Coronavirus: Stranded In The US? All You Need To Do To Extend Your Stay Hassle-Free
My parents have come to visit me in February 2020 and they are supposed to return to India in May 2020. We all know that there is a lockdown till 12th April 2020 in India and 30th April in the US- we don't know if these dates are going to be extended. As on today traveling is UNCERTAIN. So, what options are available if they have to extend their stay?
Change of Flight Tickets
Most airlines have begun changing their policies to create more flexibility for changing bookings. So, if you’re planning — or have already scheduled — a trip for the near future then, depending upon the airline, here are your options:
You can cancel the ticket. Some airlines are offering e-credit (e.g. Delta airlines), while some are letting you cancel the ticket without having to commit to a new flight date right away (e.g. Lufthansa). In case you want a full cash refund, I would suggest that you wait up to 72 hours before your flight. In the meanwhile, if the airlines changes the flight schedule or cancels the flight then that makes you eligible for a full refund (even if you ticket is non-refundable). If not, then call them up/ email them/ reach out on their social media accounts and explain your situation. If the first representative says no, then hang up and call again until you get an agent who is willing to help you. Request and ask for help, be truthful and don't be rude! If everything fails, then try talking to your credit card company or travel insurance company. They may cover the cost of you have to cancel your flight. For more details, please read my post on Coronavirus: Want To Cancel Your Flight? Read This Before You Do So.
You can change your ticket to new departure date. The new ticket issue and departure limits vary from airlines to airlines. Most airlines are also waiving the change fees (to make a one-time change). For exact fare rules and change/refund/cancellation polices, please check with the respective airlines.
US Visa Extension- if the stay is more than 6 months
USCIS is offering an online extension of your visa if you want to extend your stay in the United States before your authorized stay expires. They recommend that you apply to extend your stay at least 45 days before your authorized stay expires i.e. you need to apply for an extension before your authorized stay date expires. If you remain in the US longer than authorized, you may be barred from returning and/or you may be removed (deported) from the United States. Check the date on the arrival stamp, to determine when your period of authorized stay expires. To extend your stay visit USCIS Extend Your Stay. However, in this time of heightened scrutiny and sensitivity around immigration matters, I would seriously think before utilizing this option. Keep this as your last resort.
Extension/Renewal of Travel Insurance
If you extend your trip, you can either extend or renew the insurance on or before it expires. Take note that an extension and renewal is different. Most insurance companies are even offering coverage of COVID 19 at the time of extension/renewal. Also, insurance companies offer online renewal/extension. Consult your insurance provider for the exact details on how to extend/renew the insurance.
Already in the US and don't have travel insurance? Here's what you can do.
A lot Indian insurance companies won't provide you insurance policy because you have already left the country. I reached out to a few Indian insurance companies via www.nriol.com of which only Bajaj Allianz agreed to provide an insurance. The other alternative is that you buy one immediately from a US based insurance company. To know more about this visit my post on Tips For Picking Visitors Insurance For Indian Parents Traveling To The US.
Whether you buy travel insurance from an Indian company or US, you need to thoroughly go through their policy details and terms and conditions before and after buying the policy. Always read the fine print!
Refilling Prescription Medication
As a general rule, the FDA does not allow prescription medications to be mailed to the U.S. However, if you are here temporarily and need to be sent your prescription medication, there are two things that you can do:
Visit a doctor (if you have insurance or after buying one): Show him/her your old Indian prescription and the medications that are currently taking. Depending upon the health care provider, your prescription will be refilled or the doctor will do your full check-up and then prescribe his/her medication for your illness. Very few pharmacies can fill a foreign prescription, and this is determined on a state-by-state basis.
Have additional medication sent to you by mail or courier: Call/email your physician in India to write a letter (in English) explaining that you are under their care and that they have prescribed the drugs for your use. The letter should also explain the circumstances for sending the drugs to you, including that you are a citizen of India, that you are temporarily in the U.S. for travel and have run out of your medications. The letter should accompany the package and be addressed to a CBP officer. If the medicine is sent through the mail, it could be detained by the CBP until an FDA Inspector is available to examine it. This can take as long as a month. It is very important that the outside package is marked with a statement that the package contains a physician's letter so that the CBP Officer will be more proactive in bringing it to the FDA's attention. A better option is to send the package by a courier service. Ask the courier service about the best way to flag the package so that their U.S. Customs broker will be able to tell the FDA about the special circumstances for sending the package. For more information, read my post on Coronavirus: Running Out Of Medications? Here's How You Can Refill A Foreign Prescription In The US.
Continue loving them and keep them entertained
As my husband keeps saying this, "Parents are growing old. They won't be there tomorrow but we will be here, left alone without them around". So, shower all your love on them. Take this opportunity to spend time quality with them. Remember that this time when everyone is together at home will not come back. Watch TV, cook and have meals, go for walks, chat, etc. there are so many things that you can do with your parents. Just don't let them watch too much coronavirus news or discuss it.