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What American travelers need to know about getting a covid-19 test in Mexico


(iStock/Washington Post illustration)

With coronavirus cases still on the rise, and a faster-spreading variant causing heightened concerns, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new order requiring Americans to get a coronavirus test before returning home from trips abroad.

For American travelers, the order means new complications to trip planning. Some have opted to cancel their trip altogether, worried that they wouldn’t be able to comply with inbound testing requirements or it would be too costly.

While both the CDC and State Department websites recommend Americans rethink travel plans to Mexico because of coronavirus risks, they also outline exactly what the new order means for travelers.

We spoke with Mexico tourism insiders to find out how Americans can get a coronavirus test in Mexico, which one they need to get home, how much it will cost them and what happens if they test positive.

What does the new rule require?

Beginning on Jan. 26, those traveling back to the United States by plane will be required to test negative for the coronavirus no more than three days before their flight home, and show proof of their negative result (or that they’ve recovered from covid-19) before boarding.

Travelers can get either a PCR test — considered the gold standard, which can cost more and takes a few days to process results — or an antigen test, a rapid test that tends to be less accurate but is faster and cheaper.

Where can I find a coronavirus test in Mexico?

At this time, the popular mail-in coronavirus testing services, like Pixel and Vault, are not available for international use. Travelers will have to get a test in person or arrange for a professional to come to their accommodation.

To encourage customers to keep their reservations, hotels across the country are promising to help coordinate tests for guests either on-site or at nearby labs and hospitals. Customers can get in touch with the hotel concierge, who should know where to find the best-priced tests from approved testing labs, or be able to arrange an on-site test. Rodrigo Esponda, managing director of the Los Cabos Tourism Board, says that courtesy may extend to travelers staying at villas and time shares as well.


Tourists visit the Mayan ruins of Tulum in Quintana Roo, Mexico. (Emilio Espejel/AP)

Those not staying at a serviced accommodation can go to tourism offices for assistance on where to find approved testing labs. The State Department website has also provided this list, in Spanish, of approved laboratories for travelers needing a coronavirus test.

As a worst-case scenario, travelers may be able to get a last-minute test at the airport before they depart — although not all airports offer this service, so check well ahead of time.

Is it difficult to arrange a coronavirus test in Mexico?

Laura Torres-Septién, president of the San Miguel de Allende Tourism Board, says that because many other countries previously required coronavirus tests for returning travelers, testing infrastructure is in place in tourist-heavy areas of Mexico.

“We have the laboratories, we have the equipment to have results on time,” Torres-Septién says, adding that if a traveler is having difficulty arranging a test, he or she can contact the nearest tourism consul for help.

However, not all travelers have found the process straightforward.


A health-care worker tests a man for the coronavirus in Mexico City. (Carlos Jasso/Reuters)

Florida resident Viviane d’Adesky and her husband thought it was challenging to find a test in Mexico City on a recent trip to see family for the holidays. Although the couple was departing before the Jan. 26 CDC order start date, they needed to get tested after a family member tested positive for the coronavirus.

“A lot of places are requiring three or four days of advance notice for the appointment,” d’Adesky says. “You couldn’t make a same-day appointment because there’s so many people trying to get a test right now.”

To make sure travelers get a test timed correctly for their departure, Magdalena Arias, the sales and marketing manager for the Hotel Matilda in San Miguel de Allende, says it’s best to make an appointment at least three to four days in advance. If travelers are staying in a remote area, Arias says, they may need to go to a larger city to get their test.

How much will my coronavirus test cost?

The price of your coronavirus test will depend on where you’re staying and what kind of test you get. As in the United States, PCR tests will range from about $130 to $150 at a lab or hospital.

With the new CDC order, many Mexican hotels are enticing customers by taking care of a guest’s testing altogether.

“Most of the hotels throughout Mexico are offering the service, and they’re even giving it to you for free,” says Hope Smith, a California-based travel adviser and owner of the Virtuoso agency Born To Travel.


Tourists stroll on the shore of Xcalacoco beach in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. (Emilio Espejel/AP)

For example, Sandals properties are offering free rapid tests for travelers going back to the United States, and Meliá Hotels International created a free insurance policy for guests that covers an antigen test at the property, among other medical costs.

On the other end of the spectrum, Smith says she has seen on-site coronavirus PCR tests cost around $300 at luxury hotels in Mexico. A travel adviser can help clients staying in luxury properties find cheaper testing options and arrange for transportation to a lab if needed.

Carmen Joaquin, president of the Cozumel Business Owners Union, says antigen tests on the island are much cheaper than travelers fear.

“The cheapest antigen test I’ve found here is about $15-$20; it’s really not that expensive,” she says, adding that many of the larger hotel chains are including the cost of a coronavirus test in the room rate.

What happens if I test positive in Mexico?

If you test positive, you will have to stay in Mexico and isolate at your accommodation for 14 days.

Knowing that potential extended stay may scare away customers, hotels across Mexico are offering heavily discounted room rates for those who test positive.

For example, guests who test positive at Velas Resorts in Los Cabos, Riviera Maya, Riviera Nayarit and Puerto Vallarta can extend their reservations at a 75 percent discount on the resort’s listed Web rates, plus the property will offer an extra suite for the guest to isolate in if they’re traveling with others.


Tourists visit the Mayan ruins of Tulum in Quintana Roo, Mexico. (Emilio Espejel/AP)

Smith has mixed feelings on sending clients to Mexico before the CDC order goes into effect, and she feels particularly concerned for travelers who may test positive. It might not be an issue for those who are asymptomatic or have mild cases, but Smith worries about those who may need more serious care.

“I’m still very up in the air, and we won’t have any answers until we see what problems are going to happen,” she says.

Read more on travel during the pandemic:

Tips: Advice column | Coronavirus testing | Sanitizing your hotel | Using Uber and Airbnb

Flying: Pandemic packing | Airport protocol | Staying healthy on plane | Fly or drive | Layovers

Road trips: Tips | Rental cars | Best snacks | Long-haul trains | Rest stops | Cross-country drive

Destinations: Puerto Rico | Hawaii | Private islands | 10 covid-free spots | Caribbean | Mexico