Now that we are past any country-to-country travel restrictions and safe on the ground in the US, we can claim success in navigating requirements and avoiding catching COVID (testing confirmed!) Our most important learning was that EVERY government makes assessments individually, with changes to its rules happening fast, sometimes overnight. What was true during our planning in July didn’t always apply in August and September.
Our travels included flights from San Francisco to Amsterdam to Copenhagen, a train to Sweden, and flights from Stockholm to Amsterdam and finally DC.
Netherlands required an attestation of not having the virus, a simple paper form we could fill out before getting on the plane in SFO. This seemed to be the country with the most restrictions and the highest compliance. Masks were required on public transportation. Enforcers on buses and trams reminded passengers to wear them. Restaurants allowed indoor seating only with presentation of proof of full vaccination. Our US vaccination cards and digital records worked, with no requirement for additional tests or quarantine. There were numerous testing sites and big signs for vaccination centers.
Just as we were returning to the US via Amsterdam, Netherlands removed the US from its list of epidemiologically SAFE countries. “According to the Netherlands’ government, vaccinated travellers from the United States are obliged to follow the ten-day mandatory quarantine rule when entering the Netherlands.” That would have eaten nearly our whole trip if it had been in place when we first arrived. We’re not sure what we would have done if they had said this rule applied to us when we returned from Stockholm to Amsterdam to stay one night before flying to DC.
Denmark required a negative COVID test before being allowed into the country. With proof of approved full vaccination, anyone could enter from the US, with no requirements for testing or quarantine on arrival. We also completed an attestation of not having the virus. That was easy. They had the same nominal requirements for masks on public transportation, but less compliance. We were never checked for vaccination upon going into restaurants.
Getting into Sweden was super easy because we were already in Denmark.
“From 31 May 2021 regular entry requirements are enforced for foreigners entering Sweden directly from Denmark, Finland, Iceland or Norway, meaning it is no longer necessary to be covered by an exemption or present a negative COVID test. This is regardless of the foreigner’s citizenship. Sweden will always apply entry regulations according to the last country you enter from, even if this is only a transit country.”
This seemed too good to be true, but it was true. There were NO border checks with our train ride from Copenhagen to Malmö, Sweden, so we don’t know how they would have checked our COVID status even if they wanted to. Swedes didn’t seem to have much concern about the virus. Masks were mentioned. Signs on the floor said to stay 1.5 or 2 meters apart, but there was little compliance.
In one of the churches we visited we asked the pastor if COVID had affected his parish. He said yes, of course. Most of the parishioners, including him and his family, had gotten it and it wasn’t too bad. He added that some of the older parishioners had passed away. He had taken over as head of the church a year earlier. We wondered if he was there because the former pastor was one of the seniors who had died. Rest in peace to those who left this world too soon.
Norway was a different story. We had planned on going there to visit the birthplace of many of Nancy’s ancestors, but the country wouldn’t even let us fly in when we were looking at options in July. Once we were on the ground in Gothenburg, less than a 4-hour drive from Oslo, we thought we MIGHT have been able to drive or take the train across the border with our vaccine cards, but by then we had everything booked in Sweden, with no extra time or energy to make changes. And, to be honest, we were facing COVID information overload, with too many details and updates to be confident in our options. So someday we will go back to Scandinavia to visit Nancy’s ancestral sites in Tromsø and see the fjords and northern lights.
Yikes! We almost didn’t realize that we needed to have a COVID test before being allowed back in the US (mostly because we didn’t even think about it). Fortunately, it was very easy to get an antigen test just a few blocks from our hotel. We did have to pay for it, about $60 each, but we got the results back in 20 minutes. Barely a dent in our time allowed for exploring. Best news: NEGATIVE!
When we were ready to leave, we had a bit of anxiety from the Stockholm airport folks who said our antigen test was good for only two days, not three days!!! One other passenger was turned away because of this and told to get another test and arrange a flight the next day. Fortunately, they accepted our full vaccination proof instead of requiring a different test.
Stockholm to Amsterdam was the least compliant flight of our trip, with immortal 20-somethings blatantly defying the rule to keep masks on during the Norwegian Air flight, right under the noses of the flight attendants.
When we finally left Amsterdam, timing of which was at the end of our 3-day test acceptance, we were “perfect,” according to the fastidious KLM agent. We were relieved and elated!
Odin is the king of the Norse gods, associated with, among other things, wisdom and healing. Maybe he was watching over us on this trip. As we return from Odin’s Land, enjoy this little ditty from Todd Rundgren about being a Viking (of some note). The Vikings had much worse travel issues than we did.
Song of the Viking by Todd Rundgren
“Caught a wind and we upped the sail
Lost two ships when it turned to a gale
Down went a third when she rammed on a whale
Though we despaired we could not fail…”
We were happy that we didn’t lose any ships on this trip.
Tips for international travel during COVID:
- Check (and recheck again and again) the official foreign country travel site, the US State Department travel site, and your airline’s site for CURRENT rules, specifically for visitors from your country. (Our links are a start, but do your own research.)
- Be sure to check (and recheck) RETURN requirements.
- Have hard copies and digital copies of ALL your travel documents and health documents.
- Have your digital devices (phones) fully charged to be able to show digital documents even if you experience delays.
- Be flexible in case something changes and you have to accommodate the change.
We visited during August and September 2021.