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International travel has become increasingly challenging as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Although the Delta variant is still prominent, the Omicron variant, which was first detected in South Africa and was reported to the World Health Organization on November 24, has now become the dominant variant in much of the world. That’s because Omicron is a “highly, highly transmissible virus,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joseph Biden’s chief medical adviser and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said last week at a White House briefing.

In response, countries around the world are quickly changing their travel requirements in an attempt to slow rising case counts. With that situation in mind, the U.S. State Department now cautions that “U.S. citizens who choose to travel internationally should be aware that they may face unexpected challenges related to COVID-19 as they attempt to return to the United States or attempt to travel from one overseas location to another.”

If you do have plans for international travel, the good news is that the State Department has some tips to help you be better prepared and protect your health.

Let’s get right to it. Here are the six steps the State Department says you should take if you’re traveling internationally.

1. Have A Back-Up Plan (Or Two)

Governments around the world continue to implement new requirements and even impose new travel restrictions as they strive to keep COVID-19 case counts down in their own countries. The problem, however, is that those changes are often implemented quickly with little advance notice. Consequently, those changes may require travelers to unexpectedly extend their stay in another country.

Making the situation more complex, the prospect of becoming infected with COVID-19 while in a foreign country — and subsequently needing to navigate a foreign healthcare system — is a sobering thought. What’s more, becoming infected with COVID-19 requires a quarantine period.

With those concerns in mind, the U.S. State Department now advises U.S. citizens who choose to travel internationally to make contingency plans. As the State Department further notes, those travelers “may have to remain in a foreign country longer than originally planned, which will be at their own expense.”

2. Purchase International Travel Insurance

Whether it’s due to a country’s new lockdown, implementing more stringent travel restrictions, or a traveler having COVID-19, it’s now likely that a traveler will need to stay in a foreign country longer than expected. As a result, the State Department now recommends purchasing international travel insurance that includes coverage for COVID-19-related trip cancellation and medical benefits. 

“In general, Medicare and Medicaid do not cover overseas medical costs,” the State Department points out.

3. Review Country Requirements Prior To Travel

Let’s face it, it can be difficult to stay up-to-date on travel requirements — especially because requirements such as the need to provide proof of vaccination for COVID-19, provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before traveling, and quarantine upon arrival vary from country to country. Furthermore, many countries have also imposed travel restrictions requiring mandatory quarantine for those testing positive before departure.

To help travelers be informed, the State Department recommends travelers visit its Travel Advisories webpage for updates about each country. The page is updated whenever new information becomes available. Travelers can also visit the U.S. Embassy’s website for any country they plan to visit for additional information.

4. Review Country Requirements While Traveling

“Foreign governments in any country may implement restrictions with little notice, which could delay a traveler’s ability to travel to another country,” the State Department explains.

Whether your itinerary calls for traveling from one foreign country to another or simply returning to the U.S., the State Department recommends that travelers continue to monitor travel advisories while they are traveling. Again, you can do that by visiting the State Department’s Travel Advisories webpage or the webpage for the U.S. Embassy in another country.

5. Enroll In Smart Traveler Program

If you are a U.S. citizen, international traveler, or working abroad, the State Department also recommends enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). The free service allows users to register their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

There are numerous benefits to enrolling in STEP. For example, the State Department explains that “users will receive important information from the U.S. Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, helping you make informed decisions about your travel plans.” Enrollment also makes it easy for the U.S. Embassy to contact you in the event of an emergency, “whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency.”

You can learn about STEP here.

6. Schedule A COVID-19 Test Needed To Enter The U.S.

Keep in mind that before boarding a flight to the U.S., all air travelers who are 2 years old or older must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 viral test taken no more than 1 day before travel. Alternatively, those travelers may present documentation of full recovery from COVID-19 in the past 90 days.

This requirement, which went into effect December 6, applies to all travelers — regardless of their nationality or vaccination status.

You can learn more about this requirement here.

Final Thoughts

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plainly advises “Do not travel internationally until you are fully vaccinated.”

However, even if you are vaccinated, you may be exposed to COVID-19 while traveling. And while you may feel well and not have symptoms, you could be infected and potentially spread the COVID-19 virus to others.

If you have been traveling and are vaccinated, the CDC recommends that you get tested with a COVID-19 viral test 3–5 days after arriving in the U.S. The CDC also recommends self-monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms, and if you do develop symptoms, isolate and get tested.

You can learn more about those steps here.

While you’re thinking about international travel, be sure to read all of our Travel News coverage as well as our COVID-19 coverage, including “21 Expert Tips For Traveling Internationally Right Now.”

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