No surprise, the biggest apprehension for Hawai’i vacationers is the pre-travel testing program.  Let me share some updates, tips, and answer common questions we receive on the Hawai’i pre-travel testing program. 

As we love to say in 2021, “Hawai’i is stress-free on arrival.” Getting here can be a tad bit stressful. We are here to help.

Erica and I like to think we know what we are doing when it comes to testing. But every time we go through the process, we second-guess ourselves and get a little freaked out as we wait in line for the QR code scan. We have gone through the process a combined four times from the mainland and three times inter-island. This is what we have learned. 

First, we explain the process in this video and then show you how to do it in this video. Watch those if you haven’t yet. From video comments, emails, and Hawai’i Tourism Authority data, we have learned the common pitfalls and confusion points. Let’s do a little FAQ. Question #4 is the biggest question from folks.

 

Frequently Asked Questions on Hawai’i’s Pre-Travel Testing Program

Let’s jump right in, here are the most common questions we get asked. Plus, the data from Hawai’i Tourism Authority shows this is where visitors get tripped up in this confusing process.

 

1. Where can I get tested?

You must use a Trusted Travel Partner, refer to this list. Under the initial table, each Trusted Travel Partner has a paragraph with details on testing and links to get tested.

We have had the best success and ease by using a Trusted Travel Partner Airline. The airlines, such as Alaska, American, United, Southwest, and Hawai’ian are a reliable source of testing information and at some airports can provide testing at the airport upon check-in, with an appointment.

For example, United Airlines offers testing at some airports and then they scan your QR code before you board so you can skip the line in Hawai’i.

2. What type of test is required? Can I take a rapid test?

We usually say to ask the Trusted Testing Partner but sometimes they don’t know either. Hawai’i’s COVID site says “The state of Hawai‘i will ONLY accept Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT) from a certified Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment (CLIA) lab test results from TRUSTED TESTING AND TRAVEL PARTNERS.”

The hospital Kaiser Permanente gives more information, “A Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT) which is a molecular assay also known as PCR, RT-PCR, or TMA.” Most testing partners refer to their tests as PCR, RT-PCR, or TMA. 

Rapid tests are commonly antigen tests that are not a NAAT. For example, CVS offers a Rapid Test but they also mention in their small print that it doesn’t qualify for Hawai’i. There are NAAT tests that produce results in 15-20 minutes which is fast, but not always referred to as antigen rapid tests. 

3. Why don’t you recommend CVS for testing? 

CVS is listed in Hawai’i’s Pre-Travel Testing Program. The free test from CVS is tempting but CVS can no longer guarantee results in 72-hours. 

In fact, the fine print on CVS’s COVID website recommends not using them for Hawai’i testing, “We cannot guarantee a lab test result within the 72-hour window that the state requires and are asking travelers to Hawai’i to make other testing plans.”

4. The closest testing facility is 100-miles away, what can I do?

Use an at-home test! If your trip is two weeks away, this may be your best or least stressful option.

Costco/AZOZA and Vault Health are the most common on the Trusted Travel Partner list for at-home test kits. One doesn’t need to be a member to use Costco’s service. 

Erica and I have had a good experience using Vault Health ($119 per test and provide insurance reimbursement claim form). We recommend Vault Health to all our friends, you included. 

The tests are RT-PCR saliva tests. Here are some tips for using an at-home test.

  • Order the kit early, put it on your kitchen table until you are ready.
  • Don’t recommend using an at-home test if flying on a Tuesday or Wednesday because of Sunday UPS shipping delays.
  • Take the test over Zoom in the morning and ship the sample before the last pick-up that same day. Call your local UPS Store to know the pick up schedule.
  • If taking the test on a Saturday, confirm your local UPS store has Saturday UPS Air Pickups
  • Write “HI STAT” on the sample box and the UPS shipping bag. They will prioritize the testing. This isn’t official but the Vault Health person who witnessed my saliva test told me this and it got my results in less than 24-hours. 
  • If you fly Hawaiian Airlines, Vault Health also guarantees a 24-hour turnaround.

 

5. When do I have to get tested? The 72-hour rule explained. 

The Hawai’i Tourism Authority says it best while Hawai’i COVID-19 jumbles the wording making it confusing for all.

Hawai’i Tourism Authority says, “The program requires passengers five and older to take a Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT) from a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) certified laboratory within 72 hours from the final leg of departure and produce a negative result.”

You must take your COVID-19 test within 72-hours from your final leg of departure. For example, if flying from New York with a layover in Los Angeles then your final leg of departure to Hawai’i is Los Angeles. The 72-hour calculation starts from your LA flight departure time.

If you are nervous about the 72-hour calculation then take your test 60-hours before departure, Do what you are comfortable with and what your testing provider gives for a turnaround. 

6. When do I upload the test results? 

It feels so good once you get your negative test result in your email inbox. But you are not done. Register with Safe Travels Hawai’i online system. 

Within 24-hours of departure, login to do the following items from the dashboard. This is our recommended order of completion. Each icon is a point of data entry, no need to enter info into Daily Check-ins.

  1. Trips – enter your flight information. This “trip” will link to your QR Code
  2. Health Questionnaire – select your Trip from step 1 and then answer the questions on where you are staying, do you feel sick, have you been around sick people, etc. 
  3. Documents – select your Trip from step 1 and fill out the rest of the information. Upload your COVID-19 Negative Test pdf file that your Trusted Travel Partner emailed you. Unless your partner had a “+” symbol near their name on the partner list, your Form Type will be a provider form

Once your Health Questionnaire from step 2 is completed, they will email your QR Code within 10-minutes. 

One would think they need to upload the negative test result to get the QR Code but they are separate. The state recommends you upload the negative test result to the Safe Travels Hawai’i system but you can bring a hardcopy. We recommend you upload it.

safe travels Hawaii dashboard

7. What if I get my COVID results after I land?

This results in the mandatory 10-day quarantine. A pre-travel COVID-19 negative test result must be in hand PRIOR TO departure for Hawai’i. This rule went into effect in early November. 

Travelers who do not have a negative test result prior to departing for Hawai’i must self-quarantine for 10 days, without exception.

8. How long is the QR code scanning line once I arrive in Hawai’i? 

It depends on how many flights arrive at once. In October and November the state was caught off-guard by how many visitors came over so there were long lines. Now, they have lots of tables set up. 

But the line can still be long so expect to wait 30-minutes. If you were pre-screened on the mainland and received a wrist band, like some United Airline locations, then you walk off the plane and out the door. 

This is what the line and experience looks like at Honolulu and Kahului (Maui).

9. I have been vaccinated. Do I still need to do pre-travel testing? 

Yes, proof of COVID-19 vaccination is currently not a recognized exemption to the Hawai’i travel quarantine. 

10. Do I need to be tested to visit another Hawaiian Island?

Yes, a negative COVID-19 test is required if you fly from O’ahu to a neighboring island. A test isn’t required if you are flying to O’ahu. See the flowchart below. The flowchart from Hawai’i Tourism Authority sums up the requirements very well.

safe-travels-hawaii-flowchart

A Memo from Lt. Gov Green on Potential Changes

Potential is the keyword in that title. While this memo came from the desk of Lt. Governor Josh Green, an emergency room doctor on O’ahu and the architect of the pre-travel testing program, Erica and I consider this speculation until it is officially issued by Governor Ige.

Therefore, be cautious about making trip plans based on this. With that said, here are the ideas for changes to the program if COVID rates stay low on the islands and vaccination rates improve.

“As the State of Hawai’i accelerates its COVID-19 vaccination distribution, it would be prudent to consider updates to the Safe Travels Hawai‘i pre-travel testing program and county restrictions on gatherings and business operations, as more Hawai’i residents and visitors receive vaccinations,” Green said in his memo.

  • Local restrictions would be eased – businesses could operate at full capacity and gatherings of more than 10 people would be allowed.
  • Vaccinated locals and travelers already in Hawai’i would be able to travel throughout the state without a pre-arrival test.
  • Eventually, vaccinated travelers from the mainland would be able to skip the pre-arrival testing program – perhaps in April or May.
  • Non-vaccinated travelers could still come to Hawai’i via the pre-travel testing program.

Gov. Ige is considering the memo in addition to others before a decision is made. No date on a decision has been announced yet. We will share it once we hear anything!

Vaccine Passports

Lt. Gov. Green mentioned the state is actively working with tech partners to create a vaccine passport program to also streamline travel for vaccinated travelers. Lt. Gov. Green has mentioned this in an interview while discussing other COVID-19 tracking ideas. 

No date on approval of the vaccine passport system has been announced. April/May is quickly approaching and the vaccine roll-out in Hawai’i is below plan. Essential workers and 75 and older are still getting vaccinated so I wouldn’t hold your breath on vaccine passports by April/May as his memo hoped for. 

Wow, that is a lot of information. I want to say the process is easy and straightforward but it isn’t. When it is all done, it feels easy but when you are in the trees, it is hard to see the forest. 

Refer to the Hawaii Tourism Authority if you have questions. The information they share on the pre-travel testing program is a lot easier to understand compared to Hawaii COVID-19. 

If you want more updates as they happen and details on traveling to Hawaii in 2021, then you better sign up for our newsletter! Sign up here and get our Hawai’i Cheat Sheets for each island!

Jordan Fromholz

Jordan Fromholz

Author

I'm the co-founder, with my wife Erica, of The Hawaii Vacation Guide. We live on Maui with our toddler Henry and our sweet but quirky dog Hattie. I have a thing for photographing pineapples and learning to surf.

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