Europe, anyone? What you need to know
“Europe is Opening.” So proclaim postings from travel mavens and destination advocates, and it probably is accurate. But “opening” is kind of a loose concept — and, in the case of European travel — a moving target.
Chances are that many of you may want to visit Europe over the holidays, and probably even more are thinking about visiting in spring or summer of 2022.
Right now, that looks feasible, but COVID-19 can still stage its own reopening, so caution remains the watchword. Although requirements will probably change, current rules are still reasonably strict.
- No jab, no journey. Yes, unvaccinated folks can enter many countries, at a cost of lots of testing and possible quarantines. Even if you can get into a country without having proof of vaccination, however, you’ll need it for many domestic visitor activities — from attending theaters, shopping at major stores, eating in restaurants, and getting into the big museums to riding public transport, high-speed trains, and local flights.
- Stay current. Make sure your vaccination is current. Volume vaccinations started early this year, and lots of you will have passed the one-year mark before a spring trip. Get a booster if you need it.
- Paper OK, digital better. All of the countries I checked accept the CDC vaccine card and the three major vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — as proof of vaccination.But I’ve seen conflicting reports about whether local venues such as museums and railroads also accept the paper card. You’re much better off if you have a digital vaccine pass of some sort.The EU has launched its EU Digital COVID Certificate. As far as I can tell, U.S. residents are not currently able to apply for it, but some postings suggest that U.S. applications will be possible “soon.” Keep up to date at the EU website.
Meanwhile, again as far as I can tell, U.S. visitors can apply for and get a French carte sanitaire, which is much the same. Apply through the French government website.
- UK getting easier. Headlines about “opening” the U.S.-UK corridor refer to changes in U.S. rules for incoming visitors, not U.S. visitors to the UK.But the UK is easing the former pre-arrival requirement for an expensive PCR test to allow for much less expensive antigen tests. In an ideal situation, UK will relax even that requirement for fully vaccinated travelers.Given the importance of U.S. visitors to the UK hospitality business, I suspect there’s lots of pressure to do just that.
- Know before you go. Entry into some countries requires some additional preparations beyond just having a CDC card. Check the requirements of each country you visit — and especially the country where you first arrive in Europe.
- U.S. hasn’t budged. Regardless of all the other openings, the U.S. has not budged on its longstanding requirement that even vaccinated U.S. travelers must have a negative COVID test taken within three days prior to a return flight.Onsite tests are available at many large European airports, but many are limited to the expensive ($200 or so) and time-consuming PCR tests.Fortunately, CDC also accepts some cheaper and easier rapid tests — even “home” tests — provided they include a telehealth service that observes and validates the test online. You can do this from your hotel with a smart phone, laptop or tablet. Simple home tests without the telehealth link don’t make the grade.
Some airlines sell qualified self-tests online. Although you can buy such tests after you arrive, buying in advance avoids one possible destination hassle.
- It ain’t over ‘till it’s over — and it ain’t over. Although the outlook is pretty upbeat right now, things could go pear-shaped quickly. My longstanding recommendations remain in force:
- Stay flexible and have a Plan B in case requirements tighten again.
- Minimize your financial exposure: Pay as few nonrefundable fares and rates and as few big deposits as possible.
- Consider travel insurance that covers both COVID travel expenses and medical costs while you travel.
Email Ed Perkins at email@example.com or check out his travel website at www.rail-guru.com.
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