An in-practice real-life look at the process of meeting the Turks and Caicos travel requirements
I’m headed back to Providenciales and had to negotiate the travel requirements in place right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For those who need more info or have concerns over the process, here is my journey through the travel requirements that are currently applicable to visitors to Turks and Caicos.
Lester B Pearson Airport, Toronto, Canada to Providenciales international Airport, Turks and Caicos on Saturday October 3rd, 2020.
There has been much discussion on social media with people concerned, postponing and even cancelling visits to TCI due to the travel restrictions and the stringent requirements in place to protect the Islands. Therefore, I started a little early to make sure that there were no issues that would prevent my travel over to Providenciales.
Step 1 – Get the facts
Checking the Turks and Caicos Tourism website, their infographic says “Travel Saturday, Test on Monday”. That meant I needed to get tested on Monday September 28th. I started looking into the test arrangements on Thursday Sept 24th.
Sept 24th Thursday a.m. – Concern over testing
Facebook posts in my area showed there may be some problems. The London Frees Press Facebook page was reporting that the London Assessment Centres, of which there are two, were swamped with people wanting test following an outbreak in which over 40 Western University students had tested positive. With over 45,000 students plus staff and contacts there were a huge demand. The testing centres had cars lined up round several blocks and so moved to a ticketing system where people went to the centre and were issued a ticket telling them what time to return for their test appointment. One Centre could handle 400 appointments a day and the previous day they had issued all their tickets by 11.30 in the morning.
Having seen this, I checked online for other centres in the area. The General Hospital in St Thomas, about 25 minutes’ drive from London, also had a testing centre that was an appointment only centre with no referral required from a medical practitioner. I emailed them for an appointment. They contacted me back within 3 hours and made and appointment for Monday 28th at 9.00 am. Perfect timing!! I was feeling confident.
Friday Sept 25th – Buying medical travel insurance
I chose the less complicated option for this by buying the travel insurance through the provider on the Turks and Caicos Tourism website. The company is Aura Assistance and they have an arrangement with the TCI Hotel and Tourism Association. It is not the cheapest option but for the sake of a smoother process and to avoid any questions over the coverage provided, I chose convenience over cost thinking that would be easier than trying to save $30 or so and run into problems later. The process was simple, fill in your personal info and dates of travel, click buy and print /save the documents that are issued online right away.
Monday Sept 28th 9.00 a.m. –Getting tested
I arrived in St Thomas, ON at 8.30. I was able to park for free on the roadside within 100 yards of the Assessment Centre. When I reached the Centre doors at 8.55 there were three people in line outside, all nicely socially distanced of course. The line moved quickly, and I was inside by 8.58. A staff member right inside the door in a reception area checked my Ontario Health Card and address details and I was asked to wait in the small waiting area. Within 30 seconds I was called in for the test. Two nurses administered the test which took literally 30 seconds. It was little uncomfortable and made my eyes water but not painful per se. After a quick briefing on how to access the results online I was out and on my way back to the car by 9.03. Awesome job! And thanks to all the staff and health authority personnel for making it so easy in difficult times.
Tuesday Sept 29th 4.15 p.m. – Results issued – 29 hours!
Having checked the Ontario health test results website, https://covid-19.ontario.ca , a couple of times during the day with no results shown, I checked the portal again at 4.15 and found the result had been issued. Negative ! The Ontario test results site however conforms with the data protection laws and so your name and health card number are not shown in full. I suspected that the TCI authorities would probably need some more documentation sent to support this application. ** Check below
Tuesday 4.20 p.m. – Applying for the travel Authorization
I logged on to https://www.turksandcaicostourism.com and clicked the travel authorization pop up. On entering the site you are asked to confirm your identity by returning the one-time response code which is emailed to you. This must be entered proceed further with the application and submitted the travel documents. Once admitted, the site asks a few questions including passport number, address visiting from and address you are staying at in TCI. You also need to add the policy number and name and contact details for the insurance company. You are then asked to submit the test result document by clicking to upload the file along with the travel insurance documents. Because the results document did not show my full name, I scanned and uploaded my Health card too. Just in case!
When the info has been submitted an acknowledgment is shown with a reference number and a status which shows as pending. I completed this at 4.29 pm
** Word of caution for those travelling from Ontario, Canada
As I suspected the blanked out last name on the test result raised some issues at the TCI end. Instead of the hoped-for authorization. I received an email at 6.40 p.m. on the Tuesday evening saying this:
Your application ********** requires further information:
Dear traveler, your insurance is acceptable. Please can you confirm the testing facility information, the sample type and date of collection. Your details are not clear on the document uploaded, I recommend obtaining and submitting the actual laboratory report as this document would include all the required information. Thank you.
I emailed back to email@example.com and explained that this was the official Ontario health document and that the information they referred to ( testing facility information, the sample type and date of collection ) was already on the document.
The response I got back from this an hour later was a little dismaying:
Under the current public health regulations, you are required to submit a detailed summary of the lab report with your negative COVID-19 test results that would indicate your name, the type of test conducted, and how the specimen was collected.
Please resubmit to the portal the required information in order to obtain your travel authorization.
So now it was 8.00 pm and I could not do anything further about it until the following morning. A small blockage in the process but hopefully not insurmountable.
Wednesday Sept 30th – 8.00a.m. – Contact the TCI Tourism Department by phone
The TCI tourism site provides phone numbers to contact them so that was my next move.
1- (649) 232-7233, 1- 649-232-5900, 1- 649-232-4484 (8 am to 6 pm)
They state they are open from 8.00 am until 6.00 pm so I called at 8.01
The phone was answered right away by a pleasant gentleman. I explained that the name and health card number were blanked due to the Canadian privacy laws and that I had also sent him a copy of my Ontario Health Card which confirmed the last name and the Health Card Number that were now show on the results document. After a quick check taking just a few seconds he confirmed that everything matched and told me that I was approved. He sent me an email with the approval document which I received at 8.03.
It was done! Mission accomplished!
After reading lots of online discussion from potential visitors in the U.S. and Canada I had been a little wary of the process, however, in practice is was extremely easy and apart from the slight pause in the middle it went perfectly. I have my authorization and my insurance policy. Armed with several copies printed off plus the authorization document on my phone as well, I am ready to go. I am not foreseeing any problems at the airports. (I’ll update this when I have passed through)
Have authorization will travel!!!!
Hopefully, this will assist anyone who is concerned about meeting the requirements or considering postponing because they are unsure about the process. It can be done with some simple planning, maybe a little thinking ahead and some perseverance through the hiccups.
Assuming that you can deal with the currently required 14-day quarantine on return to Canada, please join me and make the effort. You will always find that the Turks and Caicos Islands rewards every visitor with a wondrous experience.
I have just returned from my trip to Providenciales and all went very smoothly. For those who are planning to go soon my one word of advice right now would be to allow plenty of time between arriving at the airport and boarding time. There are additional checks in place at the check-ins. Normally I would take advantage of an online check-in and simply go to the baggage drop at the airport if I needed to check a case or two. Even of you do check in online you will still need to line up and have a full check in process. At the entrance to the check in line the attendant will ask you to produce your COVID test result document and your travel authorization from TCI tourism. They will check this before ushering into the line. At the desk you will need the same documents again as well as the usual ticket and passport. Once check in you can head to the security gates. Prior to arriving there you will need to have a temperature check. This is a simple scanner test and takes only a few seconds. That said however, the speed of processing in all this takes a good while. I was nearly 1 1/2 hours between arriving at the airport and getting to the gate.
Although slow the process ran smoothly enough and once boarded , sporting my N95 mask, it was actually quite a comfortable experience. In mid October there were few travelers and the plane was about 1/3 to 1.2 full. I had the seat row to myself.
Arriving at PLS was similarly slow but as long as you expect that and take it in your stride its fine. They have the same added check with an intermediate desk in the immigration line to check your travel authorization , COVID test results and insurance documents. Another temperature check as you pass by and then your in at the immigration desk as normal.
Leaving the island on a Saturday is normally the busiest time and its often a good idea to arrive at the airport early. On October 17th 2020 things were different,. The airport was the quietest I’ve seen it. I went straight to the Air Canada check in and then on to security where there were just 4 people in front of me. The airport departure lounge was pretty empty as you can see.
When my plane, flight AC 1250, arrived from Toronto I counted the passengers as they disembarked. 64 people! That’s a little less than half the normal capacity for an Airbus 320. Our flight home had a similar number of passengers and again a seat row to myself. Maybe this is how it should be all the time! I wish!
In summary, if you are wondering about the feasibility of taking a trip to Turks and Caicos in the midst of the pandemic; it’s really not that difficult and the only issue you may find is the need to quarantine when you return home to Canada. If that’s manageable for you then my advice is just this ………… Do it! Turks and Caicos is so wonderful it’s worth every bit of any complications there may be. Enjoy your stay.