Travelling overseas has been different for some time now.
Our last “normal” trip was to Mallorca in Spain. We returned on March 5th 2020. Just 18 days later, the country was in lockdown.
Although some borders started reopening in and around July 2020, we held off on international travel, due to the complexities of restrictions, including all the last minute changes.
It was (and still is) so difficult to get your head around it all, from the traffic light system, the testing and quarantine periods.
It wasn’t until we were nearing the end of summer that I got itchy feet again, and said to my husband “shall we just go somewhere?”.
We both had 2 vaccinations and we knew that rules were relaxing from early October for many European (and other) countries meaning that if you had two vaccinations that you would be able to travel without having to test.
Happy days, I thought! I jumped onto Skyscanner and flitted between booking flights to Zante, Crete or Faro. I weighed up a lot of the options including cost of accommodation and transport whilst there and decided to book Faro.
So there I was about 1 week before we were due to fly, casually chatting to a colleague at work about going and she said “oh, don’t you need to test for Portugal?” I informed her that you didn’t if you had 2 vaccinations, but she told me to check just incase.
I did and lo and behold, 6 days before we were due to fly I read that the Covid pass is not currently accepted by Portugal (but is in Greece, Spain and Malta) – you know I was kicking myself about not booking Greece at that point.
That then created massive stress for me as I trawlled through the internet trying to figure out how to get tested before and where to book a day 2 return PCR test (which is mandatory for returning from all countries, apart from red list countries, of which there are 6 as I write this in October 2021).
It was a total mind boogle I can tell you. There were companies listed on the government approved testing advertising tests before for £20. This sounded too good to be true and I was dubious when the link was covidtests123.com.
I looked up on trust pilot and there were hundreds of terrible reviews. Reviews of people who had paid and not received tests, or not got results back in time and had to miss or rebook flights.
Reading more into it, in order to get on the government approved list as a test provider you have to meet minimum requirements for testing, which I assume is the type of test used and lab or something. That’s it. Nothing else seems regulated.
Therefore I decided to pay a little more, knowing it hoping we would be ok.
Fortunately at the time of booking on October 6th. We were told that Portugal accepted antigen tests (or lateral flow tests) but you couldn’t use the NHS tests which are readily available from pharmacies in England and of which I have a box full at home. Therefore we had to pay £35 each per test before hand.
We arrived and queued up at the test centre before it opened at 8am. Got our tests and told that we’d get results in 40 mins. We went to check in to linger around and was greeted by some ground crew who asked us where we were flying to , as presumably they didn’t want lots of people loitering. We said we were flying to Portugal and was informed that “rules have changed” Portugal now accepts the NHS Covid pass, despite the visit Portugal site, still asking for an EU pass.
Massive eye roll and could have cried. There was no way we could get refunds as the test had already been completed.
So we could check in. We were asked to show our ID ,and boarding pass as normal, and then our Covid pass. It was barely looked at and we were given our “fit to fly” stickers and left to check our bags in.
We did later receive a negative test as we were going through security.
It was an easy as that. I was worried about my pass as was in my married name and my passport was in my maiden name. So I went armed with our marriage certificate, and birth certificate. Prepared to argue my case.
No one batted an eyelid.
We weren’t asked for it at passport control when we landed, nor did we get asked to see locator forms in Portugal either. Though I presume as it was electronic no one needed to check.
During our time in Portugal, restrictions felt the same as in England. Face masks were mandatory on public spaces which we were used to and there was sanitiser everywhere with signs reminding people to stay apart.
On the journey back, check in for return to the UK was much longer and they appeared stricter. Asking everyone for a copy of ID, Covid pass and locator form. We arrived 2.5 hours early for our flight, but only just made it to the gate in time for boarding.
All in all, we had a nice trip and it was so nice to be travelling again, but with all the restrictions it made me think about booking my next trip without researching fully.
That said, restrictions can and do change often. Therefore the best bet sometimes can be to book a trip with a holiday company, who sometimes offer pre-departure testing including in the price.
This is something we may consider, as we now feel that we are moving more toward package based holidays for ease when travelling with a toddler.