Q&A: When can I travel abroad and what do I need?

Digital Covid Certs are due to be rolled out on July 19th, but there is a lot still up in the air

It is planned that relatively unrestricted travel will be allowed for people who have been fully vaccinated, who have recovered from Covid-19 in the last nine months or who can produce a negative Covid-19 test. File photograph: iStock

It is planned that relatively unrestricted travel will be allowed for people who have been fully vaccinated, who have recovered from Covid-19 in the last nine months or who can produce a negative Covid-19 test. File photograph: iStock


How are we getting on with plans to restart international travel?

Well, if we leave aside mounting concerns about the impact of the Delta variant of Covid-19, things seem to be going to plan. The European Union Digital Covid Certificate is set to be in place in Ireland on or just before July 19th.

Digital Covid Cert? I thought it was the Digital Green Cert?

No, a couple of weeks ago the name was changed to the more self-explanatory Digital Covid Certificate.

And it means I can travel where I want, when I want, does it?

It absolutely does not mean that and there are likely to be significant restrictions on travel for some time to come. For a start, the system as it stands applies to countries in the EU only or those closely aligned with it.

And it will only allow relatively unrestricted travel for people who have been fully vaccinated, who have recovered from Covid-19 within the last nine months and can prove it or who can produce a negative Covid-19 test within a particular timeframe.

Is the system ready to go?

Well, according to the Minister of State for eGovernment, the Green Party’s Ossian Smyth, the Irish certificate has been designed and the digital signature required to authenticate the certificate has already been tested with the EU.

But I thought the certs were already being issued?

They are in some countries. In fact more than a million of them have been issued across nine countries including Greece, Spain, Croatia, Denmark and Germany.

What is the delay here?

It is arguably not a delay. The European Commission gave countries a six-week window to start operating the cert and Ireland’s rollout will fall smack in the middle of that timeframe.

How will I get my cert?

Well, according to Smyth, adults who have received a Covid-19 vaccine or have recently recovered from the virus will not have to apply for a Digital Covid Cert for international travel within the EU, but will have it emailed to them.

“The HSE will contact [such] people by email and they can opt to download it [the certificate] from there. There is, therefore, no requirement in that regard,” he said this week.

Hang on, how will they know if I have been vaccinated or recovered from Covid?

According to the Government, data has been carefully gathered all the way through the vaccination stage and stored in the CoVax system which the Health Service Executive has been using to keep track of who has been vaccinated and who has tested positive in the past nine months.

And what if I have not been vaccinated?

You will be able to travel within the EU if you have a cert proving a negative PCR test result carried out by an accredited laboratory, who will email that certificate to you.

How much will the cert cost?

It will be free of charge as it should be easily available to everyone.

And is all that stuff now set in stone?

No. Everything is dependent on the public health situation at the time so a lot will depend on how the vaccine programme is going and how variants are spreading both at home and abroad.

So, should I book a holiday overseas for July 19th?

Well, if you are vaccinated then you might be in a position to travel on that day. But it is important to point out that a lot can happen in four weeks, as we all know too well, and there are a lot of things still up in the air.

What information will be stored on the Covid certificate?

It will contain only the necessary information such as name, date of birth, date of issuance, relative information about vaccines, tests or recovery, and a unique identifier. This data remains on the certificate and is not stored or retained when a certificate is verified in another member state.

What about my children? I can’t leave them at home and they can’t get a vaccine?

Under the rules in Ireland children aged six and under will be allowed to travel with their vaccinated parents or those who meet the other criteria. Children aged between seven and 18 will need a negative PCR test.

Children can also receive a recovery certificate. These certificates could be received by their parents and stored in the parents’ smartphone app.

The Commission has also proposed that minors travelling with parents should be exempted from quarantine when the parents do not need to undergo quarantine, for example, due to vaccination.

Will people who need PCR tests need one going away and one coming home?

It is up to individual countries to determine the specifics of the cert. Some countries will require a PCR test, some will allow a negative antigen test. Some countries will insist on tests for children over six, some won’t. You have to follow the rules of the country you are travelling to and not the one you are leaving.

And how much do the tests cost?

It depends. PCR tests cost anywhere between €90 and €150 in this country but the prices in places such as Spain and Portugal are considerably lower and in some cases they can cost as little as €50. Antigen tests cost less again.

Why do tests cost so little in other countries?

One reason is that the tourism authorities in some countries are subsidising the cost of the tests in order to boost inward-bound travel during the peak summer months. The Government here is not doing that.

The European Commission has also set aside €100 million under the Emergency Support Instrument to buy and distribute more than 20 million rapid antigen tests, and has launched a joint procurement for more than half a billion rapid antigen tests.

Could I get a PCR test free from the HSE and use that?

No, the Government has made it clear that anyone looking for a PCR test for non-essential travel will have to get the test done privately.

And what happens if my children or I test positive overseas?

Um, well then you do have a problem. You won’t be allowed travel without a negative test which means you might find yourself stuck overseas for considerably longer than you intended.

So I would be gambling?

Yes. Much will depend on where you are going and when, what the rate of infection is like there and all sorts of other considerations. That is why everything is still up in the air – unlike us.