Travel Essentials List International Update

Aug 2021

Across my twitter feed comes some exciting news about my travel essentials list. “United and Abbott are partnering to make return to the US from international travel worry free with an at home testing kit”. My heart skipped a beat, as I had an upcoming trip to a more remote area of Mexico and finding a lab was proving challenging.

Apparently, a kit was now CDC approved to expand testing for international travel into the US. This new travel essential could be packed in a carry on and would allow travelers to take a COVID-19 test themselves within the 72-hour time window, a game changer as far as I was concerned. The BinaxNow COVID-19 Home Test from Abbott Laboratories is one of the few on the market being accepted by airlines.

Travel Packing List

We all have our packing list essentials. My carry on always includes a reusable water bottle, first aid kit, an eye mask, SPF lip balm, my toiletry bag filled with eco friendly essentials, comfortable walking shoes and noise cancelling headphones. You can read more about my up cycled packing hacks in this article.

In my checked luggage are the essential packing cubes filled with clothes appropriate to the destination along with non-essential eco friendly toiletries. Now, for the near future, an addition to the  travel essentials will be the test kit. My list seems to be ever changing with new packing tips added all the time.

Carry on packing essentials

Finding a COVID-19 Testing Site

Many resorts in popular tourist destinations have made a test for US  international travel reentry available for their guests on site. However, in locations distant from large cities, labs can be much more difficult to locate. They have odd hours, lengthy lines and are often closed on the weekend. This article about Portugal will give you an idea of the struggle.

If you happen to be returning to the States on a Monday or Tuesday, this can present a myriad of timing issues for procuring the test and receiving the results in the 72-hour window.

The last thing you want to be doing at the end of your vacation is hunting down a test and spending precious time at an appointment. Final hours should be spent enjoying your vacation,   not  waiting nervously for the coveted negative test results in an email. Add another layer to the stress if you don’t speak the native language.

Enter, the new self-administered test! Setting aside 30 minutes for testing in the privacy of my hotel room, at my convenience, and receiving the results after 15 minutes sounded like a dream come true for this fully vaccinated frequent flyer.

Confusion About the New Travel Essential

Before ordering, I had three conversations with customer service at eMed to confirm that Delta (my airline for this trip) would accept the COVID-19 test. At the time, I had only read about the partnership with United Airlines.  The CDC had approved the antigen home-test if it was proctored; that did not mean that my airline would necessarily accept it.

All three conversations led me around in circles without a direct answer about which airlines would accept the results. I then took to twitter and tried a tweet exchange with Abbott (no relation) labs directly. Again I was told by Abbott “ Hi Alison, our BinaxNOW test is acceptable as proof of a negative result. However, please confirm with the specific airline as they have different requirements.”

It seemed curious that both the manufacturer and distributor of such an important test would not have the answer. Yet they were actively marketing the test as a solution for re-entry to the US after international travel. Julie Cohn,  my knowledgeable travel advisor at Wander and Bloom Travel , placed a call directly to a Delta representative. She was unable to obtain a definitive answer either.

I also chatted with a fellow travel writer who was looking for answers for a trip to Italy. She spoke to an Abbott Lab public relations representative who told her “Abbott and United are partnering to make the process seamless. However, anyone traveling internationally on another airline can order our BinaxNOW Home Test through eMed and use the results displayed in the NAVICA™ app to meet the CDC updated guidelines for returning to the US. Hope that helps!”  Encouraging, but still a bit vague.

Confused about whether or not you could use the test for your return to the United States? Join the club! Could a quick and easy $25 test solve a big travel logistics issue?  My departure was a week away, so I decided to find out.

Criteria for CDC Emergency Approval

According to the CDC, the test can be self-administered tests if it meets the following criteria:

  • The test must be either a viral antigen test or a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT), such as a polymerase chain (PCR) test, reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) test, or a transcription-mediated amplification test.
  • The test must have Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
  • The testing procedure must include a telehealth service affiliated with the manufacturer of the test that provides real-time supervision remotely through an audio and video connection.
  • The telehealth provider must confirm the person’s identity, observe the specimen collection and testing procedures, confirm the test result, and issue a report that meets the requirements of CDC’s Order.
  • The written test results must be available for review and confirm by the airlines and other aircraft operators, including identification and test result details. The passenger must also be able to present the documentation of test results to U.S. officials at the port of entry and local/state health departments, if requested.

Ordering the New Kit for Your Packing List

It is important to note that a version of the test is being sold in drugstores across the country. This test DOES NOT include the required telehealth service and is NOT for use with international travel.

The approved test is easily ordered online, comes in a pack of 6 and costs $150. An update since my purchase now allows the test to be used by multiple traveling companions-a big PLUS for the consumer.

I purchased a six-pack of Abbott’s Binax Now Covid-19 Home Test online at the eMed web site. Shipping is overnight Fed-Ex. The tests reportedly are good for 9 months.  Included with each test is the required online supervision during testing.

Download the Testing APP for the New Travel Essential List

The Navica™ App must be downloaded before you leave the United States. I set up an account on the APP and packed two tests in my carryon. The lightweight boxes are the size of a small book. It is recommended to bring two incase the first test is inconclusive. Tests cannot be opened until you are signed in and ready to take the test. A good Wi-Fi connection is necessary to conduct the telehealth video call.

Online covid-19 testing

Signing on to the travel app to begin the testing.

Taking the Test

I was scheduled to fly back to the States on Monday and took the test on the Saturday before. After signing into the APP, I filled out a short questionnaire and was told my “certified guide Rose Lyn would be connecting with me shortly.” She appeared in minutes, and I was instructed to adjust the camera so she could see me and the surrounding area to inspect the kit.

opening a test kit

Opening the test as instructed and preparing the card reader for results.

After reading the QR code on my box and verifying that it was still sealed, she then checked my passport identification; we got down to business. I opened the kit, added drops to the test box, swabbed both of my nasal passages and inserted the familiar swab into the kit, all while being instructed and observed on camera by Rose Lyn.  The process took about 10 minutes. She set a timer, signed off and after 15 minutes, Alex, a health care provider came online to verify the test results. Looking in the reader for one or two little pink lines, I was reminded of a pregnancy test. My one pink stripe indicated a negative result.

woman taking nasal swab test

The familiar test swab and after 15 minutes, the online proctor confirms the results.

The results were sent to the APP almost immediately, I took a screen shot and hoped there wouldn’t be a problem at the airport. I knew from my return trip from Aruba in April that the COVID test results were the first thing they would ask for when I checked in.

Check in at the Airport

My nerves were on high alert as I checked in at 4:30am for my flight. I showed the test results on the app, and before I knew it,  was through security and headed to the gate with my boarding pass. What a relief! Before connecting in Mexico City, I had to show the test result again–without a problem. And since the travel gods were looking over my shoulder, they asked for the proof of results once more when I entered JFK with a random check at customs.  Tic, tac, toe!

The simple test definitely qualifies as a game changer for US residents returning from international travel. We can only hope it is a short a matter of time before the airlines cut through the red tape and let passengers know this breakthrough is universally acceptable for all airlines. Both travelers and the industry could use some good news. Travel recovery needs to be as simple and safe as possible.

woman at TWA Hotel with suitcases

Are you ready to ease back in to international travel?

Additional Bonus of the New Travel Essential

Six kits will not be easy to use on international trips before the expiration date even for a frequent flyer  like myself. However, it is great to have the kit for use after attending large unmasked events that are happening all over the United States. Attending a sporting event, wedding or similar get together where there might be unvaccinated people is more that enough reason to take advantage of this new essential.

Since my first use of the kit, it is now possible to purchase individual tests. (see below)

UPDATES : 07/27/21

The landscape is constantly changing with regulations. The list below is an update since I first used the test in Mexico and began the post. Always check both the CDC and host destination for current information. 

  • United, American and Delta are now all on board for using the test. Research each airlines requirements, as it usually involves downloading a specific app. I am about to test the kit on American Airlines and they required the VeriFly App.
  • Select Walgreens stores in a few states now carry Abbott’s BinaxNow COVID-19 Home Test for $35.00. I’m sure the list will be expanding quickly. You can confirm availability and complete the required form on their web site.
  • The Ellume COVID-19 Home Test has been approved by the CDC as well. Tests are available here and are $50 plus shipping.

Pin ME : The New Travel Essentials List for International Flights