SFO travelers react to new international COVID testing rules now in effect

ByJ.R. Stone and Amy Hollyfield KGO logo
Monday, December 6, 2021
SFO international travelers react to new COVID testing requirement
The first international travelers facing new COVID restrictions arrived at SFO Monday, saying the new testing rules are a challenge.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Stricter travel restrictions are going into place for those coming into the United States.

Travelers will be required to show a negative result from a COVID-19 test taken within a day. The old rule allowed a 72-hour window but this shortens the accepted time span. This comes as there is growing concern over COVID-19 cases and the new variant.

"I'm just hearing from you," said traveler Aiman Abuhamdieh.

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Yes, some who flew in from overseas at SFO where unaware of the new requirements.

"It's a pain, it's not ideal, but it is what it is," said Kathy Smith who just flew into San Francisco. "In the UK it's fine, it's expensive to get private tests, but their easy enough to get," said Smith.

The new rule allows for COVID-19 viral tests that include PCR and rapid tests observed by a professional who can confirm the result.

Passengers arriving from Mexico on Sunday night told us the hotels there are already on board and have those quick tests for under $30 at the hotel.

"You get your test in the morning and you have it easily in two, three hours," said Brian Mcleran who just arrived from Puerto Vallarta.

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But for those we talked with who started in Istanbul, Turkey, it was a different story.

"Even three days was harder because I got it Saturday night and Sunday was my flight so it was stressful," said Syed Qasim.

In fact even after getting that result Qasim missed his connecting flight to the UK because of confusion over the UK rules, a move that cost him thousands of dollars.

Best bet, know the rules of the country you're going to or through, and in this case, know that the COVID test to get into the US must now be a more recent one.

"There's been different restrictions when I've traveled each time this year, so it's just checking each time, making sure that you've got today info," said Smith.

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The first international travelers facing new COVID-19 restrictions arrived at SFO Monday, saying the new rules are a challenge.

"There's not enough hours in the day to get a test and fly here if you have 18 hours of flight time," said Marc Medina after landing from Thailand.

Travelers must now have a negative COVID test 24 hours before entering the US. Medina points out that doesn't leave enough time for surprises.

"If there is a delay or you miss a plane then what are you going to do? I stopped over in Japan. You can't exit the terminal," he said.

That's what happened to Amanda Martin, also traveling to San Francisco from Thailand. She had a layover in Thailand.

"For my case, I had different layovers. I had a domestic flight to an international flight," Martin said.

She found out when she arrived in Japan that her COVID test results from Thailand would expire by the time she landed in the U.S.

"With layovers, if it is just one hour over, they don't count it. That's what happened to me."

So she got another test in Japan. She spent about $300 on COVID tests to meet the new requirements. She says if you are traveling abroad make sure you have a lot of cash and do a lot of research.

"I'll make sure to do more research (next time). I don't know how- I think I did a lot!" She said, laughing.

Michael Stanton, a professor of Public Health at Cal State East Bay, said travelers could first check to see if the airport in the country they will be departing for the US offers COVID tests. He also said airlines are getting better at facilitating testing for their passengers.

The U.S. State Department wrote this on their web site:

Starting on December 6, air travelers aged two and older, regardless of nationality or vaccination status, are required to show documentation of a negative viral test result taken within one day of the flight's departure to the United States before boarding. You must show your negative result to the airline before you board your flight. That includes all travelers - U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents (LPRs), and foreign nationals.

If you recently recovered from COVID-19, you may instead travel with documentation of recovery from COVID-19 (i.e., your positive COVID-19 viral test result on a sample taken no more than 90 days before the flight's departure from a foreign country, and a letter from a licensed healthcare provider or a public health official stating that you were cleared to travel).

Exemptions will be considered on an extremely limited basis. Please visit the CDC for more information about exemptions and the requirement for proof of negative COVID-19 test or recovery from COVID-19, including types of accepted tests for all air passengers arriving in the United States.

Check with your airlines, cruise lines, or travel operators regarding any updated information about your travel plans and/or restrictions, including potential COVID vaccine or testing requirements for countries you are transiting through.

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