This past month, Kathleen and I spoke at a conference in Milan, Italy, and on the way back stopped for a few days in Istanbul, Turkey where we met with another local team. Although we were very ready to get back to international travel after the COVID lockdowns, we were nervous about all the rules, protocols, and regulations related to travel these days.
So for anyone contemplating a trip either to a European Union country like Italy, or an outside country like Turkey, here’s what we experienced:
The VISA rules haven’t changed. As Americans, we didn’t need a VISA for Italy, but we did need one for Turkey, which we easily received online within 48 hours of applying.
Travel related to COVID was much more challenging. In EU countries, they require a contract tracing document that you must apply for ahead of time and present when you land. Again, it’s pretty easy to fill out online and they responded with the documentation I needed almost immediately.
In Italy, we only needed that document to get through customs, and from that point on, were only required to show our vaccination record. Incidentally, we have an mobile vaccination phone app from California, but that wasn’t accepted anywhere outside the United States because the EU has their own vax mobile app. In both Italy and Turkey we needed the actual CDC paper vaccination card, and it’s required for restaurants, museums, and most other group activities throughout Italy.
In Turkey, they have a contact tracing form to fill out online before departure, and they return it to you a few days before you leave for Turkey. Even though I filled out mine a couple months ahead of time, they held it and returned it approved just before departure from the US.
That document will give you a special number that you have to present if required. We needed to present it upon arrival into the country, checking into our hotel, to get a public subway or bus card, and going to a shopping mall. We never needed it for restaurants or museums. As long as we had that document, we were never asked for our actual vaccine card.
Honestly, the Turkish system has the most potential for abuse by an authoritarian government. Think about it – you have a government tracking form that is required for all public travel, staying in hotels, shopping, potentially eating in restaurants, going to work, and more.
Masks were similar to much of the United States – outside not required, but required in most places indoors.
With our vaccination and contract tracing document in Turkey, we weren’t required to have a negative COVID test before entering that country, but we did have to do it within 72 hours of arriving in Italy and back to the United States.
One important note is that when we left the United States and presented the negative COVID test to Turkish Airlines, the test had my name as “Phil” – not “Philip” as on my passport. Even though my address, birthdate, and passport numbers matched, this created quite a controversy. We had three Turkish Airlines agents arguing about whether to let me on the plane, and one finally called Istanbul to sort it out. They said they couldn’t guarantee my entry into Italy, but when I arrived, no one said anything or cared. But it’s worth making sure all your documents have exactly the same name.
Finding a COVID test in Turkey for our return to the United States was very easy. Most pharmacies offer the test, or you can have one delivered to your hotel and mailed in. In our case, the Marriott hotel in Istanbul has a team come by the hotel every morning giving the test to their guests.
Our only real fear about the trip was at the beginning or end, getting a positive test result back. If it had happened with our test 72 hours before departure, we would have had to cancel our trip, because the speaking engagement that couldn’t be moved. Likewise, if we’d had a positive result on the return to the United States, we would have had to extend our stay in Istanbul and quarantine at the hotel and then change our return airline ticket – all at our expense.
But fortunately, we cleared all the hurdles, and it was a fantastic trip, and I’d encourage anyone to get out there and start traveling internationally again. Just do your research and stay up on what websites you need to visit and the documents and tests you may need to complete.