A big part of our roving retirement is traveling around Europe. However, during Covid, lots of extra things need to be done. So, we thought we would describe our EU Covid pass experience. On our recent trip, vendors in Portugal and in France required our Euro QR code to verify our vaccination status. If you are American and have a hard copy vaccination card, it may or may not be acceptable. In Portugal for example, we were asked for the QR code to check into a hotel. When we didn’t have it, they were happy to sell us a rapid test. They wouldn’t let us check in until the result was clearly negative. In Spain, we were never asked.
Our Experience in France
As of early August, France and Italy require proof of vaccination status to enter most buildings and restaurants. This was done to compel people to get the jab and it has been effective. To date, over 80% of eligible folks have received their jabs. Anywhere in the EU, when you get your vaccination, you get the EU QR code. Vaccinated folks can upload their QR code to the AntiCovid app available in France. In Italy, it is called a Green Pass. The electronic QR code is scanned to permit entry to the restricted venues.
For those of us vaccinated outside of France, a program was put in place to submit our proof of vaccination. First via email and then via a website. But it is woefully understaffed and response time is measured in weeks. We tried to go this route prior to arrival in France, but we failed twice. If we didn’t have it, we could be denied entry to our hotels and restaurants. Another option was to get tested every 3 days, but that could be expensive and a bit of a hassle.
Going to a Pharmacy
One way to get the QR code that was popular early on was to take the US vaccine cards to a French pharmacy where the staff could upload them to the French system. Most pharmacies were not still doing it, but we heard about one in Paris that would do it for 20€. So, we decided to just show up at a pharmacy on the outskirts of Montpellier and try our luck.
At first, the clerk we spoke to about this process looked at us like we had two heads (each). After some time, they figured out they could do it and sent us next door to their Covid area to proceed. That clerk struggled to enter our info because the system was best suited for people with 2 shots, whereas we only had one since we got the J&J vaccine. He deferred the process to his colleague, who was coming in later in the day. We had to leave to get to Nice that night, so we left a copy of our passports and vaccine cards, said “merci”, and crossed our fingers.
Getting Our QR Codes
Approaching Nice, we still had not received our QR codes in the email, as expected. So we called the pharmacy. The afternoon clerk had not received clear instructions about our situation. It was a challenge to convey what we needed, given the combination of some French, some English, and talking on the car speakerphone while driving. After about 20 minutes, the clerk was set on the right course and we received our codes about 10 minutes later. We then anxiously uploaded them to the French TousAntiCovid app.
We used the QR codes frequently in France. At nearly all of the restaurants and venues, people were scanning our codes before we could enter, although we’ve been told anecdotally others could get away with their CDC cards. Our experience in Portugal was hit and miss on using the CDC cards for hotels.
Officially, both France and Italy have said restaurants will take your CDC card. However, because the staff has been taught to scan the code, that may not work at individual restaurants. If you choose to go to Europe, I suggest you try to get an EU QR code way ahead of time over the French website. Since proof of travel to France is required, I’m told you can book a refundable ticket to/from France for the EU vaccine passport even though you are really going to another country. You would cancel the ticket after you get the QR code back.
Would you try to get your EU QR code before traveling to Europe?