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U.S. to end Covid-19 testing for incoming air travelers

10 Jun 2022
Chantal McPhee

Great news for travelers flying home to the U.S. after a cruise, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will no longer require travelers entering the U.S. to provide a negative Covid-19 pre-departure test.

An official announcement will come from President Bident later today, a welcome change for the travel industry and travelers alike.

The new policy will come into effect Sunday at 12:01 a.m. after heavy lobbying from airlines and the travel industry.

Despite these changes, Royal Caribbean still requires pre-cruise testing for its sailings worldwide, along with vaccination requirements.

Current Covid-19 testing

Woman taking covid test

Since January 2021, travelers returning to the United States from international destinations must complete a pre-departure Covid-19 test for their flights. A major inconvenience for cruisers traveling back home after cruises abroad, who have already tested before their cruise.

Currently, airline passengers must present negative Covid–19 results, using common tests such as rapid antigen or PCR. Specifically, the test needs to be completed no more than 1 day before the first scheduled departure time in the flight itinerary, applying to all travelers, including U.S. citizens, residents, and transit travelers.

This is another headache for many travelers, and especially cruisers disembarking abroad, who have to find a testing site, out of the country that meets the tight 1 day testing timeline.

Stress for cruisers

For cruisers traveling for the popular summer season in Europe, this means more money, and in some cases, more stress.

Initially, Royal Caribbean provided its guests with onboard testing to assist in meeting requirements to return home after their cruise; however, they discontinued the process, leaving guests to find their own solutions in unfamiliar cities.

While many airports provide pre-flight testing, recently, European cruisers reported issues with booking timely testing. In May, popular ports like Barcelona, Spain, had long lineups for airport testing, with some cruisers reporting that they were unable to book or get same day testing, forcing them to spend an extra day.

Tampa airport

Ongoing flight cancellations and airline delays have further aggravated the situation for passengers, leaving them scrambling to find new testing solutions with last minute changes.

This not only affects European cruises but other cruises, such as those to Alaska. A number of cruises home port in cities such as Vancouver, Canada, requiring cruisers to test before flights back to the U.S.

Additional cost

The cost of pre-cruise and return testing adds up. In Barcelona, a major hub for European cruises, antigen tests can cost in excess of $40 per person. Some opt for online proctored tests, but this requires reliable internet access, which is another expense on a cruise.

In addition to cost, many cruisers have expressed concerns about what to do if they test positive in a foreign country. Looking for the right insurance, including Covid-19 coverage, is one more thing that cruisers need to consider in their planning.

Complicating this are ever changing protocols that vary by country. From the time you book a cruise, to sail, policies may change significantly.

Pre-Cruise testing

Today's announcement is welcome by many, but for now, Royal Caribbean continues to require pre-cruise testing for all its cruises, with specific protocols varying by region and country. As noted on the cruise line’s Healthy Sail Center website:


"All l guests 2 and up take a COVID-19 test before sailing. All crew are tested regularly per CDC guidelines."

For cruisers leaving from destinations such as Barcelona, the criteria specifies:

  • Vaccinated guests who are up to date (with vaccines) must show a negative result for a PCR or an antigen test taken no more than 2 days before boarding day. Vaccinated guests who are not up to date will have a 1 day window to take this test. Kids age 5 to 11 who have been vaccinated may present proof of full vaccination and follow the testing protocols for vaccinated guests.
  • Unvaccinated kids age 2 to 11 must show a negative result for a PCR or antigen test taken no more than 1 day before boarding day.
  • Guests under 2 years of age do not need to complete a pre-cruise test.

An important condition for many countries in Europe, the most recent vaccine dose can be no more than 9 months (270 days) ago. Royal Caribbean continues to require all guests age 12 and up are fully vaccinated. Booster doses, though not required, are strongly recommended once you are eligible.

Specific telehealth options continue to be accepted but must be completed with a supervised virtual video visit, and all tests are at the guests’ expense. Royal Caribbean sells eMed Tests Kits and allows Canada’s Switch Health online tests.