Croatia is for Displaced Lovers
Last updated August 9, 2020. Updates are listed below in reverse chronological order.
I am an American in the US and my partner is an Italian in Italy. We had planned on meeting in early July (for me to fly to him) but because the EU has chosen to not lift their travel ban for travelers coming from the US, we had to postpone our reunion. I rescheduled my flight for early August in hopes that the EU’s border policies would change by then as they are to be reviewed and updated every two weeks.
Given that the rate of COVID cases has only risen in the US since this announcement on July 1, I very much doubt that the ban on US travelers will be lifted anytime soon. This is not to mention that the US still has its own ban on European travelers in place, which is why he cannot come to meet me.
Though the specifics vary by country, in general, married couples and blood-relations are deemed essential and are allowed to cross borders to reunite with their families or otherwise return home. My partner and I are not married and do not meet these criteria. Thus, we have become one of the thousands of couples displaced by border restrictions due to the pandemic. However, there is hope.
Multi-national couples like us have united online behind the Love is Not Tourism movement to petition and otherwise, urge our respective governments to make changes to policies to allow for our reunion. While some may argue there is a world of difference between married and not, to governments and unmarried couples alike, this line is as thin as a piece of paper. Some countries have concluded that travel for reunification purposes do not pose the same threat in spreading the virus as tourism would and have added unmarried couples to their list of exemptions. It began with Denmark followed by a handful of other member states (hence #DoItLikeDenmark as seen on various social media platforms). While this news gives us hope, we don’t know if or when these policies will be wildly adopted, particularly for our respective countries. We can either continue to wait, or we can go to Croatia.
Though the EU makes suggestions, it is ultimately up to each member state to decide policies for themselves. Italy actually has an even stricter border policy than what has been outlined by the EU. On the other hand, Croatia has chosen to open its borders for tourism and is currently allowing travelers from the US to enter their country (albeit with conditions, which I will discuss later). For this reason, I have changed my flight yet again and will now be headed for Croatia to reunite with my Italian partner. I leave on July 25th.
I can only speak from my personal experience so this post will be focused on my transit from the US to Croatia; specifically to its capital, Zagreb; and ultimately to Italy, which will also include having to drive through Slovenia. For more information about Croatia’s policies for traveler from other countries, I will direct you to Total Croatia News and the Croatian Ministry of the Interior.
Additionally, Croatia is not the only way for travelers from the US to enter the EU. My understanding is that the UK, which is no longer part of the EU but still considered a green-list country, has not closed its borders throughout the pandemic and many couples have already been taking this route. We are choosing to reunite through Croatia for several reasons: proximity to Italy (my partner lives a mere 3.5 hrs drive away from Zagreb); Croatia is part of the EU (therefore my partner will not be subject to a 14-day quarantine to come); economical reasons (it is far more affordable than the UK); and lastly, I’ve always wanted to visit Croatia anyway.
My hope is that this post will quickly become nothing but an artifact of these unprecedented times for the reason that all borders will have reopened safely for free movement. Until then, may sharing my experience be helpful for others. I will update this as I go, so stay tuned.
Update: August 9, 2020
My partner joined me in Zagreb on the 3rd. He drove from Italy through Slovenia. He didn’t face any issues, he only had to show his ID card at the two checkpoints at the Slovenia-Croatia crossing. And as of yesterday, we made it back into Italy!
I’m not sure how the days are counted – is the day I arrive Day 0 or 1? Either way, I had spent at least 14 days in Croatia so we decided to leave on the 8th.
We drove from Zagreb to the Bregana-Obrežje crossing into Slovenia. Coming from the US, the border crossing looks like high-way toll booths. We cued in a line of cars and remained in the vehicle the entire time.
There were two check-points at the border crossing: one for leaving Croatia and one for entering Slovenia. The Croatian guard took a quick look at my passport and my partner’s ID, guessed we were headed for Italy, and let us through.
The cue for entering Slovenia was longer and we spent about 20 minutes inching our way to the booth. When it was our turn, we handed the same documents and emphasized we were merely transiting Slovenia to get to Italy. The guard scanned my passport, entered some information into the system, and looked at my partner’s ID. He didn’t ask any more questions, he didn’t say anything about the entry rules, and we didn’t have to show any other documents. He stamped my passport and let us through.
We passed Ljubljana and drove towards Trieste, Italy. We stopped for gas just before the border and though I anticipated yet another toll-booth type encounter, it was just an open road. I barely caught a photo of the border and before I knew it, my partner had announced we were now in Italy. It was a pleasant surprise! I didn’t see any of the guards but my partner said they were on the side of the road. It’s likely because we were in his car which has Italian plates that there was no need to stop us.
And just like that, this saga of our journey is over.
July 29, 2020
Though the medical certificates had the epidemiologist’s stamp on them, I called the next day to make sure I was indeed cleared in the system from having to quarantine. I was told to email my results to her, so I did. She then sent back a screen-shot of my file listed as “inactive” for quarantine. Now that it’s official and done with, on to the next task!
Being let into Croatia was Hurdle One. Getting tested and/or enduring quarantine was Hurdle Two. Hurdle Three is, after spending at least 14 days in Croatia, crossing the border into Slovenia and then onwards to Italy. I looked into this more carefully last night and this is what I understand:
- My partner can drive and enter Slovenia and Croatia as freely as before.
- I will need to print and fill out Italy’s self-declaration form to show at the borders along with my passport (not just at the Slovenia-Italy border but also the Croatia-Slovenia border).
- Slovenia has put out a guideline for those who just want to transit through the country. To do so, we need to have documentation that outlines the purpose of the journey and final destination (hence needing Italy’s self-declaration form at the Croatia-Slovenia border), we must exit the country within 12 hours of entering, we must not make any unnecessary stops (outside of buying food or gas or going to the bathroom), we must stay on the main route, and we are not allowed to stay overnight even if it falls within the 12 hour period.
- To leave Slovenia, even though my partner can travel at-will through any route, because of me, we will need to use one of the four identified border crossing passages. They can be found here: https://www.policija.si/eng/newsroom/news-archive/103470-crossing-the-state-border-during-the-coronavirus-epidemic
While I would love to spend more time in Croatia, perhaps go check out its famous coastline, I would rather be in Italy with my partner than risk becoming stuck if there are changes to any of the three countries’ policies over the next couple of weeks.
For now, I am enjoying my exploration of Zagreb.
July 26, 2020
Yesterday, I was able to fly from Los Angeles, through Amsterdam, to Zagreb, and pass through immigration without incident.
I was also able to take the PCR test, aka the nasal swab test, once I settled in the city. I received results via email the same night. I tested negative and the medical certificates had been signed off by the local on-call epidemiologist so I am cleared from having to self-quarantine for 14 days. Though I was prepared (mentally and logistically), this news came as a pleasant surprise and relief.
Details about the journey (July 24/25):
- To receive my boarding passes in Los Angeles, KLM was strict about making sure I had a print out of the Croatia Entry Form confirmation page; a return ticket that was within 90 days, or a plausible explanation for exceptions (I had a return ticket out of Italy that was beyond 90 days because I am driving to Italy well before my 90 days in Croatia are up); and the correct weight for all of my luggage.
- The flight to Amsterdam was mostly empty as everyone got a whole row to themselves and no one occupied the last third of the plane. We had to have our masks on the entire flight except when consuming food or beverages. Meal and beverage services were reduced. Otherwise, it was like any other flight.
- Since I was only transiting through Amsterdam, I didn’t have to prepare any documents for the Netherlands. Once I landed, I was able to walk through the terminal to my connecting flight. Schipol Airport was much more active than LAX with many of the shops open, though cafes had limited their seating options.
- The flight to Zagreb was full with each seat occupied. Aside from everyone wearing a mask, it was a taste of normalcy.
- Once I landed in Zagreb and I spoke to the immigration officer, he asked where I was coming from; if I had gotten the COVID test; why I hadn’t gotten it; and if I was aware of the 14-day quarantine policy. He also took down the address of my first night’s stay and my phone number. He didn’t ask for my Entry Form but he did hand me printouts with phone numbers of epidemiologists on-call in various regions throughout Croatia. He also told me I could call the one in Zagreb to schedule getting tested that day or the next and that I will not have to quarantine if I get a negative result.
- I took an Uber from the airport (which picks up from Departures on the 2nd floor/upper level) and checked-in to my Airbnb. As soon as I settled down, I called the epidemiologist for Zagreb, who picked up right away, informed me that testing is done every day from 8 am to 2 pm, and the cost is 696kn or roughly $108.
- I took an Uber to the testing site, which is adjacent to the University Hospital for Infectious Diseases — just north of it. All signs were in Croatian so I didn’t know where to go or what to do but the security guard begrudgingly pointed me in the right direction.
- First, I had to register for the test in one building, filling out two short forms with my name, birthday, signature, and e-mail address. Next, I had to pay for the test in another building. Then, finally, I had to locate the so-called “mobile unit” for testing. I saw two people in lab coats walk towards the main building and asked them where to go. It turns out they are the ones who administer the tests and since it was 1:59 pm, they said they were done for the day. I mentioned I had already paid and showed them my receipt to which they, also begrudgingly, turned around to administer the test for me. Testing takes place in an office trailer around the corner and out-of-sight of the main building.
- The test was very quick. I met them at the front door, was told not to go inside, pulled my mask off my nose, and had a long swab inserted into my nostril and swirled around a couple of times. They confirmed my email address and said I would receive results the next morning. (I received results that night around 9 pm).
- From the testing site, I took an Uber back to the city center, went grocery shopping, and returned to my Airbnb.
Because we thought I would have to quarantine for a week before I was allowed to take the test, as per the official policies we read, my partner isn’t arriving until next week. Regardless of a negative test result, I still need to wait until at least 14 days have passed to be allowed into Italy. I believe we will take that drive on August 9th.
July 23, 2020
Last night I decided to move my flights up by a day.
The rising rates of cases in the US, the fact that Slovenia (which I will have to drive through to get to Italy) has Croatia on the Yellow List — for now — and the fact that other countries are putting Croatia on not-green lists, all made me revaluate the value of a day.
In addition to updating my flight itinerary, I had to book an extra night on Airbnb and submit a new entry form (which I really hope isn’t going to cause a hiccup). Because I was leaving so soon and needed an address to fill out the form, I used the Instant Book feature and got a place in the city center for my new “first night”. I chose to stay in the city center this time because now I will be arriving on a Saturday, which means grocery stores will be open.
Today, I tried to check-in to my flight but was unable to do so through the KLM app and the website. I called KLM and they weren’t able to check me in either, I guess because they need to make sure I have all the necessary documents. However, the agent I spoke with was able to assign me seats for my two flights, which I appreciated as they were still charging to reserve seats. Though I assume airports here are largely empty and the security lines are shorter, I will go three hours before departure.
I also spent the day preparing snacks to take with me on the journey. I usually request a vegan meal but special meal requests are still suspended at the moment. I also don’t know what food options will be available in the airports.
Now, I leave in less than 14 hours. Luckily, I had already finished packing yesterday so tonight I said my goodbyes and printed necessary forms, as well as gathered additional artifacts related to my trip. These include the confirmation of my new entry form, blank Health Declaration Forms for the Netherlands, a copy of my flight itinerary, Airbnb reservation details (they have a handy “Get a PDF for visa purposes” feature), and print-outs from the most recent updates to the US Department of State website on entering Croatia, as well as from Croatia’s government website. There are a lot of moving parts between checking-in, boarding at the gate, doing the same in a different country, going through immigration, then customs, and luggage claim. Because of this, I have multiple copies in different bags.
Well, I think this covers everything. Now to catch some sleep.
(See update from July 20 for links to mentioned forms).
July 21, 2020
Several websites attempt to clarify the various entry policies set forth by each country. I’ve looked through a few, comparing my notes to theirs, and not all are up-to-date based on my own research from official sources and personal testimonies.
For EU travel, I recommend https://reopen.europa.eu/en. Just be sure to select what type of traveler you are (EU resident or not).
For a global map, I recommend https://www.kayak.com/travel-restrictions.
July 20, 2020
In preparation for my trip, I have the following:
- My passport, which does not expire for several years. This is obvious but even before COVID if a passport was going to expire within the next six months of travel, one often had issues crossing borders.
- An Airbnb booked for the duration of my quarantine. I debated between staying in the city center for the convenience and quick access to supplies, and outside of it for more space and comfortable living quarters. I ultimately went with comfort as my host mentioned I will be able to use Glovo to have groceries delivered. I will also be packing non-perishable staples in my suitcase as if this were a camping trip. I heard the police or immigration officers are diligently performing random checks on tourists to make sure they are quarantining where they said they would.
- Updated my information with KLM, with whom I am flying. I provided my passport number and the address of the Airbnb in Zagreb.
- Printed out the Health Declaration Form for the Netherlands. I am flying through Amsterdam and have a two-hour layover there. I believe this form will be provided at the airport at check-in but I will bring my own copy just in case.
- Filled out and submitted the Enter Croatia form. They ask for the same information as the airlines and it is highly recommended it is filled out before departure.
Once I arrive in Croatia, I will have to self-isolate in quarantine for the first 14 days. This can be bypassed in two ways. One, present a negative PCR test — the nasal swab test, and it must be this test — that was taken WITHIN 48 hours of arrival. Or two, quarantine for seven days and then get tested locally. Once you receive the results, you will have to contact the local epidemiologist to be cleared. Check with the US Embassy in Croatia and Croatian Ministry of the Interior for more detail.
If it were feasible, I would get tested — any COVID test — before I left and either have the results in hand or electronically shared with me, even after I have arrived. However, I am in Los Angeles and at this time, none of the testing centers within 100 miles of me are accepting reservations to get tested because there is such high demand.