Boosters and Masking and Tests…Oh My!

Boosters. If you want to travel to Europe this spring and summer, you’re probably gonna need to get a COVID booster shot. As with all things European, the rules are confusing and a mish mash of bureauractese depending on what specific country or countries you plan to visit, and what you want to do once you get there.

Most European nations have adopted the requirement to get a booster shot if your COVID vaccination is more than nine months old as a condition for entry. A few countries, Greece and Croatia being the most popular, will still permit tourists to enter without being vaccinated against COVID, and without requiring them to quarantine. However, all EU member nations to include Greece and Croatia are using the EU digital COVID passport, the so called Green Pass, to control entry into public indoor venues like museums, restaurants, and bars. As of February, the EU Green Pass expires nine months after the last COVID vaccination shot and to renew it requires a booster. There are a few exceptions that apply to Europeans, but I won’t get into those here. For American tourists, count on needing to get a booster if your last COVID shot was nine months ago or longer by the time you’ll be traveling to Europe. And when you get a booster shot, be sure it gets entered on your original CDC COVID vaccination card.

Note: As of now boosters are not widely required for cruises. That is changing, but I’ll update cruise requirements in a separate post. Requirements for geographic areas outside of Europe are also dynamic, so best to check and know before you go.

Masks. The second trend we are seeing has to do with masking. At the same time that EU member nations are adding the requirement for boosters, they are beginning to soften their masking requirements. This trend is being driven by the individual EU member nations’ internal impatience with national and local COVID restrictions, not all that different from what we are seeing in this country. If your travel plans take you to Europe this spring and summer, you’ll still want to pack your masks and make them disposable surgical or N95 type masks to be on the safe side. Many European nations are no longer accepting cloth masks. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that the masks can stay in your luggage or in your pocket once you get into the country and go out and about, as long as you show proof of up to date vaccination and booster shots, but it is best to have one handy just in case the venue you want to visit has a higher standard for masking.

Tests. As it looks increasingly like the Omicron wave is over, European countries are beginning to eliminate requirements for COVID testing as a condition for entry for vaccinated and boosted travelers. Check the requirements for the countries you plan to visit before you go. For most European destinations it is probably still a bit soon to eliminate getting a COVID test from your predeparture to do list, but with France having just eliminated the requirement you can expect others will soon follow. Unfortunately, you’ll still need to plan for a COVID test prior to your return to the U.S. The travel industry recently lobbied the White House hard to eliminate the return COVID test requirement, but the CDC is holding firm, and for now the White House is going along with it. I suspect that as we gain more distance from the recent Omicron wave, and as we get closer to the peak summer travel season with no new COVID outbreaks or variants popping up, you may see the re-entry test requirement go away as well, but so far it remains in effect.

Maybe someday COVID travel restrictions will be a thing of the past, but for now it is something you’ll continue to have to deal with if you want to travel. For me, it is a small price to pay for the ability to go where I want. For others, it is a deal breaker. The most important thing is to be an informed traveler so you don’t face unpleasant surprises regardless of your individual COVID risk tolerance.

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