Testing Before Traveling

Considerations of Testing Before Traveling

In order to protect their jurisdictions against an influx of COVID-19, and with the holiday travel season approaching, many countries and states are requiring documentation of a negative test within 2-3 days of travel (usually 48 hours).  While absolutely understandable and a good tool for border control and for the good of the destination community, in combination with other measures, this poses several challenges:

It can be challenging for travelers to get a test - and its result - within the required timeframe.  

  • Tests are not available in all areas, and travel-related asymptomatic testing may not be covered by insurance.  

  • Published turnaround times range greatly, from an hour to 5 days, and reality does not always match expectations.  While UHS testing generally results in the eTang portal within 36-72 hours, exceptions do occur when confirmatory testing is required.

Testing is not infallible, and timing is critical.  

  • The rapid antigen tests are in general less sensitive and may be less specific than PCR tests, thus a NEGATIVE result is not as reassuring, and a POSITIVE result may stop your travel plans unnecessarily (although one should absolutely double-check with a PCR before assuming they are wrong).
  • Testing too soon after exposure may be negative, and can provide a false sense of reassurance.  While guidelines currently suggest you should not have a sigh of relief until 14 days have passed since contact with a case, testing at 7-10 days since the last contact is likely >90% reassuring.  Definitely do NOT test before 5 days, it is too soon.
  • And, even in the best-case scenario, no test is 100% accurate. Ever. If you are sick, don’t travel.

Some tests are difficult to interpret

  • COVID-19 testing continues to evolve rapidly, and very little is known about true accuracy especially with testing of asymptomatic people; most are FDA approved only in those with symptoms.
  • Interpretation of serological testing, in particular, remains unclear; a (+) antibody may or may not be protective, and the lack of one may not be significant.

Off-campus options for testing are expanding rapidly and changing all the time.  Please look for some local options, by no means exhaustive* - and note this new testing site right next to the Oakland Airport.

*This is NOT a complete list, additional locations will be added as we become aware. 


Specific Country/State Requirements*

Help improve this seciton and email telltang@berkeley.edu if you have additional location-specific guidance or testing sites to communicate to your peers.