T&T’s borders have been open for just over a month and, if you’re like me, the travel bug is biting hard. We are in the middle of a pandemonium (as Gen Z likes to call it) though, and navigating the patchwork of airline regulations, testing rules, and destination requirements can be overwhelming. Here are 5 things you need to know before dusting off that passport and suitcase.
1. Negative tests are required for entry… but not always
Before you begin your fabulous life as Jetway Jan, know that a negative RT-PCR test taken 72 hours before arrival is required for most destinations. However, the faster (and cheaper) antigen tests are accepted at some destinations, like the United States. A rapid antigen test starts at TT$300, while the cost of a PCR test starts at TT$950. Some medical institutions offer a drive-thru option and others will even come to your door, at an additional cost, of course. Flying with Caribbean Airlines? Book the test through their website up to seven days in advance. Their Ink portal links you with a local lab and prices start at TT$980.00. If you’re pressed for time, you can get tested at Piarco International up to 8 hours in advance. Expect to pay between TT$800 and TT$1,100 (dependent on the type of test).
Certain destinations like Guatemala waive the test requirement if you have proof of full vaccination or proof of recovery from COVID-19 in the last 90 days. Others, like Canada, require both full vaccination (with specific vaccines) AND a negative covid test result. Different requirements may be in place for children and unvaccinated travellers. The US recently announced that come November, all foreign adult travellers must be vaccinated to enter by air (land borders have different rules). If you’ve been recently recovered from COVID-19 then you will need a doctor’s letter clearing you to fly. This is in lieu of the negative test… vaccination is still required.
PRO TIP: Use the Caribbean Airlines sherpa tool to get the most up to date destination requirements.
2. Booking directly with an airline is better (for now)
Tickets to certain destinations can be cheap and that’s tempting for sure… trust me, I love a good deal! Before you book with an online travel agency (OTA) like Expedia, Orbitz or Kiwi.com, consider booking directly with the airline. Due to lagging demand, staff shortages, technical issues, and changing covid guidelines, airlines have had to make unprecedented schedule changes in the few months. If you book with an OTA then you have to deal with them instead of directly with the airline. This can cause your ticket price to go up or put you on a less desirable flight (if a flight is available). OTAs can often offer cheaper tickets but presently, they offer less flexibility and will often hold your money as travel funds instead of refunding the cost back to your card. This means that instead of having cash in hand to use for something else, you end up with a voucher that can only be used with that OTA.
I had one of my flight schedules change at least 4 times in 2 weeks and this was for an upcoming flight in November! It got so frustrating that I ended up cancelling, getting a refund and booking with a completely different airline… Me? Stranded? Stranded NOTHING!
PRO TIP: Book your trip with a credit card that earns you mileage points. These points can be used for upgrades, vacations, car rentals, and hotels.
3. Digitalising copies of your documents will help
To re-enter T&T you will need a negative PCR test (taken 72 hours before arrival into T&T) and the TTravel Pass. When filling out the form online, you’ll be asked to upload your vaccination card (if applicable). Before you leave T&T, scan it and save it on your personal device. That way you’re not running around like a headless chicken in some random Latin American country asking some dude named Pablo for a scanner. The word for scanner in Spanish is escáner by the way… de nada 😉
Also, scan and keep copies of your passport and all other important documents. One can never be too prepared and it makes replacing documents easier.
If you have a local vaccination card issued by the Ministry of Health, get it switched over to a WHO International Certificate of Vaccination (ICV) card asap. That beautiful, I can’t believe it’s not butter coloured card is your key to international jurisdictions that have vaccine requirements.
That being said, I’ve gotten reports that some airport agents will only accept printed copies of the TTravel Pass so, print a copy if you can.
PRO TIP: Get your ICV card at your local County Medical Office of Health (CMOH). It takes 3-5 working days to process and you’ll need to provide a valid travel itinerary.
4. Travel Insurance shouldn’t be optional
Consider getting either flight insurance which would cover your flights only or trip insurance which covers your entire trip including hotel stays and incidentals (depending on the level of coverage). Not all insurance plans cover covid-related testing and expenses, so make sure you read the fine details before purchasing.
PRO TIP: While local insurance companies offer travel insurance, the benefits are limited. Consider looking for an international plan instead.
5. Be flexible
Remaining flexible is key when travelling in a panini (another Gen Z pandemic reference, sorry folks!). Changing flight schedules, destination entry protocols, and closures can wreak havoc on even the best-laid plans. Knowing your options and having a backup plan is vital. Ask yourself questions like if the borders close suddenly (God forbid) what is the fastest way to get back to T&T? Do I have enough money available for a last-minute flight? How quickly can I get a RT-PCR test?
Another thing that may spring up unexpectedly is a quarantine requirement due to exposure to a covid positive person, which can effectively cut your trip short (the fun part of it at least). Prepare to spend at least 10 days in quarantine/self-isolation if need be. Most importantly, don’t travel if you are exhibiting any symptoms. Get tested, and isolate until you get your results.
PRO TIP: Some governments cover the cost of mandatory quarantine, but others require you to pay out of pocket and, in some cases, that can cost well over TT$20,000. Research your destination’s COVID policies well before booking anything and always have ‘vex money’ available. You never know when you may need it.