Getting a PCR Test in Zanzibar
Although there is no requirement to have a PCR test for COVID in order to enter Tanzania, many climbers are nonetheless required by their airline to show evidence of a negative COVID test before boarding the flight home.
For those who have climbed Kilimanjaro with us and will shortly thereafter be flying home, it is a simple matter to arrange a PCR test in Arusha. However, often clients will visit Zanzibar before flying home, in which case a PCR test conducted in Arusha will no longer be valid by the time they board their home-bound flight.
Organising a PCR test in Zanzibar
For those required by the rules within their country of origin to have a negative PCR test result, this is our recommendation:
1. Arrange to visit Tasakhtaa Hospital no later (yes, that's right, no later) than 72 hours prior to your departing flight home.
Testing times at Tasakhtaa Global Hospital
No appointments are necessary - just turn up between these times to be tested:
Monday to Friday: 0730 to 1100.
Cost of tests
You'll need to pay USD 120 per person for the test (this includes a USD 70 administrative fee payable to the hospital). This is payable by cash or credit card. Visa and MasterCard are accepted.
Alternatively, if wanting to pay only USD 50 you can book directly with the government laboratory in Makunduchi, but you'll have to contend with the dual stresses of limited communications, and queueing.
2. Tell the clinic staff your intended date to fly home, give them your email address, and ask them to copy-in TK, in case your mail server's spam filter rejects an email with an attachment from a new (apparently unsolicited) contact. That way we can help get your certificate to you if anything goes wrong.
3. Let Team Kilimanjaro know (preferably via WhatsApp) as soon as you've been tested, so we can help to chase the result in case there are any challenges with communication while you are travelling the island.
4. When you receive the scanned copy of your test result, ask your hotel to print you off a copy. This is recommended because some airlines insist on having a paper copy (which is, of course, a bizarre thing to insist on, but anyway...).
That's it. You're good to go 👍
But what about the 72 hour rule?
In the minds of many travellers, there's clearly a dichotomy associated with these tests, and it can be an otherwise unnecessary source of stress to travellers that can take a lot of the joy out of going on holiday.
The apparent problem is this: testing centres (including the one we recommend above) want to cover themselves against delays by saying that they might take up to 72 hours to provide the test results, and airlines say that if your test results are older than 72 hours, they aren't allowed to let you board. This obviously makes complying with the requirements of both parties - laboratory and airline - completely impossible! Look, here's an extract from an airline's website:
"A negative corona PCR test result. The test has to be taken within 72 hours before departure and you must bring along a hard copy of this test result..."
And when Team Kilimanjaro discussed this issue with them, they said this:
Hello, thank you for your question! As an airline, we do not require a PCR test. We are required to follow, by law, the entry requirements set by the authorities of the country you are travelling to. Most countries require the test to be taken within 72 hours of the planned departure time. If we were to let people on the plane with the wrong documentation (so, say, a PCR test result that is too old) the passenger would be denied entry into the country they are travelling to. We would have to fly the passenger in question back to the country they departed from and we also risk a fine by taking a passenger whose documentation is not in order.
Please consult the authorities of the country you or your clients are flying to concerning the regulations of a COVID test result to confirm what regulations they have set. Thank you for understanding.
Okay. So, it's definitely essential that your test results should not be older than 72 hours at the time of boarding your home-bound flight. And airlines have no discretion in this matter to use any common-sense because, as KLM said above, they run the risk both of themselves being fined, and of you theoretically being denied entry when trying to get through border control on arrival at home. So, how is it possible to comply with these rules?
Relax! It's very straightforward...
There's actually nothing to worry about. Although the airline states that your test itself, that is, your test "should be taken" within 72 hours of your planned departure time, and not the date your results are received should be within 72 hours of your planned departure time, nonetheless, the "test itself" is not an instantaneous process...
The test phase begins when the clinic takes the two swabs from your nose and throat, and only ends the moment the collaborating laboratory processes the result, and this could be a few days after your samples were obtained.
So, there's no problem getting a test the day you arrive onto the island, and subsequently staying at a hotel for 5-7 days, before taking your departing flight home, as long as you advise the clinic of your returning flight date when you get tested, so that they can coordinate the testing process such that the test completes within 72 hours (or usually within 24 hours, as it happens) of your intended boarding time to fly home.