It's a bit of a faff but travelling to Portugal is definitely worth it
FOR one joyous hour this week, I sat in sizzling sunshine on the banks of Lisbon’s River Tagus and sipped a cool glass of beer while watching the world go by.
Heading to the Portuguese capital on Monday morning aboard British Airways flight 500 from Heathrow, I was among the first to take advantage of the restart of international travel — and the Med favourite’s prized place on the UK Government’s green list.
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It had been touch and go until the last, with Portugal only confirming it would be allowing British visitors three days earlier.
For a few brief hours I escaped the washout May weather in the UK and could feel the sun on my face as I strolled the cobbled streets of Lisbon’s Old Town.
Of course, with Covid still very much at the forefront, things were a little different. Masks must be worn both inside and out, even while walking the streets.
You can remove them once sitting down in a bar or restaurant but no more than six people can sit together indoors, ten outdoors — and venues must close by 10.30pm.
On the beaches of the Algarve, you are fine to remove masks once you settle down on your towel or lounger, which must be three metres apart.
Lisbon, normally a tourist hotspot in the spring, was still remarkably quiet.
The stunning Praca do Comercio plaza, with its harbour views and neo-classical collonaded buildings, was almost empty.
While some restaurants have thrown open their doors, others remain shuttered, their terraces sprouting weeds.
If ever there was a good time to enjoy the delights of Lisbon it is now. But for many, the new requirements for tests will probably equal the cost of a city break.
My preparations for the trip involved far more than checking my passport was in date and buying some foreign currency.
Portugal requires a negative PCR test for all arrivals. This had to be booked through a UK Government-approved private testing provider and taken up to 72 hours before the flight.
I booked with Qured as British Airways has negotiated a 15 per cent discount on its prices if you are flying BA. The test, costing £84.15, arrived at my house the day after I ordered it.
On the Friday before my departure, I took the self-administered PCR test and immediately posted it back.
Bear in mind when using the post that the weekend service could result in a delay in the company receiving your test. So always make sure you will get the result back in time for your flight.
With my test taken and the negative result confirmed with an official certificate, I had to fill in a Portuguese locator form online detailing where I would be staying and for how long.
British Airways required me to upload my negative test result and confirmation of the Portuguese locator form before allowing me to finally check in.
But the forms and tests don’t end there. You need to take a test to get back into the UK when in Portugal. While there are testing centres in the country, they can be difficult to track down.
One of the ways to avoid that was to book an antigen self-administered test with Qured for £39 (or £33.14 with the BA code). The test kit is delivered to your home and you pack it in your case and take it on the trip.
You then make an appointment for a video interview with one of its staff to take the test up to 72 hours before you return to the UK. With my appointment booked, an email was sent to me with a link to start the video call.
You will need wifi or a strong mobile signal to do this. The friendly adviser talked me through the test, watching me as I did it. After pouring the liquid into the cassette, you wait 15 minutes before emailing back to Qured a picture of the cassette with your ID sitting next to it.
Within half an hour, it confirmed I had carried out the test correctly, had a negative result and then emailed me an official certificate I could download to my phone and print out.
The final task you will need to perform before returning to the UK is to fill in the UK Government’s passenger locator form.
It asks where you will be staying in the UK and you must give details of the booking reference for your day two PCR test to prove it has already been booked and paid for. Failing to fill in the form could mean Border Force fining you up to £500.
On the morning of my return to the UK, I downloaded all the certificates to my phone and took a screen shot of a host of QR codes and printed them out just in case my phone died.
Leaving Portugal was simple and my experience of returning to the UK a surprise.
With warnings of long queues, I was astonished it took me less than two minutes to get through. A Border Force official asked for proof of my negative test and passenger locator form before waving me through to use the e-gates.
How typical that experience is remains to be seen as more people jet off and return to the UK.
For an experienced travel journalist used to flying around the world, it’s still a challenge. For those doing this for the first time, or for multiple family members, it will be even more complicated.
But for the chance to spend even a few brief hours in the Portuguese sunshine, I’d do it all over again.
What you need to do
- GET a PCR test 72 hours before departing UK.
- Fill in the Portuguese passenger locator form.
- Upload form and negative test result to ba.com.
- Take your pre-departure test in Portugal to return to the UK.
- Fill in UK passenger locator form for proof of day two test booking.
- Print out or digitally show negative test result and locator form at UK border.
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