As the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, several countries are re-opening their borders for international travellers. Vacations, permanent relocations, and overseas business trips for those who have tired of lockdown are gradually becoming a possibility again.
You should of course always check local guidelines before travelling as many countries continue to advise against all but the most essential international travel. However we know that in some circumstances you may not be able to avoid making the trip.
Whatever your reason for travelling, your experience will look decidedly different from how it did last year. Here’s what you can expect and what you can do to stay safe while undertaking international travel in a post-COVID-19 world.
Before you Travel – Assess the Risks
Be Aware of the Latest Advice, Both at Home and At Your Destination
It should be clear by now that we are living in unprecedented times; unfortunately this means that the advice and guidance on health and travel arrangements are being constantly updated, so you need to do a thorough risk assessment before you travel.
Firstly it’s critical that you check the latest travel advice for both your home country and your travel destination, as well as any country you need to transit through. If your local authorities are still advising against travelling, then you should consider whether you really need to make the trip. In some countries you might also be unable to travel without seeking a permit from the authorities, so be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to prepare. Remember that some countries, such as China, still have restrictions in place on all foreign nationals entering the country, meaning you could be refused entry.
You should also be wary that the advice may be updated close to or even on the day you travel. You should therefore check the advice regularly and ensure there is some flexibility with your travel arrangements, in case you have to make any last minute changes or cancel your trip.
Check Your Destination’s COVID-19 Status
It’s also important to check the status of the pandemic in your planned destination, as they may be handling the situation very differently to your home country.
Will you have to quarantine on arrival which may impact the length of your trip? If yes, can you do this in your hotel room or will you be sent to a government facility? Are there are any ‘lockdown’ measures or curfews still in force you need to be aware of? Is your destination experiencing a second or even third wave of infection? If so, are you able to postpone or cancel your trip?
It’s important to know the answer to these questions to help you assess whether you should travel, and if you do decide to go ahead, what you need to be aware of when you arrive. Once again you should check the situation regularly before your planned trip in case the guidelines change and you need to rearrange your plans.
Check Your Travel Or Health Insurance
Before you travel you should also ensure you have the appropriate insurance in place in case the worst happens. This includes checking whether your travel insurance is valid should your flight or hotel booking be cancelled due to the virus, as well as ensuring you have adequate health cover in case you do you develop symptoms or test positive for COVID-19 while abroad.
An international health insurance plan could help provide reassure that you’ll have access to good quality medical care in case you do fall ill, and can also offer medical repatriation back home should you need. Remember that many health insurance plans might exclude cover for pandemics so you should double check this. Now Health International does cover pandemics, so if you don't yet have cover, you can get a quote here.
At the Airport – Know the Procedures
Get a COVID-19 Test if You Need One
Several countries have a policy of only allowing entry to those who present a recent negative COVID-19 test, while others may enable you to bypass quarantine procedures if you have a negative test result.
Check if this applies to your travel destination and arrange a test with your local clinician before you travel if necessary. Often these tests will be at your own personal expense. Ideally, the test will take place as close to your travel date as possible, usually be between 7 – 14 days. Remember to check the timeframe in which your country of arrival will accept a negative test.
Other countries, such as, the UK are asking visitors to complete a health declaration before they travel, and you could be refused boarding if you have not completed this in advance. Make sure you have all the appropriate paperwork in place before heading to the airport.
Ask Your Airline About Their Safety Measures
Your airline or travel operator should inform you of any changes to your travel arrangements or important measures you need to be aware of. If you still have questions or concerns don't be afraid to ask them.
For example you may want to check whether your airline has social distancing measures in place to ensure there is no one in the seat next to you. Some may also require passengers to wear a mask during the flight, so if it’s a long haul journey you might want to take a fresh mask to change into. Other airlines are not serving food or only offering a limited service to reduce the spread of infection, so you may want to check whether you should bring your own snacks.
If you are traveling for a business trip or starting a new job overseas, you can also ask your business partner or employer about the safety measures they are putting in place to protect you while you travel.
Be Prepared for Health Checks at the Airport
You may have to undertake a medical test at the airport at either end of your journey. This could be a straightforward test of your body temperature or a comprehensive COVID-19 test. Check the procedure before you travel to see if you need to factor in more time at departures or arrivals to undergo these checks.
The International Air Transport Association has set out an extensive set of proposals and guidelines for COVID-19 tests. If a testing service is in place at your destination airport, you should be prepared that you may have to wait some time for your results to come back before being allowed to leave the airport. You should also know what the situation is in case you do test positive, and whether your destination country will send you to a quarantine facility or refuse you entry altogether.
Even if you test negative, you may need to provide your contact details so you can be notified if another passenger on the same flight tests positive later on.
While You’re Away – Protect Yourself
Remember Basic Hygiene Standards
The basic hygiene behaviours that can reduce the spread of COVID-19 are the same worldwide. So if you are travelling overseas remember to maintain good hygiene practices. This includes washing your hands regularly, avoiding touching your face, and sneezing or coughing into your elbow or a tissue.
Many countries now also mandate the wearing of a mask or face covering in certain public places such as the supermarket, so ensure you abide by the rules of your destination country. You may want to take some supplies with you, such as masks or antibacterial hand gel, in case you are unable to purchase these at your destination.
Finally, social distancing remains crucial. When travelling overseas take the same precautions that you would when at home, including avoiding public transport, not shaking hands (even if you are travelling for a business meeting) and maintaining at least 1 metre distance with other people. If you’re unsure of the rules in your destination, always air on the side of caution.
Have A Contingency In Case You Fall Ill Overseas
Make sure you have a contingency plan in place and know what to do should you fall ill and start exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms overseas. Check local public health advice and know when and how you will need to quarantine if this is required, including ensuring you have access to basic supplies if you need to self-quarantine in your hotel room or a similar location.
You should also know how to contact the local health authorities or an English speaking doctor in case you need to. Again ensuring you have appropriate international health insurance in place could help give you peace of mind you that you can access high quality healthcare while overseas.
Make Plans For Your Return Home
Finally if you are travelling for a short trip, make sure you’re aware of the requirements when returning home, including any period of self-quarantine you may need to undertake.
It’s best to prepare for this before you travel by ensuring you have plenty of tinned or frozen foods at home, or arrange for a friend or neighbour to drop supplies at your door. If you live with others that are not travelling with you, you may also need to consider how you will isolate yourself from other household members or whether you are able to quarantine elsewhere, such as a hotel. When you’re jet lagged after a long trip, this is the last thing you will want to worry about!