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How to travel to Italy from Canada during Covid

Posted inItaly Travel Tips

Can you travel to Italy from Canada in 2021? Yes! I just returned from my first trip to this beautiful country — my first international travel since the pandemic started. Should you do it? Maybe! But there is definitely a lot to know before you go.

Pre-pandemic, Canadians enjoyed a level of freedom travelling internationally that many of us took for granted. I don’t normally have to apply for expensive or time-consuming visas, for one example. But travelling in 2021 now comes with a lot more responsibility. And research. What countries are open to visitors? What are the rules for entry? Will you have to quarantine?

Why I chose to travel to Italy in 2021

Liisa standing on a hill overlooking Tuscany Italy
Social distancing in Tuscany

I chose to travel to Italy this summer because I’m fully vaccinated and a good friend invited me to stay with her on a rural property in Tuscany. Who would say no to that? Another good friend who has long suggested we travel to Italy together said “let’s do it!” So after so much isolation from my pals in the past year, this seemed like a fabulous way to spend time together.

After doing my research, I decided to go for these reasons: Italy is allowing non-essential travel from Canada, their vaccination rates are on par with ours, Canada dropped its quarantine hotel requirement on re-entry for citizens who are vaccinated, and Italy dropped its isolation requirements for travellers entering on “covid-tested” flights. Air Canada offers one of these, direct from Toronto to Rome.

Still, there was a lot of extra work to be done to do this trip safely and according to protocols for both countries.

If you’re thinking about travel to Italy from Canada, here are the steps we took travelling in August 2021. Note that everything is very much subject to change. Always double check for updates with the official links provided.

Government covid graphic for travellers to Italy
Italy’s Ministry of Health has a handy website in English

Entry Requirements for travel to Italy from Canada

Travellers from Canada are allowed to enter Italy for tourism. We found the Air Canada Covid-19 page very helpful in clearly outlining Italy’s entry requirements and what we would need to do. They directed us to this detailed page from Italy’s health ministry, which says you need this for entry:

A vaccination certificate (completed cycle of approved vaccines Pfizer, Moderna, Vaxzevria aka Astrazeneca or Johnson & Johnson) at least 14 days prior

A certificate of Covid recovery, valid for 180 days from the date of the first positive swab testor

that you have taken a negative molecular or antigen swab test in the 48 hours prior to entering Italy. 

You also need to fill out what they call the Digital Passenger Locator Form, with details of where you’ll be staying. This is for contract tracing on their end. Do this in advance and bring a print-out confirmation or you’ll get stuck in a long line at the airport doing this before you are allowed to check in.

Screen shot of a LifeLabs covid 19 schedule for covid test to travel to Italy from Canada
Lifelabs’ on-line tool to calculate your testing window

The pre-boarding Covid test

Did something above sound confusing to you? That you could just show proof of vaccination without a negative Covid test? It did to us! I actually didn’t trust that would get us on the plane. In an abundance of caution, we did the test anyway. Because if I’m positive for Covid I don’t want to get on a plane and travel with it, vaccinated or not!

Here in Toronto, a PCR test for non-essential travel costs $225. We booked this through LifeLabs, which has a handy calculator to help you figure out the window of time you need to book your test. Do this early! Like, as soon as you have a firm travel date. Because appointment slots will fill up and you have a limited window.

You pay Lifelabs, get a confirmation code that you paid, then contact the Shoppers Drug Mart of your choice to book the test. The system says that Shoppers will contact you but don’t rely on that to work, just give them a call. They say results are guaranteed to come back in 48 hours – a tight squeeze! – but myself and my two travelling companions actually got them in under 24 hours. Phew!

No, you can’t simply go to the free covid-assessment centres at hospitals and claim you have symptoms or have been in contact with someone to get a test and save that fee. Firstly, it’s an abuse of our health care workers for your privileged vacation. You could also be turned away at the airport if you do not have the correct non-essential travel test from an approved lab.

Air Canada Covid handout
Air Canada’s “gift” to you

At the airport

I’ve heard a lot of people say they are nervous about getting on a plane during Covid. My experience was that every safety precaution was being taken. We had no anti-masking jerks on the plane. But the glory days of empty airports and empty middle seats you saw on the news in 2020 are over. Definitely plan for extra time.

Having arrived at Pearson three hours before the flight, wearing our N95 masks, we printed out our own baggage tags at the automated kiosk. We then were directed to speak with an Air Canada employee. She needed to see that we have all the necessary paperwork to board – proof of our negative Covid test and that we had registered with Italy’s Digital Passenger Locator Form. We saw a long line of travellers filling out this form in the airport but we got to skip over them.

There’s a temperature check before you reach the security line. Otherwise, security is the same as always.  And then we were through, with two hours to sit around in masks waiting for the flight.

A note about food: not all restaurants or food places are open. Which meant very long lines for those that were. We ordered from a sit-down place but after 1 hour of waiting were informed they were sold out of what we ordered. I witnessed plenty of people yelling to get their orders in time for their boarding. May want to pack your own snacks!

My only complaint about Covid safety at the airport is actually in these food areas. A lot of people think that as soon as they sit down at a table they can remove their masks, whether or not they are actively eating. Like I said, we brought N95s for the trip and I’m glad we did.

Arriving in Italy

Before leaving, we pre-booked an appointment for the rapid antigen test we heard you needed to take when landing at Rome airport. This was a tip from a friend who had already flown to Italy a few weeks before us. But she flew via Portugal on Tap. Upon arrival, everyone on our plane walked right past this testing area, which was roped off. I’m still not sure if we got to by-pass because we were on a Covid-tested flight, or if the rules have changed. If you do need this test, you can avoid queuing at the airport by pre-booking here.

I found arriving in the Rome airport to be pretty normal. There was one check-point where you remove your mask for a facial recognition at customs. But otherwise, we got our passport stamps, our new SIM cards, grabbed our bags and now were in Italy!

Green Pass sign seen in restaurant when travelling to Italy from Canada
As seen in a restaurant window

Travelling without a Green Pass or digital vaccine passport

Days before we flew out, Italy implemented new rules: proof of vaccination required for inside spaces. Museums, churches, performance events, restaurants, spas – pretty much everywhere you want to go in Italy. They use a digital Green Pass app, and you will see signage and queues and security everywhere making sure it’s enforced.

But what if you’re from Canada? We have no Green Pass. Hell, we don’t have any digital proof of our vaccination. We went on holiday carrying our printed out receipts from the Ontario Ministry of Health, which look like a kid could make in 10 minutes on Microsoft Word. And hope. Hope that each individual security guard would accept this piece of paper.

Thankfully, they did. Even with our broken Italian explanations. (I had the phrase “We’re from Canada and we don’t have Green Pass. Here’s our proof of vaccination” translated and ready on my phone in case.) Only one guard questioned us. “There is no way I can prove this is not fake.” But after a moment, we were allowed to pass. We saw others from other countries doing a similar dance. On our last day, we overheard a security guard say to another “Canada. More paper from Canada.”

Who knows how long this is going to work.  The world is moving towards a digital vaccine passports and our country and province is being slow to implement. For now at least we could enter everywhere we wanted to go.

Wear your mask in Italy museums

Do you have to wear a mask?

The one word you will likely hear more in Italian than “prego” is “mascherina” – mask. Italy no longer requires masks outdoors, but you do have to wear one inside. You will hear security everywhere reminding people to pull up their masks. We even encountered a machine with facial recognition camera in a small museum that blared “mascherina!” if yours wasn’t on properly when you enter.

So factor in buying a bunch of masks for your trip into your budget. We generally wore 2 surgical masks per day because it was so hot and we were out and about for hours and had to refresh. Also consider how many hours you will be spending per day around other people. How will you feel physically wearing a mask the whole day? Can you do everything that you want? We took climbing the duomo in Florence off our wish list because we determined that in summer heat, with a mask, was just too much.

Think also about how you feel when seeing other people without masks on. We felt we should be wearing one outside whenever there was a crowd. Which in Italy is pretty much everywhere. But not everyone will feel the same way. If the thought of watching someone get out of an elevator and then pull their mask up when they see you, or walking in a public square or sidewalk where only half of people are wearing masks freaks you out, consider if travelling will be any fun for you right now.

We had 1 day where we stayed on a property with just ourselves and I realized it was so glorious because I didn’t wear a mask for over 24 hours! 10/10 would recommend that!

Covid test site near Rome, Italy
The new normal of holiday travel sightseeing

The Covid test to come home

If I can impart any wisdom from my travel to Italy from Canada, it’s this: book the PCR test for your return home as soon as you know your flight.

I left this until we got to Italy, about 10 days before flying out. Oh yeah, we need tests to board the plane!

Canada’s re-entry rules for citizens state you need to provide proof of a negative Covid test no more than 72 hours before boarding the plane. (Rapid tests don’t count.) The Canadian government also directed us to sites that were only in Italian and totally confusing. Through Google we located LifeBrain labs, who do tests all around the country. Except the appointments in Rome for the days we would need one were all booked. Gulp.

After several hours of checking – again, this is vacation time – we found appointments an hour drive outside of Rome in the parking lot of a suburban mall. The staff were very helpful and friendly and spoke English. But I don’t know what we would have done without a car.

They told us we’d get our results back within 24 hours. It actually took 40 hours. So that’s an extra day of worrying about our results, constantly checking our emails. Things that go through your head: what is the test is positive? What if our tests get lost in the system? What if the system breaks and the results don’t come back in time? etc.

The website to check that our tests were at least in progress also required a special Italian Tax ID # to login. Which we obviously don’t have. I tried calling but none of their phone operators spoke English, French or Spanish. Thankfully, our hotel clerk called them for us, and they gave us temporary/fake #s we could use to log-in to find out that our results weren’t ready yet.

Yes, our results did come in on time and were negative. We literally danced and hugged in our hotel room! And then enjoyed a very carefree last day in Italy. But if you’re a nervous person, definitely bring whatever you need to keep anxiety at bay during these moments.

Return to Canada

Before getting on your return flight, you need to download and use the ArriveCan app, to enter your flight details and your proof of vaccination, including photos of your vaccination receipts. The border guard did not ask to see ours, just gave the normal questions. So I’m not sure if he could just pull it up when scanning or passports or what? But it was no problem coming back into the country. (Unless you consider the criminal lack of good Burrata cheese here a problem, which I certainly do…)

Would I travel to Italy from Canada again?

You might think that all of these extra steps were a drag. To some extent, yes. But completely worth it.

There’s a reason so many Canadians visit Italy – it’s a gorgeous country! The art and the food and the rolling hills of Tuscany are glorious. I’ll be writing a lot about all that in the weeks to come. But Covid is real, you need to take care, and the more you know before you go, the better you’ll enjoy yourself.

If you have a question about travel to Italy from Canada that I haven’t covered, drop it in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer. Safe travels

4 comments on “How to travel to Italy from Canada during Covid”

  1. Stephan  on August 31, 2021

    Thanks for the helpful info. I would put a little disclaimer at the start of your blog entry noting that the rules keep on changing. For example, Canadians are now required to get an antigen test or PCR test before boarding the plane to Italy, and the “green pass” is now required for entry into most places in Italy (including on trains starting in a few days). Glad to hear you had a great trip!

    1. Liisa  on September 3, 2021

      Thanks for reading Stephan. I did put a bold note at the top remindingto check official sites. I hope to be helpful but things are indeed always changing!

  2. Sharon  on September 23, 2021

    Hi Liisa. How long did it take you to get out of the airport in Rome?

    1. Liisa  on September 30, 2021

      Hi Sharon. Arrival in Rome was quick and easy! It seemed very much like “normal” times for arriving in a large airport (I’ve never landed in Rome before to compare.) I would say less than an hour from landing to exiting the airport. Thanks for reading and hope this helps.

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