Update, 4th July 2020: Please see my more recent article for the latest status update.
Since I wrote my last update on the COVID-19 situation and when it will be possible to travel to Portugal again, things have been going more or less according to plan.
On the whole, the phased deconfinement throughought May proved successful and as at the beginning of June 2020 most places are open again, although there are, of course health and safety measures in place, including the 2-metre social distancing rule.
Portugal is Clean & Safe
As I’ve mentioned before, the Portuguese government acted quickly in response to the pandemic and managed to deal with it relatively well. We’re also among the top 10 countries for testing, which is encouraging.
The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has just launced a Safe Travels stamp for destinations and businesses that meet health and safety standard – Portugal is one of the first countries to receive the WTTC Safe Travels seal of approval.
The Clean & Safe certification is now available for hotels, accommodations, restaurants, tour operators and guides and over 8,900 establishments have already been certified. Look out for this sign, which identifies those which comply with the minimum health and safety requirements laid out by the government:
Flights and quarantine
Commercial flights to Portugal have started operating selected routes again in June, although most won’t be available until the end of June or even July, given that the Portuguese government has extended border restrictions for non-essential travel until June 30, 2020.
You can consult this website to see the current status for flying into individual EU countries as a tourist.
Portuguese airports are ready with temperature checks, vending machines where you can buy face masks and hand sanitisers, and other health and safety measures, such as foot-controlled elevators to reduce the need to touch surfaces as much as possible.
Mainland Portugal has no mandatory 14 day quarantine and this requirement has now been lifted for the Madeira and Azores Islands.
Important note: In all cases, you should check your own country’s advice about international travel before committing to a trip to Portugal, or any other country, and understand that these are early days in the emerging from lockdown and things can still change at short notice.
Portugal is equipped to provide world-class health care should you fall ill while here but you should check to see what your travel insurance will and will not cover in the case of the need for treatment, self-isolation or disrupted travel arrangements.
Requirements for travelling to Madeira and Azores Islands from July
From 1st July, these Portuguese islands will be welcoming international tourists and they have established a testing protocol to ensure that visitors are not carrying the disease. Travellers can either bring an authorised negative PCR test result with them, done within 72 hours of arrival, or be tested when they land in Madeira or the Azores.
In Madeira, at the moment, the plan is that you can go straight to your pre-booked accommodation to await your results, normally a 12-hour turnaround.
My understanding is that in the Azores, you will need to stay in a government-supplied hotel until you’ve tested negative for COVID-19. The results will be ready within 48 hours, although they are aiming for 24 hours or less.
If you are staying for more than 4 nights in the Azores, you’ll need to get retested after 5 days and 13 days at approved testing centres on the islands.
The tests carried out on arrival and during your stay are free. However, if you want to be at liberty to enjoy your holiday from Day 1, it would be best to get tested before flying. Here’s a list of testing laboratories in Portugal. You’ll have to check in your own country where you can get tested.
Note: Please don’t ask me for any additional information about testing protocol – this was all I could find out for the time being.
Land border with Spain
The border between these neighbouring countries has been closed to all but essential travel for months and is likely to remain in place until 1st July, when Spain is officially aiming to receive international visitors.
Hotels and apartments reopen under strict controls
Again, hotels and accommodations have been gradually reopening their doors and those that are going to open for the summer will have done so by June.
Given the drastically reduced demand, not all hotels and accommodations will reopen as there are strict health and safety measures to comply with. Where feasible, hotels are introducing things like contactless check-in, foot operated elevators and doors, and the days of buffet breakfasts are in the past for now.
As well as enhanced cleaning, rooms will be left vacant for at least 24 hours between guests.
Restaurants in Portugal
On June 1st, restaurants were allowed to open at full capacity, providing they can guarantee sufficient spacing between tables and use acrylic screens where appropriate to reduce the risk of contamination between clients.
You’ll need to wear a mask and use hand sanitiser on entry and it’s still safer to sit outside if possible.
Book a table in advance so that staff can control the flow of clients and prevent bottlenecks. You can also help by using contactless payment methods over cash, washing your hands as often as possible and after eating.
Shops and offices
Working from home is no longer obligatory for those who can’t avoid it and there are clear guidelines for employers on how to adapt their premises and procedures to protect staff and customers.
From 1st June, larger shops and public offices are open, except in Lisbon where the decision about reopening larger shopping malls and Citizen Shops (Loja de Cidadão) in the Greater Lisbon area will be reviewed on 4th June.
Wearing face masks in Portugal
I am more than happy to wear a face mask in public – it might not do much to protect me but it WILL help stop me inadvertently spreading the disease if I have it.
It is obligatory to wear a face mask on public transport and in shops and other public buildings. Some cities, such as Cascais, have vending machines in the street where you can buy them cheaply and, unlike a month ago, it’s now much easier to buy them in all towns and cities. You may wish to come prepared – you’ll have to wear one in the airport and on flights anyway – and carry a small bottle of hand sanitiser with you.Buy face masks from Amazon
Going to the beach in Portugal post-lockdown
Obviously, summer temperatures attract people to the beach so the government have introduced various restrictions in a bid to minimise the risks, including a traffic light system and an app so you can plan ahead. Beaches with no life guard are out of bounds and those that are patrolled will have capacity limits.
This table tells you all you need to know.
Using Uber and taxis etc.
Wash or sanitise your hands before and after the journey and try to avoid touching things that aren’t necessary by keeping your hands on your lap during the journey.
The driver will clean the vehicle at least daily and disinfect door handles, seats and other points of common contact between clients.
As a client, you should put your own luggage in the boot (trunk) if you are able. You can only sit in the back seat and need to wear a face mask, as does the driver. Keep the windows open so that air can circulate freely.
Playing golf in Portugal
Golf courses were among the first sporting facilites to welcome back players. See this post for more about post-lockdown golf in Portugal.
Visiting Portuguese monuments
Most monuments and museums are now open again and, at the moment, there are so few tourists that they are a delight to visit. Even during the summer months, I expect numbers will be relatively low so that’s one bonus if you are planning to visit somewhere like Sintra and its many palaces.
Outdoor activities and rural destinations
With a population of only around 10 million, most of whom are concentrated in the big cities and near the coast, Portugal has plenty of wide open spaces and small where you can easily keep away from other people.
You’ll still need to respect the guidelines to avoid spreading disease in under-resourced rural communities with an elderly population.
The Portuguese Tourist Board is expecting and encouraging both domestic tourists and international visitors to use this opportunitiy to get off the beaten track and explore uncrowded places of natural beauty.
Thankfully, these are the type of places I’ve been writing about for years – I’ve become less and less comfortable around crowds as I grow older and I love the charm and tranquility of small villages and non-touristy towns.
You’ll probably need/want your own vehicle to get to these places.
Perhaps one of the best ways to explore Portugal’s beautiful landscapes would be on a self-guided walking holiday where the tour operator assumes responsibility for choosing Clean & Safe procedures and suppliers – take a look at some of these examples.
Is the Portuguese Camino open yet?
Although Spain was much harder hit than Portugal by the pandemic, the country is on its way to recovery, especially in regions that were not so badly affected, such as Galicia, which is where the Camino Português goes.
By 8th June, the plan for Spain is that all activities in all regions will be open, albeit at 50% capacity. Spain is set to receive international visitors from 1st July and will remove the current requirement for a 14 day quarantine.
As with Portugal, it is obligatory to wear a face mask on public transport and in commercial spaces and there are restrictions on beaches.
Pilgrims staying in hotels should be able to follow the Camino in July but the albergues (pilgrim hostels) will need longer to adapt to the health and safety measures so you should check the current situation before embarking on your Camino.
Look out for the “Safe Tourism Certified” certification.
Up to date information about the situation in Portugal
As I’ve said before, there are new developments every day and I can’t commit to being the most up to date source of information for you.
The Safe Communities Portugal major incident page and their Facebook page continue to be excellent sources of reliable information in English about the current situation so please check their sites for the most recent and detailed information.
Also check the World Health Organisation advice and that of your own governments in terms of whether you should actually be travelling and what the implications of that, e.g. quarantine upon return, might be.
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