Greece is extremely anxious to welcome tourists for their modified summer holiday time. But, they also want to keep low Covid-19 numbers since they have been able to keep the total number of cases in the country to just over 3,000. Here is what it is like to travel to Greece during the Covid-19 situation.
What Is It Like to Travel to Greece During Covid-19
Update July 1 – Testing will now be done in a targeted manner based on the information about each traveler. It is not mandatory for everyone anymore.
I have many, many posts about Greece during the Covid-19 pandemic that you can see here. As someone who was here during the whole situation, all of my information is first-hand. Last week, I finally needed to make a trip to the US that I had canceled on me 11 times in all. So, I will have a couple of posts this week about what to expect traveling from Europe to the US and then from the US to Europe.
Note: Since the EU countries have closed the external Schengen borders until July 1, there are only certain people who are allowed entry into most of those countries. Refer to this page for more information on whether you will be allowed in or not.
Leaving from the US
I departed out of a regional airport in New York state. This meant that if I was traveling to Athens, I would have to receive a Covid-19 test (since departing from certain countries/states on the EASA high risk list requires a test). If I had traveled from a different state that was not on the see that list here and was flying to Athens, I would only be subject to random testing.
But, I was flying to the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki. Thessaloniki started receiving international flights as of June 15. Every passenger on an international flight into Thessaloniki faces required testing on arrival into Thessaloniki.
Even though I checked into the ROC airport, I had to check-in again with SWISS in Chicago with my documents. Upon presenting my US passport, I was asked for any EU ID. I have a resident permit for Greece so gave them that and they scanned that for my check-in (since US passport holders are not allowed to enter most EU countries without certain documents).
When I arrived at the gate, we were told it was mandatory to wear masks but this was just a Chicago rule. Upon boarding, it was told that it was “recommended” but not required. Still, most people on the full plane wore masks during the flight.
Arriving in Europe
Before landing, we had to fill out a health declaration. It asked about any Covid-19 symptoms we may have had recently as well as where we departed from, what countries we had been in, what seat I was in, and what our final destination in Europe was. These forms were collected and given to officials upon landing.
Going through passport control was incredibly easy since there were almost no passengers around at all. I was quickly processed in (again, having a resident permit allowed for an easy entry) and then had a long layover (another post!).
At no point in the Zurich airport was I stopped to have my temperature taken or asked any health questions, other than the form on the plane. When we boarded the plane to Thessaloniki (also full – it was the first flight from Switzerland to Thessaloniki in months), it was nothing out of the ordinary.
Arriving in Greece
Before landing, we were given forms like the one below. This was to be filled out within 5 minutes and then passed back to the flight attendants.
There are two sides to the form – one for people that had an origination airport in the low risk EASA locations and one for high risk. This only really matters in Athens and after July 1 when tests will be done randomly, except for some arrivals.
Again, once this form is given in, we don’t see those again as they are given directly to officials on landing. But, when we disembarked the plane, we were met by more officials who gave us a paper we had to fill out again. We were directed to school desks where we filled out the information on these forms.
The information these forms required was about where we were staying in Greece and contact information. Once this was completed, we went through a line to a medical area with about 4 or 5 privacy booths. Each booth had a nurse that did the Covid-19 test. The Covid-19 tests used in Greece are not the uncomfortable ones we read about in the US – instead, it is similar to a strep throat test where they use a long swab and swab the back of your throat. It will make you gag but that it is, it wasn’t painful or very uncomfortable at all.
After the Covid-19 Test
The nurse said that I needed to remain at my destination for 24 hours. They would receive the results of this test inside of that time and if it was positive, I would receive a phone call. If it was negative, I would not be called. I imagine that I would have also received a phone call if anyone on the flight tested positive.
You do need to state where your destination is and you must remain there for 24 hours. It has to be located in Thessaloniki (or Athens, if arriving there). If you have a hotel not in the city (like if you are headed to Halkidiki), you can either stay in a hotel of your choice (and pay yourself), or the Greek government will put you up in a hotel.
I did not receive a phone call within the 24 hours following so I was all clear and did not have the virus! There was not even a phone call to check and see if I was staying in my destination.
Post July 1, testing will be random at all Greek airports for international passengers. But, there may be other restrictions in place for certain passengers, depending on where their origination was.
Tips for Arriving in Greece During Covid-19
Our SWISS Airbus A321 was almost completely full with 212 passengers. Every single passenger had to be tested. I was one of the first off the plane and the whole process took no more than 5 minutes for me but that was because I was the second to be tested. If you are one of the last off, it could take quite a while to complete the testing process!
Make sure you secure a seat near the front of the plane! Even if it costs a bit to select such a seat, it will be worth it! Also note that most flights into Thessaloniki disembark from the rear as well so that is another option, especially since those are almost always free.
Do not stop for any bathroom break or anything else when you get off – just move quickly so you do not get stuck behind everyone! Also, while they have pens available, have a pen ready to fill out the form and have your passport and trip information at the ready. There were about a dozen desks to fill out the papers but I saw about 20 people filling them out on walls and such to get done quickly. If you are ready to go and fill it out, you can be done quicker.
From what I have observed, Greece is doing a very efficient job at trying to keep the number of Covid-19 cases low, especially from incoming tourists. I am not sure what would happen if someone on your plane tests positive but that could throw a wrench in the whole plan for your vacation.
Originally, passengers that tested negative were required to self-quarantine for 7 days but that has now been dropped. If you are negative, you are free to move about after the 24 hours following your test.
We will see what changes after July 1. I may have to take an inter-European flight after that so I will have an opportunity to see what is in place following that.
Vacationing in Greece is a great thing to do but if you are due to travel to Greece in the next couple of weeks, be prepared for some extra steps in your trip to ensure that Greece stays healthy.