Cruise lines have returned to overseas destinations such as Iceland, Greece, Malta, Cyprus Tahiti, France and Croatia, but planning an international trip in the middle of pandemic can be fraught with frustration.
Entry vaccination requirements vary by country, and may change week to week – as happened recently when Iceland tightened its rules to require all arriving travelers to present a negative PCR test, no matter their vaccine status. You may find you can wander freely into museums, bars or restaurants, or not. Airlines have their own regulations including what type of masks you need.
And then there are testing requirements for getting back in the U.S., medical insurance decisions you need to make and more.
With all that in mind, here is your before-you-go checklist for overseas cruises.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is strongly recommending unvaccinated travelers do not go overseas and notes there are specific risks for cruise travelers. Most cruise lines operating internationally right now are not taking any chances and requiring either all guests to be fully vaccinated or all guests 12 and older to be vaccinated. Fully vaccinated means you’ve received your second jab at least 14 days before your trip. You can’t leave this until the last minute.
Keep your official vaccination card in a safe place. You’ll need to bring it on your trip and may be required to show it at times, including as you check in for your flight and for your ship – in Greece, you also may need to show your card to enter indoor restaurants and bars. It’s a good idea too to take a photo of the card, just in the odd chance that you misplace it.
If you are not vaccinated, but have recently recovered from Covid-19, you will need documentation to prove you have antibodies. There are electronic means to show verification you are vaccinated, but it depends on your cruise line’s or airline’s policies if these means are acceptable. Viking and American Airlines, for instance, use the VeriFLY app to verify your document – it’s an easy intuitive app that has you submit a photo of your card before your trip for verification.
If you haven’t been overseas since 2020, you may have dropped your passport in a drawer and forgotten all about it. Pull it out and check the expiration date. According to the U.S. Department of State website, routine renewals are currently taking 18 weeks, expedited service (for an extra fee) about 12 weeks. You’ll want to make sure your passport has some blank pages, as required by countries that stamp passports (not all do). If your passport is expiring within six months, you’ll want to make sure that the country or countries you are visiting don’t have a requirement that you have to have at least six months left before your passport expires.
The State Department) lists Covid-19 specific information for each country, including entry vaccination requirements, mandatory health forms, and other nitty gritty details gathered by local embassies and consulates. You’ll want to make sure to review local rules, such as if masks are required at museums, bars and restaurants. Highly recommended is that you download the State Department’s specific checklist for cruise ship passengers. Because rules are constantly changing it’s also a good idea to enroll in the department’s Smart Traveler program, which means you will get travel and safety updates.
To further make sure you understand what you are getting into, it’s a good idea to do a web search on the places you will be visiting and especially your embarkation and disembarkation countries. Official tourist sites and country-specific health sites lay out specifically what you can expect to encounter. For instance, for Greece, check greecehealthfirst.gr or download the Visit Greece app, which includes Covid-19 travel updates. In particular, study quarantine regulations. Often, travelers who have positive cases must stay at a government-sanctioned hotel for a specified number of days.
Once you book your trip, you will be barraged with emails from your cruise line advising you of the latest rules for your arrival, for both shore excursions and independent exploration and what will take place on board. Carefully read and reread the emails and recheck your cruise line website for updates.
Just weeks before a planned cruise around Greece on Seabourn, for instance, I learned that while Greece does not require a Covid-19 test for vaccinated travelers, the cruise line itself had updated its own policy to require a negative PCR test taken with 72 hours of arrival at the pier. With a long layover between domestic and international flights and a planned one-night stay in Athens pre-cruise, I had to carefully calculate when to get the test at home. Fortunately, my local CVS had open appointments.
It’s always a good idea to insure your cruise vacation, but during a pandemic it’s crucial because if you do test positive for Covid-19, you will need to quarantine before your return trip to the U.S. Cruise passengers have been required to quarantine for 14 days after testing positive in Iceland and Malta, for instance. Make sure your insurance covers both medical expenses and Covid-19-specific medical evacuation. Ominously warns the State Department, “While the U.S. government has previously evacuated some cruise ship passengers, repatriation flights should not be relied upon.” Without insurance, you could be subject to unexpected expenses for flights, lodging, meals and medical treatment.
You’ll also want to check the rules of your airline. We all have our favorite masks and may assume that what works in Cleveland and Denver is acceptable around the world. That’s not always the case. A colleague boarding a Lufthansa flight learned the hard way that the airline requires passengers to wear surgical masks: specifically FFP2, KN95- or N95s. Finding these at the airport can be both tricky and pricey.
To reenter the U.S., you will need to show a negative Covid-19 test, either PCR or antigen, taken within 72 hours of departure, as required by the CDC. Cruise ships facilitate this on board, the medical team doing nasal swabs and printing out results for you to present when you arrive back in the U.S. It gets tricky, however, if you are staying a few days in a country post-cruise. If you are going to be on your own in making testing arrangements, you will want to research local labs and the costs involved before your trip.