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EXPLAINED: What you need to know about visiting Italy this autumn

What do you need to enter Italy and access essential (and non-essential) services as a tourist? Here’s a checklist of everything you need for travel to and within Italy.

A tourist walks past the closed Colosseum on March 10, 2020.
A tourist walks past the closed Colosseum on March 10, 2020. Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

It may be the off season, but the influx of foreign tourists to Italy remains high this autumn, providing a much-needed boost to the country’s tourism sector.

But with each European country setting its own guidelines and the rules shifting every few weeks, many would-be visitors have found themselves mired in confusion over exactly what’s required to enter Italy.

Here’s everything you need to know about entering Italy from abroad. These latest rules should remain in place until at least December 15th.

You probably need a test

Some visitors wrongly assume that if they are fully vaccinated, they do not a test to go on holiday to Italy.

This is currently not the case for anyone entering the country from anywhere not included on Italy’s List C (i.e., almost all non-EU countries), or anyone coming from an EU country who has been in a non-List C country in the fourteen days before entering Italy.

Anyone in this situation must be able to produce a negative Covid test result less than 72 hours old on arrival in Italy in order to avoid having to quarantine. That window of validity is reduced to just 48 hours for anyone arriving from the UK.

READ ALSO: Q&A: Answers to your questions about Italy’s updated travel rules

Those who fail to show a negative test result are technically required to self-isolate for five days on entering the country – even if you can demonstrate that you are fully vaccinated with European Medicines Agency (EMA)-approved vaccines.

While some tourists have said they weren’t asked to show a test result either on departure or on arrival in Italy, be warned that betting on this could lose you five days of holiday.

A tourist poses for a picture in front of the Spanish Steps in Rome on March 3, 2020

A tourist poses for a picture in front of the Spanish Steps in Rome on March 3, 2020. Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

Rapid antigen tests count

Italy accepts both rapid antigen tests and PCR tests for entry into the country – so there’s no need to fork out for a more expensive and time-pressurised PCR test.

You need to have completed your vaccine cycle for at least 14 days

Before this, you’re not considered fully vaccinated for the purposes of entering Italy, and will be required to quarantine for five days on arrival – even if you have a negative Covid test result.

A full vaccination cycle is one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two doses of any other vaccine.

Mixed doses are probably fine

The Italian government has yet to issue any formal guidance on whether it accepts mixed doses of Covid vaccines for entry into the country.

However, many Italian residents were given mixed doses of the vaccine, and anecdotally, those who received mixed vaccines have not reported any issues entering the country.

As of September, Italy officially approves the Indian-manufactured Covishield vaccine for travel, as well as R-CoVI (R-Pharm) Covid-19 vaccine recombinant (Fiocruz).

READ ALSO: Update: Italy recognises Indian-produced Covishield vaccine for travel

That’s on top of the basic EMA-approved vaccines: AstraZeneca (Vaxzevria), Pfizer/BioNTech (Comirnaty), Moderna (Spikevax), and Johnson & Johnson (Janssen).

You need a ‘green pass’ or its equivalent once in Italy to access most facilities (unless you’re under 12)

Once in Italy, you’ll need a Covid-19 health certificate or ‘green pass’ to gain access to most tourist sites and indoor seating at restaurants, and to use long distance public transport (children under the age of 12 are exempt from this requirement).

For those vaccinated in Italy or anywhere else in the EU, the green pass takes the form of a QR code that can be easily scanned.

A tourist wears a protective facemask and a Carnival mask in Venice on February 24, 2020, when Carnival festivities would normally be occurring.

A tourist wears a protective facemask and a Carnival mask in Venice on February 24, 2020, when Carnival festivities would normally be occurring. ANDREA PATTARO / AFP

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Where do you now need to show a Covid green pass in Italy?

While The Local has been contacted by at least one dual citizen living in the US who says they managed to obtain an authentication code to download a green pass, as a general rule this option is only available to Italian residents.

For foreign tourists, vaccination cards or certificates issued by the health authorities in any of the following five countries are officially considered equivalent to the green pass in Italy:

  • Canada
  • Israel
  • Japan
  • United Kingdom (including England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Gibraltar, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands and British military bases on Cyprus)
  • United States of America

If you have a certificate from another country in the EU or Schengen Zone, or one of the above non-EU countries, it should theoretically get you anywhere an Italian green pass would in Italy – and you don’t need to convert it into a green pass.

In reality, some readers have reported having been barred from boarding trains at the last minute because the conductor did not recognize their foreign-issued vaccination card.

If you’re from another non-EU country not listed above, or want an Italian version of the green pass for any reason, you may be able to have your foreign-issued certificate converted – however, this can only be done when you are in Italy, and rules vary around the country.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How can you get Italy’s ‘green pass’ if you’re not vaccinated?

With this in mind, if it’s very important that you gain access to somewhere under time pressure (e.g. for a domestic flight or long-distance train or ferry journey), it might be worth getting a temporary Italian green pass.

If you’re in this situation, there is some good news:

People wearing a face mask visit the rooftop of the Duomo cathedral in Milan, on July 12, 2021.

People wearing a face mask visit the rooftop of the Duomo cathedral in Milan, on July 12, 2021.
MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

You can get a 48-hour green pass relatively cheaply

Anyone in Italy can get a green pass that is valid for at least 48 hours by taking a rapid antigen test at a pharmacy.

In many pharmacies participating in a government scheme, these are capped at €15 for for adults and €8 for young people aged 12 to 18.

The pass’s validity is extended to 72 hours if you get a PCR test.

READ ALSO: 72 or 48 hours? How Italy has updated the rules on testing to obtain the Covid green pass

You will be issued with a QR code in paper and digital format that can be scanned in exactly the same way as a long-term green pass.

You don’t need a green pass everywhere

While you’d find it a challenge being a tourist in Italy without a green pass or its equivalent, you don’t need one everywhere you go.

Accommodation owners in Italy do not have to ask guests for a health certificate in order to let them stay. In fact, so long as you’re staying there you can also dine at your hotel’s restaurant or have drinks at its bar without a pass – even indoors.

However, you may be required to show a health certificate if the hotel opens its restaurant to non-residents too, Italian media have reported; and you might need to show a health pass in order to access certain hotel facilities, such as the gym, swimming pool or spa. You can also be asked for one if you’re attending a conference or wedding reception on the hotel’s premises.

You don’t need a green pass to take local, non-interregional public transport, such as trips on the metro, trams, or local buses or trains; and you don’t need a certificate to have a drink at the bar, provided you keep your mask on when you’re not sipping.

Finally, you don’t need one to go shopping or to go to the hairdresser, if that’s the kind of thing you like to do on holiday.

Ski season is open – with some provisos

As of late October, Italy’s slopes are once more open for business.

While Italy’s government did not specify that the green pass would be required on slopes or to take ski lifts this winter, this is one of the rules agreed in a protocol signed last month by Italy’s winter sports federation, association of chairlift operators and association of ski instructors.

READ ALSO: What are the Covid rules on Italian ski slopes this winter?

The green pass requirement applies to everyone aged over 12 when accessing ski lifts and slopes, according to Italian media reports.

Capacity is reduced to 80 percent for closed cable cars, while open chairlifts can operate at full capacity.

Ski slopes must use lanes which “guarantee interpersonal distancing of at least one metre” and staff should be on hand to enforce rules and check for areas at risk of overcrowding.

Surgical-grade or FFP2 masks will be mandatory “both in common areas and on the slopes”, according to Italian media.

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REVEALED: Countries fear non-EU travellers face delays under new EES border checks

A number of countries in Europe's Schengen area admit they fear delays and insufficient time to test the process ahead of new, more rigorous EU border checks that will be introduced next year, a new document reveals.

REVEALED: Countries fear non-EU travellers face delays under new EES border checks

Schengen countries are tightening up security at the external borders with the introduction of a new digital system (EES) to record the entry and exit of non-EU citizens in May 2023.

The EES will enable the automatic scanning of passports replacing manual stamping by border guards. It will register the person’s name, type of the travel document, biometric data (fingerprints and facial images) and the date and place of entry and exit. The data will be kept in a centralised database on a rolling three-year basis that is re-set at each entry. 

What the EES is intended to do is increase border security, including the enforcement of the 90-day short-stay limit for tourists and visitors.

EU citizens and third-country nationals who reside in a country of the Schengen area will not be subject to such checks as long as they can prove residency in an EU country however they will still be caught up in any delays at passport control if the new system as many fear, causes longer processing times.

READ ALSO: Foreigners living in EU not covered by new EES border checks

But given its scale, the entry into operation of the system has been raising concerns on many fronts, including the readiness of the physical and digital infrastructure, and the time required for border checks, which could subsequently cause massive queues at borders.

A document on the state of preparations was distributed last week by the secretariat of the EU Council (the EU institution representing member states) and published by Statewatch, a non-profit organisation that monitors civil liberties.

The paper contains the responses from 21 countries to a questionnaire about potential impacts on passenger flows, the infrastructure put in place and the possibility of a gradual introduction of the new system over a number of months.

This is what certain the countries have responded. Responses from Denmark, Spain and Sweden do not appear in the report but the answers from other countries will be relevant for readers in those countries.

READ ALSO: What the EU’s new EES border check system means for travel

‘Double processing time’

Austria and Germany are the most vocal in warning that passport processing times will increase when the EES will become operational.

“The additional tasks resulting from the EES regulation will lead to a sharp increase in process times”, which are expected to “double compared to the current situation,” Austrian authorities say. “This will also affect the waiting times at border crossing points (in Austria, the six international airports),” the document continues.

“Furthermore, border control will become more complicated since in addition to the distinction between visa-exempt and visa-required persons, we will also have to differentiate between EES-required and EES-exempt TCN [third country nationals], as well as between registered and unregistered TCN in EES,” Austrian officials note.

Based on an analysis of passenger traffic carried out with the aviation industry, German authorities estimate that checking times will “increase significantly”.

France expects to be ready for the introduction of the EES “in terms of passenger routes, training and national systems,” but admits that “fluidity remains a concern” and “discussions are continuing… to make progress on this point”.

Italy is also “adapting the border operational processes… in order to contain the increased process time and ensure both safety and security”.

“Despite many arguments for the introduction of automated border control systems based on the need for efficiency, the document makes clear that the EES will substantially increase border crossing times,” Statewatch argues.

‘Stable service unlikely by May 2023’

The border infrastructure is also being adapted for collecting and recording the data, with several countries planning for automated checks. So what will change in practice?

France will set up self-service kiosks in airports, where third-country nationals can pre-register their biometric data and personal information before being directed to the booth for verification with the border guard. The same approach will be adopted for visitors arriving by bus, while tablet devices such as iPads will be used for the registration of car passengers at land and sea borders.

Germany also plans to install self-service kiosks at the airports to “pre-capture” biometric data before border checks. But given the little time for testing the full process, German authorities say “a stable working EES system seems to be unlikely in May 2023.”

Austria intends to install self-service kiosks at the airports of Vienna and Salzburg “in the course of 2023”. Later these will be linked to existing e-gates enabling a “fully automated border crossing”. Austrian authorities also explain that airport operators are seeking to provide more space for kiosks and queues, but works will not be completed before the system is operational.

Italy is increasing the “equipment of automated gates in all the main  airport” and plans to install, at least in the first EES phase, about 600 self-service kiosks at the airports of Rome Fiumicino, Milan Malpensa, Venice and in those with “significant volumes of extra-Schengen traffic,” such as Bergamo, Naples, Bologna and Turin.

Switzerland, which is not an EU member but is part of the Schengen area, is also installing self-service kiosks to facilitate the collection of data. Norway, instead, will have “automated camera solutions operated by the border guards”, but will consider self-service options only after the EES is in operation.

Gradual introduction?

One of the possibilities still in consideration is the gradual introduction of the new system. The European Commission has proposed a ‘progressive approach’ that would allow the creation of “incomplete” passenger files for 9 months following the EES entry into operation, and continuing passport stamping for 3 months.

According to the responses, Italy is the only country favourable to this option. For Austria and France this “could result in more confusion for border guards and travellers”. French officials also argue that a lack of biometric data will “present a risk for the security of the Schengen area”.

France suggested to mitigate with “flexibility” the EES impacts in the first months of its entry into service. In particular, France calls for the possibility to not create EES files for third-country nationals who entered the Schengen area before the system becomes operational, leaving this task to when they return later.

This would “significantly ease the pressure” on border guards “during the first three months after entry into service,” French authorities said.

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