What to expect if you contract COVID while traveling abroad


MCollege science teacher Stefanie Guggenheim was due to return home to Illinois after a week’s family vacation across Spain – a final hurray before the start of the school year.

As all passengers must do before entering the United States from overseas, she and her family had a rapid COVID-19 test in Barcelona the day before their flight in August. Her father’s test came back negative. Her sister’s test came back negative. His was positive.

“The lady who issued our tests gave them their authorization forms,” ​​said Guggenheim, who was vaccinated at the time. “She looked at me and just said, ’10 days’. I was shocked.”

That evening was not the last hurray in Spain she had expected. Instead, she rushed to reschedule her flight while her family bought supplies to get her through the unplanned quarantine. And the next day, her family returned to the United States, leaving Guggenheim, 27, alone in a hotel room with no human interaction for 10 days other than the knock on the door by someone delivering food. .

What followed was a crash course on what happens if you test positive for COVID-19 while traveling abroad.

What happens when you test positive

The cost of obtaining COVID-19 abroad – and the treatment process – can vary by country, and often even by region.

Guggenheim was lucky (as much as one could if he tested positive) because she was in Barcelona, ​​which operates specific “health hotels” for people forced to self-isolate. The Spanish government covered the cost of his hotel, which was a small room with a twin bed and a mini balcony overlooking the street below. If she had had to foot the bill, a 10-day stay could easily have cost her over $ 800, according to a NerdWallet analysis of a dozen hotel stays at budget properties in Barcelona (and that doesn’t even hold true). account of the cost of food).

Likewise, traveler Rollie Peterkin, who tested positive in January 2021, had a similar fortuitous moment. Peterkin, who was bound for Turkey with a stopover in the United States, tested positive the day before leaving Costa Rica.

Costa Rica requires unvaccinated tourists to purchase travel insurance. Although he has since been vaccinated, he was not at the time. And so – while Peterkin usually never buys travel insurance – he shelled out around $ 30 for it.

But he wasn’t sure what would be refunded (if any), so Peterkin said he always tries to cut costs rather than ordering good meals and staying in luxury hotels during his quarantine. Although he submitted receipts worth around $ 2,000, he said he was ultimately grateful to receive a check for $ 1,000 from his insurance company.

Here are some of the challenges Guggenheim and Peterkin faced due to their extended stays:

Accommodation

Because the government covered room and food, Guggenheim’s stay in Spain had little expense outside of the hotel’s laundry service.

Accommodation was more difficult for Peterkin, who was staying in a hostel. The hostel owner asked him to leave after learning the test was positive, so Peterkin rushed to find accommodation that would accept him and eventually found a vacation rental. Without laundry detergent, by default he did laundry in the sink with dish soap.

What to expect: Obviously, costs vary by location, but it’s not unreasonable to expect to pay at least $ 100 a night at budget hotels if you need to extend your stay. This could add up to over $ 1,000 over 10 nights.

Food

Guggenheim, who is vegan, said she was impressed that her hotel even offered meatless meals. Guggenheim said she couldn’t remember the quality of the food because by the third day of quarantine she had lost her sense of smell.

Since he was in a vacation rental, Peterkin relied on a food delivery service. He usually only ordered two meals a day to reduce delivery costs.

What to expect: It is not unreasonable to expect to pay $ 15 to $ 20 per meal delivered while you are in quarantine. You will therefore have to count several hundred dollars for food.

Entertainment

Guggenheim planned a vacation without work and didn’t bring a laptop. But given her impending lonely quarantine, her family bought her a laptop from the Apple Store in Barcelona so that she can prepare for her next school year. Other than that, the extent of his entertainment involved a stray cat straying through the hallway of his hotel.

Peterkin, who works remotely as a writer and podcaster, said he was still relatively productive, even though he was bored.

“Other than that, I was just doing push-ups to keep myself busy,” he says.

What to expect: While buying a laptop might seem extreme, you’ll want to at least think about what you could do to kill time if you’re abroad but can’t get around. Will you need to be able to work from your hotel room? Do you have a book or electronic devices with you that can help you get through the quarantine period?

Flights

Guggenheim and Peterkin both rescheduled their initial flights. Most airlines have added flexible change and cancellation policies since the pandemic. Both said they did not have to pay a change fee, even though they both owed the difference between their original plane ticket and the more expensive last-minute plane ticket.

Peterkin’s situation was awkward because while his final destination was Turkey, he had a stopover in the United States, but he booked the flights separately. His insurance covered the plane ticket from Costa Rica to the United States, but he owed the difference in fare for the rescheduled flight to Turkey.

What to expect: Changing a flight reservation can be costly, as you usually have to pay the price difference, which will often be higher when you rebook near your new post-quarantine departure date compared to the original flight. that you probably booked well in advance. This cost could easily reach several hundred dollars.

Medical fees

Guggenheim said her symptoms – which largely settled in their mid-40s – were mild, which she attributes to being vaccinated. Peterkin said he was asymptomatic. But for travelers with severe cases, unexpected hospital bills can be costly.

In addition, both needed permission to return to the United States. For Guggenheim, this involved a visit to a doctor, who wrote a note stating that she was fully recovered.

Peterkin’s ticket to the United States was a negative test result. Because testing in the area cost $ 90, he waited 10 days despite being asymptomatic to better guarantee a negative test – thus ensuring he would not lose $ 90 on a second positive test.

What to expect: This can be a huge variable depending on how sick you get (or not). Everything from paying for a COVID-19 test to extended hospital costs could be necessary depending on the country you are in.

How to prepare for the possibility of contracting COVID abroad

“I know the vaccine isn’t necessarily there to get rid of the disease, but rather to keep your symptoms mild,” Guggenheim explains. “Yet I was shocked that I tested positive and my family tested negative. “

Guggenheim said she was aware of the possibility of falling ill. “But you never think it’s going to happen to you until it does,” she said.

In anticipation of a positive test, here’s how to prepare:

Understand your existing medical insurance and consider purchasing travel insurance

US-based medical insurance providers generally do not cover medical treatments when you are abroad, so always check with your insurer to see if they offer coverage for international travel. If not, consider purchasing travel medical insurance. While it usually doesn’t cover routine expenses, it can cover emergency medical expenses, whether it’s breaking your leg on a ski trip or ending up in the hospital with it. COVID-19.

Pay with select travel credit cards

Some travel credit cards offer a myriad of travel insurance benefits, including trip cancellation, medical treatment, and medical evacuation coverage. While this is usually a perk over premium travel credit cards (which also often have annual fees over $ 500), having one of these cards may be worth it if your test is successful. positive.

It is common for these cards to reimburse expenses of up to at least $ 5,000 to $ 20,000, as long as the original purchase was made on the same card. Rather than purchasing a separate travel insurance policy, you may have sufficient travel insurance coverage from your credit card. Terms vary by card, but they can often reimburse you if someone else in your travel party is positive (even if you don’t).

Book with airlines and hotels that have flexible policies

Yet even relying on insurance can be frustrating. You will usually need to pay the upfront fee and submit receipts for reimbursement. Peterkin said it took about a dozen phone calls and several months before his insurer sent out his check for $ 1,000.

To avoid requiring a refund for a missed flight or canceled hotel room on the next leg of your trip, book with travel providers with flexible change and cancellation policies. While airline and hotel cancellation policies have improved, not all are so generous. For example, many basic economy fares are not changeable, so what appears to be a cheap plane ticket could end up being a sunk cost.

Is international travel a good idea given the risk of testing positive for COVID-19?

It depends on who you ask. Guggenheim says that in hindsight, she wishes she had gone on a domestic vacation.

“Don’t travel outside of your country if you want to recover in your own bed,” she says. “The delta variant is alive and well. Our vaccines are useful and I am thankful that I did not get very sick, but they are not a cure. “

On the flip side, Peterkin didn’t let the quarantine in Costa Rica stop him. Since then he has visited more than a dozen countries and even received his first AstraZeneca vaccine in Montenegro and the second dose in Romania.

“I’m just happy to be able to travel,” he says. “Getting the money back from my travel insurance was the icing on the cake.”

That said, Peterkin has not purchased travel insurance since the Costa Rica excursion.

“I should probably get it,” he said. “I guess I’m a little reckless.”

More from NerdWallet

Sally French writes for NerdWallet. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @SAFmedia.

The article What to expect if you get COVID while traveling abroad originally appeared on NerdWallet.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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