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HomeTravelExpert Simon Calder answers your questions about international travel

Expert Simon Calder answers your questions about international travel


The travel correspondent of The Independent likes to spend the late southern summer in Melbourne, Victoria: taking his usual seat on the patio of the grungy, 1969-timewarp Abbey Road café in the beachside suburb of St Kilda.

Between mugs of flat whites, he took an hour to answer a range of travel questions.

Test match

Q: I understand that on arriving in Sydney you have to have an antigen test within 24 hours. Where do you buy these tests – or can you bring a testing kit with you from the UK? Do you have to send off the results of your test if it is negative?

Muller

A: After almost two years of closure, most of Australia opened up on 21 February to fully vaccinated international travellers; the exception is Western Australia, which remains effectively closed until 2 March.

Everyone arriving from overseas needs a pre-departure test: lateral flow, no more than 24 hours before taking off for Australia.

The general requirement when arriving in Australia is for a Covid test within 24 hours of touchdown, with self-isolation until you get a negative result. My understanding is that New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria are happy with lateral flow, while South Australia demands a PCR test.

Visitors to New South Wales are required to take another test on day six of their stay.

The most straightforward way to meet the arrival requirement is to book a rapid antigen test with a lab called Histopath. The firm has locations at the international terminal at Sydney (upstairs from arrivals, on the departures level) and the Qantas domestic terminal in Melbourne (on the departures level, on the left as you walk in). There is also a location at Brisbane airport, but I have not checked it out.

The arrival test costs an annoying $59 (£31) but, in my experience, the operation is professional and efficient, with the results provided swiftly.

You cannot use NHS tests for international travel, though you could bring a paid-for self-test from the UK. For the “day six” test in New South Wales, you could self-test using rapid antigen devices. These are available for as little as $10 (just over £5) at pharmacies in Australia; if you can’t find one locally then online sources such as chemistwarehouse.com.au can supply them.

There is no obligation to inform anyone of a negative result – nor, indeed, does there appear to be any system for following up travellers to check they have complied.

In the unlikely event that you test positive, call Australia’s National Coronavirus Helpline on 1 800 020 080.

Italian connection

Q: My wife and I are flying to Naples in Italy for three days on 20 March. We are both triple vaccinated. We have the NHS Covid-19 Vaccine pass on our mobiles.

1 Do we have to take an official Covid test before we leave?

2 Do we have to fill in a passenger locator form to enter Italy?

3 Is mask wearing compulsory outdoors? I read that the region of Campania is retaining this requirement, in spite of it being removed elsewhere in Italy. We don’t fancy walking round continually for three days wearing a mask!

RN

A: From 1 March, the plan is that all foreign visitors can enter Italy after completing the passenger locator form – and presenting evidence of vaccination – without needing a pre-departure test.

As you are not travelling for another three weeks, there is a fair chance that the rules will change again by then.

As with many countries, individual cities and regions can impose their own restrictions. My sense is that rules on mask wearing are likely to be relaxed by the time you get to Italy’s most beautiful, exciting and exotic city.

Thai fly?

Q: Whilst I appreciate that you don’t have a crystal ball, do you have any sense of whether Thailand might drop its requirement for days one and five PCR testing by April? Such excellent deals for Easter at the moment, not surprisingly.

Rose S

A: The way that Thailand has conducted its travel rules during the coronavirus pandemic is baffling. The nation keeps saying that it desperately wants visitors back – unsurprisingly, given the dependence of tourism in Thailand – but then imposes very complex and frequently changing travel restrictions.

The current official line is: “Thailand is gearing up for a return to normalcy by easing some travel restrictions and quarantine requirements and allowing normal tourists to enter the country.”

Starting this month, the government has two parallel programmes that allow fully vaccinated travellers to enter the country without quarantine. They are called “Test and Go” and “Sandbox”. Both involve staying in a “SHA+” hotel – approved accommodation for international arrivals. These are the details.

Test and Go: This is the go-anywhere option. The authorities call it “quarantine-free” but in fact it involves quarantine. For your city of arrival, which for most people will be Bangkok, you must pay in advance for accommodation, a PCR test and a transfer from the airport to the hotel. Once the result is back, you can do what you like until day five, when you have to book a stay at an approved hotel for your second RT-PCR test. After a negative result, you are free to explore once more.

Sandbox: You choose one of the most popular beach resorts in Thailand – Phuket, Khao Lak, Krabi, Koh Samui, Koh Phang Ngan, or Koh Tao – and stay there for seven days in a designated SHA+ hotel. You must take a PCR test on arrival. After a week you can to travel to other parts of Thailand, or leave the country.

These requirements are complex, costly and restrictive. I am sure officials in Bangkok will be tracking what happens to countries such as Iceland that have abandoned all Covid restrictions. It is entirely possible that the testing rules will ease by Easter. But please do not commit yet. I am very keen to return to Thailand, but will be booking my flight no earlier than the day before travel.

Saudi transit

Q: Can I please have some clarification for travelling with Saudia to Islamabad, transiting through Jeddah with two children.

One is 14 years old and the other five year old. Will my 14 year old need to be vaccinated and provide a negative PCR in order to transit through Jeddah, or will just a negative PCR test be adequate I understand under 8’s are exempt from PCR tests.

VG

A: Any connecting flight in these difficult times can be ambitious. Anyone aged eight or over travelling to Saudi Arabia, even if in transit to another country, must have a negative test result (PCR or the cheaper, faster lateral flow) taken within 48 hours of departure to the kingdom. There is no vaccination requirement that I can see for transit passengers.

Jab journeys

Q: Do you anticipate France, Italy and other European countries will lift the requirement for vaccinations to be no more than 270 days old? Thanks

Arix

A: We are living in a world, in Europe at least, where increasingly the standard for immunisation against Covid 19 is three jabs: the usual first two vaccinations, plus a booster.

The general policy of the European Union is that the first two jabs lose their efficacy after 270 days (almost nine months). The booster, in contrast, has no time restriction – for now, at least. While all EU nations are sovereign, and can impose whatever health restrictions they wish, most are following the same policy. The one exception of which I am aware is Austria, which imposes a 270-day validity on the booster.

Passport problem

Q: As I was preparing to travel to Greece, a member of staff at Gatwick told me I needed six months left on my passport. I believe this is incorrect as it is an EU passport. You have in the past confirmed that EU passports are valid until the expiry date for travel between the UK and the EU.

But what is one supposed to do when border control/check-in staff don’t have the correct information and might stop you from travelling?

Celine P

A: If you are lucky enough to have a European Union passport, then it is valid up to and including the date of expiry within the Schengen Area – comprising most EU countries plus Switzerland, Norway and some smaller countries.

Check-in staff have the unenviable task of having to apply a tangle of rules that depend on the passport and destination of the traveller, though it is disappointing that, on the fundamental point of flying EU citizens to the European Union, you were told of a the fictional “six-month” restriction.

When ground staff make mistakes and deny travel to someone who is properly documented, the airline must pay cash compensation on top of meeting all the costs that a wrongful denial of boarding involves.

You mention “border control” staff possibly being involved: UK Border Force have no role in deciding the validity of passports for trips overseas. Returning to the UK, they can be relied upon to apply the law as it is, rather than a misinterpretation of it.

Finally, for completeness: a reminder that the Brexit deal the UK negotiated with the European Union added two restrictions on the validity of British passports when visiting the Schengen area.

There is no such thing as a “six-month” restriction when heading to the EU. But the travel document must have been issued in the past 10 years on the date of travel to the EU; and it must be valid for at least three months after the intended date of return.

For the avoidance of doubt, these conditions are independent of each other. So you could enter France or Spain on 1 March 2022 with a passport issued on 2 March 2012 that has an expiry date of 2 December 2022.

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