We didn’t really think how we’d fill a few days in Zanzibar since most people come for the beaches and we lived on a boat for nearly ten years. Turns out, though, you can’t really just stay in a place for a few days anymore because you have to factor in the PCR test needed to get a Fit to Fly certificate, and balance out how soon before boarding your destination country requires the sample to be taken with how long the processing time is in your origin.
We were flying Emirates Airlines to New York via Dubai. At the time — it’s changed since — we needed a PCR test within 72 hours of boarding. The website of the Ministry of Health in Zanzibar said it takes 96 hours to get results. This does not compute.
As we usually do, we enlisted the aid of a local, this time the warm and friendly lady who served us breakfast each morning in our hotel. She called the testing site, told them when our flight was scheduled to leave, what the requirements were for boarding, and asked when we should get tested in order to get the results in time. Ha! They suggested a day and time that was only 48 hours before our flight. Our breakfast lady also arranged for a driver to take us there. Well all right!
We could have — should have — filled out the online form before we arrived but there are always people to assist when you need them.
We had a bit of a hiccup when it was time to pay. We’d understood we needed US cash for the fee but at the testing site they wanted local currency. I didn’t have enough with me and the nearby ATM was out of order. We also tried a credit card but their machine went down just as we got to the cashier. In the end we talked them into taking our dollars, and the swab test took about two minutes.
About 22 hours later we got an email that our results were in. This was so much easier than when we tested in Penang for our flight to Tanzania. Since then, the US changed the requirement for all travelers, including citizens. You must now have a PCR test one day before your flight. We know you can get results within 24 hours but whether the bureaucracy is set up to deliver those results remains to be seen. Clearly, Zanzibar is up to the task. Penang wasn’t.