International Travel

You Need to Know to Travel Safely to Europe This Fall: Tips From Pre-departure Through Return From My Recent Trip to Italy

My recent trip to Italy was wonderful, but there are several things you need to know before traveling there or anywhere in the European Union.

My biggest tips are do your due diligence before trip and be kind traveling and during trip.  Know the requirements for the European country you’re going to ahead of time. From boarding to dining in restaurants, everything takes extra time.  Have some patience and understanding for people working in the airline and hospitality industries. Remember – they showed up for work so you could vacation.

Before trip:

Get vaccinated – You have to be at least 14 days after your second shot.  If you have recovered from COVID, get form from your doctor for travel.  If not vaccinated or recovered, you have to have a negative molecular PCR or rapid antigen test result within 72-48 hours of departure and get tested every 48 hours during trip to eat out or go to a museum.  More on that below in the “during trip” section.

Know before you go – Curfews, quaranties and testing requirements vary among the EU countries.  Visit U.S. Embassy website for country you’re visiting.  Entry and exit requirements are constantly updated there. Personally I do checks a month, 2 weeks and 1 week before trip to make sure my requirements haven’t changed.

Order At-Home COVID tests – Check with your airline to see if they offer an approved at-home test.  United offers one with Abbott BinaxNow that you can order through eMed.  Other airlines use it too. These are super easy to do and only take about 15 minutes.  Best to take two per person so you have a backup.  You’ll need to download app and create account in the U.S. before your trip. *UPDATE – Order these in advance as there is a shortage with uptick in cases because of Delta variant.

Order euros from your bank – You’ll get a better exchange rate than if you do this at an airport or money exchange shop.  Order a mix of small and big bills.  Cash is still king in Europe.  You can get your foreign currency delivered to your home.

Make digital backups – Take pictures or scan your passport and vaccination card/recovery letter.  Save these in several places like favorites in your phone camera roll and in an email folder.  Also a good idea to send these digital copies to someone not traveling with you just in case.

Within 72 Hours of Flight:

Do COVID test if required by country you’re visiting. When I visited Italy did not require vaccinated Americans to take a pre-trip COVID test. *UPDATE – Italy now requires all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, to take pre-trip COVID test within 72 hours of flight. Unvaccinated people have to self-isolate for 5 days, unless has proof of recovery. Vaccinated people bypass quarantine.

Visit your airline’s travel ready section for a checklist of requirements you must do before you can check-in.  It’s best to do this on your phone so you can scan your passport and upload vaccine card or documents.  I flew United and their travel ready section is super easy to use to scan passport and upload documents.  After your documents are upload, you’ll be notified when your documents have been verified and you’re good to check-in.

Fill out health/locator forms – Each country is different as far as health and locator form requirements.  For Italy, you have to fill out online the EU Digital Passport Locator Form.  Fill out within 48 hours of your flight into the European Union.  Screenshot the QR code and save to phone.  Print a copy of form to keep with your passport and vaccination card while flying to destination.  On my trip to Italy, I entered the EU at the Frankfurt Airport in Germany and had to show passport, vaccination card and locator form there.

At the Airport:

Arrive early and allow for extra time – Admittedly I’m a get to the airport one hour before board time, except when traveling internationally and especially now.  Give yourself at least an extra 30-60 minutes at the airport.

Mask up – Best to wear a surgical, N95 or KN95 mask as some airlines are no longer allowing other types of face covering. TSA mandate for air travel is extended through at least January 18th.  You have to wear a mask in airports, on planes and in Europe at the train stations and on trains.  I was in a face mask for about 20 hours.  Best to wear a disposable medical grade or N95 mask so you can toss it at end of travel day. We flew Lufthansa Airlines from Frankfurt to Rome and they handed out disposable medical grade mask to anyone not wearing cotton or other types of masks upon boarding.

Docs check at gate – Even if your documents got verified electronically, you still need to see a gate agent to show proof of passport, vaccination card/recovery letter/negative test result, and necessary health/locator forms.

During Trip:

“Green Pass” required – Carry your passport and vaccination card or proof of recovery with you at all times.  It’s your EU Digital COVID Certificate equivalent.  This went into effect on August 6th, while I was in Florence, Italy.  The “Green Pass” for EU residents or passport and vaccination card combo for tourists is required to enter cultural sites, museums, sporting events, or to dine inside restaurants or go into bars in all EU countries.  If you’re not vaccinated or have recovery medical certificate, you’ll have to provide a negative test result for entry.  Test results are only good for 48 hours, which means you’ll have to schedule multiple tests during your vacation if you want to do things like eat in a restaurant or visit a museum.

Mask up to go inside – face masks are required to enter hotels, shops, museums, restaurants, etc.  Face masks are also required for any public transportation, with some countries requiring FFP3, N95 or KN95 masks to ride trains, buses and other forms of public transportation.

Do VAT paperwork in store – If you’re shopping and spend the VAT minimum at a store offering “tax free” or “VAT free,” take a couple extra minutes to get form filled out by merchant.  VAT minimums and refunds vary between countries.  Save receipt and VAT form to turn in at the VAT office at the airport.

Do COVID test within 72 hours of your return flight – It’s easies to do a home test if your airline has a partnership.  I’ve done these are two different trips and did them about 70 hours before my departure flight in case there were any issues.  In Italy, our hotel in Florence helped us schedule tests at a pharmacy.  I had to go to the pharmacy early morning to pre-pay to hold late afternoon slots.  Our tests were 22 euros (about $26 USD).  Antigen tests cost about $25 USD and PCR are about $75 USD in Italy. We could have also paid 100 euros each for a doctor to come to hotel and do tests.  You’ll get paperwork to show when you check-in.

Return Flight to USA:

Get to airport 3 hours before flight – This is a standard rule I follow for international flights in other countries because there are often very long lines, procedures are different and airports like Rome are huge.  Not only do you have to go through check-in and security, you also have to go through passport control to leave the EU.  That’s three different lines you’ll be in before getting to your gate.

Show Negative COVID test before check-in – At the Rome airport, we had to show proof of our negative COVID test to a United agent BEFORE we could get in line to check in.

Do your VAT refund – If you put items in your checked luggage, visit the VAT office in the main terminal before you check-in.  That line can be very long.  If you put your items in your carry-on you can do your refund after you’ve gone through security but before passport control.  Our gate agent told us about the one after security when we checked in and we opted for that option at Rome airport.

Hopefully these tips help you prepare for your European vacation. Have a wonderful trip!

Jennifer Broome traveled to Italy in early August. She is planning to travel to Germany in October and London in November.


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