Reporter’s notebook: International traveling during COVID-19 pandemic is complicated

(Editor’s Note: This is the first article in a series of three.)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some countries began to request visas from American citizens. Visas had to be obtained at the embassies of foreign countries in Washington, D.C. and other cities.

For example, Kazakhstan (a republic of the former Soviet Union) had a visa-free policy for tourists and private visitors in the past which allowed Americans to stay in the country up to four weeks without a visa. It was changed about a year ago. The Kazakhstanian government had canceled tourist visas and  required private visitors to obtain a visa in order to get better control of the coronavirus spreading in the country. In addition, on and off quarantine measures have taken place inside the country since March 2020.

Recently, the Kazakhstanian government reinstalled the visa-free policy for American citizens.

In 2021, as many Americans became vaccinated, they received permission to travel to the countries of the European Union without a visa or a COVID-19 test, with proof of the vaccination.

However, many countries currently require a visitor to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test valid within 72 hours before crossing their borders. Otherwise, a visitor will not be allowed to take a flight or train and enter a country.

In this column, I explain how to be well prepared for an international trip.

So, how to get a COVID-19 test on time?

I had light allergic symptoms and decided to get a test for COVID-19 at Walgreens Pharmacy. The test is free, and I wanted to see if Walgreens could be a good way of testing for the pandemic for travelers.

I submitted my application for the PCR standard test on www.walgreens.com and scheduled an appointment.

Walgreens Pharmacy store in Sand Springs, Okla., offers a variety of COVID-19 testings through its drive-thru window. Photo by Tatyana Nyborg.

The test was done through a Walgreens drive-thru window. An employee wearing protective plastic gown, hat, gloves and mask, gave me a cotton swab and a small test tube with liquid so I could collect a sample from my nose myself. That was an easy and non-painful procedure.

I was given a paper with a seven-digit number and a bar code to check my results on patientportal/aegislabs.com.

It took more than 48 hours to find out the results of the Walgreens’s test. My conclusion was that it was not fast enough for a person who plans an international trip because a test can become too old when a traveler arrives in a foreign country.

So, I checked Tulsa International Airport. The airport has an Alpha Labs office where travelers can have a PCR standard COVID-19 test and receive results within only an hour. The test costs $150.00. Alpha Labs is open 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., Mondays – Fridays, and on Saturdays-Sundays by appointment. Additional information can be seen on www.testwithalpha.com.

I believe that coronavirus testing at Tulsa International Airport is a better decision for an international traveler despite its high price. No one wants to arrive to a foreign country and discover that his or her test has expired, and to be stuck on the border in obscurity.