What Portugal is like now: The 10 most frequently asked questions about my visit

Jul 19, 2021

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The fluid nature of travel restrictions has completely changed how I plan and book trips.

When Portugal announced its reopening to tourists on June 25, I jumped on the opportunity to visit as a fully vaccinated American. However, COVID-19 has (again) drastically changed from my booking date to my arrival date — less than three weeks later.

On July 15, I arrived in the country to a variety of new protocols to stem the spread of the Delta variant. That included a nightly curfew in popular tourist areas, implementation of an EU vaccine passport, procedures for checking into accommodations (including hotels and Airbnbs) and indoor dining restrictions on weekends.

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Now that it has been several days in Portugal, I’ve experienced these ever-changing rules in practice. (Be on the lookout in the coming weeks about my full road trip itinerary, including hotel reviews).

I’ve received hundreds of questions over email, Twitter and Instagram about what it’s like to visit right now. Here’s a quick run-down of some of the most popular questions, including answers based on current regulations (as of July 19).

For the most up-to-date COVID-19 protocols, I recommend checking with your accommodations directly, the Visit Portugal website, and the U.S. Embassy website.

 

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 Related: Why I packed 8 COVID-19 tests to fly to Portugal — and what it’s like to enter now

In This Post

What are the COVID-19 rules for entering Portugal?

(Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

All travelers headed to Portugal must provide proof of a negative nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT), such as a PCR test, taken within 72 hours before boarding. Rapid tests are also accepted but must be performed within 48 hours of boarding.

As of July 12, Portuguese authorities will now also accept the EU Digital COVID Certificate, giving EU residents a uniform way to provide proof of full vaccination against COVID-19, negative PCR or antigen tests or recovery from COVID-19.

However, it’s not currently accessible to U.S. travelers in Europe, nor has a digital equivalent has been introduced yet in the U.S. That means, even if you’re fully vaccinated, you must still show a negative COVID-19 test to enter Portugal.

In practice, my negative rapid test result was verified at check-in but not checked again upon arrival.

Related: Reopening Europe: When can you visit again? A country-by-country guide.

Can I get an EU Digital COVID certificate as a non-EU resident?

Under official guidelines, it is currently not possible for non-EU residents to get the EU Digital COVID Certificate.

If you are a fully vaccinated resident in Portugal, most pharmacies in Portugal can give you a personalized QR code upon verifying your status. From there, you download an app and scan the code to receive your certificate.

Related: Everything you need to know about Europe’s vaccine passports

What is the procedure for checking into a hotel or Airbnb?

(Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

Across all of Portugal, accommodations — including hotels and Airbnbs — must check for valid COVID-19 criteria before you can check-in.

What you’ll need

  • Within 72 hours of check-in time: Negative PCR test
  • Within 48 hours of check-in time: Negative rapid antigen test with lab report
  • Within 24 hours of check-in time: Negative rapid antigen test (must be in the presence of a health or pharmaceutical professional who certifies result)
  • At check-in
    • Negative rapid antigen self-test carried out at the door of the establishment (must be under the supervision of a person on-premises)
    • Showing your EU Digital COVID Certificate

The unofficial policy

Unofficially, many accommodations are accepting the U.S. CDC vaccination card or other digital vaccine passports.

I’ve stayed at three hotels thus far in Portugal and have managed to check in based on my initial negative COVID-19 test taken in the U.S. or my paper CDC vaccine card.

However, as of July 19, this is not the official policy. If you’re fully vaccinated and do not have the EU Digital Health Certificate, I highly recommend reaching out to your accommodation to see if another form of verification is accepted.

What about children under 12?

Children under 12 years old, when accompanied by an adult, are exempt from all testing and travel requirements.

Where can I get a COVID-19 test? Do hotels provide them?

Pharmacy in Lisbon offering testing. (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

First, COVID-19 testing is plentiful and fairly easy to access in Portugal. However, tests are not always available at a hotel (especially since this regulation began recently, in mid-July).

I have checked into three hotels thus far, and only two of the three properties offered rapid tests at check-in. Even then, your hotel might have a limited supply and/or could charge for it.

(Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

Related: Travelers can now buy CDC-approved at-home COVID-19 tests for just $50

Another option is to bring your own test kits from the U.S., which should be accepted throughout the country. I purchased several kits at a CVS in the U.S. and brought them along — just to be safe.

Any pharmacy in Portugal will also sell you an at-home rapid test kit. Alternatively, you can do a test at the pharmacy. Many locations offer a PCR or rapid test, but you may need to book an appointment. Here’s information about COVID-19 testing in Portugal.

You can also call the mainland Portugal hotline: (+ 351) 808 24 24 24 (Press 9 for English).

Important note: Most rapid self-test kits with a negative result  — such as the ones pictured above — are not valid for re-entering the U.S. Here are the only CDC-approved at-home rapid kits that the U.S. accepts for reentry.

What happens if you test positive while in Portugal?

(Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

If you test positive at hotel check-in, you’ll be forced to quarantine for 10 days in an isolated part of the property.

You do not have to quarantine in a government-mandated facility. However, you may have to foot the entire bill for the period of quarantine, as it is up to your hotel or other accommodation.

Related: What happens if you test positive for COVID-19 and can’t fly back to the US?

Can I dine or drink indoors in Portugal?

Portugal’s famed custard tart, pastel de nata. (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

Yes. Indoor and outdoor dining are available.

However, for several dozen municipalities deemed “high-risk” or “very high-risk” by Portuguese authorities — including the tourist zones of Lisbon, Porto and the Algarve — indoor restaurants and bars are restricted during the following periods.

  • Fridays after 7 pm
  • Saturdays and Sundays all-day
  • Public holidays

If you want to eat or drink indoors during these times, the official rules are the same as checking in to a hotel or Airbnb. As a reminder:

  • Within 72 hours of entering: Negative PCR test
  • Within 48 hours of entering: Negative rapid antigen test with lab report
  • Within 24 hours of entering: Negative rapid antigen test (must be in the presence of a health or pharmaceutical professional who certifies result)
  • At the door:
    • Negative rapid antigen self-test carried out at the door of the establishment (must be under the supervision of a person on-premises)
    • Showing your EU Digital COVID Certificate

Again, unofficially, some restaurants will also accept a CDC vaccine card. At two restaurants, I was able to show my paper CDC vaccine card to dine indoors.

What is open in Portugal?

(Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

In those districts that are “very high-risk” or “high-risk,” there is a nightly curfew between 11 pm and 6 am the next day. As mentioned above, that includes popular tourist areas such as Lisbon, Porto and the Algarve.

Restaurants close at 10:30 pm and kitchens for ordering close around 10 pm. In addition, shows and entertainment are not allowed after 10.30 pm.

Grocery stores and retail shops are open until 9 pm during the week. Grocery stores shut at 7 pm while retail shops can only stay open until 3.30 p.m. on weekends and public holidays.

Do I have to wear a mask in Portugal?

Yes. Masks are mandatory in Portugal, including on public transit. In practice, I observed many mask-less pedestrians while outdoors in Lisbon, so it doesn’t appear to be strictly enforced outdoors. However, masks indoors are almost universally worn.

Related: Traveling to Portugal: 7 things to know before you go

Is it worth coming to Portugal now?

(Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

The curfew isn’t ideal. Testing can be a hassle. And, of course, there is the risk of contracting COVID-19.

But as a seasoned traveler, I have no regrets about being here thus far.

The rules at hotel check-in and at restaurants on weekends have not been an issue. In fact, I haven’t needed to even open my rapid at-home test kits yet and have gotten by with my initial negative test in the U.S. and CDC vaccine card so far.

While you certainly will not have the same experience as before the pandemic, there are also upsides to all of the restrictions that are in place.

I’ve rarely encountered other Americans. Tourist attractions — at least in Lisbon — feel decidedly emptier than the last time I was in the city several years ago. Most of all, it just feels good to be traveling internationally again.

Of course, as with all of these things, traveling is a very personal decision.

Related: 13 of the most beautiful villages in Portugal

Bottom line

Portugal is as beautiful as it has ever been. It’s now even more unspoiled with fewer tourists.

However, if you want to travel here in the near future, you have to be willing to navigate an ever-changing labyrinth of rules and restrictions. That’s not particularly unique to Portugal — it’s the case for traveling almost anywhere internationally right now.

Be as flexible as you can with your plans, and realize that the unexpected may occur. If that’s alright with you, Portugal is currently open. Just bring a healthy appetite, a good camera and extra space in your suitcase to bring home wine.

For my detailed experience entering Portugal, read my story here

Featured photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy. 

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