Logistics Of International Travel During Coronavirus

Filed Under: Advice, Travel

Before I talk specifically about our time in Bodrum (which I’ll start doing in the next installment), in this post I wanted to talk more about the general logistical challenges and risks of international travel at the moment.

Let me first clarify that I won’t be addressing some points in this post, even though they’re crucially important:

  • This post isn’t about answering the question of whether or not one should travel internationally right now
  • This post isn’t about precautions to take to minimize the risk to you or others of getting coronavirus
  • This post isn’t about answering the question of what places it is and isn’t responsible to travel to

Why? Because I already addressed them in the introduction post, and also because this post is intended to address the often overlooked logistical challenges and risks of international travel at the moment.

In no particular order, here are some things to keep in mind if you are considering international travel, based on my firsthand experience (and I’ll also be sharing how I approached these problems during our trip):

Immigration rules are constantly changing

Planning travel in advance, especially internationally, is virtually impossible at the moment. Rules are constantly changing — this includes country entry requirements, transit requirements, testing requirements, and more.

You really can’t count on any rules staying the same, especially when so many entry requirements are based around the number of coronavirus cases in a country. Until your passport is stamped at the border, don’t count on being allowed in.

How did we deal with this? We booked our trip to Turkey two days in advance, so while there was still some risk, it was minimal.

It can be tough to understand where you can and can’t travel

Rules are hard to understand

While this is related to the above point, there’s an important distinction to be made. Immigration requirements can be complicated during the best of times, let alone right now.

I’ve heard several stories of airlines incorrectly denying people boarding, because they interpreted immigration rules differently than passengers.

I was fully prepared for this, and I made sure I showed up at our origin airport early, and also had screenshots of the official entry and transit requirements of the countries we were traveling to and through. This ended up being a complete non-issue for us, but clearly it has been problematic for others.

There can be confusion about immigration rules among airline agents

Irregular operations are more complicated than ever before

Flight delays and cancelations can be stressful during the best of times, and have now become way more complicated. For example, there are lots of countries you might be allowed to transit, but might not be allowed to enter.

For example, say you have a US passport and are flying from Istanbul to Frankfurt to Boston. If your Istanbul to Frankfurt flight is delayed, and you misconnect, you’re not actually allowed to enter the country. So you’ll be stuck in the terminal until the next practical flights, and in some markets that could potentially be for over 24 hours.

How did we minimize our risk here, for our Fort Lauderdale to Montreal to Munich to Bodrum itinerary?

  • We planned a long layover in Montreal, in the event our flight from Fort Lauderdale to Montreal was delayed
  • While we had a short layover in Munich, and the flight only operates twice per week, I knew we could otherwise reroute onto a flight to Istanbul within hours, and flying from there to Bodrum is easy
  • I’m also really good at handling airline irregular operations, so I realize this could be much more overwhelming for a less frequent flyer

Misconnecting is more complicated than ever before

International health insurance is complicated

Another major concern for travelers should be what happens in the event that you get sick or need to get hospitalized. Most travel insurance policies (whether purchased or through credit cards) explicitly exclude coronavirus.

There are some policies that do cover coronavirus, and Emirates, Etihad, and Virgin Atlantic, are now offering free coronavirus travel insurance.

I didn’t end up pursuing any coverage for our trip, because:

  • Statistically speaking, given our age and health, the chances of hospitalization if we got coronavirus was minimal
  • If we needed to quarantine in place, I have lots of hotel points I could have used to extend our stay by two weeks
  • In the event that we were to be hospitalized, medical care in Turkey is much more reasonably priced than in the US

Obviously it wasn’t a perfect solution, but I thought it was good enough.

Travel coverage largely excludes coronavirus

Coronavirus testing is still a real challenge

Coronavirus testing is a long way from where it needs to be for travel to recover:

  • We’re increasingly seeing countries and airlines require coronavirus testing before travel, but both getting tested and getting the results within such a short period can be extremely difficult; in many parts of the US it’s taking nearly two weeks to get results
  • In many destinations, trying to get tested without symptoms in order to try and be responsible can be a hassle; in Bodrum there’s apparently only one hospital that does testing, and no other options, even at a cost
  • While many airports have set up impressive testing facilities, you can’t always count on them to offer seamless experiences; I’ve had readers warn of queues of literally hours for coronavirus testing at airports in both Frankfurt and Istanbul, for example

A (closed) coronavirus testing facility at Bodrum Airport

What happens if you get coronavirus?

Health risks aside, if you’re planning travel you should be aware of the policies of where you’re traveling in the event that you do get coronavirus. Will you have to go to a hospital no matter what? If you’re forced to quarantine at the hotel you’re staying at, how much will that cost you?

This is an area where some hotels have actually been quite “generous,” with many hotels in the Maldives offering 14 free nights of accommodation in the event you do test positive, and then you’re just on the hook for room service food and drinks.

You could find yourself quarantining for 14 days

What happens if someone you were in contact with gets coronavirus?

This is a point that a lot of people overlook. Even if you don’t get coronavirus, being in contact with someone who has had coronavirus could prove extremely problematic, health implications aside:

  • For countries that do testing on arrival or contact tracing, you could be forced to quarantine for 14 days if you were in close contact with someone who was found to have coronavirus
  • Many airlines and hotels require you to confirm that you haven’t been in contact with anyone who had coronavirus

Even if you take precautions, and even if you don’t get coronavirus, you could end up in a situation where you have to quarantine.

What happens if you come into contact with someone who has coronavirus?

This can all add a lot of stress to travel

All of the above points can really add a lot of uncertainty to travel, and for many could take a lot of the fun out of it. That’s not to say one shouldn’t (or should) travel, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I found myself a bit more on edge than on other trips, and that goes beyond just being vigilant of coronavirus precautions:

  • Pre-travel you have to worry whether entry requirements will change, and whether your flight schedule will change
  • During travel you have to worry about irregular operations, and whether airline employees having the same understanding of transit and entry requirements as you
  • When you’re traveling you might become a bit paranoid if you even feel slightly unwell

None of these are necessarily deal-breakers, but do expect that travel will logistically be more complicated and stressful than it otherwise has been in years.

Hotel welcome amenities in the age of coronavirus

Bottom line

There are lots of things to consider if planning travel during this time. As I said above, your primary consideration should be looking after your health as well as the health of others, and minimizing risk.

Even beyond that, though, there are all kinds of other logistical considerations that can make planning travel completely different than in the past. The above list is by no means intended to be comprehensive, though it includes some of my biggest takeaways from traveling internationally.

Did I miss any major logistical considerations that you think are important? If you’ve traveled in the past few months, did you face any of these concerns?

  1. My only addition would be that if you are able to have all your ducks in a row so that the airline will not question anything, your odds go up exponentially. The airlines are the gatekeepers. My experience is that once you land, other than a reminder that you must test or quarantine, no one cares (In the EU at least). I am sure others might have different experiences than mine, but after three entries to the EU this summer from the U.S. and imagining the worst, the biggest hurdle was at check-in for the flights and having a station manager sign off on my letters of urgent business.

    The one time I witnessed a rejection was a man checking in next to me who had an urgent business letter for himself but was trying to bring his wife and daughter as well. They were denied boarding and he ended up flying alone.

  2. Would you write an article on insurance during Covid-perhaps you did and I did not see. Out of concern, last month I called Chase and they told me that if I got sick with Covid on a trip the insurance would cover, like any other disease. Was that incorrect?

  3. This all adds up to the only sensible conclusion – do not travel internationally unless you have a fully justifiable and legitimate reason. Is that so hard?

  4. @Stuart: what EU countries were those three if you do not mind me asking.
    I have just heard a similar story from someone who travelled into an EU country where they require the presentation of 2 negative COVID-19 RT-PCR tests (within 5 days both, 48 hrs in between the two) – if the traveller comes from a country designated as high risk.
    He said no one asked him for those results…..

  5. You are totally selfish, irresponsible, and completely unethical — despite your attempts to spin and obfuscate things. Period. Nothing you say has any credibility. Shame on you.

  6. Looking forward to reading more details about Bodrum. Based on Ford’s Instagram, seems like you guys had a great time.

    Planning a rescheduled honeymoon and was initially looking at Bali first then Maldives. But Singapore has pulled all flights to/from Indonesia. Your trip gave me inspiration to think about Bodrum then Maldives. (Home is SFO). Good availability on Turkish with Aeroplan!

  7. I think the highest risk is contracting coronavirus when you are abroad. Even if it is a mild case, the impact on your body is non-negligible. Of course, if you are in a serious condition and even if the foreign country has a good medical system, it is scary to be in an ICU thousands of miles away from home. But obviously everyone’s risk tolerance is different.

  8. Stuart, airlines may be the primary gatekeepers of the travel bans, but I saw a handful of despondent looking folks waiting in some sort of holding pen at AMS immigration. All of them had US passports. Not absolutely sure they were being denied entry, but it didn’t look good. I read an article saying over 300 Americans have been denied entry at AMS immigration between March and July.

  9. @Mitch. Yeah, as I said, I can only speak for my own observations. I am sure certain entry points are less friendlier than others – or some agents fail as the gatekeepers to those particular destinations in defending loose excuses to travel. My experiences may be completely different for sure. I’ll bet a family traveling (as an example) raises far more interest than a guy alone moving quietly through the system.

    @Daniel Not to go into too many details but Austria and Germany have not been difficult to enter with an urgent business letter from a reputable company where you are entering and a test on arrival. However, that changed two weeks ago to an extent. Austria, for one, now requires as of July 27th that anyone from a non-approved country that has a letter of urgent business to quarantine first for 10 days, regardless of testing before or upon arrival. Whether that’s actually being enforced or not I can’t tell you as I came in the morning before the new mandate was announced. Also, before people start clamoring for drama towards Americans this was actually not directed so much at U.S. business travelers (as very few are coming). This was because a large number of people were coming in from Ukraine and Russia with these letters and were testing positive.

  10. “If your Istanbul to Frankfurt flight is delayed, and you misconnect, you’re not actually allowed to enter the country.” – Based on other people’s experiences it actually seems that German authorities are fairly reasonable and do allow entry in case IROPs make you spend the night. There is some clause in their law that allows entry in such case.

  11. Isn’t it also the case that you and your spouse can enter Germany as well, since you’re a German citizen? Surely that must also make the prospect of transiting Germany less stressful.

  12. Lucky you’d posted a picture of a Intra-EU flight on LX, hope to see a Swiss 1st class review on your way back to the states

  13. Surprised you traveled without health cover or you just mean no corona cover?
    To add.. some health insurances don’t exclude pandemics but do exclude if travel advisory is issued. So important to check your home country’s travel advisories.

  14. I did travel quite a bit within Europe (out of my residential country inside Europe). My experience was that changing and differently worded rules are the main concern. Perhaps I need to elaborate a bit on what I mean with “differently worded”: As a general rule of thumb, as agreed at ministerial level, travelling with the Schengen Zone, the EU members outside Schengen (e.g. Croatia, Ireland) as well as the UK is possible. BUT you may face mandatory quarantine/ self-isolation. So far so good.

    Now there are differences: In some country it depends where you are arriving from, in some others where you stayed during the last days – with subvariants whether transit counts or not and finally it’s also dfferent what reason you are travelling for. Combined with the frequent changes, this is extremely challenging.

    In my experience, it’s quite hassle free, generally. But just be aware that a small planning mistake (e.g. transit in the wrong airport) might result in upto 2 weeks of quarantne. For example, if someone booked.a fight from Greece via Serbia to the UK, ypu will have to quarantine, even if you stayed in the transit zone of the airport. Yet, if you fly from Greece via Serbia to Switzerland, this does not result in quarantine, as long as you only transit through Serbia (but it does if you stay there). As you can imagine, with abour 40 European countries, there are endless combinations – some are ok, some are not and some are changing in either direction, from ok to not ok or from not ok to ok.

  15. @Dick Bupkiss you are from the TPG. Has anyone ever watched these guys YouTube videos ? Their behavior is so tacky. If I were the purser on one of their flights I’d serve them a glass of milk.

    Ben lives in Miami and he hasn’t even wrote any articles on yachts yet. What kind of travel blog is this ?

    I’d quarantine for 14 days in China at a 4 star hotel for $40 a night .

  16. “We planned a long layover in Montreal (flying from Fort Lauderdale).” Canadians don’t want Americans from hot spots (or others) to travel through Canada or to Canada unless it is for essential travel. Please, do the responsible thing, and stay home.

  17. What Alison said is somewhat true, you are allowed to transit through Canadian airports, but the general sense is that American are not welcome in Canada, due to the pathetic US response. That being said, Allison, YOU are in the HOTSPOT of the Canadian COVID outbreak in Canada, being in Quebec. Such sanctimonious comments are laughable.

  18. @ John….Ben has noted many times that non-German spouses are not afforded the rights as the holder of a German passport holder. So unless Ben is traveling solo going to Germany is not an option for him.

    @ Dick Bupkiss… and yet you follow his site despite stating he has no credibility.

    @ Alison…petition your government to change the rules. Until then we play by them.

  19. EVERYONE BE AWARE of DANGER here. Not Covid19. But rather the fake named @ Dick Bupkiss
    troller . His comments are always outrageous, lies, fake news, insulting to Ben(Lucky) and just plain mean. This person should get a life and just disappear from OMAAT.

  20. My advice is to daily check the rules for not only the country you are traveling to, but the airline as well.

    We’ve been blindsided by sudden changes in rules after we’ve booked and been left scrambling to meet the new requirements.

    And US domestic airlines have played havoc with flights, changing them hours either way to get around “cancelling” them. Second time we’ve been notified our scheduled flight out was moved back before our main flight leaves.

    If you can’t deal with the stress of constantly changing rules, flight changes that screw up your carefully laid out itinerary, plan to stay at home until this passes.

    And the don’t fly whiners have gotten old. Know several people and families who have , GASP, dared to venture out and travel internationally here in the past month.

  21. Regarding international travel insurance, it should not be forgotten that these companies exist to make a profit and are not benevolent entities. Regarding Covid cover, it does not exist. As soon as a pandemic is declared, no cover. ‘Do Not Travel’ advisory or recommendation from any government source, no cover. There are so many hooks the industry can point to to support rejection of your case, that wiggle room has turned into automatic double opening doors.
    Buyer beware!

  22. @Lucky, a pretty good post! I also think there’s also the risk that you get infected while traveling, infect other people without knowing it, contact tracers identify you as the “patient zero,” and then you risk both quarantine and potentially some sort of penalty, if you unintentionally infected a lot of other people (i.e. check out the new fines in Andalusia, which I suspect are mostly about scaring people, but still intimidating).

    Honestly, right now, I’d only travel in four places: the U.S., the EU, Mexico, and Canada (if allowed). For additional context, I strongly believe I was sickened with COVID-19 in late January (i.e. now have some immunity) and I’m also relatively young, so I don’t have terrible fear about the virus.

    The U.S. is my country of birth, I speak the language, and I have health insurance — albeit awful “Obamacare” coverage with a huge deductible — so I feel pretty safe in any situation. I also am pretty confident the U.S. wouldn’t impose any draconian quarantines or travel restrictions like some other countries.

    I have dual citizenship in the EU, health care is free or affordable, and I feel somewhat confident having the rights of an EU citizen throughout the EU, even if I don’t speak every language. The EU has also made clear that member states should avoid national lockdowns in the fall and winter, most member states have said they will try and avoid future lockdowns, and I trust officials to be fair and trustworthy.

    Regarding Mexico, I speak Spanish, have lived there before, health care is affordable, and I suspect Mexico wouldn’t impose any draconian lockdown or quarantine policies in its cities at this point in the game — indeed, there’s probably quite a bit of “herd immunity” in Mexico now.

    Canada, of course, would be safer than the United States in terms of the virus, I speak English, and trust the government there as much as most countries in Europe.

    (I’d also have Japan on my list, but I suspect even EU citizens won’t be welcome in Japan anytime soon, sadly.)

  23. Good, useful post Lucky. Ignore the haters. Everyone is free to make their own decisions about travel. For many, it may not make sense. For you, it does (perhaps even a necessity). Own it, but attack it openly and honestly.

  24. @ Glenn t… you don’t know what you are talking about. I found a policy that explicitly stated that “COVID-19 treatment is covered like any other eligible sickness that occurs after the effective date of the policy and while on your trip.”

  25. Best way to downvote these absurdly selfish articles is to apply for credit cards without using your links. Maybe others will make up the difference but I’ve done my part.

  26. One needs to note that trying to circumvent the rules e.g. by not correctly reporting on all countries you’ve been to on the contact tracing form like the Swiss one shown above is treated as forgery of documents and can have severe consequences in some countries

  27. The karens here are hilarious. Now it’s “selfish” to travel, but killing entire economies, exploding youth unemployment and financial crises are fine, all because “karen is scared and you should do as she says”. Grow up people, Covid is not ebola. Shield the vulnerable and let the rest continue life. Closing everything down until this fictional vaccine appears is not feasible.

  28. I found this posting very informative. What I don’t like is how mean some posters are here though. what purpose does the nastiness serve? I don’t get it and I don’t like it.

  29. It’s more than a little odd that this Turkey trips remains largely unreported, weeks after the event. Perhaps there’s good reason for it, but for something undertaken with great haste, there has been a glacial speed in updating it.

  30. Bottom line is that no one should be this irresponsible, entitled, careless, and unethical to be taking leisure trips at a time like this. It is truly shameful to be doing this at this point. Yes of course we all would love to get back to normal (I certainly would), but the reality is that many people around the world couldn’t do their simple part to make this go away. That is amplified 10 fold in the US unfortunately. As a result, there is no containment and it continues to get worse every day. Anyone who is doing shameful acts such as taking three flights just to go and take some pictures in a new place is beyond unethical and really is a shameful person.

    Love most all of your other posts, but this entire trip is one of shame and was done in extremely poor taste.

  31. So, in a nutshell, international long haul travel might be doable…but it sure doesn’t sound like fun. I honestly can’t think of any reason I’d put myself through all that…and I have basically flown laps around the world for work, for years. I’ll stick with Zoom for now, thank you very much.

    Also, there were earlier comments about 300 Americans being denied entry in AMS but that the real issue is just getting past the check-in and then you’re good to go. This is delusional. Nearly 13,000 Americans have been turned back at the Canadian border alone since Covid-19 started – despite very clear information that you will not be able to cross for tourism, visiting friends etc. With 100s of 1000s a day usually crossing, clearly most have gotten the message…but seemingly not all. Yes, you can transit through, if you never leave the transit area (be careful – in Toronto, for instance, switching terminals requires entering Canada, and that’s not happening). But if you don’t have a Canadian passport, even if you somehow sweet talk your way on to a flight, without the right clearance, you will get turned back.

  32. @kcb says: “What I don’t like is how mean some posters are here though. what purpose does the nastiness serve? I don’t get it and I don’t like it.”
    Well then, since you don’t like it, don’t do it!! Hypocrite!

  33. @ Alison — If “Canadians” don’t want Americans going through sterile transit in Canada, then maybe “Canadians” shouldn’t allow it? The rules could be changed, after all.

    Also, is me sitting in a sterile transit facility where I’m in contact with virtually no Canadians and sitting dozens of feet from the next person really of major concern, compared to the anti-mask protests going in Montreal this weekend? Hmmm…

  34. Ben, I wanted to share my appreciation for this post. I know you are taking a lot of abuse for traveling, but many of your readers do appreciate the information that you are providing on what it is like to travel now and presenting issues people need to consider. I look forward to hearing about the rest of your trip.

  35. The issue with traveling around the EU and UK at the moment that quarantine requirements are changing on a day to day base (as the UK declared Spain a non safe country basically overnight or Antwerpen and Luxembourg in Germany).
    Aswell as mandatory measurement are changing aswell – sometimes just on a city level (mask in public spaces in Paris from Monday on)

    And not all countries do allow a negative Covid19 test to skip it

  36. @Pete

    It sounds like you have no idea about what the term Karen means, and how it is applied. It’s almost like you are trying to appropriate the word for something else…hmmm.

  37. I believe one can transit Germany and go landside (ie, enter DE):

    For persons in compliance with passport and visa regulations, an urgent need to enter Germany is considered to be present in the following cases since 2 July:

    healthcare workers, health researchers and geriatric care workers,
    skilled and highly qualified foreign workers whose employment is necessary from an economic perspective and whose work cannot be postponed or performed abroad, see also “Which skilled and highly qualified foreign workers are permitted to enter Germany from a non-European foreign country?”
    freight transport and other transport personnel,
    seasonal workers in agriculture,
    seafarers in transit to a ship’s port of departure or to an airport in order to return to a third country,
    foreign students whose course of study is not fully possible from abroad as well as trainees and third-country nationals who are entering Germany to obtain qualifications if their training or qualification programme is not fully possible from abroad,
    persons immigrating to Germany for the purpose of joining their families and persons visiting Germany for urgent family reasons, see also “What special conditions apply to entry into Germany by family members who are nationals of a third-country that is not on the positive list?”
    persons in need of international protection or protection for other humanitarian reasons, including urgent medical reasons, see also “Under what circumstances am I allowed to enter Germany for urgent medical reasons?”,
    diplomats, staff of international organisations, military personnel and humanitarian aid workers in the exercise of their functions (see also “What special conditions apply to supporting documents for short-term entry into Germany by third-country nationals who are family members of holders of diplomatic or official passports of Germany, other EU countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland or the United Kingdom?”),
    ethnic German resettlers,
    passengers in transit.

    The decision whether to allow entry at the border is at the discretion of the border officials.

    Travellers must follow the quarantine rules of the relevant federal state of Germany.

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