With COVID restrictions beginning to wane globally and a sense of normalcy returning around the world (whether that’s safe or not), postponed vacation plans across the Atlantic have once again become a possibility for American travelers. While the summer of 2022 will see the most travel to Europe since the start of the pandemic, there are still some caveats to traveling in a world that has reopened despite the continued spread of COVID. Here are a few pointers I picked up from a recent trip abroad to help you minimize hassle during your next adventure to Europe.
Research the necessary documentation for your first stop
Every country has a different procedure for handling incoming visitors, so be sure to look into the entry requirements for your initial destination. Normally, this requires filling out a passenger locator form and uploading your personal COVID info. Be sure to do this before your flight, as failure to do so can result in fines and/or denied entry. Check for updates frequently, especially as your departure date gets close, as policies can change quickly.
The passenger locator form asks for generic information about your trip, places you’ve visited, emergency contacts, and any places you plan to stay. For your COVID info, you can upload your vaccination information, a negative test result, or proof of recovery from the virus. The negative result should be no longer than 72 hours for a PCR exam or 24 hours for an antigen test. Proof of recovery from COVID is typically good for several months 10 days after your most recent negative result. Vaccination is overall the best way to minimize any 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, it also allows increased flexibility in not having to adjust travel itineraries due to waiting for test results. Make sure your latest shot is also fairly recent. If your last dose was administered more than 270 days ago, it may not be accepted, so consider getting a booster before your trip if it’s been some time since your last jab.
Take as much of your documentation offline as you can, and invest in a spare charging battery and international outlet adapter
You will generally receive emails that contain QR codes acting as proof of completion after finishing your passenger locator form and uploading your COVID info. 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 because of a spotty Wi-Fi reception or a dead phone. A portable battery for charging cellular devices and other electronics is a good thing to consider and easily found online or at your local electronics store. I recommend two varieties—one that is larger and more capable of sustained periods of charging, and a smaller, lightweight version that can be used throughout the day. Consider also purchasing an international adaptor for use with European outlets. Adapters and batteries take up minimal space in luggage and in addition to making border entry smoother, having plentiful charging options will continuously pay dividends on your trip.
Have the right kind of mask with you at the airport
While many airports and airlines have now waived any mask requirements, and some accept bandanas and cloth masks, others require a genuine KN95. Do not expect to be notified of this at check-in, security, or for the airline to have extras for you in case you are missing the right kind. In one instance, I nearly missed a flight while boarding at the gate due to having to run to a nearby convenience store to buy a ten-pack of KN95s. Masks take up very little space, so keep plenty on hand and try to purchase these before your flight to avoid potential high price markups at the airport.
Travel within the EU
Once in the EU, the COVID entry requirements between member countries tend to be much simpler than arriving from the United States. In the rare case where there are any protocols, they rarely go beyond checking vaccination records, test results, and/or filling out additional passenger locator forms. When exploring Europe, don’t expect to see much in the way of any lockdowns, curfews, or any other restrictions common from the peak periods of the virus. While each destination has different rules that are subject to change, masks are largely optional and social distancing rules have been relaxed overall. Use your own discretion when it comes to social events and crowds, and wear a mask if you want to.
Traveling back to the United States
Regardless of vaccination status, returning to the United States requires a negative COVID antigen test that cannot have been administered more than 24 hours prior to check-in. Make sure to plan this test carefully to ensure you have your result within the permissible time window. Many airports have a rapid testing center on-site, but these typically come with steep markups in price (my antigen test at the Dublin airport cost roughly $35) and a waiting period of around one hour to get your results that must be obtained before check-in. Depending on which airport you are returning from, there is also a chance that customs could happen on the European side, effectively doubling your time through security. Bottom line: make sure you arrive at the terminal at least three hours before departure to ensure a smooth journey home.
John Sizemore is a travel writer, photographer, yoga teacher, and visual entertainment developer based out of Austin, Texas. Follow him on Instagram at @sizemoves. In his downtime, John likes to learn foreign languages and get immersed in other worlds, particularly those of music, film, games, and books in addition to exploring the world.