Q&A: Planning a trip abroad? What are the latest rules?

Make sure you have all the necessary boxes ticked before you head for the airport

Despite the complications, people are keen to get travelling again following a difficult couple of years due to the pandemic. Photograph: iStock

Are we all off on our summer holidays now that international travel is completely back to normal?
That probably depends on how you define "completely" and indeed how you define "normal". What we can say for sure is that there is certainly a whole lot more international travel both to and from Ireland now than there was this time last year, or in 2020.

How much more are we talking about?
In February 2021 fewer than 60,000 people came and went from Ireland. According to the latest figures from the CSO, the figure was close to 800,000 in the February just gone. And our airports are only likely to get busier as we approach the summer.

Are we going to talk about busy airports again?
No, that is for a completely different Q&A. All we will say about that is you better make sure to allow plenty of time to make it through Dublin Airport – or indeed any airport in Europe – if you are travelling over the coming months.

So, at the risk of repeating ourselves, travel is completely back to normal now, right?
No. The experience of leaving the island is still very different to how it was in pre-Covid times. Gone are the days when all you had to say as you closed the front door and set off for the airport was ticket, passport, money. Now you have to say ticket, passport, money, Covid cert, passenger locator form, mask, sanitiser and more. There are more forms to fill in, more rules to follow – both when you are travelling to another country and when you are there – and there is still a degree of uncertainty hanging over everything as things can change pretty quickly both in the country you're visiting and in your own life.


What does that mean?
Covid-19 hasn't gone away, and if there is one thing that can derail your travel plans it is the appearance of the second line on those infuriating antigen tests we have all become wearily accustomed to using.

If you are not vaccinated you will most likely have to produce a negative PCR or antigen test – some countries accept one and some accept both

Good point. Does that mean I shouldn't book a holiday?
Absolutely not. Many Irish people were forced to cancel their overseas holidays in 2020 and 2021 and are understandably anxious to see new sights – or even old sights – and feel the sun on their backs again. While things are not like they used to be and there are certainly more risks with the virus still circulating, there does come a point when we just have to get on with things and – at least when it comes to overseas travel – we have most likely passed that point. We are no virologists but, given the rampant nature of Covid in Ireland in recent weeks, you were probably more likely to catch it in a local supermarket or on the Luas than on a sun-kissed beach somewhere far away.

What is demand like for overseas holidays right now?
It is very high – at least when it comes to flights to the popular destinations. According to Pat Dawson of the Irish Travel Agents Association, well over 70 per cent of the seats for many sun spots have been sold already, which means, with seats at a premium, prices are likely to be sky high as the summer nears. Flights that might have cost around €200 in 2019 might be a whole lot closer to €500 this summer.

But what about the airports? I might catch it there?
That concern is understandable. But with the virus likely to be with us for a long time to come, when it comes to overseas travel, you will have to make a judgment as to what level of risk you are comfortable with. You do need to be sensible and you will need to follow rules that would have seemed unimaginable three years ago.

You will have to wear a mask as you go through the airport and while you are on a plane, and you should still arm yourself with a small bottle of hand sanitiser for your journey and, insofar as is possible, keep in mind social distancing rules – admittedly tricky on a packed flight.

Make sure to have a mask with you when you are out and about overseas and don’t forget your digital Covid cert (DCC). Will all that guarantee you don’t get Covid? No, but you still want to put yourself in the best possible position to avoid the illness.

Okay, so break it down for me. What do I need to do in order to travel?
The rules change based on where you are going, when you are going, your age and your vaccination status. As an adult, at the very minimum you can expect to be asked for your DCC and to have been fully vaccinated – including booster shots – within a 270-day period before travel. We say before travel but it might be more accurate to say a 270-day period before you are due to come home.

You should expect cancellation cover if you are diagnosed with Covid-19 within 14 days of departure

If you are not vaccinated you will most likely have to produce a negative PCR or antigen test – some countries accept one and some accept both – within a narrow window before you travel.

So how do I find out what to do if I am planning a trip overseas?
Your first – but not only – port of call should be the travel section of the Department of Foreign Affairs website: dfa.ie/travel/travel-advice. It breaks down the rules country by country and – helpfully – has displayed the countries you are most likely to want to know about prominently on the home page.

And what is it saying about those countries right now?
Well in the middle of this week it said that all passengers travelling to Portugal will need to fill out a passenger locator card pre-travel and present a digital Covid cert or proof of recovery upon arrival, or a negative PCR or antigen test. As with most countries, children under 12 are exempt from those rules.

Travellers to Spain will need the same proofs and must complete a Health Control Form before departure and obtain a “Fast Control QR code” to present at boarding. Travellers to France need the same proofs as well as a passenger locator form, with much the same rules applying to visitors to Italy.

Because of the Common Travel Area, people going to Britain do not have to provide anything other than the normal travel documents, while fully vaccinated foreign citizens can enter the US if they provide proof of vaccination status and a negative Covid-19 test prior to boarding an airplane to the US. The negative result must be from a test taken no more than one day before travel.

What else will I need to check?
It is also important to check the rules in the place you are going when it comes to eating in restaurants, visiting museums and using public transport. They can vary from country to country, from region to region and from week to week depending on the public health measures in place at any given time.

You always need travel insurance. Far too many Irish people travel without it

Okay so. Having everything in place, what happens if I get Covid days before I am due to travel?
That will most likely mean you will be unable to travel for starters, but pretty much everything else will depend on the nature of the trip and what protections you have in place.

If you have booked a hotel or an Airbnb that has a generous cancellation policy then you may be able to get all or most of your money back without difficulty. And depending on your airline and the timings, you may be able to simply move your flights to an alternate date. You may also be able to make a claim on your travel insurance policy.

Can I not get an automatic refund from an airline if I get Covid and can't travel?
Absolutely not. That is what travel insurance is for.

Do I need travel insurance if I am only going for a mini-break?
You always need travel insurance. Far too many Irish people travel without it – especially if they are only going on a mini-break. But it is more important now than ever.

So can I get cover against Covid?
You can, but you must always make sure you have what you need. The travel insurance sector has adapted to the new reality and many companies now are pushing the level of Covid cover they offer. At the very least you should expect a company to cover medical expenses if you are laid low while overseas, as well as additional travel and accommodation expenses if you have to extend your trip because of a diagnosis.

You should always check if cancellations as a result of lockdowns or travel restrictions are covered by your insurance

You should also expect cancellation cover if you are diagnosed with Covid-19 within 14 days of departure or within at least 28 days if you end up in hospital. Cover for you if travel companions fall ill with the virus should also form part of the policy.

And is that all I need?
Many policies do not include as standard cancellation due to Government travel restrictions or lockdowns either here or where you might be going. We might be beyond all that now – but then again who can say for sure with this illness? You can get travel disruption cover added with some companies, although you will most likely pay a higher premium for that. Always check if cancellations as a result of lockdowns or travel restrictions are covered.

Is there anything else?
Yes. Travel will be unfamiliar and even scary for many people in the months ahead because of the trauma we have all lived through, but it is still a wonderful thing and you should do what you can to enjoy the experience rather than fretting about all the bad things that might happen. And don't forget to send a postcard!