Determined to Start Travelling Again? Learn the Landscape

When Canadians were surveyed in mid-summer about their future out-of-country travel intentions, it appeared that visits to the UK/Europe and Asia/Pacific were well down the list, with the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean being the preferred choices, at least for the time being (according to data from the Conference Board of Canada).

A major reason for that imbalance is the confusion and inconsistency about COVID testing requirements, vaccine passports, and the almost daily rule changes about what documentation or immune status is required to enter any given country. Most confusing is the narrative out of Europe which used to be easy to navigate thanks to the borderless entry requirements of countries in the Schengen Area. Show your passport to enter one member country and travel throughout the others without further border checks. No longer.

The Schengen Area is a consortium of 26 mostly European countries dedicated to providing easier, border-free travel among its members. It is distinct from the EU.

With the advent of huge migration waves from the Middle East and North Africa in the decade before the pandemic, many European countries individually suspended the Schengen easements and reinstated border checks demanding passport/visa clearances. Then came COVID, and the border “windows” were being raised and lowered almost on a daily basis as member countries adopted colour-coded map references for countries that were relatively safe (green) to definitely unsafe (red).

Here is a sampling of advisories in Schengen’s daily report for September 6: “Malta recognizes vaccine passports of Egypt and Lebanon” … “Spain bans non-vaccinated travellers from US” … “Estonia adds Norway, Bulgaria, San Marino and Slovenia to her Red List” … “Denmark moves unvaccinated and unrecovered travellers from Croatia, regions of Austria, Italy, Norway, Sweden to its Orange List.” And that’s only one day’s advisories.

To explain: there are five colour-coded categories into which countries fall on the basis of daily testing and infection rate data as monitored by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC): Green (the best), orange (less so), red, and then dark red (the worst). There is also grey for areas where the ECDC doesn’t have substantial enough data for a rating. The UK is grey. And each of these colour codes represents specific metrics denoting the number of new cases reported, percentage of positives, and infection rates.

Planning European travel over the next few months?

Do your homework and stay on top of changes—they occur daily.

Here is a link you can use to keep up to date on European visa and COVID-related entry requirements to most countries in the EU.

In addition, keep up with the Travel Canada site which lists entry/exit rules and requirements for any nation you wish to visit or through which you must transit. And the Reopen EU site will give you a neatly packaged view of all European and neighbouring countries on their colour-coded status.

But regardless where you plan travel, assume there may be COVID-related, travel insurance, or medical coverage requirements for entry as more and more nations are making such coverage mandatory. 

You may also need proof of coverage (your provincial health coverage is not accepted—it’s too limited), and you may have to prove amounts of coverage as well as terms. Carry your policies with you. Wallet-sized cards indicating only your provider or broker are not enough for you to depend on in these dynamically changing times. Some countries, especially in the Caribbean and Asia/Pacific, are now requiring not only proof of your own coverage, but are levying mandatory travel insurance fees at the entry site to cover medical emergency costs (including those related to COVID) for the duration of your stay. Thailand, for example, will levy an insurance fee whether you have your own insurance or not, as will Jamaica which levies a $40 USD medical insurance coverage fee (to cover you up to $50,000 USD) while on the island. Cuba too has been requiring proof of private medical insurance for about 10 years—either that or buy Cuban insurance on arrival from a local company.

The US does not require travel insurance coverage, but if you’re familiar with the fees charged by US hospitals and doctors for even casual treatments you should need little convincing to get the kind of coverage offered in Canada: limits going to CAD $5 million or $10 million per trip.

What used to be relatively easy isn’t anymore. But then, living without the option to travel is no fun either.

© Copyright 2021 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

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