How I traveled to five countries and navigated the COVID-related rules

Everything I did to cross five European borders

Today's expression: In order
Explore more: Lesson #405
October 7, 2021:

Are you thinking about taking an international trip? I just got back from a vacation to five European countries. Each country had different and constantly changing COVID-related rules to follow, which added an extra layer of complication to international travel. I almost messed a couple of things up. Plus, learn “in order.”

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Today, I’ll tell you all the steps I had to take to follow the COVID-related rules on my recent vacation

Lesson summary

Hi there everyone, it’s Jeff and this is Plain English lesson number 405. JR is the producer and he has uploaded the full lesson to PlainEnglish.com/405.

Coming up today: A continuation on the theme from yesterday, I’ll tell you everything I had to do to comply with five countries’ rules on COVID-19 during my recent vacation. And I’ll also tell you who checked what and how I almost didn’t get my COVID test on time. The English expression we’ll review is “in order” and JR has a song of the week. Let’s dive in!

All the steps to comply with 5 countries’ rules

Here’s my itinerary. I traveled from Chicago to Budapest, Hungary, with a connection in London-Heathrow. I took a day trip to Slovakia by train. I then traveled from Budapest to Vienna, Austria by train. And I flew home from Vienna to Chicago, again with a connection in London. That’s a total three countries visited, plus the UK. So I had to follow the rules of five countries: the UK, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, and America.

On my outbound journey, I was going to the UK and Hungary. So that meant that at my home airport on a Thursday evening, I had to be prepared to show all the documents necessary for those two countries. The UK required a PCR test within 72 hours in English, French or Spanish. I went to my regular doctor’s office on Wednesday morning and got the PCR test results—negative—within a few hours. It was covered by my insurance and the results were delivered electronically.

I also had to fill out an entry form for the UK. The entry form asked me about my vaccination status, when I would be arriving, and when I would be leaving. I completed the form online, but I printed both the entry form and my PCR test results and carried them with me.

At the Chicago airport, the airline checked my PCR test and my UK entry form. They were not checking anything for Hungary; they were only checking the requirements for London. My documents were in order , so I boarded the plane and flew to London. Once in London, nobody checked my COVID documents. The only check was at the airport in America before leaving.

However, I was called to the gate in Heathrow because British Airways needed to check my documents against Hungary’s rules. This was easy because I had my vaccination card. Interestingly, it was the airline that checked my documents for both the UK and Hungary; it was not a government official in either place. When I got to Budapest, I passed easily through immigration and no government official asked for any type of COVID documents.

My next destination was Slovakia; I took the train there for the day. This was easy. To enter, I needed to be fully vaccinated and to fill out a government entry form online. The entry form required me to attest that I was fully vaccinated and that I had proof with me. But nobody asked. I took the train and it was seamless. Once the train crossed into Slovakia, an attendant came by to check my ticket and remind me that face masks were required on public transit in Slovakia; they were not required in Hungary.

A couple days later, I left Hungary again and this time I went to Vienna, Austria, also by train. I was allowed to enter Austria without a PCR test because I was fully vaccinated and I had not been to a “red list” country. I didn’t need to fill out an entry form or anything. Nobody checked my vaccination status or any type of documentation on the train ride. However, there was one catch. To ride public transit in Austria—or really to do anything in Austria—I needed a surgical face mask called an FFP2 mask.

I didn’t have an FFP2 mask and I couldn’t find one in the stores in Budapest. They were not strict mask-wearers in Hungary. But I was taking a train from Budapest to Austria: as soon as the train crossed into Austria, I’d need an FFP2 mask. A Plain English listener, bless her, Maja from Slovakia, took pity on me and gave me an FFP2 mask so that I would be compliant with the rules.

On the train, they weren’t strict about enforcing FFP2; they probably understood that not every traveler would have one. But once in Austria, your mask needed to be FFP2 or they wouldn’t let you in museums, restaurants, or shops. If you like wearing artistic masks with bright colors and patterns, then you’re out of luck, at least in Austria.

Five days in beautiful Vienna, home of emperors, former seat of the Holy Roman Empire. I had a great time, but I did, unfortunately, have to come home. That means I had to get a PCR test again. My flight was on Monday afternoon. A test had to be done within three days, so that meant the earliest it could be done was Friday.

I didn’t want to do it on Friday because, let’s say my flight is canceled or delayed or something and let’s say I don’t leave, for whatever reason, until Tuesday. I didn’t want to cut it too close. So I scheduled an appointment on Saturday at a place that promised results within 24 hours. That seemed to be the safest option.

It was not the safest option. The receptionist told me that the results wouldn’t be available until Monday afternoon. Apparently , the 24-hour turnaround time is only valid during the week, not on weekends. I started to get a little worried because all the places that promised 24-hour turnaround used labs that were only open Monday through Friday; it was already Saturday.

I eventually found a hospital with its own lab, so I went to that private hospital and got the test done on Saturday afternoon. My results were available on Sunday morning. So then I had to do everything in reverse. I had to fill out the UK entry form. I got that and the PCR test printed. You can use electronic copies, but I wanted to be safe and have printed copies.

My PCR test was in English, but it misspelled the word “negative,” the only important word on the page! They left off the last “e.” I briefly considered trying to get another negative PCR test, but there wasn’t enough time. I decided to risk traveling with a “negativ” test, without the last “e.”

Guess what: on the way back, nobody asked to see my PCR test, not in Vienna, not in London. In London, I had to sign a form stating that I had my test, but nobody verified it. Go figure.

A lot of work

So what’s the lesson, here? First, it is a lot of work. It takes some time to get these tests done. But I’m a planner—I plan stuff pretty well and I don’t mind a little bit of complication. But even after all my planning, I was surprised by the FFP2 mask requirement in Austria and I was surprised by the delay in testing in Vienna. Everything worked out in the end, but I did have to trek around Vienna for most of an afternoon looking for a rapid PCR test. As I said on Monday, that’s fine for a single person or a couple. I wouldn’t want to do it with kids in tow.

But it was worth it. I had a fantastic time. I loved being back in Europe. It was my first weeklong trip in Europe since 2012, so I was overdue. I met Plain English listeners in all three countries I visited.

My biggest worry was that I would get COVID in Europe and that I’d have to quarantine there for a week before coming home. That would not have been fun. But it also wouldn’t have been the end of the world. I had my computer, plenty of books, and I had a backup plan for recording these lessons!

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Expression: In order