Visiting the US during COVID – part 2, getting home again

This post covers the UK regulations as of 0400 GMT on 7th December 2021, and the US regulations as of 0501 GMT on 6th December 2021. As such, they are subject to change at the whim of the UK Government, the US CDC and viral mutations, and I (as the author of the post) accept no responsibility should they be incorrect due to my error or you following them without checking whether the rules have changed since.

Please double-check the current regulations, and keep tracking them, well before you fly. If you’re going somewhere other than the US, the regulations covered in this post do not apply to you, but the second one (getting home again) will.

Also please note, this post is not for debate on the rights and wrongs of testing, lockdown, required wearing of masks, COVID passports etc, and anything that isn’t useful information or questions related to the process of getting in and out of the UK will get summarily deleted. And, once again, I am not a doctor or legal expert. This post is to give you pointers on where to look and what happens, nothing more.

With that in mind:

Getting home again

On your way home, you are subject to the UK‘s entry rules. Specifically, you’re going to need two (yes two) COVID tests and you have a form to fill in. The following applies to any NON-Red List country (see the regulations for details) such as the USA.

Pre-departure test

According to the regulations, this can be a Lateral Flow, Rapid Antigen or PCR test, and you must take it two calendar days or fewer before you fly out (i.e. if your flight is on a Wednesday, you must take the test sometime on or after the Monday). And, most importantly, you need documentary proof, so a self-administered test won’t work without some extra legwork.

Your basic options:

  • By far the best is to take a test with you from ExpressTest or similar: you will need a device with a video camera and an internet connection while you’re in the US.

If you forget (or like us you didn’t have a crystal ball!) you can….

  • Find a local healthcare clinic or testing station that will take self-pay patients and get you the results by email before you need to leave. These can cost $100 in the likes of Orlando (you’re a captive audience!).
  • Many, but not all, branches of Walgreens will do you a test.
  • You can, as with Breathe Assured in the UK, do a tele-health test. The likes of Azova will do the video observation for $20 as long as you can source the right brand of test from a pharmacy locally or online. Don’t forget to allow for delivery times.

With your results in hand you can upload them to VeriFLY or print them off/save them to your phone ready for check in

Day 2 Arrival test

This one requires pre-planning, ideally before you even leave the UK: you need the reference number of the test you book for the Passenger Location Form (next step below) before you leave the US.

The Day 2 test now needs to be a PCR test – lateral flow will not cut it after 7th Dec – taken on or before your second day in the UK, with your landing day counting as day ZERO. If like us you land in the UK on a Sunday, you must take the test on or before Tuesday, and you must self-isolate until you get a negative result. Note that you CAN therefore take it on the day you land.

Best tip is to book it before you leave the UK. Your airline will probably recommend a few options, and these tend to fall into the approach of mailing you a test kit that you self-administer and send back. The obvious drawback here is that you’re going to have to self-isolate until the results come through, but you don’t have to worry about dealing with it when jet-lagged if you don’t need to be back at work the day after you land.

If you do need to be working ASAP, or you just want the whole thing over with, you have options to take advantage of the ‘on or before’ bit of Day 2 tests.

  • ExpressTest will let you pre-book a test at their testing stations on many UK airports (including Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham).
  • HaloVerify have a testing station in the Sofitel off the right-hand end of T5 Arrivals, for which again you have to pre-book. We can throughly recommend the latter – results before we went to bed the same day from tests after we landed at 2pm – it does require a phone app, though. Also, if you don’t like throat/nasal swabs, it’s a saliva ‘spit and go’ test (this can, though, be harder than it seems if the plane’s air-conditioning has dried your mouth and throat out – it’s harder than you think to provide 2ml of saliva). Also, you need to not eat, drink or smoke for 30 mins before.
  • HaloVerify can also send you a test kit (as above) to self-admin and send back if you want.

Passenger Locator Form

This is a UK Government form you will need to fill in before you head home, a) to assert you’ve been tested etc and b) to allow them to trace your contacts on the flight etc.

Be aware that you will need your Day 2 test reference (which the testing company will send you when you book) before you fill it in, and also that it can only be filled in 48 hours (NOT two calendar days, just to be irritating) before your homeward flight’s scheduled departure time. It can be done on a smartphone.

Once you have completed it, a copy will arrive in your email as a PDF with a barcode which you can scan into VeriFLY or show to the check-in desk. We printed a copy to be safe, but weren’t asked to produce it.

On the day

Once you have your pre-departure test result, your PLF and a test booking for when you get home, you’re sorted. As on your flight out, be ready to show all your documentation (or VeriFLY) to the check-in desk….

… and remember to keep enough charge in your phone in case you have to show your PLF on arrival, or find your test booking number/complete your test details for an on-airport test!

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