology tests. The test is done by either a finger stick or blood draw and results usually come back within the same day.
Covid-19 RT-PCR Test
Of the three, this is the one you need to remember. A PCR test is the most reliable of the Covid-19 tests and most countries will require you to have a negative PCR test before allowing you in, quarantine-free. Like antigen tests, a PCR test will show whether or not you have an active Covid-19 infection. However, unlike antigen tests, PCR tests don’t just look for the proteins located on a virus’ surface, but rather, they look for the virus’ genetic material itself. This process is slightly more complicated and time-consuming than antigen tests and thus, results take a little bit longer to come back. Depending on your testing site, results may come back within a day but will most likely take up to a week.
PCR tests are also known as molecular tests, acid amplification tests, viral tests or LAMP tests. PCR test are usually taken by either nasal, throat or saliva samples.
So Which Test Do You Need?
Which Covid-19 test you need to take will be completely dependent on why you’re taking it. If you just want to test for the sake of testing, then a simple antigen test is perfectly fine. I have had two already as part of my day job and they do offer peace of mind but also keep in mind that all tests have their limitations. A negative test result, regardless of which one you take, will only show that you did not have an active Covid-19 infection at that specific time you tested. It doesn’t mean that you didn’t get exposed to Covid-19 immediately prior to or after your testing. It does take a few days after an exposure for your body to test positive for Covid-19 so it’s best to always wear a mask, keep your distance and be safe.
I hope this information helps. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!