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COVID Considerations for Travelers

Disclaimer: COVID requirements and protocols are changing rapidly. We have done our best to provide the most up-to-date information as of publication date, however, it is possible that requirements will change by the time you are reading this. Please make sure to check directly with your airline, accommodations, and official entities (such as the U.S. State Department), to determine the exact requirements that will affect your particular trip. Those of us in the industry are checking multiple sources on a regular basis to keep up with the ever-changing rules.

Tips for Traveling in the COVID Era

By Jordan Lee, The Wild Source Operations Specialist 

Post last updated October 29, 2020

It is official, safari travel is possible once again! As countries around the world begin to open their borders, many of us are eagerly anticipating our return to Africa and other overseas destinations. Perhaps you are too. For those keen to begin traveling again, there are a few COVID considerations to keep in mind.

The safari world is reopening. Are you travel-ready?

Why Travel Now?

When global tourism ground to a near standstill this year, many people found themselves in precarious circumstances. As countries cautiously reopen their borders and travel picks up, the need for ethical and responsible tourism has never been greater. Those who feel comfortable traveling in the near term can have a wonderful experience, and also bring much needed business to hard-hit communities and wild places.

Safaris are ideally suited for travel in a time when social distancing and other COVID precautions are top of mind. Safari camps are located in remote areas with few other people, much of your time is spent outside in fresh air, and operators are working very hard to ensure the safety of visitors and staff.

Recent travelers have been rewarded with stunning wildlife sightings and an easy travel experience with relatively few other tourists. They also reported feeling less risk of being exposed to COVID while on their trips than during their day-to-day lives in the U.S. Plus,

Safaris are ideally suited to COVID-conscious travel.

Where Should You Go?

First of all, your travel options will be limited by which countries are currently accepting international tourists — and more specifically, which are accepting tourists from your home country. Luckily, several prime safari countries have reopened their borders to U.S. travelers (with precautions in place). As of 21 October 2020, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe are all great options for American safari-goers.

How Have Entry Requirements Changed?

Initially, some destinations were requiring all travelers to undergo mandatory quarantines upon arrival. At this point, most countries are requiring travelers to present a negative PCR COVID test. Typically, only those exhibiting symptoms are required to quarantine. Many countries have also instituted other safety measures such as requiring travelers to submit health surveillance forms, which help facilitate contact tracing. Entry requirements are bound to change with time, and other safari countries may reopen their borders too. To find out more about current entry requirements, please visit the US State Department’s Country Information pages.

In addition to new entry requirements, governments have instituted protocols on the ground to help protect travelers and locals alike. These protocols vary between destinations, but typically focus on social distancing, enhanced sanitation, testing of staff, and more.

COVID Testing for Travelers

What Type of Test Do You Need?

It is important to note that you will need a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test rather than an antigen or antibody test. A PCR test is sometimes called a molecular test and detects viral genetic material. The FDA considers this to be the most accurate way of testing for an active infection. PCR tests will typically involve a nasal or throat swab, with some tests using a saliva sample instead.

The time between conducting the test and receiving your results can vary greatly depending on the test provider. Since you will need your test results within a specific time frame (based on your destination country), it is important for you to verify how long it will take to receive results. Also, make sure that your test results will specify that you received a PCR test.

When Do You Need to Get Tested?

Each country sets their own timeframe regarding how recent your test must be. For instance, Zimbabwe stipulates that your test must be completed within 48 hours of boarding a plane heading to Zimbabwe, while neighboring Zambia will accept negative test results that are up to 14 days old. Zambia also requires all departing passengers to complete a second test in Zambia within 14 days of departure.

Kenya requires travelers to be tested within the 96 hours prior to arrival. Uganda requires a negative test conducted within 72 hours of your first flight’s departure. Passengers departing Uganda are also required to complete a second test in the country 120 hours prior to departure. Rwanda requires a negative test completed within 72 hours prior to arrival and a second negative test completed upon arrival, with travelers required to quarantine at their hotel until results are returned (approximately 24 hours).

By contrast, Tanzania is possibly the easiest country to visit as travelers are not required to quarantine or supply test results. If you decide to take a trip, we can help advise you on the current requirements for your destination country.

Please note: Requirements can change and this table may no longer reflect the most current rules. For current entry requirements, we recommend that you visit the U.S. State Department’s Country Information pages.

How Can You Find Testing Options?

Many countries and even some airlines are requiring travelers to provide a negative COVID test upon arrival. Luckily, access to timely COVID testing is becoming more easily accessible with new options popping up all the time. Remember, when evaluating testing options, you will need to verify how long it will take to receive the test results and ensure it is a PCR test (your results must state the test type). Please keep in mind that some testing options may only be available to those with symptoms or may be unable to meet your specific timeline.

In Person Testing

You can now access testing through most healthcare providers, such as a doctor’s office, hospital, urgent care facility, or pharmacy. We recommend that you start by checking with your healthcare provider to find out what testing options are readily available to you. If you are lucky, you may find a testing option that meets your needs and will be covered by your health insurance.

Your local travel health clinic may also offer testing or be able to recommend timely options. Since these clinics are specifically geared towards travelers, they are also more likely to be aware of country-specific timelines and requirements. You will probably be visiting a travel health clinic for other health preparations (vaccinations, malaria medication, etc.), so this may be a convenient option.

Many local governments have also set up community testing sites, often with drive-thru options. Depending on where you live, you may have access to one of these pop-up testing sites. These tests are often offered at free or reduced costs, but may only be available to those with symptoms and may not guarantee speedy results. Most state and local health departments maintain a list of local testing options. The Department of Health and Human Services has a webpage dedicated to helping you find local testing options.

Companies like CVS and Walgreens are now offering drive-thru testing at many locations across the nation. These tests are typically returned in less than 3 days and may be covered by insurance. However, you may need to meet certain eligibility requirements in order to receive a test.

In related news, some airlines are beginning to explore testing at the airport. These are largely pilot programs (pun intended!) with very limited scope. Thus far, these testing options are primarily focused on domestic travel to states like Hawaii that require all travelers to present negative tests. However, this is another encouraging sign of easier and more convenient testing options to come.

At-Home and Mail-In Testing Kits

With the demand for reliably quick testing growing, we are seeing at home testing kits enter the scene. Several companies now offer kits, which allow you to collect your own sample (either nasal or saliva) and then drop off or mail in your sample for testing in a lab. These companies often guarantee test results within a certain time frame. This offers a convenient choice for travelers, but the kits can be a bit pricey. Below is a list of testing kits of which we are currently aware.

  • The Covid Consultants
    • Cost: $219.
    • Timeframe: Results expected in 24-48 hours. 
    • Two testing options are available: sputum and nasal swab. 
    • Our founder, Bill Given, used this Colorado-based company for his recent trip to Kenya.  His experience with the sputum test kit is detailed in his full trip report
  • Safeway/Albertsons
    • Cost: $139.
    • Timeframe: Results expected in 24-72 hours.
    • This is a saliva-based test. 
    • These kits can be purchased in person from some Safeway/Albertsons locations. If in-person purchase is not available in your area, you can also order a test and have it shipped to your home.
  • Vault
    • Cost: $150.
    • Timeframe: Results expected in 24-72 hours.
    • This is a saliva-based test.
    • While this test can be completed at your home, the sample collection is supervised via a Zoom video call.
  • Let’s Get Checked
    • Cost: $119.
    • Timeframe: Results expected in 24-72 hours.
    • Advertised as a “gentle” lower nasal swab.
    • American Airlines recently partnered with this company to provide testing for those traveling to Costa Rica. 
    • You may need to meet eligibility requirements in order to purchase this kit.
  • Quest Diagnostics
    • Cost: $129.
    • Timeframe: Results expected in hours 24-48 hours.
    • This test involves a nasal swab, which can be done at home or at a supervised drive-thru location. 
    • You may need to meet eligibility requirements in order to purchase this kit.

Other Considerations


Check your passport expiration date now!  Your passport must not expire within 6 months of the date you anticipated returning home from your trip.  If your passport is set to expire soon, make sure to submit for renewal sooner rather than later.  As of 14 October 2020, according to the U.S. State Department, you can expect your passport renewal to take 10-12 weeks for Routine Service or 4-6 weeks for Expedited Service (this incurs a $60 fee).  

Social Distancing and PPE

Part of being a responsible traveler right now means following COVID protocols as best as possible out of respect for the health and safety of all staff and guide teams as well as fellow travelers. You will need to practice social distancing when possible and will need to wear a mask at times.

We recommend that you pack any masks, hand sanitizer, wipes, gloves, etc. that you would like to have on your trip. Some of these items may be available to you at your destination, but it is best to pack them just in case. In addition to your preferred mask (N95, cloth, etc.), we recommend packing several surgical masks as these are required on regional flights in Kenya and may be required elsewhere.

STEP Enrollment

The State Department recommends that U.S. citizens and nationals enroll in their Safe Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). To sign up, please follow this link.

Safari Njema!

The bottom line? If you want to go on safari right now, you absolutely can!

Travel is very much possible for those who wish to do so. There are a few new considerations to keep in mind as you prepare for your trip, and we are here to help you navigate the current landscape. Additionally, we know that responsible travel will be key to recovery, so this is a great time to consider planning a safari.

See you on safari!

Photo from TWS client Bill Dwyer.


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