Postcards from Italy

Travel to Italy and Switzerland Winter 2021/2022: COVID-19 and What To Expect

Winter travelers are experiencing a bit of déjà vu these days, as the Omicron variant has washed over the news cycle and countries across the globe begin to tighten up travel rules after a summer and fall of relative ease. That doesn’t mean you should cancel your travel plans for the holidays, however – it simply means that you’ll need to be a bit more vigilant about keeping on top of the changing rules.

In Switzerland, about 70% of the population is fully vaccinated and the country has recently begun requiring public masking and put in place a number of measures to contain the seasonal bump in Covid-19 cases.

More than 80% of Italians are fully vaccinated at this point and the booster campaign is well underway, so the country has reached its immunity targets. Like most countries, Italy is seeing a rise in cases now that winter is underway, but continued masking mandates and a robust social distancing campaign have kept the worst numbers at bay.

Italy and Switzerland continue to welcome fully vaccinated visitors from the US, Canada, and the EU without the need to quarantine, whereas visitors arriving from other at-risk countries are either temporarily barred from leisure travel or must quarantine upon arrival. Most tourists in Italy and Switzerland right now are either domestic tourists or hail from North America and Europe, so cities and ski resorts are much less crowded than they would be during a normal winter season. Because of this, you’ll find hotels and restaurants particularly welcoming, the top sights are rarely crowded, and Italians and Swiss are generally very respectful of social distancing and other rules so visitors can feel comfortable.

If you’re pondering a winter trip to Italy or Switzerland but don’t know what to expect, here are answers to some of the most common questions. We’ll update this post regularly as the day-to-day situation evolves; many of these rules are slated to be revisited on January 15th. 

SWITZERLAND’S CURRENT COVID RULES AND RESTRICTIONS

Last update: December 9th

As of December 4, Switzerland has put into place a stricter testing regime for arrivals into Switzerland.

Travel into Switzerland is only open for fully vaccinated US and Canadian visitors; you cannot enter the country with a certificate of recovery or a negative COVID-19 test alone.  

To enter the country, you must also show the following:

  • A negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure for Switzerland
  • The online form of the Federal Office of Public Health FOPH, completed no earlier than 48 hours before departure.
  • The “SwissPLF” entry form.

In addition, travelers to Switzerland must:

  • Show a second negative test (PCR test or rapid antigen) carried out between the fourth and seventh day after entry. 

We arrange for testing for our travelers, of course, but you can also find a list of official COVID testing sites in Switzerland here.

SWITZERLAND’S COVID CERTIFICATE

Switzerland uses a digital Covid Certificate system to access: 

  • Open-air events with more than 300 people
  • Indoor events like concerts, theatres, cinemas, and sporting events
  • Nightclubs and discos 
  • Indoor areas of bars and restaurants (including in hotels)
  • Cultural, sporting, and recreational facilities: museums, libraries, zoos, gyms, indoor pools, water parks, casinos.
  • Private events in public venues, like weddings

A CDC vaccination card is sufficient to enter Switzerland, but you will need to convert it into a Swiss COVID certificate to access venues and events once you arrive. You can apply online to have your CDC card (or other vaccine certification) converted to a Swiss Covid Certificate before your departure via the COVID certificate application platform. There is a processing fee of CHF 30.

Otherwise, each canton has its own list of places that issue a COVID certificate in person so you will need to check the list with the cantonal authority responsible for the place where you will spend the majority of your stay in Switzerland and apply for a certificate there.

Generally, you can get your Swiss digital COVID certificate at:

  • Medical clinics
  • Vaccination centers
  • Test centers
  • Hospitals
  • Laboratories
  • Pharmacies
  • Cantonal authorities

Masking is required in Switzerland to access public transportation (including panoramic rail lines and enclosed ski gondolas and other Alpine transport).

HOTELS

Hotels have reopened with extra protocols for safety and hygiene, including the use of masks and hand sanitizer by staff and guests. You do not need a Covid Certificate to stay in hotels but it is required to use their in-house services like restaurants and gyms. 

RESTAURANTS AND CAFÉS

Restaurants have reopened for delivery, carry out, or table service outdoors. Indoor service has resumed with table occupancy and distance limitations for Covid Certificate holders. Many have opted for a digital or QR code menu to avoid passing printed menus between customers.

MUSEUMS AND CULTURAL SITES

Museums and archaeological sites have reopened with reduced capacity, but visitors must show a Covid Certificate to enter. You are required to wear a mask inside and have your temperature taken at the entrance.

SHOPPING

All shops are open for business, though smaller stores may limit the number of customers admitted inside to comply with social distancing protocols. You must wear a mask and use hand sanitizer when shopping indoors.

CAR SERVICES

Passengers must wear masks while inside the vehicle. Car services sanitize their vehicles inside and out between clients and provide fresh masks and hand sanitizer.

GUIDED TOURS

Private outdoor walking tours, hikes, and boat tours can resume with the proper social distancing and safety protocols and no Covid Certificate is required unless the tour includes a museum or cultural site visit. Shared group tours can resume with a limited number of participants.

COVID-19 AND SWITZERLAND TRAVEL: FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

DO I HAVE TO WEAR A MASK IN SWITZERLAND

Yes, absolutely! Masks are still mandatory in public indoor spaces (museums, shops, restaurants, public transportation like trains and buses, etc.). Masks are currently required outdoors only in crowded situations when social distancing is not possible.

WHAT ARE THE COVID AND HOSPITAL OCCUPANCY RATES IN SWITZERLAND? 

Switzerland has managed to keep its Covid-19 cases and hospital occupancy rates in check. To see updated stats, you can check the WHO website.

HOW IS THE VACCINE CAMPAIGN PROCEEDING IN SWITZERLAND?

Most of the country is now fully vaccinated and the booster campaign is in full swing.

WHAT COULD CHANGE SOON?

The country is keeping a close eye on the rise of the Omicron variant and some tightening of restrictions may be necessary. These could include the following (but keep in mind that this is only conjecture and no official announcements have been made):

  • More activities requiring a Covid Certificate
  • A return to outdoor mask requirements 

WHAT ARE THE RULES FOR TRAVELING TO SWITZERLAND?

travelers can visit Switzerland for tourism if they meet all three of the following conditions:

  • Certificate of vaccination (CDC-issued vaccination card or EU Green Certificate). To be considered “fully vaccinated”, you must have had your second vaccine dose of Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca at least 14 days before departure OR or one dose of J&J 22 days before departure.
  • A negative PCR COVID-19 test result from a test taken within 72 hours of arrival in Italy, or 48 hours if arriving via the UK.
  • The online form of the Federal Office of Public Health FOPH, completed no earlier than 48 hours before departure.
  • The “SwissPLF” entry form.

For updated information regarding travel between Italy and the US, see the official Swiss government site here.

IS A PRE-FLIGHT TEST REQUIRED?

Yes. 

WHAT ARE THE RULES FOR RETURNING TO THE USA?

At present, all air passengers 2 years or older returning to the US are required show a negative COVID-19 viral test result taken no more than 24 hours before travel or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 in the past 90 days before they board their flight. The CDC website has more information on the requirement for proof of negative COVID-19 test or recovery from COVID-19 for all air passengers arriving in the United States.

We arrange for pre-departure Covid tests for our clients and many hotels offer an in-house testing service for departing guests. In addition, there are public and private clinics, as well as many pharmacies, that can perform PCR or antigen Covid tests with almost immediate results. U.S. State Department COVID-19 Traveler Information

DOES THE STATE DEPARTMENT LEVEL 4 TRAVEL ADVISORY PROHIBIT ME FROM VISITING SWITZERLAND?

No. US citizens can visit Switzerland for tourism without having to quarantine (see above). State Department Advisories are just that: advice. The CDC encourages Americans to be fully vaccinated before traveling to Switzerland (and vaccination is a requirement for entry).

WHAT IF I GET SICK IN SWITZERLAND?

Tourists from non-EU must have adequate health insurance covering the costs of essential medical treatment in Switzerland. If you suspect you may have Covid, you must call the Coronavirus hotline at 058 464 44 88. Do not go to the emergency room, as you may spread the virus to others.

FURTHER INFORMATION:

Covid-19 Information for Travelers

Covid-19 Situation in Switzerland

ITALY’S CURRENT COVID RULES AND RESTRICTIONS

Last update: December 9th

ITALY’S GREEN PASS

Italy uses a Green Pass system, a digital or paper Covid-19 certificate that includes a QR code, that certifies that the holder has received one of the following:

  • at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at least 15 days prior (even for vaccines that require two doses like Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca)
  • a negative Covid-19 test from the previous 24 hours for a rapid test and the previous 48 hours for a PCR test
  • a certification of recovery from COVID-19 in the previous six months

From December 6th to January 15th, the Green Pass is divided into two categories:

Super Green Pass – issued to those who are fully vaccinated OR who have recovered from COVID-19 in the previous six months.

Basic Green Pass – issued to those who are not fully vaccinated but have a negative Covid-19 test from the previous 48 hours (antigen test) or 72 hours (PCR test).

A Super Green Pass (or equivalent; see below) is required in Italy for anyone aged 12 and up for the following:

  • indoor dining and imbibing in restaurants and bars (no Green Pass needed for outdoor seating or consuming drinks at the bar counter)
  • entrance to museums (including open-air cultural sites like Pompeii)
  • indoor and outdoor concerts, theater performances, and cinemas
  • sports stadiums
  • theme parks
  • swimming pools, gyms, and spas
  • sagre (open-air local fairs) 
  • large public and private events, including weddings

A Basic Green Pass (or equivalent; see below) is required in Italy for anyone aged 12 and up for the following:

  • hotels, B&Bs, and other public accommodations like farm stays
  • public transportation including local buses, metros, and trains
  • domestic flights, ferries, and high-speed trains
  • hospitals and other medical facilities

For visitors traveling from the US, the CDC vaccination certificate shown alongside a photo ID like a passport is accepted in lieu of a Super Green Pass. The CDC certificate must refer to one of the four vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA): Pfizer-BioNtech’s Comirnaty, Moderna, Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca), Janssen (Johnson & Johnson).  

Though the CDC vaccination card is recognized as a Super Green Pass equivalent by law, there can be some hiccups as restaurant owners and other businesses grapple with this new system. We will always check with the restaurant or other venue to make sure your Covid-19 document will be accepted before reserving.

COLOR-CODED REGIONS

Italy adopted a color-coded regional system to indicate the level of Covid risk and the related restrictions early on, and this system is still active. All the regions of Italy are currently classified as “white” zones, or minimal-risk Covid regions except Bolzano and Friuli Venezia-Giulia, which are both classified as “yellow” (low risk). There are currently no “orange” (medium risk) or “red” (high risk) areas. The colors are assigned based on a variety of parameters, including the number of active Covid-19 cases in the region, death rate, and hospital capacity. 

There is complete freedom of movement and no curfew in white zones and yellow zones, though yellow zones do require outdoor masking as do some cities in white zones. Tourists who have met the entry criteria can move freely once inside Italy. Masking is still required in indoor public spaces and public transportation. Social distancing is still required in all regions.

  • There is no curfew.
  • Restaurants and cafés are open for delivery, take-away, or table service outdoors. Indoor service has begun with table occupancy and distance limitations.
  • Cinemas, theaters, stadiums, and concert halls are open with reduced capacity; advance reservations are required.
  • Outdoor cinemas and performance spaces are open.
  • Outdoor sports are allowed; indoor gyms and fitness areas are open.
  • Outdoor pools and beach clubs are open.
  • Spas, thermal baths, and amusement parks are open.
  • Indoor dance clubs and discos remain closed.

HOTELS

Hotels have reopened with extra protocols for safety and hygiene, including the use of masks and hand sanitizer by staff and guests. The basic Green Pass (or equivalent) is required to stay in hotels and use their in-house services like restaurants and gyms. Many hotels do not currently offer buffet breakfast but have opted for table service as a precaution.

RESTAURANTS AND CAFÉS

Restaurants have reopened for delivery, carry out, or table service outdoors. Indoor service has resumed with table occupancy and distance limitations for Super Green Pass holders. Many have opted for a digital or QR code menu to avoid passing printed menus between customers.

MUSEUMS AND CULTURAL SITES

Museums and archaeological sites have reopened with reduced capacity, but visitors must show a Super Green Pass to enter. You are required to wear a mask inside and have your temperature taken at the entrance.

SHOPPING

All shops are open for business, though smaller stores may limit the number of customers admitted inside to comply with social distancing protocols. You must wear a mask and use hand sanitizer when shopping indoors.

CAR SERVICES

Only four passengers are allowed per vehicle if they are not members of the same family; there is no limit for family members. Passengers are not allowed to sit in the front passenger seat next to the driver and must wear masks while inside the vehicle. Car services sanitize their vehicles inside and out between clients and provide fresh masks and hand sanitizer.

GUIDED TOURS

Private outdoor walking tours, hikes, and boat tours can resume with the proper social distancing and safety protocols and no Super Green Pass requirement unless the tour includes a museum or cultural site visit. Shared group tours can resume with a limited number of participants.

COVID-19 AND ITALY TRAVEL: FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

DO I HAVE TO WEAR A MASK IN ITALY?

Yes, absolutely! Masks are still mandatory in public indoor spaces (museums, shops, restaurants, public transportation like trains and buses, etc.). Masks are currently required outdoors only in crowded situations when social distancing is not possible in white zones, whereas outdoor masking has returned to the two current yellow zones. Mask compliance is very high in Italy and you will be fined if you are caught without one.

WHAT ARE THE COVID AND HOSPITAL OCCUPANCY RATES IN ITALY? 

Most of Italy is now classified as a “white” zone, where active Covid-19 cases and hospital occupancy rates are quite low. To see updated stats, you can check the WHO website.

HOW IS THE VACCINE CAMPAIGN PROCEEDING IN ITALY?

Most of the country is now fully vaccinated and the booster campaign is in full swing.

WHAT COULD CHANGE SOON?

The country is keeping a close eye on the rise of the Omicron variant and some tightening of restrictions may be necessary. These could include the following (but keep in mind that this is only conjecture and no official announcements have been made):

  • More regions turning “yellow”.
  • A return to outdoor mask requirements in more crowded cities.

WHAT ARE THE RULES FOR TRAVELING TO ITALY?

US and Canadian citizens can visit Italy for tourism if they meet all three of the following conditions:

  • Certificate of vaccination (CDC-issued vaccination card or EU Green Certificate). To be considered “fully vaccinated”, you must have had your second vaccine dose of Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca or one dose of J&J at least 14 days before departure OR a Certificate of Recovery from COVID dated no more than 180 days before arrival to Italy.
  • A negative antigen or PCR COVID-19 test result from a test taken within 24 hours of arrival in Italy for the rapid test or 48 hours for the PCR test.
  • A Digital Passenger Locator Form, filled out before departure.

For updated information regarding travel between Italy and the US, see the official Italian government site here.

IS A PRE-FLIGHT TEST REQUIRED?

Yes. 

WHAT ARE THE RULES FOR RETURNING TO THE USA?

At present, all air passengers 2 years or older returning to the US are required show a negative COVID-19 viral test result taken no more than 24 hours before travel, or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 in the past 90 days before they board their flight. The CDC website has more information on the requirement for proof of negative COVID-19 test or recovery from COVID-19 for all air passengers arriving in the United States.

We arrange for pre-departure Covid tests for our clients and many hotels offer an in-house testing service for departing guests. In addition, there are public and private clinics, as well as many pharmacies, that can perform PCR or antigen Covid tests with almost immediate results. U.S. State Department COVID-19 Traveler Information.

DOES THE STATE DEPARTMENT LEVEL 4 TRAVEL ADVISORY PROHIBIT ME FROM VISITING ITALY?

No. US citizens can visit Switzerland for tourism without having to quarantine (see above). State Department Advisories are just that: advice. The CDC encourages Americans to be fully vaccinated before traveling to Italy.

WHAT IF I GET SICK IN ITALY?

Italy has a national health care system and medical care is guaranteed to anyone who is ill or injured, regardless of their residency or insurance situation. If you suspect you may have Covid, you must call the Coronavirus hotline at 1500. Do not go to the emergency room, as you may spread the virus to others.

FURTHER INFORMATION:

Covid-19 Information for Travelers

Covid-19 Situation in Italy

Travel Specialists

Maria Landers

Brian Dore