Finding a COVID-19 test while traveling is probably the thing that scares people the most for absolutely nothing! But for those who want peace of mind and more convenience, there is now a very interesting option: Portable self-administered molecular rapid tests.
We’ll have much more detailed content on travel testing soon, but I’m also sharing an intro because many are asking us about this.
But first, here are the details of this surprising new development.
Portable self-administered rapid molecular tests
Remember that even though 55 countries are open to vaccinated Canadians without a test requirement, Canada still refuses to lift its pre-entry test requirement (the current rule theoretically expires in November, but that doesn’t mean anything of course).
I will explain this in the next section, but there are 2 parts to COVID-19 testing when traveling.
First, the search for a COVID-19 test itself, which is not complicated at all. Finding them is extremely easy. Believing the opposite is yet another of the many travel myths.
Second, the cost. Finding cheap ones is what involves making destination choices accordingly (but I paid $55 total for my 4 PCRs abroad— not $55 per test but for all 4—so the idea that it’s necessarily expensive everywhere is completely false).
The new portable self-administered tests can help with the first element, for those who don’t want to put in the effort. And they can help with the second element in some countries (and in those cases, they are obviously the best option).
What is a self-administered test
The name says it: A self-administered test is a test you administer yourself. You perform the test yourself. They call it a “self-test” too.
So you buy the test kit here in Canada, you take it anywhere in the world, and you do the test at most 72 hours before the scheduled departure time of your direct flight to Canada (the rules are the same as for tests done there).
The difference is that you don’t have to send it to a lab. You’ll get the results in 45 minutes, so there is little to no waiting time. You’ll get an official electronic lab report valid to enter Canada.
This is breaking news, by the way, as the embargo was just lifted at 8 AM Monday, and below is all the advance info Flytrippers was sent. We’ll update this post as soon as we learn more about the finer details and how it all works.
But in short, it means you don’t have to find a lab or worry about waiting for results.
You can watch my video where I show you the process of performing one of my self-tests back in April.
(If the video doesn’t appear above, deactivate your ad blocker)
This was a PCR test so it had to be shipped, so the steps after won’t be the same at all… but it shows you how easy and non-invasive self-tests are.
The new portable test must also be done in telehealth mode under the supervision of a health professional, and you need a mobile device specifically.
And you need an Internet connection of course. Either with free Wi-Fi from your hotel or by buying a SIM card as you should do all the time anyway if you want to save money compared to the Canadian telecom cartel’s roaming plans scam.
How much the self-administered test costs
To be clear, these new rapid molecular self-tests are not very affordable at all.
They are $149 plus tax. Almost every country in the world has PCR tests that are cheaper than that. (And the manufacturer of the Lucira product in question boasts a US$50 price on the other side of the border, so we once again get the Canadian surcharge it seems).
This is preferred pricing exclusive to Aeroplan members, and it’s free to sign up of course.
(And you should anyway: Aeroplan is the #1 most essential program for Canadian travelers who want to earn free travel, as you can see in our 5 essential programs cheat sheet.)
By the way, there are some unusually high offers for Aeroplan points right now, including the highest welcome bonus ever seen in Canada on a non-premium card, which gives up to 7 roundtrip reward flights with just the welcome bonus.
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You can also use your Aeroplan points to buy the testing kit, which is obviously the worst possible idea. The most basic rule that everyone should know, even those among the Flytrippers readers who have earned 1 million dollars in travel rewards with welcome bonuses: never use rewards for anything other than travel. The value is almost always terrible.
Anyway, this new portable test is a great example of the rule that applies to anything in the world of travel: You can either have more convenience or more value. Always.
As we know very well here at Flytrippers, an incredible number of people are always willing to pay more for convenience instead of saving money to travel more. And an incredible number of people don’t want to plan anything ahead at all or take the time to make sure they save money.
So this new self-administered test is sure to be very popular.
It sure could be interesting, at least NOT for the US.
(It pains us so much to see people pay $200 for tests in the US, just as it pains us to see people miss out on welcome bonuses that give $1,000 for free so I’ll repeat: The US has a test that gives results in a few hours for free, in almost every state and it is so easy. So that’s clearly the best option over there, the tests called NAATs).
What type of molecular this is
The new self-administered test you can buy is an RT-LAMP test (and as I just said, the free test I used in the US is a NAAT).
No, these are not PCR tests. Neither one of them.
Another one of the many myths. Almost everyone firmly believes that only PCR tests are accepted to enter Canada, but this has been false all along.
NAATs and RT-LAMPs have always been accepted (as have all molecular tests; it’s just the antigen tests that are not accepted), they are just much rarer.
It just goes to show how important it is to carefully read the details of each rule (and to not rely on anyone else; no one really knows the rules even when they think they do… no one has bad intentions, but they will mislead you anyway).
How to order the self-administered test
To be clear, you do not need to be flying with Air Canada to order the kit. It’s just that Air Canada developed this partnership and has exclusivity for the launch.
You can order the kit on the Switch Health website. Delivery takes 5 to 7 days (or 1 to 3 days for $15 more if you can’t wait to leave).
The video above was a self-administered test was also from Switch Health. They are the Canadian company that managed the test that was required upon return to Canada this spring when I returned from my 3rd and 4th pandemic trips and that is offering this new test.
Make sure you order the right type of test, as they have 3.
You want the RT-LAMP test. The RT-PCR requires a lab, so that’s not very useful at all.
They also have a kit of 2 rapid antigen self-tests for $79, which can be interesting for countries that accept that type as their pre-entry test like the USA and others. We’ll have a detailed post about these specifically (since it’s the same price as the cheapest $40 tests that aren’t even available in all provinces).
How to use the self-administered test
More information will follow as I said.
I may even try it in November. Obviously not for my short trip to the US at the beginning of the month, since tests are free there as I said.
But I might be going elsewhere internationally later in the month, so maybe I’ll pay the extra cost (if any, based on the cost of tests at my still undetermined destination) just so I can show you how it works.
Here are the instructions for the self-test in the meantime.
The basics of travel testing
The Government of Canada’s COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory panel recommends lifting the test requirement by the way. Weren’t we supposed to trust the experts?
Arenas here in Canada are full and no one needs to be tested afterward, but a test is required even if you come back from a destination with a lower infection rate than here.
This is the current science; let’s hope that the test requirement will be eliminated completely, eliminated at least for the safest destinations (as many countries do too), or at least replaced by the rapid antigen test that is more quick/convenient/cheap.
In the meantime, here is an intro.
The search for a test
It does add some extra logistics, but it’s really not that bad.
It’s the only requirement left to enter Canada… it seems to me that after more than a year and a half without traveling (for most people), it should be worth it to make a little effort to see something other than that spot in your own province!
Oh well, everyone’s preferences and priorities are subjective.
But facts are objective. And what is certain is that you have to stop worrying about finding tests abroad. So many people seem to think it’s difficult, but it’s absolutely not. They are really easily available absolutely everywhere.
Just Google “(city name) PCR test” and voila. In May, I found one in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, in 2 minutes and it’s far from being a very touristy place as you can imagine. So it’s really easy to find pretty much everywhere.
The cost of the tests
Then, there is the cost of course. Again, everyone seems to think that tests are expensive everywhere just because tests are expensive here in Canada. This is completely false. I paid $55 total for my 4 PCR tests abroad. Not $55 per test, but $55 total.
In short, tests certainly are not as expensive as they are here everywhere. Like anything else, it depends on the country. They are free in the United States. They are $50 in France. Even if those are 2 countries where travel is excessively expensive (far from being those where C$30/day total is enough). It depends. Check.
Here’s an example: Flights are expensive in Canada. That doesn’t mean that flights are expensive elsewhere. You can get many 2hour flights for C$9 in Europe.
We pay more for our flights here; it’s the same thing with tests.
Anyway, we’ll have a more detailed article on this soon, but if you want to save on the cost of the tests, it’s simple: Choose a country based on the cost of the tests.
It’s like if you want a spot where the airfares are cheap… it’s not time to look into that once you’ve chosen a destination: It has to be done before!
Preparing and planning your trips well has always been the best way to save money, but this is even more true with the pandemic.
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Portable self-administered rapid molecular tests are now available and can be used for Canada’s pre-entry testing requirement. It is not cheaper than the tests already available in most countries, but it is certainly simpler.
What would you like to know about COVID-19 tests for travel? Tell us in the comments below.
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Featured image: Self-administered test (photo credit: Andrew D’Amours/Flytrippers)
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