Traveling to Italy in 2021

view of colorful houses in corricella procida a top place to stay on the island

Mario Draghi, the Prime Minister of Italy, and other government officials have recently announced a “Green Pass” for people hoping to travel to Italy from countries such as the United States. It was rumored that those who can show proof of vaccination, a negative test, or proof of recent recovery from COVID-19, can enter Italy without quarantining. However, in the official announcement of 15 May, it turns out that tourism from the US to Italy is now possible IF you arrive on a COVID-free flight. These flights require a mandatory test 72 hours before arrival in Italy, plus a rapid test when you leave the US and when you land in Rome or Milan (with Naples opening soon to accept these flights).

Yesterday, the Health Minister signed a new order which also drops the mandatory 5-day quarantine for arrivals from the EU, the UK, Schengen zone, and Israel. All arrivals will need to show a negative test taken within 48 hours of arrival in Italy. 

If you have been dreaming of Italy while living under lockdown, this might be your chance to come back! But there are some mixed feelings among Italians. The tourism sector really does need the support, the vaccine rollout has been slow and many residents do not have access to them right now. Italy is also just emerging from its national lockdowns, which means life is not yet that close to “back to normal.” In recent weeks, the vaccine distribution has accelerated so hopefully, this will only continue to improve. 

If you are going to travel to Italy in 2021, here are a few things to know to inform your decision. (And they are not meant to discourage you – they are simply meant to help you make an educated choice).

Obviously, the situation changes quickly. All of these are set to be reviewed and updated in the coming weeks and so I will update this post as well. As of 17 May 2021:

Vaccines don’t give special status. In Italy, the rules for the vaccinated and the unvaccinated are the same. While it is possible that proof of vaccine may help you enter Italy in the future, the restrictions for all people are the same once in Italy – regardless of proof of vaccination status.

There is a universal mask mandate. Any time we open our front door, we are wearing a mask. If you are in an elevator, a communal hallway, outside walking around the city streets, in a shop, etc, you must wear a mask over your mouth and nose. The only exception is when you are sitting down at a restaurant to eat. (But if you get up from your table, or if the waiter approaches, your mask must be on). Masks are required for anyone over the age of 6. They are widely available for purchase.woman in mask at museum holding a baby

There is a 10 pm national curfew. However, this may soon be extended to 11 pm or even 12 am. So while Italy may be opening up slightly, things are not back to normal. Italy has had a national curfew since October. You cannot be out in the streets between 10 pm and 5 am, except for urgent reasons. That means long dinners and drinks after are pretty unlikely. It also means that you probably want to consider your accommodation pretty carefully because you will still be spending a good amount of time there. 

Only outdoor dining is allowed. Given the current maintained level of infection, only outdoor dining is allowed (and this only opened a few weeks ago).  There is some hope that indoor dining will be allowed from 1 June 2021. As of right now, however, you cannot even have a coffee at the bar of a shop. Only seated, distanced, dining at a table in the open air is possible. Many restaurants have been allowed to expand seating into the streets but this is still limited. Booking a table ahead and planning for your dining out is essential. And if you love AC, well, it looks like it is going to be a long, hot summer. Also, don’t be surprised if you are asked to fill out a form with your name and phone number for potential contract tracing. Note: Hotel restaurants are allowed to stay open for guests and indoor dining is possible there. 

Many (if not most) museums and cultural sites now require advanced bookings. The days of 3-hour long waits at the Vatican are gone. You must book some cultural sites in advance and arrive at precise entry times. Sites are still very restricted on the weekends, so almost all museums and places like the Pantheon, need to be booked at least 24 hours before in order to visit on Saturday or Sunday.

Restrictions on travel, and the closing of regions, could still happen, even if you are already in Italy. When the opening of Italy was announced, some local residents were frustrated because even Italians have not been able to travel around the country. Italy has been closed to inter-regional travel for months. The ability to leave our official towns of residence was severely limited. For example, we have not left Rome since July 2020. Italy uses a tiered system for enforcing lockdowns. I personally would not use the summer of 2021 for extensive, fast travel throughout the country because it IS possible that there will be local lockdowns that would make it impossible to move from Lombardy to Sicily, for example. This is a better year for slow travel and staying in one area – go rent that villa in Umbria! But if you do want to move around a bit, here is what train travel is like post-COVID.

Rules are enforced with fines. These are not simply recommendations. All of the rules above are enforced with fines. If you are signing any kind of form to declare you are COVID-free, it is legally binding. 

Many people have asked if it is respectful to come while Italy is still recovering. I absolutely think it *can* be done respectfully, and the best thing to do is to be mindful of the standards that Italians have been held to.  Respect social distancing, plan ahead so you are not disappointed by reduced availability (for tour groups sizes, tables at restaurants, entrance times, etc), wear a mask even if you are vaccinated, and enjoy your visit. We are also happy to travel again!

If you want to help – eat out, leave reviews for local businesses, book tours, order a lot when you go out to eat, and tip your tour guide!

If you are hoping to stay even more up-to-date, these are the best Italian news sites in English. And here is the Ministry of Health’s info page.

4 thoughts on “Traveling to Italy in 2021

  1. Lisa Barr says:

    We booked tickets for mid-September, hoping that restrictions will have lessened by then, but we bought refundable tickets just in case. We’re planning to stay in apartment rentals to give us more space and the ability to cook and dine indoors. Our goal is mostly to see friends and acquaintances and especially to support their businesses. Overall, though, we are beyond excited at the prospect of returning to Italy.

  2. Alex says:

    Wow, thanks for this informative update, Natalie. When President von der Leyen announced that the EU would be open to vaccinated American tourists this summer, I took her at her word and bought flights to northern Italy for August. But what you’ve described is not at all what I’d call “open for tourism.” Anyway, while the airfare is nonrefundable, I’m glad to learn the reality of the situation before sinking any more money into the trip. As always, thank you for your great posts and please keep us updated on developments!

  3. Mark L. says:

    I booked on a covid-tested flight to Rome from New York in a few weeks, and booked an airbnb apartment for a month. I’m excited to finally be getting back to Italy, but am also aware that there are mixed feelings all around about visitors. I’m fully vaccinated. My hope is that by being responsible and respectful, just as I’ve been in New York, taking precautions, having realistic expectations about what is open and available, and supporting local businesses will be a positive thing. Thank you Natalie for your very helpful website and instagram postings.

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