As COVID restrictions begin to wane globally and a sense of normalcy returns worldwide (whether it’s safe or not), deferred vacation plans across the Atlantic are once again a possibility for American travelers. While summer 2022 will see the largest number of travel to Europe since the start of the pandemic, there are still some caveats to travel in a world that has reopened despite the continuing spread of COVID. Here are some pointers I picked up from my recent trip abroad to help you minimize the hassles on your next adventure to Europe.
Each country has different procedures for handling incoming visitors, so be sure to consider the entry requirements for your initial destination. Usually, this requires filling out a passenger locator form and uploading your personal COVID information. Make sure to do this in advance of your flight, as failure to do so may result in fines and/or denial of entry. Check for updates frequently, especially as your departure date approaches, as policies can change quickly.
The passenger locator form asks for general information about your flight, places you’ve visited, emergency contacts, and any places you plan to stay. To get your COVID information, you can upload your vaccination information, a negative test result, or evidence of recovery from the virus. A negative result should be no more than 72 hours for the PCR test or 24 hours for the antigen test. Proof of recovery from COVID is usually good for several months 10 days after the most recent negative result. Vaccination is the best way to reduce any potential problems. The EU recognizes all COVID vaccines approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and vaccination not only removes the need for PCR/antigen testing in countries that might otherwise require it, but also allows for increased flexibility in not having To modify travel itineraries due to waiting for test results. Make sure your most recent shot is also fairly recent. If your last dose was given more than 270 days ago, it may not be accepted, so consider getting a booster dose before your trip if it has been some time since your last dose.
You will generally receive emails containing QR codes as proof of completion after completing the Passenger Locator form and uploading your COVID information. Save these documents offline, print them, take a screenshot, and if you have an iPhone, these QR codes can sometimes be added to your Apple Wallet. The last thing you want is to be put off or denied entry due to intermittent Wi-Fi reception or a dead phone. A portable battery for charging cell phones and other electronic devices is a good thing to consider and can be easily found online or at your local electronics store. I recommend two types – one that’s larger and more capable of charging for extended periods, and a smaller, lightweight version that can be used all day. Also consider purchasing an international adapter to use with European outlets. Adapters and batteries take up little space in luggage, and in addition to making getting across the border smoother, having plentiful charging options will constantly pay off on your journey.
While many airports and airlines have now waived any requirements for masks, and some accept bandanas and cloth masks, others require genuine KN95. Don’t expect to be notified at check-in, security or even the airline will get you extras in case you lose the right kind. In one instance, I nearly missed a flight while going up the gate due to having to run to a nearby store to buy a ten-pack of KN95s. Masks take up very little space, so keep plenty of them and try to buy them before your flight to avoid possible price hikes at the airport.
Once in the European Union, COVID entry requirements between member states tend to be much simpler than for access from the United States. In the rare case where any protocols exist, they will rarely bypass check vaccination records and/or test results and/or fill out additional forms to locate passengers. When exploring Europe, don’t expect to see much in the way of any lockdowns, curfews or other restrictions common from peak virus periods. While each destination has different rules that are subject to change, masks are largely optional and social distancing rules have generally been relaxed. Use your own discretion when it comes to social events and crowds, and wear a mask if you wish.
Regardless of vaccination status, return to the United States requires a negative COVID antigen test that cannot be given more than 24 hours prior to check-in. Be sure to plan this test carefully to make sure you get your result within the allowed time window. Many airports have an on-site express test center, but these usually come with hefty prices (my antigen test at Dublin Airport costs about $35) and a waiting period of about an hour for your results which must be obtained before the scan-in. Depending on the airport you are returning from, there is also a possibility that customs will occur on the European side, effectively maximizing your time through security. Bottom line: Make sure you arrive at the station at least three hours before departure to ensure a smooth journey back home.
John Sizemore is a travel writer, photographer, yoga teacher, and visual entertainment developer based in Austin, Texas. Follow him on Instagram @sizemoves. On his hiatus, John loves to learn foreign languages and immerse himself in other worlds, especially those of music, movies, games and books as well as exploring the world.