Europe is open! Here’s what you need to know to get there (June 2021 edition)
Max and I had a trip to Greece get cancelled multiple times due to COVID-19 and we finally got our chance this summer when we heard the news of Greece reopening – even reopening early – to travelers with the vaccine or willing to take a PCR test within 72 hours. In the span of just about one month, we were able to secure tickets to Greece June 1 – July 3 and started researching immediately to understand what we needed for both the layover and the destination. There is so much confusion, and frankly, misinformation regarding travel to Europe right now so we wanted to share some of the key things you need to know before you go to Europe this summer. Keep in mind, the regulations change daily so our goal here is to provide you with some pathways to learn our experience, but also how to check what you need to know for your trip (and please DO check outside of just reading this post).
1. Layovers matter! Do NOT assume your destination requirements are all you need to pay attention to!
Regardless of where you plan on traveling this summer, keep in mind that if you have a layover, you could end up in trouble for not meeting the requirements of that country, even to simply transit through the airport.
For example, we had flights booked from San Francisco Airport to Mykonos, Greece. Greece’s requirement at the time stated “vaccine 14+ days before arrival or PCR test within 72 hours of arrival”. We took the vaccine 16 days before arrival so that’s all well and good, right? Wrong. We had a few options for layovers: Paris and Frankfurt. Frankfurt, at the time, stated all travelers, regardless of whether or not they clear customs and are simply transiting through the airport, are required to have a negative PCR test within 72 hours. This means that even though you meet the requirements for Greece with the vaccine, you stillneed to have a negative PCR to get on the plane from SFO to Frankfurt. However, France’s stated requirements at the time said that passengers on a single itinerary were exempt from the negative PCR requirement if it was not required by the final destination. Therefore, the vaccine holds as your access to that flight. See the difference? We, of course, went with the flight through Paris as getting a PCR test with a guaranteed turnaround is expensive and often, not guaranteed.
It is absolutely critical that you check the requirements for both destination AND transit flight. There are two ways to do this: check the government sites for your layover and destination countries AND check the airport’s website for the layover and destination countries.
For example, for our trip to Greece, we consistently checked the following sites after a quick google search of “country” + “arrivals protocol” + “COVID”. This gave us the sites we were looking for for easy access:
French Government site: https://www.gouvernement.fr/en/coronavirus-covid-19
Paris Airport site: https://www.parisaeroport.fr/en/passengers/flights/covid-19-informations-to-passengers
Depending on where you are going to and transiting through, be sure to check frequently for updates.
2. Know your sh*t before going to the airport
COVID-19 regulations are constantly changing and it’s incredibly confusing. At no fault to airport employees, there is often a lot of miscommunication between airlines, passengers and the country regulations. There is simply no way for an airport employee to know everything, but this is a critical point. Before you go to the airport, have screenshots of the rules for your layover and destination countries. When we arrived at SFO, the check in agent told us that we were required to have a negative PCR to get to Paris. However, this was not the case. We had documented proof from the airlines, from the government sites and a text with Delta stating that we did not need it. After a bit of back and forth, it was determined that the airport system was not taking into account that our flight to Paris was just a layover, the system simply saw that we were getting on a plane to Paris (and access into France requires a quarantine and a PCR test).
If we had not argued with her and fought with evidence, we would not have been on that flight. It’s very important to know the rules, stick to your guns, and politely dispute the situation.
3. Consider that you may not be allowed to leave the airport during a long layover
At many airports in Europe and around the world, you will not be allowed to exit customs or transit between different terminals during a layover. If your layover is short, it may not be a big deal. But, since flights are just now getting ramped up, it’s possible that your layover is 12-23 hours, like ours was. I had originally booked an airport hotel, located outside of the terminal. That airport hotel never told a single time during my communications with them that I would not be allowed to leave the airport at all and would therefore not be able to make it to my booking.
During our 23 hour layover, we were not able to leave customs and therefore had to book the only airside transit hotel available in CDG, a YotelAir property with small windowless cabins located in the terminal we were going to depart from to get to Mykonos. While I was very grateful to have a place to spend the night, we also did not know there would be no food available at that hotel or those gates. We were stuck in this strange in-between area between terminals and gates with zero access to other amenities. The moral of the story here is to be prepared. Review the airport websites, airport terminal maps and what the regulations are for your layover before you get stuck in the “upside down” with zero access to anything.
4. Understand the regulations of your destination
The great news is, every day, it seems more and more of Europe is reopening every day. Just remember that the opening guidelines and what you can, or cannot, do will be different depending on where you go. Are museums and shops going to be open during your trip? Are restaurants allowed to open? Maybe they have a lower capacity? Are beaches and water sports allowed to operate? What do hotels have to comply with and will that ruin your experience? Is public transit allowed to operate?
Be sure to understand what the rules are within your destination so you don’t end up in a town or location with closed restaurants, beaches and activities. Greece today is open and ready for travelers, of course with mask mandates and slight changes to capacity around the board. But some places may not be allowed to open certain facilities or places. The best thing to do is to check the government site of the destination. Most destinations have a whole COVID-19 section on their website that details everything you need to know about each location.
5. Know what you need to get back
Great- you made it to your dream vacation! But don’t forget that you also have to fly home. Make sure you know exactly what you need to board your flight home from paradise, and keep in mind you may end up spending thousands of dollars to rebook if you mess up since “sorry, I didn’t know the rules” simply isn’t going to cut it anymore. To re-enter the US, for example, travelers are still required to hold a negative antigen or PCR test within 72 hours of boarding the flight, even if they’re vaccinated. Te re-enter Norway, for example, travelers are required to quarantine in a government run hotel at the traveler’s expense. Make sure you review your own government’s regulations before trying to board your plane.
Keep in mind, you will need to find a facility that provides antigen or PCR testing in your vacation country. If you’re staying at a hotel, they can typically point you in the right direction. If not, we have found success googling “antigen testing” + “town” and ended up with great clinics.
As vaccinations are proven more successful and people are returning to normal, things will likely change. However, check frequently, verify the facts and make sure you are ready for your return home.
At the end of the day, the truth is that things are constantly evolving, changing and updating. Vacations to Europe this summer will be full of anxiety and confusion, but as long as you understand the rules, what you need and how to get it, the absolute joy of traveling again far outweighs the anxiety of getting to your destination. Again, make sure to check the government sites and airport sites for updated guidelines as things may change between when this was posted and your trip. Let us know in the comments how your European vacation planning is going!