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Nov. 29, 2021, 5:03 a.m. EST

What travelers to Europe need to know about rising case rates and new restrictions

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By Sally French

This is reprinted by permission from

If you’re planning to spend the holidays at a German Christmas market or on a beach in Greece, be aware that COVID-19 -related safety measures are returning across Europe. This time, they’re largely in the form of restrictions for those who are unvaccinated in response to rising case rates.

Some regions of Germany have already imposed local restrictions that prevent unvaccinated adults from some public spaces. Other proposals would allow only people who are vaccinated, have recovered or who have proof of a negative COVID-19 test to ride public transit.

As well, only vaccinated and people who have recovered from COVID have access to museums, restaurants and events in Baden-Württemberg, while unvaccinated people will no longer be allowed in bars and clubs in Hamburg. Health authorities in Germany reported at the beginning of the week that the seven-day incidence rate of new COVID-19 infections has hit a new high .

“The fourth wave is hitting our country with full force,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last week.

Meanwhile, in Greece, unvaccinated people will be prevented from entering most indoor spaces including restaurants, theaters, museums and gyms, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a televised address this week.

Also, Austria went into a strict lockdown last week, requiring people to stay home apart from basic reasons like getting groceries, going to the doctor and exercising.

Those are far from the only European countries with COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, and many other nations have recently added — or are considering adding — new rules.

Read: WHO urges world leaders not to have knee-jerk reaction to new coronavirus variant from South Africa as UK and EU impose travel bans

What to do if you’re traveling to Europe

Whether you’re vaccinated or not, you might want to reschedule a European trip given the rising case rates. Or, perhaps you’re forging on with visit. Either way, here’s what you need to know:

Know how to cancel your trip

One positive outcome of the pandemic: Most  change and cancellation policies  have improved. Check yours, as most travel companies provide either full refunds or account credits, even if past refund policies were strict.

At booking time, consider purchasing  a travel insurance policy  with Cancel For Any Reason coverage if you have nonrefundable costs. This type of insurance will typically net you 50% to 75% of any nonrefundable travel expenses back, no matter the reason you cancel.

Also see: World takes action as new coronavirus variant emerges in southern Africa

Pack proof of vaccination

While it certainly doesn’t hurt to bring the physical card, it’s also smart to pack a digital version through an app such as CLEAR’s Health Pass, which can prevent the original from getting lost or damaged as you take it in and out of your wallet.

Just be aware that not every country or establishment will accept digital versions, so check your destinations before relying on digital proof. A country may have specific requirements to prove your vaccination status, be it an app, digital upload or physical copy. If you’re unwilling to download an app, you could also snap a photo and save it to your smartphone to keep  proof of vaccination  on hand.

Make a backup plan

A museum you intended to visit might suddenly close, curfews could kick in or you might need to don a mask as you roam around Europe. Now more than ever, your trip is likely to not go as planned given Europe’s ever-changing COVID-19 rules. But you can have some control by having a backup plan.

Pack extra medications or essential items that can’t easily be acquired abroad should you suddenly need to quarantine. Know nearby airports you can fly out of should your planned flight get canceled. And for a trip to Europe — or anywhere else these days — pack your patience.

The bottom line

Multiple European countries have recently added fresh sets of COVID-19 restrictions, and it’s likely that more will follow. If you’ve got a trip to Europe planned, understand that the rules might be different than in the U.S. — and they could change at the last minute, too.

Read next: U.S. has already seen more COVID deaths in 2021 than 2020 before vaccines were available, as experts again warn pandemic is not over

While the recent bout of restrictions will likely affect unvaccinated travelers only, understand that the pandemic’s impact on every country is different, and you should be prepared for it.

More From NerdWallet

Sally French writes for NerdWallet. Email: sfrench@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @SAFmedia.

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