By Amber Charles, MSPH, RDN
January 11, 2020
We (finally) made it! After 1 year away and 7 months after graduation, my 3-year-old son and I have safely made it back to the shores of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T).
But this blog isn’t about our journey, it is to help you and your loved ones learn more about the exemption process, what to expect and how to be prepared for quarantine.
The exemption process
The approval process
How to pack for quarantine
1. The exemption process
How to apply
The Ministry of National Security (MNS) has outlined the requirements for reentry into T&T here, but briefly, as of November 7, 2020:
An exemption must be requested via email to email@example.com
Non-nationals are not allowed to enter, unless there are special circumstances
PCR tests must be taken within 72 hours prior to arrival
Scanned copies of each applicant's bio-data page must be included
Wait times and communication
There is no specific wait time to receive an exemption approval. Personally, we had a long wait, but I presume that the wait may be shorter by now.
If you’re planning to return within the next 3 to 5 months, my advice will be to apply now, state your purpose and intended period of return.
You may not receive a response until your exemption has been granted and a flight is available, although some have received an 'acknowledgment of receipt' email.
Tip: One-way flights exiting T&T are posted but there is always a return flight that is not posted!
2. The approval process
You will receive an email from the MNS stating that you have been granted an approval to reenter T&T, along with the date of an upcoming flight.
To accept, you must respond to the email within 24 hours and indicate whether you require a state or state-supervised quarantine facility.
Yes, unless you are granted approval by the MNS, you cannot book a flight with CAL! Read their repatriation guidelines here.
Currently, a PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival is required. If your flight is on Tuesday, you cannot take the test before Saturday, and so on.
This posed a great challenge because many clinics that offer free tests cannot guarantee results in time for flight approval, and those that do come at a cost.
Some passengers reported paying between $200 to $475 USD per test to have the report prepared on time for their flight.
Tip: Ensure you have a local sim card that works and top it up prior to flying.
What if you miss the email or the flight?
We missed our first approval email – we were in the middle of a move; my computer was hacked and my emails were being sent to my spam. Long story short, we “missed” our flight on October 31, 2020.
It was another 2 months and many emails later before we were granted another one. Again, the wait time may be shorter now, but the bottom line is this: you will receive an exemption approval (it's just when).
I’ve read the horrendous stories about persons missing their flights because their PCR test results weren’t received in time. In this instance, I am not sure about the rebooking and re-approval processes and urge you to communicate directly with CAL and the MNS.
State -vs- State-supervised
You are required to indicate to the MNS whether you require State or State-supervised quarantine - if you do not, you'd automatically be placed in a state facility.
State quarantine is where the government covers the cost of your quarantine stay, including meals, lots of water and a room. We spent our time on a dorm at the UWI campus, which meant a private room but shared bathroom and shower facilities. Common spaces were cleaned twice daily.
State-supervised quarantine is where you pay to spend your time in an approved hotel.
A mandatory 7-day state or state-supervised quarantine is required followed by a 7-day home quarantine, provided your second PCR test is negative (you are tested on the 6th day).
Vitals & temperature
Our vitals were checked daily and let me tell you – you are not on vacation! We were required to report to the hall for daily vitals between 5 am and 6 am! Ouch!
Care packages and family visits:
Your family/friends can deliver care packages to you at an off-site location during predetermined hours (information will be provided at your facility).
However, you cannot send items to your family and visits are not allowed.
4. How to pack for quarantine
So, you’ve gone through the process and you’re packing your bags to fly – congratulations! Here are some key packing tips:
My travel essentials bag contained:
Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss
Pampers for toddler
Bath soap & exfoliating gloves
Good to have stuff (snacks, emergenC, kid's Tylenol, thermometer, pins, needle & thread, tweezer, nail clipper)
Yes, meals will be provided but they may be late, or maybe you’d want to nibble between meals, no problem. Here is a list to keep you nourished and satisfied:
Dried fruits (raisins, mango, banana)
Crackers (Crix, dixee)
Nut butter (peanut/almond)
Tuna/chicken (canned or pack)
Tea (green tea or chocolate)
Disposable utensil packets
Small bottles of water
Chocolate (dark or milk, your choice)
Clothes & shoes
Pack at least 14 days’ worth of clothes and undies - just in case you need to stay longer - and 2 towels per person!
You'd want to be comfy to lounge around, exercise or take light walks, so keep that in mind...and pack laundry detergent to hand wash some essentials or use the facility’s washers with familiar detergent.
Tip: for state quarantine, pack a sheet-set (full size) and a blanket.
If you have space, an exercise mat, shoe and light equipment (resistance loops) will serve you well. Body weight exercises, yoga and even meditation can help you to destress and cope.
Keep your chargers nearby and walk with a portable charger! Pre-download shows to keep you and your toddler engaged when Wi-Fi is not available (or raining or nighttime).
Catch up on that book you’ve procrastinated about reading and keep a few for bedtime stories.
Tag along small toys that your toddler enjoys, but that aren't bulky for packing.
I used soap and Clorox wipes to clean our personal space daily and recommend carrying disposable cloths. A broom and dustpan set were provided.
A positive attitude
It is a temporary situation and you must choose to make the best of it, even when things do not go as planned #mindsetmatters.
How about you?
Have you been in quarantine or are planning to travel soon? - What are your top 3 must-haves to pack?
Feel free to ask me other questions in the comments below.