Moss’s travel adviser recommended that she check the State Department’s covid-19 country-specific information page before she flew to Lisbon. Portugal also publishes an official tourism website that has a page with the latest information on entry requirements, which Moss reviewed. But she still had questions, so she checked with her cruise line.
“Our cruise line’s website didn’t appear to have anything mentioning requirements beyond needing to be vaccinated,” says Moss, a retired interior designer from Arlington, Va.
More and more travelers are in the same boat as Moss. They have plans to travel abroad this winter, some for the first time since the pandemic started, and the information about entry requirements is confusing and sometimes inaccurate. A recent undercover investigation by a British magazine found that airlines sometimes offer incorrect or misleading information about testing requirements. So where to go?
For Moss, the answer was not obvious. The State Department’s site couldn’t fully answer her questions, and neither could her travel agent. So she called her cruise line and found herself talking to a helpful agent.
“He gave me the lowdown on what we need to do in advance, boat requirements and that our tour guide in Lisbon would help us with getting coronavirus tests before our return flight,” she says. “My inner organization anxiety went down a bit.”
Her takeaway: The published rules aren’t always crystal clear. For example, a government might require that the reason for your trip be “essential travel” but then fail to define “essential.” My colleague Andrea Sachs detailed some of these unknowns in a story on entry requirements this spring.
I’m in a predicament similar to Moss’s. I’m supposed to fly to Lisbon, then to the Azores later this month. From there, I’m planning to travel around Europe and North Africa. Each country has its own entry and testing requirements. But, unlike Moss, I’m not dealing with a cruise line or tour operator, and there’s no travel agency involved. So far, I’ve relied on official information from the airline, TAP Air Portugal, and tourism officials. I’ve also found a few extra resources that can answer some of the more difficult questions.
One lesser-known resource is IATA Timatic, which is published by the International Air Transport Association, an airline trade organization. (The full version of the search tool can be found on the Star Alliance website.) The information on Timatic comes from governments, but it’s organized by airport, destination and air carrier, so it’s easier for users to find the information they need. Users can enter their origin airport, airline and destination airport, and get the rules at their destinations.
Timatic answers the most common travel questions quickly, telling users who can get into a country and what documents are required. Airlines rely on Timatic to set their entry and exit requirements, so try Timatic if another source is sending you mixed signals.
Andy Abramson, who is planning to visit Spain, Italy and France later this year, swears by Timatic. Because he’s traveling to Europe, he has also downloaded the Re-open EU app, which displays the latest entry and quarantine requirements on his smartphone. “It allows me to stay on top of the changes in admission requirements,” says Abramson, a communications consultant from Los Angeles.
Other resources include:
●American Express Global Business Travel’s Travel Vitals, a travel briefing platform that collects information from hundreds of sources. The information includes the availability of coronavirus testing facilities at the airport and mask requirements.
●The CIBT Entry Guide, from visa and passport provider CIBT, also displays entry requirements. It’s a favorite with some travel advisers and is among the most user-friendly of the sites.
●Covid Checker, from the health information site Sitata, is also easy to use. It covers not only entry requirements but also interior concerns for the destination. As a bonus, it also integrates recent case numbers, so you can make a more informed decision about travel.
Additional resources, such as Generali Global Assistance’s “What’s Open for Vacation” page, aggregate some of these sites into a single page, so you don’t have to search for your sources.
“The most reliable resource for travelers is the U.S. Department of State’s travel information page,” says John Gobbels, chief operating officer for MedjetAssist. “It has both U.S. travel alert ratings for each country and links to the appropriate country’s website for specific entry information, current in-country policies, and any visa applications and other paperwork filings necessary for travel.”
Shawn Richards, an expedition coordinator for tour operator Ultimate Kilimanjaro, also checks the World Health Organization’s coronavirus dashboard. And he consults another page, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination,” which ranks countries from low to very high risk.
One of the most recommended resources remains Sherpa, a travel information start-up. You can find entry restrictions and requirements based on your flight’s country of origin and connections. Sherpa displays the information in a standardized way that’s easier to understand than some government sites. Bob Bacheler, managing director for Flying Angels, a medical transportation company, says the information on Sherpa has been completely reliable.
“It is just a wealth of up-to-date information, and it’s absolutely spot on,” Bacheler says.
In the best-case scenario, travel companies give customers an assist. Mark Beales wondered about entry requirements before he left for Lisbon with a one-day layover in London. The answer came to him before he could ask.
“Before the flights, our airlines advised us of their requirements to board their planes and sent us links to websites of the destination country,” says Beales, a retired mortgage banker from Mill Creek, Wash. “The cruise lines also sent us specific requirements for boarding.”
Jeff O’Hara had a similar experience when he and his wife traveled to Greece last summer.
“Airlines send regular updates once your trip is booked and then specific requirements a few days to a week in advance of your flight,” he says. “My mantra on the way there and back was, ‘Wait until Delta tells us what we need!’ Worked perfectly.”
Elliott is a consumer advocate, journalist and co-founder of the advocacy group Travelers United. Email him at email@example.com.