Travel Expert Simon Calder Answers Your International Travel Questions

First we take Manhattan (”Is mask-wearing compulsory on flights to New York City?”), then we take Berlin (”What are the current travel restrictions?”).

On the day that Heathrow airport removed its requirement for face coverings, the travel correspondent of The Independent took up his usual low-visibility position in a little-known corner of Terminal 2 in order to scrutinise discretely his fellow travellers and answer your pressing questions on exploring the world.

Manhattan transfer

Q: Now the face masks have been lifted on some flights, will BA require us to wear a mask as we are flying to New York in a couple of weeks. Or is it a case of putting them on when we land?

Ryan B

A: The requirement for face coverings is rapidly being removed from a range of settings. The UK’s busiest airport, Heathrow, has now scrapped its mask mandate – though it “strongly encourages” passengers to continue to wear one.

In addition, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic say they are making masks optional for passengers to destinations that do not stipulate face coverings on flights to or from their country.

But the US insists that masks are worn on flights to and from American airports, and the rule will remain in place at least until 18 April.

Q: We are booked to go to the US on 2 April. Do you see any change happening with the 24-hour testing window – either scrapping it or extending it to 72 hours?


A: Just a reminder about the current testing rules for the US: you must take a professionally administered lateral flow test on the day of departure or the previous day.

When America first opened up to the UK, on 8 November 2021, you were allowed to take the test on the day of departure or any of the previous three days. Soon afterwards, the window was reduced to two days, as a result of the spread of the Omicron variant.

Given the plodding opening of international tourism by the US, I would be surprised – but glad – if the pre-departure test rule were to be scrapped before your trip. I think it unlikely, though. And reverting to the four-day option? Probably not going happen, since the current timing is not unduly onerous.

Berlin bound

Q: Travelling to Berlin on 26 March. What are the current rules on entry for vaccinated travellers – and the restrictions in Berlin?

Are restrictions likely to be dropped by then?

Will E

A: I was lucky enough to visit Berlin twice last summer and autumn, and thoroughly enjoyed both trips. Covid-19 protocols were moderate, and the only real hassle was complying with UK restrictions before the flight back.

Admission to Germany is quick and easy if you fill out the pre-departure form, and for fully vaccinated British visitors there is no need to take a test or quarantine.

In terms of enjoying life in Germany and the rest of Berlin: the key is to have proof of your vaccinations readily available. Carry them on paper as well as on your smartphone. It will be scrutinised frequently, for example by hotels, bars and restaurants. I have even heard of police raids on restaurants to check that diners are properly documented.

Gradually, things are returning to the way they were – but I don’t anticipate any great changes in the next 10 days.

If you haven’t been to the German capital recently, my top tip is to pre-book a visit to the roof of the spectacular Humboldt Forum in the heart of the old East Berlin.

Canada confusion

Q: We’re booked to go on a fly-drive to Canada in June. The entry requirements for Canada stipulate a “quarantine plan”. Any idea what this means, exactly? Do we need to book a hotel at each of our stop-off points with the potential to extend the stay to 14 days if one of us catches coronavirus? Sounds complicated.

Derrick F

A: Relative to most of the Western world, Canada has some unusual Covid-19 rules for international visitors.

There is a fairly standard requirement for a “professionally administered or observed negative antigen test taken outside of Canada”. This must be taken on the day of departure or the previous day.

You must also download and fill in the ArriveCAN app – which includes a requirement for a “quarantine plan”.

The Canadian authorities insist: “You must submit a quarantine plan even if you are a fully vaccinated traveller. This is because your eligibility to be exempt from quarantine will be determined at the border.”

In other words: until you turn up at Canada’s border control, you will not know whether or not you will be instructed to quarantine.

Because this is a (tiny) possibility, the government says arrivals must confirm they have “a suitable place to quarantine”.

It must be somewhere in which you can stay for 14 days or possibly longer and “have access to the necessities of life, including water, food, medication and heat without leaving quarantine”.

I agree this is not exactly visitor friendly. But it should be sufficient to say that you would take up the Holiday Inn quarantine package that is available at the Toronto Airport East property – and, I imagine, at many other hotels nationwide.

Having said all that: given that you are not travelling for three months, I think there is every chance the rules will be eased and you will not need to arrive armed with a plan.

Spring break

Q: I would like to go on a solo holiday to the sun for a few weeks starting on 28 March. Ideally it would include some activities and fitness and some down time. I was looking at Sri Lanka and Thailand, but both seem to be pretty expensive flight-wise at the moment. Where would you recommend? Activities I like include scuba, free diving, open water swimming and hiking. I like direct flights and minimum hassle.

Diana London

A: I applaud your last-minute approach to your next trip, but I wonder if I can steer you away from Asia?

Thailand’s policies have been confusing, frequently changing and incoherent.

Sri Lanka is more straightforward for fully vaccinated travellers: they are allowed in without testing, though Covid-19 travel insurance is mandatory for all visitors (either the official scheme, costing US$12 for the month, or a travel insurance policy that specifically covers claims arising from coronavirus).

But in the southwest of the island, which is the most appealing part, April is the prelude to the monsoon season. In addition, as you say, fares are extremely high: upwards of £1,200 return for nonstop flights from Heathrow to Colombo, and around £1,000 even for one-stop flights. I am waiting for Wizz Air to start its no-frills flights from Abu Dhabi to Sri Lanka in June.

Meanwhile, can I suggest Egypt? There are no restrictions for fully vaccinated arrivals. On the Sinai peninsula you can expect great weather, with plenty of diving and snorkelling. Hiking is tricky, but you could always head along the coast to Eilat in Israel and tackle a stretch of the Trans-Israel Trail.

I’ve checked a price at a top all-inclusive resort, Tui’s Sensatori Coral Sea, and flying out from East Midlands on 28 March is expensive: £2,826 for a fortnight. But if you get a specialist to put together a bespoke trip for you, with more modest accommodation and a range of activities, it should be a lot cheaper and possibly more rewarding.

Cruise controls

Q: I’ve not heard much about the cruise industry recently and I wondered if the abolition of face masks on board and getting off a ship at a port of call without an organised tour are now possibilities?

David G

A: Cruise continues to be the problem child of the tourism industry. The Department for Transport (DfT) says: “Although operators have taken steps to improve infection control, cruise ships continue to experience Covid-19 outbreaks, affecting passengers and seafarers.

“The confined setting on board and combination of multiple households enables Covid-19 to spread faster than it is able to elsewhere.

“Cruises with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 cases have previously been denied permission to dock or to disembark passengers. This can have serious implications for passengers and seafarers on board.

“You should check the protocols of the cruise operator to ensure you are comfortable with safety measures.”

In terms of those safety measures: many cruise lines are now allowing independent excursions at ports of call, rather than signing up for expensive and confined ship-run outings.

Local rules may still prevent passengers wandering off wherever they wish. The Dominica government, for example, says: “Only passengers that have pre-sold or organised tours will be able to go beyond the health check point.”

I am not recommending any cruises that take in a more than two or three countries: the higher the number of nations involved, the more the risk of some kind of misfortune affecting the voyage. A trip around the Greek islands, or the coast and isles of Italy, would be fine – except that in both those cases, there are inexpensive and fun alternatives, notably ferries (and, for Italian journeys on the mainland) trains.

I have taken only one cruise since they were allowed from UK ports again, and the mask wearing was slightly annoying but bearable.

Singapore things

Q: It is very confusing to work out the rules for getting into Singapore just now. Could you summarise the requirements in plain English if you know?

Phil M

A: Crikey, I’ve only got an hour! Arrivals from the UK must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 (two jabs, the last at least 14 days before entry). If you pass this hurdle, the next necessity is to get a Vaccinated Travel Pass (VTP) – which must be applied for between three and 60 days before arrival.

Next, you must find a suitable flight. The only acceptable departures are those organised on “Vaccinated Travel Lane” (VTL) principles.

This is a scheme that distinguishes between people flying to Singapore to connect with onward flights and those who actually want to travel into the city-state. The idea is that some flights are designated specifically for vaccinated and tested travellers from countries designated low risk. Both Singapore Airlines and British Airways offer VTL flights from London Heathrow.

Careful where you go in the seven days ahead of the flight to Singapore: stray outside the list of “Active VTL Countries/Regions” (to Morocco, for example) in the week before travel and you won’t be allowed in.

Next task: short-term visitors must have Covid-19 travel insurance with a minimum coverage of S$30,000 (about £17,000) for medical treatment and hospitalisation costs. Good-quality policies will offer this. “You must carry an electronic or physical copy of this insurance policy to facilitate entry into Singapore,” the authorities.

In the three days before arrival, you must also submit a SG Arrival Card (SGAC) which comes with an Electronic Health Declaration. In the two days before departure, you need to undergo a professionally administered test (lateral flow will do).

Once you touch down in Singapore, you must take a “supervised self-administered” rapid antigen test (lateral flow) at a Quick Test Centre (QTC) or Combined Test Centre (CTC) within 24 hours of arrival in Singapore.

“Travellers are required to self-isolate in their declared accommodation, except for attending the supervised [test], until they are notified of that they have tested negative,” the authorities say.

After all that, you’ll need a holiday.

Similar Posts