‘I doubt it’ll go smoothly’: The struggles of getting home for Christmas from Spain

This year has been a sad, frustrating and lonely year for many foreigners in Spain who are now longing to see their families for Christmas. The Local spoke to some of its readers to find out what their experiences of trying to get back to their home countries have been so far.

'I doubt it'll go smoothly': The struggles of getting home for Christmas from Spain
Photo: Rudy and Peter Skitterians/Pixabay

Many of us are simply not taking the risk of going back to our own countries to visit relatives this year and will be staying put in Spain, but for others, the thought of spending Christmas without their loved ones is just too much.

With the recent news that Andalusia and Murcia will only be allowing visits with family and not close friends at Christmas, it means that many expats will have to choose between trying to get back to their home country for the holidays or spending the festive period alone.

Authorities are of course trying to dissuade people from meeting up, but restrictions are going to be relaxed over the holidays in some countries.

For example in the UK, the government is relaxing the rules for five days, allowing for the formation of ‘Christmas bubbles’ (not baubles), composed of people from no more than three households.

In theory then, this means that Brits in Spain could travel back to the UK at Christmas and form a Christmas bubble with their family from two other households.

This sounds easy enough, but what is the reality of trying to go home for Christmas? Flight cancellations, quarantines, restrictions and expensive PCR tests are just some of the problems readers of The Local Spain have already been encountering. 

Teacher Nicola Small said: “I booked my flights back home, but a few weeks later they were cancelled. I wanted to try and rebook them, but there really weren’t that many available”.

“The worst thing was that I had booked a flight to London and then a separate one up to Newcastle, as there weren’t many direct flights, and the airline had cancelled the Barcelona to London flight, but not the London to Newcastle flight”.

Now Nicola is not sure if she should even go back home for Christmas at all and might wait until spring instead.

This seems to be a common problem with foreigners trying to get home, with many flight cancellations across the board and limited schedules. It’s especially difficult for those trying to get to smaller airports and not one of the main London ones.

easyJet has told passengers that if part or all of their trip is cancelled, they will have three options. These include, switching to another easyJet flight for free within the same country of the original booking, choosing a voucher for the full value of your ticket or requesting a refund. 

Ryanair meanwhile, has a similar stance, telling customers that they can either apply for a refund or change their cancelled flight for free. They also have information about Covid-19 testing centres across the UK for your journey back. 

Some people are trying to get around the issue of flights by driving through France instead, however this brings up a whole new set of problems. If driving through Catalonia you can only travel on a weekday, because on the weekend, the borders of each municipality are closed.

Once in France, there are other problems to deal with – restaurants may not open until January in some areas, so you’ll have to make do with takeaway on the road. If you’re travelling before December 15th, you’ll find a national lockdown in place with no travel between regions allowed, and if travelling before December 24th, you’ll find a 9pm curfew in place, so no driving at night.

If you do finally manage to get a flight or drive through France, once you arrive in the UK you’ll have to quarantine for 14 days. This means that anyone in the same household as you will also need to isolate, so neither you nor your family will be able to leave the house over Christmas.

Barcelona expat Maysaa Salem explained: “I've been trying to get home to the UK, but quarantine has made it too difficult, so we're going to have to stay here”. 

Image: Elchinator/Pixabay 

And finally, once Christmas is over and you need to return to Spain, there’s the problem of getting a PCR test to get back in again. Spain now requires anyone entering the country to provide a negative PCR test, no older than 72 hours upon arrival.

The Local has been hearing reports from readers that there's almost no more availability left for tests over the Christmas period at UK pharmacy Boots. “My brother hasn't been able to find a test in all of London,” says Isabella Noble. 

Translator Katie Uniacke who has managed to get flights back home for Christmas says: “All being well, I'll be flying on Saturday and coming back on the 8th of January – I had to push my flight back from the 3rd when they brought the new PCR rule in. I've already got a very expensive PCR test via a courier booked. I'll be surprised if it all goes entirely smoothly!”

While translator Jai, who lives in Granada says: “I'm due to fly on Dec 20th and return on Jan 9th. I've managed to book a PCR test for the 15th to ensure I'm COVID-free for travelling, then I'll test again in order to travel back to Spain in January. For now, fingers crossed they'll let me travel as far as the airport!”

But it’s not just getting a test that’s an issue, but also the cost of a test. A PCR test in the UK for example costs around £120. For a family of four, that’s an extra £480 added on top of any flights, accommodation (if necessary) and Christmas presents.

“I looked into going back to the UK for the holidays”, says graphic designer and content creator Dan Convey, “but the flights were pretty expensive and then it was going to be even more to add on the price of tests for me and my wife. Also, I simply didn't want to put my family at risk, so I'm going to wait and travel in 2021 instead.” 

After such a tough year, many simply cannot afford the extra expense, not to mention difficulty in trying to get hold of a test over the holidays.

With all the difficulties of trying to get home for Christmas this year, will you be trying to make it back or will you be staying in Spain instead? 

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US to end Covid testing requirement for travellers from Europe

Authorities in the USA have announced the end of the Covid-testing requirement for arrivals from Europe, meaning that fully vaccinated people will soon be able to travel between Europe and the US without needing pre-travel tests.

US to end Covid testing requirement for travellers from Europe

Most of Europe had dropped the testing requirement for fully-vaccinated arrivals in the spring, but the US has maintained the requirement to show proof of a negative test for all arrivals.

However on Friday, the Biden administration announced that it would not renew the testing requirement.

The new rule is expected to come into effect at 12.01 Sunday EDT, until then passengers will still need to show a negative Covid test before they can board a plane to the US.

The US currently bars unvaccinated travellers from entry – although this does not apply to US citizens, US residents or those travelling for essential reasons – there was no announcement on lifting this restriction. 

The CDC said that testing requirements could be reinstated if new variants of Covid emerge, and added that it continues to recommend pre-travel testing. 

Covid travel rules vary between individual countries in Europe, but most countries now only require pre-departure tests for unvaccinated travellers. Check the rules of the country you are travelling to for full details. 

To be counted as ‘fully vaccinated’ travellers must have received both doses of an EMA-approved vaccine – Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca (or a single dose of Janssen).

If their vaccination was more than nine months ago, they need a booster shot in order to be considered fully vaccinated – people who have had a booster do not need a second, even if their booster shot was more than nine months ago.