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PCR tests for traveling to Europe during COVID-19

A negative COVID-19 test certificate is required to travel to European countries. Find out more about getting tested for coronavirus before departure

This Dec. 2, 2020 photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. (Johnson & Johnson via AP)
This Dec. 2, 2020 photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. (Johnson & Johnson via AP)

The EU has recently updated its guidelines on travel during the coronavirus pandemic. More emphasis is now being placed on pre-departure COVID-19 tests for travelers arriving from outside the bloc.

Entry to most European countries from Israel and other countries has been temporarily banned except for certain essential purposes. If one of the exemptions applies and you are able to travel to Europe under the current travel restrictions, you will need to meet several health and safety requirements.

One of the most important entry requirements is a PCR Covid EU test. A medical certificate showing a negative COVID-19 test result is needed to travel from Israel to most EU member states. The certificate is checked at the airport; if you do not have a document that meets the European country’s criteria, you will not be allowed to board the aircraft. The requirement applies to foreign citizens and EU nationals with the aim of preventing the virus from crossing borders.

Medical certificates are accepted in English or the official language of the destination country. If you need to get your document translated it is important to use an authorized translator. Regulations differ depending on which European nation you are planning to visit. Make sure you are fully informed about all the entry requirements before making travel arrangements.

With different types of COVID-19 tests available, you may be unsure which one you need. To travel to Europe during the pandemic you will need to have a viral test, also known as a molecular test. Viral tests detect whether you are infected with the virus at the time of travel, unlike antibody tests which show if you have had the disease at some point in the past.

Nucleic acid amplification tests (NAAT), such as the RT-PCR, are the type of viral test most widely accepted across Europe. NAAT tests are more accurate than antigen tests but results take longer to obtain.

Passengers with a flight to Europe should arrange to have the molecular coronavirus test no more than 72 hours before departure. This allows time to receive the results while minimizing the chance of infection in the interim. A rapid antigen test will not be accepted in most cases.

Another common question is whether vaccinated travelers are required to present a negative COVID test certificate. Currently, vaccinated and unvaccinated arrivals are subject to the same entry requirements, including the PCR test. Although vaccine certificates have been discussed by the EU, there are currently no special exemptions or entry requirements for vaccinated travelers.

Some European countries also have mandatory quarantine measures in place for people arriving from countries such as Israel. It is important to bear in mind that having a negative COVID test result does not exempt you from quarantine requirements. In some cases a further PCR test is required once in the country in order to leave self-isolation early.

Some flights to Israel are restarting. If you spend more than 72 hours outside of Israel, you will need to have a COVID-19 test in Europe before catching a return flight. The same general conditions apply: it must be a PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before departure from the first embarkation point. Passengers with a certificate of recovery or coronavirus vaccination certificate issued by Israel are exempt.

Learn more about PCR tests for traveling to Europe from Online Travel Evisa

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