Important tips for traveling internationally even when vaccinated

by Feb 7, 2022Planning

Michael Berlin Airport Traveling Internationally When Vaccinated

Traveling internationally when vaccinated requires forms, tests, research about countries’ requirements and a lot of flexibility. Here are our tips for traveling during Covid.

Traveling around the world used to be so easy. Buy a ticket, plan your tours, pack your bag, get on a plane, go and have fun. Traveling internationally when vaccinated is a completely different game, and definitely not for the weak of heart. Traveling internationally during Covid demands flexibility along with fastidious planning, detailed research, and heaps of patience. And the research must continue until your departure since you cannot assume the rules when you booked will be the same rules when you leave.

We took several international trips in 2021 once vaccinated and once countries’ borders opened. On every trip we saw travelers turned away at airport check-in counters because they didn’t have the proper paperwork filled out for traveling internationally, had missed a required form, didn’t print out the paperwork, or didn’t have the right test within the allowed period for their destination.

We like to think we are savvy travelers. Nevertheless, we almost blew it ourselves in 2021 on our second international trip even though we were fully vaccinated. We were going to pass through London Heathrow Airport – not exiting the airport or even entering England, just changing planes on our way to Germany. We both read and re-read the instructions on the United Kingdom’s government site several times in the weeks leading up to our traveling during Covid. Then, just a couple of days before leaving, we read them again. Both of us. Twice. That’s when we realized that being vaccinated was not enough even to just transit through the London airport at that time. We actually had to also have a negative test, even though Germany only demanded proof of vaccination.

We scrambled to a pharmacy, got our tests and were good to go. The story could have ended much differently if we had not read the requirements over and over again prior to departure.

Another traveler I know had a multi-country trip planned in fall 2021, but not too long before her departure, her arrival country changed its rules, meaning she couldn’t go there. That required completely changing her itinerary and even the countries she planned to visit. A stressful event, but in today’s times of international travel during a pandemic not unexpected.

Traveling internationally while vaccinated not for the inflexible

If there is one thing that is demanded these days, it is total flexibility – to change departures, change destinations, change tours, change hotels, just change anything. You must be able to take plans, toss them into the round file, and start over as businesses close or change hours, conferences are canceled or downsized, countries open and close borders and, now, demand not only proof of vaccinations but also perhaps a booster to either enter or avoid quarantine.

Some countries may also require once there that you either have a booster or a negative test within the last 24 hours to get into museums, restaurants, or meetings, such as France and Germany. But be forewarned that those rules change constantly, too.

In addition, some events, restaurants, or venues may even close completely if somebody tests positive, meaning once at a destination you still must continue to check each day to verify any plans or bookings you’ve made are still possible.

Although flexibility is mandated, you also may need to book some tours or experiences. Many venues are trying to spread out numbers of visitors – think museums, shows or exhibits – to allow for more distancing. That means you often can’t just decide to show up at an exhibit on a whim but may have to go online and book a time to get in – sometimes days or weeks in advance. And you may have to change it if somebody tests positive.

Once you get to an event or museum, you may also have to wait in line to show your vaccination pass and ID to get in, often making it impossible to just “pop in” somewhere. We found ourselves on one international trip in December opting not to tour a couple of museums because it was going to take too long just to get in.

Therese Document Airport Berlin

Tips for traveling during the Covid pandemic

Think detailed, highly researched, yet flexible traveling. That may not be everybody’s preference. And for those who can’t handle the idea of making plans then having to change them, now may be the time to stick to domestic travel.

If you are going stir-crazy and are dying to get to a bucket-list destination, here are a few tips to travel safely and sanely while vaccinated.

Limit your destinations

Unless you are a truly brave soul, consider limiting your travel to one country so you do not have to juggle different paperwork and regulations – all of which could change before you leave or even during your international travels while vaccinated. In. other words, now is the time for slow travel.

Get and stay informed

Sources of information include the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which is a good place to start your research, or the U.S. Department of State. Registering for the department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) can also keep you informed of changes. Each country’s U.S. embassy also has Covid-19 information for travelers; find the embassy of your destination, then find its Covid-19 information page (unfortunately, different for all countries).

Book flexibly and limit layovers

Pick flights, hotels and tours, but only book once you’ve verified the cancelation policy is flexible – or flexible enough to suit your needs. We have had to cancel and change flights and shorten or cancel hotel stays without much of a problem. But there can be rules, such as making changes before you start a trip, or only being able to make changes up to a week one way or another. Always verify with the airline, hotel or tour agency.

For flights, limit layovers, especially in other countries. If you can fly non-stop, do it. If you must change planes in a different country, verify the need for paperwork or extra testing even if you do not exit the airport.

Check your airline’s travel information

Check a travel information page on your airline’s website. Most these days have detailed information specifically about your destination once you have booked your ticket. Read it carefully. And make sure you have enabled any airline alerts since notifications and reminders will often be sent.

Go to your destination’s health department website

Find the destination’s website for paperwork and health forms you need to fill out and then upload to its website. Take care of those you can do in advance. For others that may need to be done within a certain window of time prior to travel, put a reminder on a calendar. Usually, these will be linked from your airline’s information pages. If not, do your own thorough and continuous searches. This source has travel updates as of early 2022; however, it also has links to the health departments of popular European destinations as well as other key European Union websites.

Keep multiple copies of forms

When you have filled out forms, file electronic copies in a travel folder you can access from an electronic device you will have with you AND print out copies. Every airport and airline we have experienced during our traveling internationally during covid has required the hard copies in our hands.

Get digital copies of vaccination proof

Get a digital copy of proof of your vaccination and booster details. Some states have electronic certificates with QR codes you can download, such as our home state of California. If your state has one, get it on your phone. Also carry your paper CDC vaccination card but try to avoid carrying it around with you all the time. Instead, scan it to also have available electronically on your phone, if needed. Also, remember that some countries will not accept a paper card since they can be more easily counterfeited. Long story short, make sure you can access any necessary paperwork even if you do not have cell reception.

Do you need a destination-specific QR code?

Check your destination country to see if you can have your U.S. proof of vaccination transferred into a country-specific QR code (often for a fee). Many countries use their own QR codes for proof of vaccination and scan them at entrances to events and venues. The paper card can confuse them, and the U.S. QR code does not translate. If you cannot determine this prior to arrival, go into a pharmacy since that is often where it is done. Some countries allow you to do this prior to arrival, often mentioned on the same government sites that list regulations.

Pack approved self-tests

Buy and pack in your carryon the CDC-approved self-tests for your return travel, such as BinaxNOW – one box of two per person. Consider also packing along a couple of rapid antigen self-tests per traveler in case you need to test yourself and do not have access to testing or a quick way to purchase a test at your international travel destination.

Therese Covid Test Traveling Internationally

Pack hand sanitizer and wipes

Pack hand sanitizer, but you will not probably need huge containers since most countries you are likely going to will have it for sale AND have it in hotels, stores and other establishments and tourist venues. You should be sure it is a TSA-approved size of 100 ml (3 ounces) or less for traveling internationally during Covid. And consider other cleaning and protection aids.

Carry a few masks

Pack a few masks per traveler. Opt for the KN95 type since some countries require them, and many countries do not allow the fabric ones. Surgical-type masks may be allowed in some countries, but not in others. You want to be covered, too, in case the one you are wearing breaks.

Opt for travel insurance

Consider travel insurance seriously. If you are booking a tour or other organized travel, you may not be able to cancel and get your money back unless the entire trip is canceled for Covid reasons. In other words, if you start to feel unsure and decide you’d feel safer not going, you may not be able to get a refund. Get insurance.

Check again and again prior to departure

Once you have booked a trip, check back about travel, testing and paperwork requirements at least once a week — more frequently as your trip gets closer to ensure nothing has changed. Also, check the case numbers and hospitalization rates at your destination to confirm there has not been such a bad turn that you might decide to change plans. That also happened to us on a trip the end of 2021, and we were able to shorten our travel.

Pack your patience

When traveling, pack patience, get ready for lines, and allow even more time to maneuver it all. If you have extra time, consider splurging on a pass for an airline club since it could be a more peaceful place to wait for our flight that also feels a little safer.

Know your options if you test positive

No matter how careful you are, a positive test is always possible. Know what you can do, what your cancelation policies are, and where you might stay until you can move on with your trip or return home.

Traveling internationally during Covid may not be easy, but we have also found that with patience, care and respect, it can still be very gratifying.

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1 Comment

  1. Ana

    This is such and important and useful article! You don’t know how many times I have traveled during the pandemic and had to double check with not only the airline but also the country of destinantion. I totally agree, with checking again and again. Sometimes, the rules change randomly and if you aren’t aware, it can mess with your travel plans!

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