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TRAVEL NEWS

Can travellers land in Switzerland and transit elsewhere under new Covid rules?

Switzerland’s strict new quarantine rules require travellers from several countries to quarantine. But what happens if they land at border airports?

A person in a mask rides their bike past Geneva Airport
If you land in Geneva and want to go directly to France, do you need to quarantine? Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

PLEASE NOTE: Switzerland on December 4th scrapped the quarantine requirement. Please click here for an up to date summary of transit rules with regard to testing.

Starting on Friday, November 26th, Switzerland put in place strict controls – including mandatory ten-day quarantines and testing requirements – on arrivals from certain countries where ‘virus variants’ are present. 

As at Tuesday, November 30th, this has now been extended to around two dozen countries, including the United Kingdom, Belgium and the Netherlands. 

UPDATE: What are the current rules for entering Switzerland?

Some confusion has however emerged on whether people arriving from one of these countries are allowed to land in a Swiss airport, before transiting elsewhere. 

Switzerland has a number of ‘border airports’ which serve both Switzerland and neighbouring countries, including Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg Airport and Geneva Airport. 

While Basel Airport still allows you to leave on the European Union side, the ‘French side’ of the Geneva Airport has been shut down for several months and remains closed as at time of writing (November 30th, 2021)

Can travellers land at Swiss airports and transit elsewhere under new quarantine rules? 

Fortunately for travellers transiting through Swiss airports, you will not need to quarantine provided you leave Switzerland immediately, by either land or by air. 

A spokesperson from Switzerland’s Federal Office for Public Health (FOPH) confirmed to The Local on November 30th that anyone landing in a Swiss airport would not need to comply with the quarantine or test requirements, provided they were transiting immediately to another country. 

The FOPH said expressly “those entering the country are not subject to the obligation to quarantine if they travel directly to Germany or France by land or air without making a stopover en route, such as for a visit.”

This is supported by the COVID-19 Ordinance on International Passenger Transport Measures, which is the relevant regulation for entering Switzerland. 

Article 8(f) says expressly “persons who enter Switzerland for the purpose of transiting the country and who intend and are able to travel on directly to another country” will not be subject to the requirements, i.e. quarantining and testing.”

The official rule can be found here. 

Importantly, while you will be allowed to land in Switzerland if you are transiting immediately, be aware that you need to comply with the rules in France, Germany or wherever you are transiting to. 

Here is information on entering France and on entering Germany

Why was this confusing?

Other sources, including the British consulate in Bern, have published contradicting information which suggests that people must quarantine when landing in Switzerland, regardless of whether they are transiting. 

On Tuesday, November 30th, a spokesperson for Geneva Airport told The Local that the quarantine and testing requirement would apply to everyone landing at the airport (provided they came from a ‘virus variant country’), even if they are transiting directly abroad. 

“It is important to note that anyone arriving at Geneva Airport cannot transit Switzerland (e.g. to France) without undertaking 10 days quarantine,” a spokesperson told The Local. 

Anyone who heard this may have been concerned, however this contradicts with official Swiss government information and travellers will not need to quarantine (provided they leave Switzerland immediately). 

Editor’s note: Geneva Airport updated their policies on December 1st to say that passengers can indeed transit to France, provided they do so immediately. 

What about the entry form?

Everyone entering Switzerland, regardless of quarantine or testing rules, will need to fill out the entry form.

READ MORE: Here is the form you need to enter Switzerland

I am flying to a Swiss Airport with a plan on transiting. What should I do to make sure I don’t have to quarantine or provide a test?

As illustrated above, while Swiss law does provide an exception to the quarantine and testing requirement, airports themselves may not be aware of this due to the fast-moving nature of the situation. 

One option is to print the section of the regulation which expressly allows for transit. 

This is available in English here. Click the links for versions in German, French and Italian. 

In order to make it clear to airport/border staff that you are not intending to stop or stay in Switzerland, it may help to print out your end destination and carrying evidence of your connections – for instance onward flight tickets, train tickets or car rental details. 

Please note that this is intended as a guide only and is based on fast-changing information. It does not constitute legal advice and should not replace information from a qualified advisor. 

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For members

MONEY

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

If you're visiting Italy from outside the EU you risk running up a huge phone bill in roaming charges - but there are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by extra charges.

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country then you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but people visiting from non-EU countries – which of course now includes the UK – need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with Three for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

READ ALSO: Seven things to do in Italy in summer 2022

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in Italy. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in Italy.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:

WindTre

WindTre, the result of a 2020 merger between the Italian company Wind and the UK network provider Three, currently offers a “Tourist Pass” SIM card for foreign nationals. For €24.99 (it’s sneakily marketed as €14.99, but read the small print and you’ll see you need to fork out an additional €10), you’ll have access to 20GB of data for up to 30 days.

The offer includes 100 minutes of calls within Italy plus an additional 100 minutes to 55 foreign countries listed on the WindTre website. Up to 13.7GB can be used for roaming within the EU. The card is automatically deactivated after 30 days, so there’s no need to worry about surprise charges after you return from your holiday. To get this SIM card, you can go into any WindTre store and request it.

A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Vodafone

Vodafone has had better deals in the past, but lately appears to have downgraded its plan for tourists, now called “Vodafone Holiday” (formerly “Dolce Vita”), to a paltry 2GB for €30. You get a total of 300 minutes of calls and 300 texts to Italian numbers or to your home country; EU roaming costs €3 per day.

Existing Vodafone customers can access the offer by paying €19 – the charge will be made to your Vodafone SIM within 72 hours of activating the deal. 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

The Vodafone Holiday offer automatically renews every four weeks for €29 – in order to cancel you’ll need to call a toll-free number. The Vodafone website says that the €30 includes the first renewal, suggesting the payment will cover the first four weeks plus an additional four after that, but you’ll want to double check before buying. You’ll need to go to a store in person to get the card.

TIM

TIM is one of Italy’s longest-standing and most well-established network providers, having been founded in 1994 following a merger between several state-owned companies.

The “Tim Tourist” SIM card costs €20 for 15GB of data and 200 minutes of calls within Italy and to 58 foreign countries, and promises “no surprises” when it comes to charges.

You can use the full 15GB when roaming within the EU at no extra charge, and in the EU can use your minutes to call Italian numbers. The deal is non-renewable, so at the end of the 30 days you won’t be charged any additional fees.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

To access the offer, you can either buy it directly from a TIM store in Italy, or pre-order using an online form and pay with your bank card. Once you’ve done this, you’ll receive a PIN which you should be able to present at any TIM store on arrival in Italy (along with your ID) to collect your pre-paid card. The card won’t be activated until you pick it up.

Iliad

Iliad is the newest and one of the most competitive of the four major phone companies operating in Italy, and currently has an offer of 120GBP of €9.99 a month. For this reason, some travel blogs recommend Iliad as the best choice for foreigners – but unfortunately all of their plans appear to require an Italian tax ID, which rules it out as an option for tourists.

Contract

Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in Italy, as mentioned above, there’s a significant different difference between buying a one-time pre-paid SIM versus a monthly plan that auto-renews.

Make sure you know which one you’re signing up for, and that if you choose a plan that will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, you remember to cancel it.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.

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