As COVID restrictions begin to ease around the world and a sense of normalcy returns to the world (whether it’s safe or not), postponed vacation plans across the Atlantic have once again become a possibility for American travelers. While summer 2022 will see the most travel to Europe since the pandemic began, there are still some caveats to traveling in a world that has reopened despite the continued spread of COVID. Here are some tips I picked up on a recent trip abroad to help you minimize the hassle on your next European adventure.
Each country has a different procedure for handling incoming visitors, so be sure to check the entry requirements for your original destination. Normally this requires completing a passenger locator form and uploading your personal COVID information. Be sure to do this before your flight, as failure to do so may result in fines and/or denied entry. Check for updates frequently, especially as your departure date approaches, as policies can change quickly.
The passenger locator form asks for generic information about your trip, places you have visited, emergency contacts and places you plan to stay. For your COVID information, you can upload your vaccination information, a negative test result, or proof of recovery from the virus. The negative result must not exceed 72 hours for a PCR examination or 24 hours for an antigen test. Evidence of recovery from COVID is usually valid for several months 10 days after your last negative result. Vaccination is overall the best way to minimize potential problems. The EU recognizes all CDC-approved COVID vaccines, and vaccination not only removes the need for frequent PCR/antigen testing in countries that would otherwise require it, but it also allows for increased flexibility by not having to adjust travel itineraries due to awaiting test results. Make sure your last photo is also fairly recent. If your last dose was more than 270 days ago it may not be accepted, so remember to do a reminder before your trip if it has been some time since your last shot.
You will typically receive emails containing QR codes as proof of completion after you complete your Passenger Locator Form and upload 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 delayed or denied entry due to spotty Wi-Fi reception or a dead phone. A portable battery for charging cellular devices and other electronic devices is a good thing to consider and is easily found online or at your local electronics store. I recommend two varieties: a larger one more capable of handling extended periods of charging, and a smaller, lightweight version that can be used throughout the day. Also consider purchasing an international adapter for use with European outlets. Adapters and batteries take up minimal luggage space and in addition to making border entry easier, having plenty of charging options will continually pay dividends on your trip.
While many airports and airlines have now waived any mask requirements, and some accept bandanas and cloth masks, others require a genuine KN95. Don’t expect to be told at check-in, security, or that the airline has extras for you in case you miss the right type. In one instance, I nearly missed a flight while boarding at the gate because I had to run to a nearby convenience store to buy a ten-pack KN95. Masks take up very little space, so keep plenty on hand and try to buy them before your flight to avoid possible high price increases at the airport.
Once in the EU, COVID entry requirements between member countries tend to be much simpler than arriving from the US. In the rare cases where there are protocols, they rarely go beyond checking vaccination records, test results and/or completing additional passenger locator forms. When exploring Europe, don’t expect to see many lockdowns, curfews or any other restrictions common to peak times of the virus. Although each destination has different rules subject to change, masks are largely optional and social distancing rules have been relaxed overall. Use your own discretion regarding social events and crowds, and wear a mask if you wish.
Regardless of vaccination status, returning to the United States requires a negative COVID antigen test which cannot have been administered more than 24 hours prior to check-in. Be sure to plan this test carefully to ensure you get your result within the allowed time window. Many airports have a rapid test center on site, but these usually come with steep price increases (my antigen test at Dublin airport costs around $35) and a waiting period approximately one hour to get your results which must be obtained before check-in. Depending on the airport you are returning from, customs may also occur on the European side, doubling your security time. In summary: make sure you arrive at the terminal at least three hours before departure to ensure a smooth return.
John Sizemore is a travel writer, photographer, yoga teacher, and visual entertainment developer based in Austin, Texas. Follow him on Instagram at @sizemoves. In his spare time, John enjoys learning foreign languages and immersing himself in other worlds, especially those of music, movies, games and books, in addition to exploring the world.