After more than a year of being stuck at home, I watched the updates on international travel regularly and as soon as the European Union announced it would reopen to American travelers, I booked a trip. Within 3 weeks I was on a flight, passport in hand, receiving wine during my overseas crossing and landing abroad where my giddiness for a new passport stamp was hidden behind my travel mask.
Was it wonderful? Yes! Did I jump the gun and travel too soon? Also yes. Here’s what I learned about travel to Europe during a pandemic.
You need constant tests, even if you are vaccinated.
In order to travel, I needed to receive a negative RT-PCR COVID test within 72 hours of my departure. Although I learned it is best to wait until 48 hours before travel (and some countries require it) as delayed flights could have your test window clock counting down before you are in the air and because of new restrictions for hotel stays.
To return to the United States, another test is needed, which means finding a facility in the country you are visiting to test within 72 hours of departure. Insurance is not accepted for these tests and you will be charged. (For me, it was 100 Euros.) Both test results are carefully reviewed at the airport and check in is not allowed until confirmed by an agent at the airport.
But here is the surprise: If you are staying more than 3 days in a country, some countries and their hotels may require testing every 48 to 72 hours if you are not vaccinated. At one hotel I encountered in Portugal, guests must test following this schedule and the front desk has rapid testing equipment to complete the tests, as needed.
The number of tests weighed heavily on our minds as we traveled, not only to ensure we received our results on time but because we also understood if a negative test result was returned it meant an automatic 14-day quarantine in place – at our expense.
A health pass is necessary.
As of July 21, the EU created its European Health Pass for those 18 and older. (It will change on August 30 to those 12 and older.) This pass is a QR code that holds proof of a fully completed vaccination certificate or a negative COVID test that is less than 48 hours old.
Unfortunately, the Health Pass is not available to U.S. travelers who, instead, must travel with their vaccine card or negative test results within the 48-window time frame. Our certificates look different to every country and may cause some confusion when needed. Meanwhile, each country also requires all travelers to register this information and the location of where you will be staying in order to enter the country. This registration is needed at airport check-in and may also be requested at border patrol.
Expect closures and restrictions.
Despite a country reopening for tourism, restrictions are still in place in many European nations. You will find these similar to the U.S. in the form of limited seating, partitions to separate diners, limited hospitality staff, and adjusted hours.
There may also be curfews. Restaurants in Portugal, for example, were required to close at 3:30 p.m. on weekends and 10 p.m. on weeknights during my visit. This meant finding a grocery store or ordering takeout for evening meals. Some restaurants required proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter.
Reservations are highly recommended for dining with limited capacity and/or servers, but it is also imperative to book admission tickets in advance for museums and attractions due to their altered capacity limits. The world’s busiest and biggest museum, the Louvre in Paris, has limited time slots open to same-day visitors who do not have pre-purchased tickets.
Other noteworthy details: Every country is different in regards to its mask mandates – in Amsterdam and Spain, they were maskless while we were required to wear masks indoors and outdoors in Portugal, hand sanitizer can be found often, cleaning of hotels and dining tables is as ferocious as it is in the U.S., and some places do not accept cash in an effort to avoid touching money.
Although I had a fantastic trip and the people desperately need travel dollars, the Delta variant is on the rise across Europe, where many countries don’t have enough vaccines for the adult population and are still rolling out by age. Research the country you want to visit carefully and be prepared for changes as the rule.