Could Covid Self-Testing be a Game Changer for Central America Travel?

According to its latest update, the CDC now allows returning travelers to show a self-test to enter the United States, instead of going to a Covid testing center. Could this be a game changer in the waning months of the pandemic?

One of the biggest obstacles to tourism in Central America has been the United States’ insistence on Covid test for all returning travelers, whether they’re citizens or not.

Since January 28, everyone flying to the United States has had to get a Covid test within 72 hours of travel. There’s no doubt this has affected tourism throughout Central America, as the test adds inconvenience and expense to a tourist’s experience.

While it’s true that both governments and tourism sectors throughout Central America have been good at making Covid tests easier and more accessible for travelers, the situation has still been far from ideal.

But a new CDC guideline might – just might – make things a lot easier and more affordable, going forward.

In a May 7 update, the CDC said that travelers to the U.S. could now self-test instead of going to a Covid test center or have someone come to their hotel to test them.

Here’s the exact wording of the update from the CDC in their FAQ about Covid testing:

International air passengers traveling to the United States can use a self-test (sometimes referred to as home test) that meets the following criteria:

  1. The test must be a SARS-CoV-2 viral test (nucleic acid amplification test [NAAT] or antigen test) with Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
  2. 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. Some FDA-authorized self-tests that include a telehealth service may require a prescription.
  3. 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 (see “What information must be included in the test result?” below).
  4. Airlines and other aircraft operators must be able to review and confirm the person’s identity and the 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.

If we’re reading correctly, this could be a much-needed boost for tourism in the region.

A traveler could buy their home testing kits in the States before traveling, and bring them on vacation with them. They could then take the tests before flying home, eliminating the need and cost of doing it in a Central American Covid testing center.

According to Fortune Magazine, home tests like that of Australian manufacturer Ellume will cost around $30 over the counter. Although still not widely available in the US, they’re coming soon.

Home testing kits are widely available in the UK, however. The government there has even been sending them out to people, free of charge. This will be the norm all over, very soon.

Either way, an over-the-counter self-testing kit will be cheaper than a testing center in Central America. And WAY more convenient.

If a traveler tests postitive, the CDC recommends the telehealth service affiliated with the self-test informs local authorities so the traveler goes into quarantine following local guidelines.

The only other question at this stage is will countries in Central America recognize these self tests?

No one’s said anything yet. At the moment, CDC recommends individual travelers planning to bring their own self-tests with them contact the authorities in the country they’re visiting to verify if they can use them. That’s hardly ideal.

We expect most Central American countries, though – at least those most reliant on tourism – to jump on this as a way to attract more visitors.

After all, Costa Rica doesn’t need a Covid test to enter. Belize and Guatemala have eliminated the need for tests for vaccinated travelers.

If Central America recognizes these tests, hotels could even stock up on them so people don’t need to bring their own. Provided tourists boards advertise that their countries allow these tests (either bring-your-own or for purchase at hotel reception), this could grease the wheels for pandemic tourism going forward in a big way.

Let’s see what governments and tourist boards around the region say in the coming days.