Expat Essentials

Carla Bastos: International travel these days requires refundable tickets, flight insurance and always, always a backup plan

(Editor’s note: This post about dealing with the perils of international travel is Pt. 4 in a continuing series of posts about Carla Bastos’ efforts to start a new expat life in Italy. You can jump to Pt. 1 here, Pt. 2 here and Pt. 3 here.)

For established expats within the European Union, travel is not terribly problematic this late in the time of COVID. Folks have been vaccinated, borders have reopened, and restrictions are not too onerous. But for those of us in the throes of transition, particularly from the U.S., COVID is still proving a formidable foe.

While I haven’t traveled internationally in nearly two years, my frequent 2021 stateside travels have been the stuff of nightmares. Being stranded in Denver when the last flight out was cancelled was only the beginning. While waiting to board a flight home from Atlanta last week, our flight crew’s arrival from another city was delayed. A fellow passenger interpreted this to mean we didn’t have pilots because they didn’t want to be forced to be vaccinated. As unfortunate a leap as that was, several other passengers immediately (and loudly) hopped aboard his bandwagon.

The reasons Americans can’t seem to get their virus act together are myriad and I won’t attempt to sort them out here. But, there is a domino effect where travel is concerned that even reaches countries not experiencing the same issues.

I booked my November househunting trip to Italy back in February, and felt pretty proud of myself for grabbing a great fare and trusting all would be well, despite a global shutdown at that time. As things began to open up, I became downright giddy. Then came the notice from the airline in September – one leg of my flight had been cancelled, and no alternates were available. (They insisted it was actually their European partner airline who had cancelled, but of course the partner denied this.)

Finding another flight to match the rest of my itinerary proved hopeless, but with great effort I was able to rebook the entire two-week journey. Whew, dodged a bullet!

Then came October, and another cancellation notice.

Fortunately, this one was attributed to a glitch in the airline’s system and my flights remained intact. As frustrating as all this was, I haven’t quite torn all of my hair out yet. I’m currently holding my breath in hopes of no more cancellations.

The upside

There were also positives in the whole debacle, which I’m choosing to accentuate. Finding new flights with no additional charges was a relief. The proprietors of the lodging I’d booked, where I’ve stayed in the past, went out of their way to accommodate the changes. And, refunds were surprisingly prompt.

But there are many more moving parts to consider, such as pandemic-related entry requirements. These have pretty much been standardized with the advent of the Green Pass which, for Americans, means a CDC vaccination card. (Green Passes are also required in Italy to enter museums, theaters, and indoor restaurants, and to board trains and buses.)

A negative PCR test taken within 72 hours before arrival is another current requirement in Italy. And, if you’re just doing short-term recon trips as I am, you’ll need to test again within 72 hours before returning to the United States. (As of 8 November, if you are unvaccinated you’ll need a negative test within 24 hours of departing for the U.S.)

So, here’s what I’ve learned: In all my years of travel, never before have I been as keen to purchase only refundable tickets, have all the components insured, and have a backup plan for each. The old fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach is simply not wise in this current climate.

Travel insurance

If you’ve never purchased travel insurance, now is the time. Read the fine print to be certain pandemic events are covered. For example, should your last-minute COVID test be positive, you won’t be able to board that flight home. I just read an account of a couple who tested positive when trying to return to the U.S. from Greece.

The Greek government had designated quarantine hotels for such eventualities, providing accommodations including three meals a day, until they tested negative a week later. They were then able to fly home, having incurred no additional expenses.

But, this may not be the norm!

Insurance may be needed to help cover any necessary treatment plus added expenses should you have to quarantine. Peace of mind is well worth the cost of travel insurance.

By the way, don’t forget to research in advance where you can be tested before returning home, and make an appointment if necessary. In Italy, testing is readily available in pharmacies and clinics, and shouldn’t cost more than 25 euros. (You can also be tested at the airport, but why wait?)

One more travel note:

If you’re ready to make your final, one-way trip to your new country of choice, hopefully you’ve found a good international health insurance plan. Even in countries offering universal health care, you’ll need to secure health insurance. (You will still pay only a fraction of U.S. health care costs.)

My suggestion here would be to use a broker who can do some of the heavy lifting for you. With my final move slated for early 2022, I’ve already researched several options. While leaning toward an affordable plan that fits my needs from IMG, I cannot recommend this company as I’ve yet to make a final decision. But, do your homework –there are lots of brokers out there who can save you tons of time and headaches.

While traveling from America today has its unique challenges and requires care, planning and shrewdness, it is completely doable and well worth the effort. And, if the payoff is retirement in one of the most beautiful places on earth, it’s a no-brainer!

Next up: At long last, Italia!

About the author:

Carla Bastos is a freelance writer and former journalist and newspaper editor. Having lived in developing countries and covered wars and natural disasters, she has written extensively on a variety of related topics.

Her many years of world travels and humanitarian work continue to inform her writing, which can be found at carla-bastos.com.

See more here about Italy’s various programs to repopulate villages.

See more in Dispatches’ Italy archives here.

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