Planning a European holiday? You might want to read this first

With European travel slowly and cautiously restarting following the introduction of the EU digital Covid certificate, or DCC, last month, Ireland’s airports and seaports are finally starting to see a little traffic. To date, the Government has sent out nearly three million certs, and there are regular flights to several European holiday spots.

The popular destinations are perennial and – in these strange times – also the most convenient in terms of Covid documentation. But while France, Spain, Italy and Portugal are all fully signed up to the DCC, each country has retained the right to introduce its own set of restrictions in the fight to contain Covid.

The key to happy holidays in 2021 is possession of a DCC – without which travel gets very tricky, potentially expensive and limited to the point that it can have a negative impact on the holiday experience.

What if there’s a problem with my cert?

Despite the initial hiccups over the rollout, the Covid certificate system is now working much more smoothly. In the event of a lost or missing cert, incorrect information on the one you were sent, or any other issue, there’s aself-service portal as well as two helpline numbers: 1800-851 504 and 1800-807 008.

What documents do I need to travel?

When travelling, you’ll need your certificate (in paper or in digital form; just make sure the QR code is easily accessible), your passport and a passenger locator form for the country you’re travelling to as you won’t be allowed board your flight (or ferry) without one. You fill in the form online (usually within 72 or 48 hours of departure; refer to Re-Open EUfor the online address of your destination) and a completed version will be emailed to you; all you need to do is show the receipt on boarding.

You’ll also need to fill in a passenger location form before returning to Ireland; here’s a link to the Irish form.

What if I don’t have a cert?

If you don’t have a digital Covid certificate, you will need to provide proof of a negative PCR test taken up to 72 hours before departure or an antigen test authorised by the European Commission taken up to 48 hours before travel. France, Spain, Portugal and Italy all accept antigen tests, but Ireland does not: if you are travelling without a Covid cert, you will need to present a negative PCR test on your return.

One consolation is that testing costs are generally cheaper in mainland Europe, with prices ranging from €40-€70 for a PCR test and around €25-€40 for an antigen test.

A Ryanair flight at Dublin Airport. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

What are the rules for visitors to France?

In France, the digital Covid certificate is now mandatory for entry for anyone over 17 into a wide range of sites, including bars, cafes, cinemas, museums, most tourist attractions and for all kinds of long-distance coach and train travel in the country. The mandate will be extended to those aged between 12 and 17, but not until September 30th as most teenagers have yet to be vaccinated.

Although masks are no longer required in venues that require a cert, local authorities can impose their own mask rules, which in some cases are stricter than the government’s. Masks must be worn on all public transport.

What are the rules for visitors to Italy?

On August 6th Italy also introduced the digital Covid certificate (known there as the carta verde, or green pass) requirement for entry for everyone over the age of 12. The cert is required to go into restaurants, bars, ice cream parlours and pastry shops; you’ll need one to go to any public performance, whether indoor or outdoor; into swimming pools and gyms; and into all museums and galleries. Businesses can be fined up to €1,000 for not enforcing the rules, so most are pretty compliant.

What are the rules for visitors to Spain?

Much of Spain has yet to introduce a digital Covid certificate mandate for venues, but its Covid rules are much more labyrinthine. Each autonomous region has the right to set its own restrictions, and rules differ from municipality to municipality, depending on the rate of infection. For instance, municipalities in Andalusia of over 5,000 inhabitants (such as Malaga, Marbella, Seville etc) and 1,000 daily infections are subject to a nighttime curfew and capacity restrictions in most indoor venues, ranging from 75 per cent in Level 1 areas to 50 per cent in Level 2 and 3 areas.

From August 14th, a digital Covid certificate will be needed to access most indoor venues in the Balearics, where a ban on meetings between people not living in the same household is in place between 1am and 6am – presumably to stop the congregations that inevitably follow a night in the bars of Ibiza, Mallorca and Menorca.

The Canary Islands are at different threat levels, with Lanzarote and La Gomera at Level 2 (restaurants and bars closed by midnight, six per table allowed outside and only four inside) while Tenerife and Gran Canaria are at Level 4 (bars and restaurants can operate at 50 per cent capacity so long as 10 per cent are vaccinated).

Similar rules exist in Barcelona, including a nighttime curfew and limits on the number of people who can meet; in Madrid, bars and restaurants can stay open until 1am, nightclubs until 3am and shops and all cultural venues are limited to 75 per cent capacity.

However, all of these rules are determined by Covid infection rates, which are starting to come down following the country’s fifth wave of infections – check the health ministry’s English-language site for the latest updates.

What are the rules for visitors to Portugal?

Portugal has introduced a DCC mandate (or negative Covid test) for tourist accommodations (you must present it when you check in) and in restaurants, but only on weekends from Friday 7pm and on public holidays. You must also prove you’ve been vaccinated or have a negative test for all outdoor cultural and sporting events of over 1,000 people (500 people indoors).

Most tourist venues have no capacity restrictions but there is a limit on groups of six people inside restaurants, cafes and pastry shops or 10 people outside. The rules do not apply to children under 12 accompanied by an adult.

And how does all this apply to children?

If you’re travelling with children, most EU states exempt children under 12 from requiring a test – although in France it’s under 11 years and in Italy it’s under 6. When returning to Ireland, children 11 and under don’t need a test, but those between 12 and 15 must have a negative PCR test.

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee has approved vaccinations for children in that age category, with registrations opening yesterday.

Children of any age travelling with a vaccinated or recovered adult do not need to self-isolate on arriving home.