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Europe has long been popular with American vacationers. In 2020, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred bilateral entry restrictions between the United States and many European countries, resulting in a major slowdown of transatlantic traffic. Specifically, European countries that are also part of the common border and customs union — known as the Schengen Area — are included in the restrictions for U.S. travelers.
However, some European countries are not part of the Schengen Area, and have not restricted American travelers from visiting. One such destination is Croatia, a C-shaped country with a long coastline on the sunbaked Adriatic Sea.
RELATED: European Countries That Still Allow U.S. Travelers to Visit
But what’s it like to travel to Croatia? What are the requirements for those travelers who plan to go, and how can they get there if they must travel through a closed part of Europe?
We spoke with Jordan Womack — a Portland, Ore.-based airline employee who undertook that very journey — to gain his insights.
Entry RequirementsCroatia requires proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test administered within 48 hours of arriving at the border checkpoint. Croatia also requires visitors to complete a health form online prior to arrival as well as present proof of accommodations, such as a hotel reservation or payment receipt.
With PCR test providers in Portland not guaranteeing fast results, Womack traveled to Los Angeles to test with a provider there before departing for Croatia.
According to Womack, upon his arrival in Zagreb, Croatia, immigration officers were pleasant but thorough. They nearly denied entry to a member of the traveling party because the officials hadn’t taken into account the nine-hour time change between his point of embarkation and Zagreb when calculating the age of the PCR test.
Visitors who arrive without a test or with an expired test can take one and self-quarantine for three to seven days to wait for the results. Expenses for testing and self-quarantine are the responsibility of the traveler. (Editor's note: Travel advisors can learn more about Croatia’s latest entry and exit requirements here.)
Places such as Dubrovnik, Split and Plitvice are just beautiful without the crowds, and I don’t think there will ever again be an opportunity to see them in their true glory like right now.
Travel RequirementsThere weren’t nonstop flights between the U.S. and Croatia before the pandemic, nor were there any available when Womack traveled. His itinerary involved transit in Amsterdam on the outbound and Munich on the return.
European airports have long separated Schengen and non-Schengen areas so that transit passengers bound for non-Schengen destinations need not clear a border checkpoint until arrival at their destination.
There was difficulty, however, at the ticket counter at Newark Liberty International Airport. Airlines are required to verify, prior to check-in, that passengers have the correct documents for entry at their destination. It took additional time and documentation to convince the airline agent that Americans are allowed to visit Croatia at present time.
On the GroundOnce in Croatia, Womack noted that the country is open for business, with varying pandemic-related restrictions. Most restaurants, bars, tourist sites and national parks continue to be open and ready for visitors.
Maja Gudelj, senior director for Olive Tree Escapes — which specializes in custom itineraries in Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro — is currently based in Croatia and has traveled extensively around the country during the pandemic. She says that many restaurants are operating normally, and there’s some difference in how individual establishments interpret the regulations.
Many larger chain hotels appear to be most diligent with cleaning and health checks. Otherwise, the visitor experience is unrestricted, aside from a mask requirement in stores and on public transportation.
Gudelj also reports that visitors prefer villas and vacation rentals to hotels, and are opting for long-term stays that incorporate work and leisure time. As a result, an increased number of visitors list reliable Wi-Fi access as a must-have.
As more Americans learn that Croatia is an option for travel (with entry requirements in mind), she has noticed an uptick in U.S. travelers, although overall visitor numbers still remain low.
Womack agrees that many sites had a light number of patrons, but he observed healthy hiking traffic at Plitvice Lakes National Park’s trails. He also found that local people his group met were often unaware that the country still allowed American travelers, but they were delighted to discover the news.
A first-time visitor to Croatia, Womack was taken by its diverse experiences, from Zagreb’s Central Europe-feeling atmosphere to the languid pace of the coast, where he enjoyed the Old Town of Split and was captivated by Hvar, a well-preserved harbor town an hour away by boat.
The TakeawayWomack suggests travelers remain flexible and understanding, as the situation remains fluid. As an example, the testing requirement changed from 48 hours prior to departure for Croatia to 48 hours prior to arrival at the border checkpoint (leaving little margin for delays) just before he embarked on his journey. He also advises to take cues from the locals when visiting, making sure to respect local restrictions.
Womack now counts the country among his favorite destinations.
“My expectations were high upon arrival, and I was not disappointed upon leaving,” he said. “I would recommend any future travelers plan a lot of time for a visit because there is so much to see and do in the country.”
In Gudelj’s opinion, it’s a good time to visit Croatia.
“Places such as Dubrovnik, Split and Plitvice are just beautiful without the crowds, and I don’t think there will ever again be an opportunity to see them in their true glory like right now,” she said.
The DetailsCroatia Tourismwww.croatia.hr
Olive Tree Escapeswww.otescapes.com