I recently had the opportunity to return to Ireland after a two-year absence, and the traveling experience was MUCH different than what I experienced in 2019. Obviously, the pandemic has changed things substantially. But once you got used to the changes, things went pretty smoothly.
I was in Ireland on business (though I did a few touristy things when my schedule allowed), so I got to experience the place as most travelers would. I spent most of my week in the office at work, but on the weekends, I was able to get around Ireland and explore. One thing the pandemic prevents is traveling by serendipity and just seeing where the day goes. If you want to do something, you need to book it. If you want to eat somewhere specific, you need to book a table. You have to plan in advance.
Also, please keep in mind that some of this information may change in the coming months – but it is accurate as of mid-December 2021. In fact, the week I wrote this post, new restrictions on hospitality were introduced – always check Gov.ie for the latest rules and regulations.
Ireland changed their policy two days before we departed for Dublin. Previously, we only had to show proof of vaccination to leave the USA. With the outbreak of the Omicron variant, they decided to institute pre-flight testing. So, we scrambled to get our tests done. It was a little stressful at the last minute, but we managed it, and everything was smooth. We got PCR tests. The results were checked here before we departed and at the ‘border’ in Ireland when we arrived in Dublin.
Don’t forget your passenger locator form
The Irish government requires you to fill in a passenger locator form before departure – this simply says who you are and where you’re going to be staying in Ireland (so they can find you and contact trace if necessary). You fill in the form online, and you get a certificate you have to carry with you. They will ask to see it at customs on arrival in Ireland. Aer Lingus will not let you on the plane without seeing it.
Verifly was Useless
Are Lingus encourages you to use Verifly to manage all your documentation needed to travel to Ireland. As there is a lot, I thought it would be useful. It took considerable effort to get it all into the app (and trust your data to this third-party). But when it was time to check in to the flight, I simply was not able to. Verifly would not communicate to Aer Lingus that we provided all our information. We had to check in to our flight at the airport – something we haven’t had to do in 20 years. And then they checked all our paper documents instead. There was a separate Verifly line, but no one was using it. I didn’t bother with it on the way home.
You have to show your vaccine card
The Irish are serious about the pandemic and use a COVID certification system (they call it the ‘COVID cert’). It’s an app that has your vaccination status, and you will be required to show this to dine in a restaurant, etc. To dine out, you MUST be vaccinated, and they will check (a guest to one of our work dinners was refused entry because there was a problem with their cert, they’re serious about this). Now, as foreigners, we didn’t have the app, but we found just showing our CDC vaccine card was enough.
On top of showing your CDC vaccine card, you will need to provide your contact details in case anyone you came into contact with contracts COVID. If this happens, you’ll be notified and told to isolate until you test negative.
Always have your documents ready, always
Since you need to prove your vaccine status to eat out – we got used to just carrying our passports and vaccine cards with us everywhere (and we would not normally carry our passport with us everywhere while traveling). Because if you forget it, you’re not eating inside a restaurant (take away is fine). When going through the airport, you will likely have to show your documents several times, so you need to have them ready to go so the line moves smoothly.
So much is still closed
When the pandemic started in 2020, it was still winter, and many attractions that had closed for that winter simply didn’t re-open. And they still haven’t. Faced with the prospect of few American tourists (Ireland’s biggest tourist market), most attractions simply are not opening until it’s worth it to do so. This made it a challenge to find things to do that were actually open. Still, we found a few fun things to do that we were worth doing! But you must be flexible.
Book tickets in advance
For the things that you do want to see – you will probably have to book your tickets in advance. This allows attractions to control the crowd numbers inside. For example, we booked in advance to see the Trinity Library at Trinity College in Dublin (which is a paid attraction). The nice thing about this is that you simply show up at your scheduled time, and there’s no line. We also booked into the National Gallery of Ireland – this attraction is free – but you still have to book a spot. This was fine. You book a 2-hour window and can show up anytime during it.
Places are still crowded
Despite the pandemic and lower tourist numbers, many places were still pretty crowded. Since most of us have been mostly isolated during the pandemic, it can be quite overwhelming to be around so many people. But keep in mind that everyone you encounter in a public enclosed space must be vaccinated and wear a mask. It’s perfectly safe. If disconcerting.
Book restaurants in advance
In addition to booking into tourist attractions, it’s essential that you also make bookings to eat out. As I write this, restaurants are limited to 50% capacity, so space is limited. Call ahead and book or see if their website offers advance booking. Thankfully, we were able to still get into places without a booking; usually, there was a short wait. But the rule changed halfway through our trip, and it became harder.
Mask wearing everywhere
You will have to wear a mask everywhere. If you’re going to be inside, you have to wear a mask. If you go out to eat, you have to wear a mask until you’re seated and when you’re up walking around the restaurant. If you walking around an art gallery, you’re doing it masked. You don’t HAVE to wear one walking around outside, but I noticed a lot of people doing it anyway. Mask wearing in Ireland is required, and they have no patience for anti-maskers.
Irish accents are hard to understand masked
I do love the various Irish accents, but they can be a little difficult to understand behind mask-wearing. So, listen extra hard, and if you don’t understand something someone said, simply ask them to repeat it – we found that no one minded this. They understand; we all understand we’re trying to get through a pandemic.
Prepare to wait in line to go into a store
It’s not as big of a problem now as it was earlier in the pandemic, but some stores are still limiting capacity, and you will have to wait in line in order to get inside. For example, we visited a knitting shop in Dublin; they were limited to 5 people at a time in the store – we had to wait in line for about 30 minutes.
You have to be flexible
That’s our one big takeaway from the entire trip – you need to be flexible in your plans. Things you want to see will be closed or ‘full’ for the day. Restaurants you want to eat at may be fully booked. You’ll have to wait around in line for something. Really, being flexible is good advice for travel before the pandemic; it’s even more important now. You have to go with the flow, or else you will pull your hair out when things don’t go according to plan.
Coming home to the USA
Getting to Ireland requires a lot of paperwork, but coming home to the USA requires a whole other set of paperwork.
- Test negative 24 hours before departure.
- Fill in TWO forms about your negative test and vaccine status. You can fill these out on your phone and just show the confirmation emails as proof.
There will be uncertainty and stress
International travel right now is simply not like it was before the pandemic. The certainty of booking a plane ticket and just going, simply isn’t the case anymore. Because of rules changes, I wasn’t 100% sure I was going to Ireland until the day before my trip, and I got my negative COVID test. I didn’t know 100% I was going HOME until the day before my departure from Ireland, and I tested negative for the return trip. This kind of uncertainty alone is enough to put most people off travel. It’s stressful to deal with. It put us off for a long time. But once we were in motion, things were fine.
Now that we’re back home and the world is locking down again due to the fast-spreading Omicron variant, I’m grateful that I got to travel and go somewhere before we likely lost the chance to go anywhere for another year.
Have you traveled to Ireland recently? What was it like? Let us know in the comments!