International Travel During a Pandemic
August 12, 2021
Traveling internationally can by difficult even during the best of times, but it is even more challenging right now. During our recent trip to Africa, we encountered a variety of issues and there were definitely some stressful moments. All of the traditional travel precautions still apply such as purchasing travel insurance, ensuring that your passport is up to date and has enough empty pages, getting visas if necessary, and carrying all of your medical information, and most importantly being patient and calm. In addition to having proof of vaccinations such as yellow fever, you will now need to carry proof of a full COVID vaccination that must be at least 14 days before traveling. Depending upon where you are traveling both to as well as where you are traveling from, there are even more important things to consider.
Long before you ever get to the customs agents at the place where you are visiting, you will likely face many other challenges, at least we did. First of all, flying is no longer as reliable as it has been in the past. Hopefully those days will return, but as of now flights can get cancelled at a higher rate and for more reasons than ever. In our case, different legs of our flight to Kenya were cancelled not once, but multiple times. In fact our original flights through British Airways were partially cancelled three times with the last time having four out of the five legs being cancelled. We requested a refund, which we received minus the change in exchange rates and then rebooked through a different airline. Then, on the morning of our flight, the first leg of our new flights was cancelled and we rescheduled to a direct flight from Denver to Frankfurt. Our layover was shorter than we would normally have liked and of course our flight out of Denver was delayed, so we missed our connection from Frankfurt to Nairobi. Lufthansa rebooked us on Ethiopian Airlines and we had to fly through the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa before continuing on to Nairobi, which added over 20 hours to our trip.
Most countries require some sort of proof of a negative COVID test even for those that are fully vaccinated. It is important to understand which type of test, PCR or Antigen, as well as how close to travel the test must occur. In order to enter Kenya, we needed a PCR test, which can take up to 48 hours to get the results, and it needed to be 96 hours before arrival in Kenya. Because our flight was delayed by over 20 hours, when we went to board our flight in Addis Ababa they weren’t going to let us board because it now had been 100 hours since we took our test. We were in a country that we didn’t plan on visiting and might now be stranded in without any idea of what would happen. Fortunately, the manager who our tickets were escalated to reviewed the dates and looked at when we received our results and allowed us to board. In addition to the PCR test, we also had to fill out an electronic surveillance form 24 hours before our departure which then provided us with a QR code to be used in Kenya.
Once in Kenya, we went to cross into Tanzania a day after our arrival and for that border crossing we needed an Antigen test, which is a rapid test, and fortunately it was offered at the border for $25 USD per person and only took about 15 minutes to get the results. Obviously we weren’t worried about the results since we’d already tested negative and were fully vaccinated, but everyone has to follow the process. While in Tanzania we were informed that because we were there for more than 4 days, again by half a day, we would need another PCR test before reentering Kenya. In order to get it in time, they needed to put a rush on it and it cost us a $120 USD per person. Finally, in order to get back into the United States, we needed an Antigen test 72 hours prior to the start of travel. We got those tests from our hotel in Nairobi at a cost of $100 USD per person.
With all of the various test results, and visas for both Kenya and Tanzania, passports, etc., we did what we always recommend, which is to take photographs of your paperwork on our phones just in case we needed them as a back up. It became important when crossing back into Kenya as they needed to see proof of the negative test, but they needed a physical copy and fortunately they printed them out for us. Despite all of the cancellations, delays, added unexpected costs, we did our best to always remain calm and truly enjoy the trip. At the end of the day, the journey is as much a part of the adventure as the location itself. Have you found travel to be more stressful since the start of the pandemic?