Traveling from the USA to Europe during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Article Summary:

Why are we traveling to Europe now?
Europe is closed to Americans, can we still go?
What paperwork is necessary to travel overseas during COVID-19?
COVID-19 testing for the trip
PPE masks and goggles
Airlines flying overseas during COVID-19
Checking in and the journey from USA to Europe during COVID-19
Car rental in Europe
Arrival process and quarantine
Essential workers thank you

Why are we traveling to Europe now?

Christine and I are originally from Europe. We came to the USA about 45 years ago. Going back to France every year has become a tradition we absolutely love. The culture, food, wine and friends are a huge draw for us, and each year we look forward to a baguette, fromage and a glass of French wine. We have a small home in the countryside where we enjoy nature and re-connecting with the locals. We feel really lucky to be able to fly and we know that so many have been confined to their homes. So many lives have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and we are very grateful for the exceptional opportunity we have to fly to Europe.

I run several travel companies under the CWW umbrella and when COVID-19 made its way to the USA, I was the first to stop all travel for our global team. That was an extremely unnatural thing to do as I have been promoting international travel for more than 40 years. Now I am leading the effort in our company to bring travel back, but in a more responsible way. Leading this effort must go hand in hand with experiencing international travel first. I am sharing this experience with our global team so that they can share the experience with clients and associates.

One more reason to travel to Europe now, is that I am a road-bike enthusiast. I plan to do my usual 1000 miles and enjoy the postponed Tour de France which starts August 29 and ends September 21. I love riding through the idyllic French villages and stumbling on a castle or two.

Life in France seems to have returned to some form of normalcy and we look forward to hanging out in a French café and stroll through a French outdoor market.

Europe is closed to Americans, can we still go?

Americans are not allowed to fly to most of Europe, but European nationals and their spouses and children are allowed to enter Europe. My wife Christine has dual citizenship, French and American, so we are both allowed to travel to Europe. Entry to Europe rules change often and the best way to check on entry rules throughout the world is checking the COVID-19 Travel Regulation Map. There are entry rules for students, military personnel, European nationals, etc. The official French entry rules of July 30th, 2020 are: “Passengers from the USA are not allowed to enter. This does not apply to Nationals of France, and their spouses and children”. Our plan is to transit through Spain and the transit rules are not quite clear, so we are following the Spanish entry rules published on July 31st, 2020. They are: “Passengers from the USA are not allowed to enter. This does not apply to: EU Nationals and immediate family members of a National of an EU member state”.

What paperwork is necessary to travel overseas during COVID-19?

Just a passport is no longer enough. Christine is bringing her French and US passports. I am bringing my USA passport. To enter into Spain each of us needs to complete an “FCS Health Control Form”. This form needs to be filled out less than 48 hours before arrival and once completed, a QR code will be provided which we must present at the gate and upon arrival in Spain. For entry into France we need to fill out two international travel certificates.
In addition, we are bringing copies of our birth certificates and marriage license so that we can prove that we are married and originally from Europe. We are also taking copies of the deed of our house in France so that we can prove we have a residence in Europe.

COVID-19 testing before our trip to Europe

A few days before our departure, France introduced additional rules. For all arrivals in France from Saturday August 1, 2020 we must provide the results of a virologic screening test taken less than 72 hours before departure indicating a negative result for COVID-19. If we are not able to provide evidence of this test, boarding will be denied. The good thing is that with a negative test result, we will not be required to undertake any other health checks on arrival and no quarantine is required. Most USA test locations for Covid-19 take 7-14 days for results. Luckily, we have a pharmacist in the family who can get test results back in 24 hours.
The test we took was the now famous nose swab test. The test is not uncomfortable and filling out the forms takes much longer than the actual test.
For global travel to eventually come back, there should be a global health protocol, with standardized testing and standardized entry rules. A global organization such as World Tourism Organization or IATA should develop this solution. I can imagine that in the future we will be traveling with a regular passport and a digital health passport. Most people who have traveled to certain parts of Africa are familiar with a health passport.


Christine and I are both wearing goggles. To protect our eyes we have ordered Over-Glasses Safety Glasses. We also have purchased N95 masks and we are bringing lots of hand sanitizer in bottles under 4 ounces. We were able to find these items at a local pharmacy.

Airlines Flying to Europe during COVID-19

Surprisingly, there are lots of flights from the USA to Europe. A simple Google travel search for August 1, 2020 from NY to London shows British Airways, American Airlines, Virgin, Air Canada, United, Air Lingus and more. We are flying American Airlines as we have some mileage build up with the airline. So far American Airlines has been wonderful with changes and cancellations. I have changed dates and destinations a few times, all without a problem. We are flying from Phoenix to Chicago with American Airlines and then Chicago to Madrid and Toulouse with Iberia Airlines.

Starting our Travels from USA to Europe during COVID-19

Our son-in-law picked us up from home. We were not quite ready to take an Uber or Lyft yet. He shared with us that our grand-kids are going back to school on Monday. Virtually. The school district is providing free computers for all students. Fantastic.
When we arrived at the airport, we found it was almost empty. No lines. There was a certain level of calmness about our short journey through the airport. At check-in the American Airlines agents were trying their best to figure out these Americans flying to Europe, through Spain and destination France. They checked their computer for guidance and after some checking and explanations we were on our way. Security was empty and we arrived at the gate within minutes. Most restaurants and stores in the airport were closed.

We were on our way to Chicago. The plane had about 45 passengers and all were considerate of social distancing and wearing masks. There were quite a few students on board on their way back to college. Some of them are going to be quarantined for a few weeks, before they are able to go to class. The impact of COVID-19 on so many people is very evident.

At Chicago O’Hare we found the airport to be busier than the Phoenix Airport. We saw a Japan Airways airplane, a plane from Korean Air and we saw multiple American Airlines and United Airlines taking off. The electronic board showed just 2 departing international flight, Madrid and Tokyo. We also saw China Eastern, Air China, SAS, KLM, Qatar and Austrian Airlines arriving. As a marketer of International travel, this is encouraging. While waiting for our next flight a family with 3 teenage children sat too close to us. They were not wearing their masks. If we are all going to travel confidently, we must follow the guidance of the medical experts.

Checking in at Iberia was a breeze. We just showed Christine’s French passport. They asked if we were married and that was it. No marriage license was asked for. As we are transiting to France, no IQ code was necessary. Also, no negative virus report was asked for. A traveler without a European passport was denied access to the plane. The plane had approximately 30 passengers and it felt like a private airplane.

Upon arriving to Madrid our temperature was taken, and our QI forms were scanned. The airport was busy and full of travelers with masks. Social distancing was adhered to and people were respectful of the rules. Spain has some re-occurring COVID-19 cases, so people were careful.

The flight from Madrid to Toulouse was uneventful. The plane was about 60% full. Upon arrival in Toulouse there was no temperature check, and we saw no station for testing. The airport was empty with just a few travelers.

The whole travel experience was great. No lines anywhere, and lots of space. While we were used to hearing from the captain: “We are number 23 for take-off” we heard “We are number one for take-off”. We felt like we were on private planes with exceptional service. We always felt safe.

Car Rental in Europe

There are of course lots of options in Europe. Besides the big Brands like Hertz, Avis, Europcar and Enterprise there is a rental option through Renault. For longer stays they allow short term leases and they include insurance in the pricing. So, you always get a brand-new car with zero mileage. Renault picked us up from the airport in Toulouse. All paperwork was done in advance and 15 minutes later we were on our way. We did not stop on our two-hour trip, to avoid further contact.

Arrival in France and Quarantine

We have decided to be considerate of other people and not socialize for a few days. Some local friends have filled the refrigerator and we have some fresh baguettes. It is good to be home in France.

A Thank You to All Who Made Our Travel Happen During COVID-19

Along the way we were amazed by the kindness of the people in travel. During these difficult times we always detected a smile behind the masks. While the “essential workers” in travel take their daily risks taking care of travelers, we felt that they truly cared for our safety. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.


This article was written by:
Eric Otto
CEO of Connect Worldwide a global travel company.

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