TRAVEL: Italy brings back Covid testing requirement for all EU arrivals

Italy on Tuesday extended its state of emergency until March and tightened travel restrictions for arrivals from other countries within the European Union.

Passengers at Rome's Fiumicino airport.
Rules for travel to Italy from within the EU are to change. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

All travellers to Italy from other EU countries must take a coronavirus test before departure and unvaccinated arrivals must quarantine for five days, according to a new ordinance signed by the Italian health minister on Tuesday night.

The new rules mean all EU travellers who are double or triple-vaccinated against Covid-19 must now also show a negative test result from within the 24-hour period before departure (for rapid antigen tests, also known as lateral flow or LFTs) or the 48 hours before departure (for PCR tests).

READ ALSO: What will Italy’s Covid restrictions be this Christmas?

Meanwhile, those travelling to Italy who have not completed a full vaccination cycle must take a pre-departure test, undergo a five-day quarantine period on arrival, and then test for release.

Children aged under 12 are not subject to the five-day quarantine rules if they are travelling with adults who are vaccinated or have recovered from Covid, reported the Ansa news agency on Wednesday, citing government sources.

The health ministry’s new ordinance extends the provisions made for minors under a previous ordinance issued on October 22nd.

Italy defines a full vaccination cycle as two doses of a jab approved by the European Medicines Agency (Pfizer, Moderna or Astrazeneca) or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Previously, EU arrivals had to show proof of vaccination, recent recovery or a negative test.

The new rules are in effect from Thursday, December 16th until at least January 31st.

READ ALSO: ‘Fit to fly’: Are Covid lateral flow tests valid for travel to Italy?

The change effectively brings rules for people arriving in Italy from within the European Union in line with the existing rules for non-EU arrivals.

For those arriving from the UK and northern Ireland, the Italian health ministry’s ordinance stated that molecular (PCR) tests must now be taken within the 48 hour period before departure and rapid antigen (LFT) tests in the 24 hours before arrival, instead of 48 as was previously the case.

The rules for arrivals in Italy from the UK and northern Ireland otherwise remain unchanged under the new update.

For other non-EU countries on travel list D, including the United States and Canada, the new ordinance effectively extends existing measures and there are no changes.

The ordinance also extends Italy’s ban on travel from eight countries in southern Africa implemented following the detection of the Omicron variant.

The new rules came amid concern about a new wave of coronavirus infections sparked by the spread of the new Omicron variant in Europe.

Early data suggests it can be more resistant to vaccines and is more transmissible than the Delta variant, which currently accounts for the bulk of the world’s coronavirus cases.

The Italian government also approved an extension to the nationwide state of emergency, which will stay in place until March 31st, 2020.

READ ALSO: Reader question: What happens if I test positive for Covid-19 while visiting Italy?

Italy’s state of emergency, which was first introduced on January 31st 2020, gives greater powers to the national government and regions authorities, making it possible for laws to be passed quickly in response to the changing health situation.

The Italian government is relying heavily on increased vaccination coverage, with a target of fully vaccinating 90 percent of the population aged over 12, to avoid introducing a vaccine mandate for the general population.

As part of the drive to increase vaccine coverage, Italy made booster shots available to everyone aged 18 and over from December 1st.

Italian regions will also begin vaccinating children aged 5-11 starting from Wednesday after approval was given last month.

Almost 86 percent of the eligible population over 12 years old has now completed the vaccination cycle in Italy, while some 12.7 million booster shots have been administered so far according to the latest official figures.

For further details about Italy’s current Covid-19 health measures please see the Italian Health Ministry’s website (available in English).

Member comments

  1. We are coming from US on Dec 29th. Our understanding was that we needed to take a PCR test within 72 hours of arrival in Italy.. This article now implies that those getting a PCR TEST coming from everywhere need to have it done within 48hours. Is this correct. Thanks for any help.

  2. I’m travelling from Switzerland to Italy on Dec 26th. God knows where I can get an antigen test on Christmas Day in Graubünden?

    1. I am doing exactly the same thing- driving from Switzerland to Italy on the 26th! I also don’t know where and how to get the rapid antigen test.

    2. Wow, I sympathize. I wonder if your lodging or the local tourist office can get you in touch with the pharmacy that’s open on Christmas and you can find out if they offer antigen testing that day. (In Italy I believe there always has to be a pharmacy open every day but they don’t necessarily do testing). It appears the Zurich airport is 2.5 hours away and could do PCR testing if you went the day before Christmas; it is supposed to send you results within a few hours after the test (or by noon the next day if submitted in the evening). But I would call them to make sure that there’s no exception for Christmas/Christmas eve. Good luck!

  3. Update to those who kindly replied…. So as we can get an immediate result from an antigen test, we can do it at the Apotheke in our local ski resort which is open on 26th…Get the result and set off immediately…
    Try to route via a ski resort and book a test there.

  4. Article above says test must be done before 24/48 hours before departure. Regulations referenced on gov’t websites say 24/48 hours before arrival. Anybody have an answer to this?

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For members


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.