Zanzibar may seem like the perfect place to escape the world at the moment, particularly if you want to try and get away for some well-earned rest and relaxation.
You may have questions about Coronavirus (COVID-19) requirements, whether any tests are necessary to enter or leave, and how the small island airport is currently functioning.
Having recently returned in one piece (with a few hiccups), you can find out everything you need to know from us about traveling to Zanzibar during the covid pandemic.
What Are The Requirements For Entering Zanzibar?
At the time of writing, Tanzania has lifted the 14-day mandatory quarantine period for Zanzibar, including the requirement for a negative Covid Test. This means that travelers from ANY country can enter, providing they are showing no symptoms of COVID-19.
You will still need to apply for a Tanzanian visa as per usual. Although there are no direct rules on yellow fever certificate requirements, you may still be asked for these even if you have arrived from a low-risk country.
Although the Covid entry requirements have been pretty consistent in Zanzibar over the last few months, it’s incredibly important that you check the most up-to-date advice provided by your government.
IMPORTANT: Please ensure you check recent travel requirements for ALL the countries you are traveling from and during transit to Zanzibar
What Measures Are Currently In Place At Zanzibar Airport?
Temperature screening is taking place at the airport prior to allowing entry, using a handheld device.
You will need to complete a Traveller Surveillance Form on arrival with contact details for Covid Track and Trace, should they need to get in touch with you. This will include details of everyone in your group and where you plan on staying during your trip.
Having details of any hotel addresses to hand will speed up this process.
Some airport staff members were wearing masks but this was not consistent throughout the airport. Qatar Airways seemed to be the only airline that insisted on its passengers wearing face masks and a face shield prior to boarding.
What If I Have COVID-19 Symptoms On Arrival?
If you display any COVID-19 symptoms (such as a high temperature) you may be required to take a test.
Tanzania is not currently enforcing a mandatory quarantine whilst waiting for the test results, but they can ask that you self-isolate for 14 days.
What Type of Covid Test is Required?
There are many different types of Covid Tests, the two main ones being ‘Rapid Test’ and ‘PCR Test.’
Rapid tests are generally not accepted due to the process providing inconsistent readings.
COVID-19 PCR Tests are currently the most reliable and widely accepted tests for accurate results. The samples are taken by cotton swabs from the nose and the throat. These swabs are then sent to a laboratory for testing.
What Happens If My Test Result Is Positive?
If you have screened positive for COVID-19 in Zanzibar, you may be asked to self-isolate. Although we are yet to hear from anyone this has happened to.
If you are traveling to Zanzibar (for less than 14-days) during the pandemic and test positive for Covid, you will not be allowed to board any pre-booked flight home. The Zanzibar authorities will not pay for any accommodation whilst you are in self-isolation.
Will My Airline Or Country Require A Negative COVID-19 PCR Test On Return From Zanzibar?
Every airline and country has different guidelines, so it is crucial to check this before you leave for Zanzibar. Don’t wait until you are out there.
If you are a citizen of the country you are returning to, it is likely that you will need to quarantine for around 14-days on your return, which generally means you will not need a COVID-19 PCR Test.
Be sure to speak to your airline about their requirements and check out the Government Advice regularly.
What If I Do Need A Covid Test On Return?
If you definitely need a COVID-19 PCR Test on your return, I would potentially reconsider whether traveling to Zanzibar is worth it.
The main reason for this is that the infrastructure in Zanzibar is not sufficient enough to guarantee your test results in time for your flight.
For those who need tests for their return home, Zanzibar cannot consistently offer certificates within the required timescales.
How Long Do Covid Test Results Take In Zanzibar?
In Zanzibar, a doctor or clinician can take the COVID-19 PCR test, but this will then need to be sent to a laboratory in mainland Tanzania for testing.
They state that turnaround will be within 3 days, but it is generally taking around 4 to 5 days to receive test results.
This is where Zanzibar is currently falling short.
Most countries will require that your negative test certificate is dated within 96 hours of boarding your flight.
This means that if you fly out on Friday at 2 pm, your sample must have been taken no earlier than Monday at 2 pm. Considering that Zanzibar is currently taking 4 to 5 days, this could turn the most relaxed of people into a nervous wreck.
We met a couple of groups at Zanzibar Airport still waiting on results, with only three hours to spare before their flight!
YOU MAY LIKE: How To Plan A 5-Day Affordable Luxury Safari To Tanzania
Where in Zanzibar Can You Get Tested?
Up until recently, there was only one hospital in Stone Town where you could get a COVID-19 PCR test.
This meant that if you were staying in Nungwi (northern tip), you would have to get a taxi to Stone Town (1.5 hours away), arrange with your driver to pay $80 cash into a government bank account, and then get tested. Then drive back up to Nungwi, hope your certificate arrives in time for your flight home, and collect it en route to the airport.
A whole day affair.
Bearing in mind that a taxi costs around $50 from Nungwi to the airport (one way), a Covid Test could set you back around $180.
As of this month, an additional two facilities have been added. So you can now visit the following three places to get your Covid Tests in Zanzibar:
- Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) – Lumumba (just north of Stone Town)
- Global Hospital – Vuga (Stone Town)
- North Valley Hospital – Nungwi
Even with the addition of these clinics, there have been many instances of them running out of testing kits in the late afternoon, so people typically arrive at 7 am and stand in line, sometimes up to 4 hours waiting to be tested.
If you need to take your test or catch a flight on a Sunday, you can pretty much forget it.
If at all possible, Only Book Direct Flights to Zanzibar!
Most of the current visitors to Zanzibar are from countries that offer direct flights. With so many flight cancellations taking place (particularly with Kenya Airways and Precision Air) it’s just not worth the potential headache.
We found out the hard way, what an absolute pain this was!
Our flight was heading back to the UK via Nairobi, with a 2-hour stopover at NBO. We checked the Kenya Airports Authority website daily, along with Kenya Airways and government advice. It appeared that nothing had changed since we arrived in Zanzibar.
So it was a complete surprise when we were checking in at Zanzibar Airport for a flight home when we were asked for a negative COVID-19 PCR certificate.
Nairobi Airport had changed its rules 3 days prior and failed to update its websites or notify anyone. They were now requiring all passengers traveling in transit to produce a negative COVID-19 PCR Test.
So we couldn’t board our flight! Aaarrrgghh!
What Options Did We Have?
There were two feasible options.
- We remain in Zanzibar, take a COVID-19 PCR Test and wait up to 5 days for the results. This would involve arranging further accommodation and rescheduling of flights.
- Book flights with an airline that did not require PCR Tests, even if it meant a longer route home.
We chose the 2nd!
Qatar Airways was a lifesaver for us. They flew from Zanzibar via Doha and did not have any covid test requirements for transiting passengers at the airport.
We expected to pay through the nose for a last-minute flight to get us home, but they offered incredibly cheap tickets with a few hours’ notice. Plus, they were the only airline that appeared to take COVID-19 measures seriously.
How is Zanzibar Airport Coping During COVID-19?
Zanzibar International Airport is a very basic small terminal, with half a dozen check-in counters in one tiny hall.
Due to the lack of travelers in comparison to usual, they were coping absolutely fine.
One major wall we hit was when trying to book new flights, as the wifi was non-existent. Even though we switched on roaming, the 4G signal was so weak that we kept dropping out midway through our booking process.
In the end, we called Qatar Airways directly in Doha to book flights as no one in Zanzibar Airport could help, even though they had a Qatar Desk!
The new airport terminal was due to open in October 2020 but we are still waiting on when this may actually take place. I would imagine once traveler numbers can justify the resources.
Do I Need Travel Insurance For Zanzibar?
Absolutely. This is not because Zanzibar poses any more risk than other destinations but because you want to limit the level of inconvenience or trauma should the unexpected happen. Medical treatment and emergency transportation can be extremely expensive in Tanzania.
Without a doubt, this is our favorite place to search for Travel Insurance. They have policies that can provide cover for COVID-19-related issues, just be sure to check out whether they have a 5-star rating.
COVID-19 insurance cover is absolutely essential if you’re booking any travel over the next 12 months. Take a good look at the conditions to see what you’re willing to accept. Making sure that you’re covered for medical treatments should take priority over cover for holiday cancellations.
Summing Up Zanzibar Travel During Covid
Only the brave should be booking convoluted routes to Zanzibar as there are so many things that could go wrong!
Although the authorities are encouraging tourists to the island, they are yet to have efficient processes in place to cater for travel during COVID-19.
Zanzibar is a beautifully appealing option for those of us that want to forget about the worries of the world. Just be prepared for some potential anxiety if you need to take a Covid Test before you fly home.
If you found this article useful, sign up below to receive brand new posts straight to your inbox!