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Can I layover in LHR? What you need to know transiting from the US or UK to Europe

June 30, 2021
9 min read
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As more European nations reopen for U.S. travelers, there's been some confusion among travelers regarding entry requirements for transiting passengers.

They are actually based on the current rules and regulations of your origin airport and country, not necessarily on the transit country. As TPG previously reported, transiting through airports in order to get to a final destination has become far more complicated during the pandemic. There are sometimes additional measures to take when traveling to a final destination via a stop in a third country.

Related: Everything you need to know about transiting through European airports during the pandemic

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London Heathrow Airport (LHR) remains a popular transfer point for travelers coming from the United States, hoping to jump on connecting flights to go farther into Europe. Per Heathrow's website, all international arrivals must provide a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days before departing for England, including transiting passengers that have a same-day connecting flight. As my colleague Emily McNutt wrote earlier this month, this allows you to stay airside and bypass immigration without having to quarantine. However, you may still need to quarantine when you arrive in the third country. This is especially true if you are transiting London since the new delta variant of COVID-19 is spreading so rapidly in the U.K.

If you have onward travel booked on separate tickets or a second flight on another day, see additional steps here.

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When it comes to transiting flights, entry requirements have little to do with your through point and are currently dictated by your final destination, which industry experts expect to remain the case.

"I suspect there won’t be a uniform rule. Destination countries are free to set their own requirements for international arrivals and we’re seeing many put in place more stringent requirements for those traveling from the U.K. in light of the Delta variant," said a U.K. aviation expert I spoke to via email. "Just today, for example, Malta has required that all arrivals from the U.K. present a paper letter showing they’ve been double-vaccinated rather than using the NHSX app as proof – it’s a constantly evolving situation with destination countries changing their requirements at very short notice."

Today, we’re looking at five European countries TPG readers asked us about and are outlining what you need to do in order to reach each, based on whether you are coming from the U.S. directly or connecting via the U.K.

Malta

The U.S. remains on Malta's "amber list" of countries, which means that passengers originating in the U.S. are required to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to arrival in Malta, as TPG writer Ashley Koscioleki mentioned here. If you choose not to provide a negative PCR test, a swab test or a 14-day quarantine period will be mandatory on arrival. Currently, Malta only accepts passengers from 38 states, which are listed here.

Related: Traveling soon? Here’s where you can quickly get a COVID-19 PCR test for travel

Per the Maltese government, all arrivals from the U.K. will be required to demonstrate proof of full vaccination. For U.K. nationals, this means a paper version of the NHS COVID-19 letter, which can be found here.

If accompanied by vaccinated adults, children ages 5-11 must provide a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival and those ages 12-18 must be vaccinated to enter Malta.

Read more about traveling to Malta here: Travelers from 38 US states are allowed to visit Malta starting June 17

Italy

For passengers coming from the U.S., the Italian government says you are to notify the local health authority, complete a Digital Passenger Locator Form and present a COVID-19 "Green Pass" issued by local health authorities to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.

The U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Italy says U.S. citizens can qualify for a “Green Pass,” a document from Italy and the EU to allow travelers from the U.S. to enter and bypass otherwise mandatory quarantine or testing requirements. Americans are eligible by fulfilling one of the following requirements:

  1. Providing a COVID-19 vaccination certificate showing proof of a European Medicines Agency-authorized vaccine, specifically Pfizer-BioNtech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca. The date of the final vaccine dose must be at least 14 days prior to travel. Travelers vaccinated in the U.S. can prove this via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's “white card” given at vaccination.
  2. Providing a medical certificate confirming recovery from COVID-19 dated within six months before departure.
  3. Providing a negative molecular PCR or rapid antigen test result carried out within 48 hours of departure.

If you are unable to obtain a “Green Pass,” the U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Italy advises providing a negative molecular or rapid antigen test taken within the last 72 hours prior to entering and self-isolating at home/the hotel for 10 days, followed by a new molecular or antigen test. Children 6 years and older accompanied by a parent/caregiver with a “Green Pass” must always take the predeparture COVID-19 test; children under 6 years of age are, in any case, exempt from the predeparture COVID-19 test and from quarantine upon arrival. See the Italian Ministry of Health’s website for more details.

Even if you only transit through the U.K. or Northern Ireland on your way from the U.S. to Italy, Italy requires a five-day quarantine and testing.

For those who transited through the U.K. in the 14 days preceding their trip to Italy, you will be required to take a swab test within 48 hours prior to entry and then self-isolate for five days followed by a new swab test. Children under age 6 are exempt from the predeparture swab test. More details for U.K. arrivals can be found here.

Related: Italy is reopening: 11 things I learned as a tourist there this week

France

As we previously reported, Paris Aeroport, which includes Charles de Gaulle (CDG), Orly (ORY) and Le Bourget (LBG), are “open and welcome” to those connecting and are not requiring transiting passengers who are traveling to a third country to present a COVID-19 test certificate at the airport.

The French government offers some of the most straightforward entry requirements for international travelers based on vaccination status and origin country. For vaccinated travelers departing from the U.S. and other "green" countries, you are able to enter freely with proof of vaccination. Unvaccinated passengers must show negative results of a PCR or antigen test taken within 72 hours of boarding for France, excluding those connecting passengers whose final destination does not require a test. If your final destination does require a negative test result, Paris Aereoport offers PCR and antigenic testing capabilities at CDG and ORY.

For passengers coming from the U.K., vaccinated visitors must provide a negative PCR or antigen test, taken within 72 and 48 hours respectively, before coming to France. The same testing requirement applies to unvaccinated passengers, with the additional requirement of possessing a compelling reason for your visit. Additionally, unvaccinated travelers must self-isolate for seven days and take two additional antigen tests.

Related: France adds US to ‘green’ list: I’m in the country now — here’s what it’s like and what to expect

Spain

The Spanish government requires all passengers coming to Spain from outside the country to complete a Health Control Form at least 48 hours prior to departure to the country, including international transits. You may begin to fill out the form at any time prior to your trip, excluding sections that are limited to two days prior to your arrival. Both the form and associated QR code are necessary for entry, as TPG writer Mike Avila reported when Spain first reopened to Americans on June 7.

Since neither the U.S. nor U.K. is considered to be a risk area through at least July 1, no proof of vaccination or negative test result is required at this time. A list of countries by risk designation is found here. Minors are also able to enter so long as they are accompanied by fully vaccinated adults.

All other passengers coming from high-risk countries are still required to submit a negative active infection diagnostic test, or PCR test, carried out within 72 hours prior to arrival.

Read more: It’s official: Spain has reopened to fully vaccinated Americans from today

Greece

Entry requirements are the same for both U.S. and U.K. travelers and start with a Passenger Locator Form to be completed at least 24 hours before your arrival in Greece, which will generate a QR code via email. My U.K. colleague Ben Smithson detailed his on-the-ground experience in Greece recently here, including following the steps below.

The Greek government requires passengers over the age of 12 to provide one of the following:

  • Negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival.
  • Proof of a negative COVID-19 rapid antigen test taken within 48 hours of arrival.
  • Proof of a COVID-19 vaccination completed at least 14 days before travel, including Pfizer-BioNtech, Moderna, Astra Zeneca/Oxford and Johnson & Johnson.
  • A certificate of recovery from COVID-19 issued by a public authority or a certified laboratory.
  • Proof that the traveler tested positive with COVID-19 in the past two to nine months, either through a positive PCR molecular or an antigen test or a medical certificate verifying that the holder had tested positive for COVID-19.

Related: On the ground: What it’s like visiting Greece right now

Featured image by AFP via Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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