The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has taken the world by storm since its emergence in November 2021, leaving many travellers’ plans for winter and spring trips mired in uncertainty.
Indeed, I myself contracted the virus over the holiday period and have since recovered. I’ve since been grappling with the implications of what a positive COVID-19 test result means for upcoming travel plans, given that recovered COVID-19 cases may continue to return positive PCR test results for an extended period.
In this article, let’s take a look at what the travel landscape looks like for Canadians who have recently tested positive for COVID-19: where in the world can we go, and what steps should we take to ensure a smooth travel experience?
Enter Canada Using Your Positive COVID-19 Test Within 180 Days
One of the potential upsides to getting a positive COVID-19 test result is that it may exempt you from the requirement to present a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of boarding a flight to Canada.
Indeed, in lieu of a negative test, those who have recently recovered from COVID-19 may present proof of a positive molecular test result taken between 11 and 180 days before boarding a flight to Canada, or before entering Canada by water or land.
This can save you significant cost and hassle on any international trips that you take during the six months following a positive test result.
After all, molecular tests in foreign countries can be difficult and time-consuming to track down, and even if you were to bring a few Switch Health RT-LAMP Test Kits with you, those aren’t cheap either at $149 apiece.
What’s more, showing a valid positive test result as proof of recovery also exempts you from on-arrival testing upon entering Canada, which would otherwise be mandatory for international arrivals and subject to random selection for US arrivals.
This would also save you the trouble of having to self-isolate while waiting for those negative test results upon your return.
Countries That Don’t Require COVID-19 Entry Testing for Fully Vaccinated Travellers
Clearly, if you’ve recently tested positive for COVID-19 but have exited your self-isolation period and are symptom-free, you may continue to visit countries that do not require COVID-19 testing for entry – whether that’s for all travellers or fully vaccinated travellers.
You can find a full list of such countries on our Travel During COVID-19 Resource for Canadians: simply refer to the columns titled “Open to all travellers” or “Open with proof of vaccination; no testing required”.
For example, a trip to both Mexico and Costa Rica would involve no need for testing at any point in the journey, as would a trip to most European countries as a fully vaccinated traveller.
As mentioned above, presenting your positive COVID-19 test from the past 11–180 days would exempt you from testing upon return to Canada as well.
Countries That Accept a Positive COVID-19 Test for Entry
Some countries around the world ordinarily require a negative COVID-19 test result for entry, but also offer exemptions for recently recovered travellers who can present a valid positive COVID-19 test.
For these countries, it’s important to be aware of the exact specifications they require for the positive test, as there’s quite a bit of variance among countries.
Below are the details for major countries that fall into this category as of the time of writing.
The United States accepts proof of a positive test result within the past 90 days in lieu of a negative test result, along with a letter of recovery. The US accepts positive antigen test results, just like it accepts negative antigen test results.
(Note that you still need to present a test result document with information including the type of test, the entity issuing the result, the sample collection date, and your personal information. Merely a rapid antigen test kit showing a positive result won’t suffice.)
In addition to the positive test result within 90 days, you will also need to present “a signed letter from a licensed healthcare provider or a public health official that states you have been cleared for travel”. As per the US CDC:
A letter from your healthcare provider or a public health official that clears you to end isolation, e.g., to return to work or school, can be used to show you are cleared to travel, even if travel isn’t specifically mentioned in the letter. The letter must have information that identifies you personally (e.g., name and date of birth) that matches the personal identifiers on your passport or other travel documents. The letter must be signed and dated on official letterhead that contains the name, address, and phone number of the healthcare provider or public health official who signed the letter.
There are several ways to obtain a recovery letter as per the above requirements. In order from most to least expensive, you may:
- Make use of dedicated services that supply recovery letters (around $75–100 per letter)
- Request a letter of recovery from your doctor (who may or may not charge for the service)
- Ask a licensed healthcare provider that you know to write and sign a letter certifying that you are cleared to exit your isolation period
Along with your positive test result, you’ll be able to enter the US without pre-travel testing for a 90-day period.
As an alternative to a negative test prior to boarding, Argentina accepts a positive test result and a “medical discharge certificate” issued between 10 and 90 days prior to travel.
You’d need a physician to issue the medical discharge certificate. Prince of Travel reader Jim clarifies based on his experience that a certificate indicating that you have recovered and have no symptoms issued by a family doctor will suffice.
Aruba allows recovered travellers to show a positive COVID-19 test from between 10 days and 12 weeks prior to travel in lieu of a negative test.
Austria requires a negative PCR test if you haven’t received your third booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine yet. In these cases, for travellers who have recently recovered from COVID-19, a medical certificate can be used as a substitute for the negative PCR test.
The medical certificate is available for download here and can be filled in by any licensed medical doctor.
Denmark allows recovered travellers to show a positive COVID-19 test from between 11 and 180 days prior to travel in lieu of a negative test.
Dominica is an example of a country with a rather convoluted policy for recently recovered travellers. Instead of merely showing a positive test from a certain preceding period, travellers must take another PCR test prior to travel, which specifies the CT level.
This allows Dominica to determine whether the positive test is from a past infection or a recent infection, although no indication is given as to what CT level is acceptable.
Seychelles also implements a multi-layered policy for recently recovered COVID-19 patients. In lieu of a negative PCR test within 72 hours before departure, such travellers may instead produce their positive PCR test result from between two and 12 weeks prior, along with a negative antigen test result within 72 hours of departure.
The idea here is that recently recovered COVID-19 cases may still return positive PCR results, but are more assured of returning negative antigen results, given that the PCR testing methodology is much better at detecting even faint traces of the virus.
Similar to the Seychelles, Sri Lanka also allows recently recovered travellers to produce a positive PCR test from within the past three months along with a negative antigen test done within 48 hours of embarkation.
If You’ve Tested Positive, Get an Official COVID-19 Test Result
The above allowances for recently recovered travellers are predicated on being able to provide a valid positive PCR test result.
In most cases, this means that the test result must show the name of the laboratory, the times that the specimen was collected and the test was carried out, and the traveller’s personal information. Some countries may require the traveller’s passport information to be listed as well.
To make matters more confusing, not all countries openly publish their criteria online, and enforcement can be variable at the time of travel.
Therefore, if you’ve recently tested positive for COVID-19, the best practice would be to seek out a PCR testing facility to return a positive COVID-19 PCR test. After all, PCR is the most commonly used global standard when it comes to testing for travel purposes.
Most Canadian provinces have placed tight limits on the availability of PCR tests, so your best option might be to visit a paid testing clinic, where the cost of the PCR test should nevertheless be outweighed by the savings on further PCR tests over the upcoming months.
If you’re only planning to hop between Canada and the United States using your positive test (plus a doctor’s note) over the next three months, then any type of molecular test will do. You could even use a Switch Health RT-LAMP Test Kit if you have one handy to return a positive test result that can be used for both countries.
However, if you hope to travel further abroad to countries that normally require a negative COVID-19 test, but allow a positive test under certain circumstances, it’s best to get a PCR test result as soon as you can.
What About Countries That Require a Negative COVID-19 Test for Entry?
Of course, the trickiest part of testing positive for COVID-19 if you have upcoming travel plans is that some recovered patients may continue to return positive PCR tests for a period of up to three months following their recovery.
There’s no guarantee that you will continue testing positive, only that it’s a somewhat common occurrence.
Therefore, if you’ve been planning to visit a country that requires negative PCR tests with no exemption for fully vaccinated travellers or recently recovered travellers, then your plans might have to float in a state of uncertainty until the 72-hour period prior to departure when you can complete your test.
I myself am in this situation as I ponder some upcoming trips in the spring of 2022, having recently recovered from COVID-19 at the turn of the year. I’m comfortable taking my chances on a PCR test in the 72-hour window prior to embarkation when the time comes, and changing my plans if the test does indeed return a positive result.
As always in this challenging era, we’d recommend making flexible travel plans, taking advantage of the increased flexibility of booking travel on points, and giving due consideration to backup travel options.
Returning a positive COVID-19 test result can be an obstacle to any upcoming travel plans within the subsequent few months, but it can just as well be a blessing in disguise in exempting you from any testing requirements when returning to Canada.
Along with a letter of recovery certifying that you’ve exited your isolation, you’d be able to hop over the border to the US and return entirely test-free over the upcoming 90 days.
You’d also be able to travel to countries that don’t require pre-entry testing and return test-free, although countries that do mandate a negative PCR test may prove to be a trickier proposition, depending on how long traces of the virus linger in your system.