The travel landscape is shifting, and quickly, in response to vaccine roll-out, variants, people’s concerns and governmental controls differing from state to state. The politics of that I will leave to one side, or your comments on my Instagram or Twitter!
Yesterday, I posted about wanting to re-visit Iceland, which is a ‘green list’ country for people living in Northern Ireland. The challenge is working out whether I can actually get into Iceland or not. And the wider picture, as my upcoming travel schedule shows, I am due to visit Portugal at the end of this month, but travel to Portugal has been shifted to amber status. I haven’t decided if I will still go or not. That decision is for another day. Back to Iceland, what’s the attraction of going and what’s the problem?
There is something about the light, the landscape, the architecture and the people that swirls and interconnects to produce a moody glamour that stirs the very soul. I am a man of the North and Iceland has Northness at a level of distillation that even the most ardent Ulsterman or Shetlander must envy. Shopping and food is, however, crushingly expensive. When I last visited in 2018, I found a place that served a really delicious chicken noodle soup for nearly ten pounds with some bread. That’s astonishing, but when you account for the cost of shipping products to the middle of the Atlantic, the quality and cost of living here, the relatively high income… then it starts to make sense. Starts, but doesn’t totally.
Despite the cost, my mind has been wandering towards exploring the Ring Road, Iceland’s famous (and notorious) main road that encircles most of the country. Last time, I focused on the Icelandic capital city, Reykjavik, and the so-called Golden Circle which encompasses all the fun things you can do on a bus trip within one day when you are based in a city centre hotel in Reykjavik. Check out my charming gallery of pictures, and scroll down to find out about the PROBLEM… sigh.
Iceland is on the ‘green list’ for travel from Northern Ireland and other countries in the UK. It might soon be on other green lists, so check with your national authorities at the time you want to travel. One cannot fly there directly from Belfast. Previously, I used Icelandair from Dublin and they were fantastic (I flew in Saga Class). But that’s not permitted from Dublin just now. When I started planning my hoped-for summer 2021 Iceland trip, I had the same thought process as I usually do: how best to get to London Heathrow, flying from there to Reykjavik, how long to stay in the city, where to get a car or camper, how long the Ring Road drive would take / could take.
But then, the issue of getting into Iceland is to the fore. I am fully vaccinated (thanks to some amazing scientific and health workers). In Northern Ireland, we get a little card to show your name, the date of each vaccination and the type/batch number of the vaccine. That’s it, there’s no associated official app, no letter to download, and we are not permitted to ask our GP for written evidence (I totally understand and agree with this… priority MUST be on vaccinating people and on catching up on other medical issues that got delayed).
Remember: green list doesn’t mean the green list country can/will accept you!
Plans are afoot for an official ‘vaccination certificate’ procedure for Northern Ireland… there may even be access to the EU’s vaccine passport system for Irish citizens who live in Northern Ireland. However, there is no system in place just now and even if authorities say you CAN travel to green list countries, that doesn’t mean that those countries WILL accept you without considerable cautions and checks. So how does one prove your vaccination status? If you live in England, there is the NHS Covid app; in Scotland, an official letter can be downloaded, which provides the information that most countries will need to accept your travel. But NI citizens have just their vaccination card…
Iceland has gone to a LOT of trouble to provide information to prospective travellers, and they are interested in welcoming safe travel. Click here for the website (in English) that tells travellers what is needed. Having read it very carefully, I am still not 100% clear if my vaccination card is sufficient. Or perhaps I don’t want to believe that it’s not… as that means the only green list country that is easily accessible for Northern Ireland citizens is in fact not at all accessible.
I have written to the Icelandic Embassy in London and the Icelandic Tourism authority to request their advice for people coming from Northern Ireland. I am hopeful that they can make it crystal clear for me, so that – either way – we know what to expect and don’t make bookings that result in big problems at the frontier. I will post again when I hear back from them – remember to follow me on Instagram or Twitter for the most up to date info.
(There was a newspaper article a while back that said that Iceland was willing to accept vaccination cards for English travellers, which clashes a bit with the official information on the Icelandic Covid website… Here is a link to that information – BUT I wouldn’t want to risk showing up at the border with this as my only evidence for permission to travel!!).
There may still be a way…
Even if Iceland decides it will not accept NI Vaccination Cards, it may be possible to enter Iceland in the same way as someone NOT vaccinated. That is, take a PCR test up to 72 hours before travel, then a PCR test on arrival (everyone does this anyway, even the vaccinated cohort) and then quarantine for 5 days in an approved form of accommodation, before taking another PCR test.
This regime will be in place at least until 15 June and may be extended beyond that. So who knows?
When would you go?
I’m ready to travel in the coming week or weeks. Yes, patience is key. I went to London just a week or two ago (click here for the trip report) and it highlighted to me how pivotal travel is in my life, indeed it promotes and elevates my mental health. Maybe that’s the same for you? There will be, for the coming weeks and months, sudden changes and shifts in access to travel, but it must also be true that life continues where safely possible to do so, with things to look forward to and moments away. I won’t apologise for wanting that.