Contracting COVID Abroad

You’ve contracted COVID abroad and you’re not sure how or when you’ll get back to the US. If you’re anything like I was, you’re probably feeling a little scared and a lot uncertain. This post outlines what to do, who to contact and what to consider to get back to the USA.

In late December my husband and I traveled to France for our honeymoon and as luck would have it, I contracted COVID. Three days after our arrival, I developed mild symptoms. My symptoms were a scratchy throat and later, a dry cough. Because my symptoms were so mild, it took two full days before it dawned on me that I ought to get tested. I blame the ever-present tinge of cigarette smoke in the air and jet lag.

We were able to get back to the US on our regularly scheduled flight because I met the requirements to receive “Documentation of Recovery.” Below is everything you need to know, and a few lessons learned on how to get back into the US if you test positive for COVID while overseas. First, the United States requires a negative COVID test (antigen or PCR) taken within one day of your flight OR Documentation of Recovery. Your airline is the only entity that will check this documentation. Their requirements are what you need to base your actions around. We were flying United and their language mirrors that of the US Government – they require a negative test taken with one day of your flight, or a doctor’s note (referred to as Documentation of Recovery).

Your FIRST STEP should be to contact your airline to understand what their requirements are. You’ll notice United doesn’t mention anything about what qualifies a person as “cleared to travel” ONLY what the note needs to say “cleared to travel” to be valid. For travelers entering the US, this is a liability issue, not a public health issue. (More below on how I got a doctor’s note, and what THEY required to issue the note).

Your SECOND STEP is determining what course of action works best for you and your individual situation from a comfort and financial perspective. Let me explain…

By the time I got my first positive test, I had been symptomatic for (4) days. To get documentation of recovery, (10) days needs to have passed from the onset of symptoms. When I got my first positive test, my flight back to the states wasn’t for another (7) days. To get documentation of recovery, (5) days needs to have passed from your first positive test. I already had private accommodation booked for (7) more days meaning there was no additional cost for me to isolate while I waited to become eligible for Documentation of Recovery. For those reasons, I decided my best course of action was to make an appointment to get Documentation of Recovery. Please note that another requirement to receive Documentation of Recovery is being asymptomatic for (24) hours.

Had I developed symptoms later in our trip, not at all, or tested positive the day before my flight, we would have been in another situation entirely. In a situation where you test positive closer to your flight so you aren’t yet eligible for documentation of recovery, and/or will incur additional costs due to your positive test here’s what I recommend:


  • Go ahead and make an appointment with Quick MD so you at least know you get a letter when you become eligible. This is a backup plan. Make the appointment for the day you are eligible based on the below requirements.
  • FYI, I don’t have a primary care doctor, so I didn’t have anybody to contact or make a telehealth appointment with. If you’re like me, OR if you doctor doesn’t have an appointment for 8 weeks (….) reach out to Quick MD. I was able to get an appointment for the next day. The cost was $75 out of pocket. For those of you with health insurance, this cost is covered.
    • (10) days since the onset of symptoms (if you’re asymptomatic and have been the whole time, ignore this!)
    • (5) days since your first positive test result
    • (24) hrs. symptom free (again this only applies if you had symptoms)
  • Pro: The advantage of having an appointment to get Documentation of Recovery is knowing there is a set date you can get home regardless of your testing situation. You can plan your flight and accommodation around this.
  • Con: The disadvantage is with this approach you must wait until you are eligible to be cleared to fly. Depending on your situation, this could be costly.


It was my experience that antigen test results were all over the place. I tested positive, negative, and then positive again. All you need is ONE negative test taken within a day of your flight to get home. Because of this, I recommend:

  • Figure out a testing situation. If you don’t have tests with you, figure out where you can get yourself tested and go every day. Also, go to more than one testing site – different tests have different sensitivity and again, all you need is one negative to get home!
  • PRO’S: If it’s going to be a long time before you’re eligible to receive documentation of recovery, this approach could get you home faster! You might test negative before you’re eligible for a doctor’s note…
  • CON’S: Uncertainly! With this approach you might be planning accommodation day by day, having to get a flight at the last minute, paying for a million tests – of course, all of this depends on your individual situation and where you are!
  • NOTE: airlines have been quite accommodating for people needing to cancel/change their flights due to a positive COVID test. Stay in touch with your airline and make them work with you!

Here are some other things to note:

  1. Documentation of Recovery doesn’t have to be issued by a medical professional in the country where you are. It also doesn’t have to be issued by YOUR primary care doctor. It just must be a licensed medical professional.
  2. The US embassy had nothing to do me getting home, and neither did the Public Health Department in France. HOWEVER, many countries require you to isolate for a certain period if you test positive in their country. A positive test will be reported to public health officials, and they will monitor you isolation. You will not be able to fly until you meet their isolation requirements. This was not the case in either France or Switzerland.
  3. If you’re traveling with somebody, are you comfortable if they leave you to get home? Are you comfortable leaving them to get home?! This is a fluid situation, and you never know when you will test negative or if they will test positive. Discuss this right away. My husband never tested positive. He was for sure going to leave me if I didn’t get cleared to travel. And likewise, had he tested positive the day before we went home, I was leaving him (sry!). We discussed this the day I tested positive!
  4. Plan for the worst case. Right now (yes literally right now!), look up the 911 equivalent for the country you’re in and make sure your phone will call this number without a data plan. I was HARDLY sick but what kept me up at night was WHAT IF I get seriously ill? Who do I call to get me to a hospital? Where is that hospital?! How does healthcare work here?! Look those things up JUST IN CASE! 
  5. I didn’t contact the embassy because the embassy website literally says not to contact them about COVID unless you’re deathly ill. I was not. I also didn’t contact the French health department because it wasn’t required. I had somewhere to isolate per their countries requirements and could afford to extend a few more days if needed. If this is not your situation, contact the proper authorities in the country you’re in (the US embassy or the health department) 

I hope this was helpful! Comment if you have questions I can help answer.