I need to travel abroad for a family emergency. How do I handle it during the pandemic?


Welcome to Pandemic Problems, an advice column from The Chronicle’s engagement reporters that aims to help Bay Area residents solve their pandemic-related conundrums — personal, practical or professional. Send your questions and issues to [email protected]

Today’s question is fielded by The Chronicle’s Kellie Hwang.

Dear Advice Team: I am 63 and live in Santa Clara County. My sibling, who was living abroad in a country with a high level of coronavirus, unexpectedly passed away. It’s become clear that I will have to travel there to deal with the burial and other logistics as I am the closest living family member. If I find a way to be vaccinated, would it still be safe for me to travel to a country with a high rate of infections, and with the new variants that are spreading? And if it would, are there any exceptions to the vaccine rules given this emergency family situation that I could inquire about? I don’t even know who to reach out to, or where to start.

Dear Reader: First of all, condolences to you and your family during what I’m sure is a difficult and stressful time. Many people have had to figure out a way to deal with family emergencies during the pandemic, but I can’t imagine how challenging it must be when the problem becomes international.

There are steps you can take to prepare yourself as best as possible to travel. Here is some advice from infectious-disease and travel experts.

Contact the embassy

Contact your destination country’s embassy or consulate located nearest to you, and explain your situation. They will know best what the situation looks like where you need to go.

Get a travel agent

Christopher Elliott, a consumer advocate and author, recommends finding a good travel adviser who specializes in the specific country.

Check travel restrictions and recommendations

For any foreign travel, check restrictions on who is allowed to arrive in your destination country. Many countries have banned foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens, from entering, but sometimes exceptions are allowed, such as caring for relatives who live in that country, or a death abroad.

Mary Wilson, a clinical professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the UCSF School of Medicine, suggests checking the following websites for information:

• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: The agency maintains a page with COVID-19 travel recommendations by destination.

• U.S. State Department: Find country-specific COVID-19 information on this page and information about deaths overseas on this page.

• Office or ministry of foreign affairs and ministry of health offices for the specific country.

A United Airlines Boeing 777 is readied for departure to Honolulu from gate F11 at SFO in San Francisco, Calif. on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. As the airline industry sees a modest rise in travel, a rapid COVID-19 testing site has been set up at the airport to provide travelers with documentation of test results to present upon arrival at their final destinations.Paul Chinn / The Chronicle 2020

Prepare for testing and quarantine requirements

You’ll want to check health screening procedures upon entering and exiting your destination country, and stay vigilant with safety measures if you have any layovers.

On Jan. 12, 2021, the CDC announced that all travelers arriving to the U.S. from a foreign country are required to get tested for the coronavirus within three days prior to departure. They must present a negative test result or proof of recovery from COVID-19 to the airline before boarding.

Those arriving to the U.S. on one or more connecting flights must get tested in the three days before the first flight in their itinerary, but only if the flights were booked as a single passenger record with the U.S. as the final destination, and no layover is more than 24 hours long, according to the U.S. Embassy. If the connecting flight to the U.S. was booked separately or the connection is longer than 24 hours, travelers need to get tested within three days before that flight arrives in the U.S.

After returning to the U.S., the CDC recommends getting tested three to five days after traveling, and quarantining at home for seven days. If you receive a positive test result, isolate and stay away from others. If you do not get tested, self-quarantine for 10 days after traveling.

Many countries and local jurisdictions have testing and quarantine requirements for arriving travelers, so find out the rules specifically where you are staying.

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