While in the UK a self-test is enough to travel, in Portugal the antigen test must be carried out by a healthcare professional, which is causing huge misunderstandings.

In short, to get in Portugal by plane (if you don't have a valid recovery certificate) you will have to take a negative test, even if you are fully vaccinated. This test must be done 72 hours before boarding if it is an RT-PCR test, or 48 hours before boarding if it is a Laboratory Rapid Antigen test - but in both cases, these tests must be carried out in a certified laboratory, which means that a self swab test for travelling to Portugal is not enough.

However, these rules were not made clear for some UK passengers and also for some airlines that allowed passengers to board without the mandatory test they would need to land in Portuguese territory. Upon arrival these passengers are getting stopped by the airport authorities and subjected to a new test.

The Portugal News spoke to a passenger who found herself in the middle of this mess on 8 December, when she arrived in Portugal by plane from the United Kingdom. Before getting on the plane, she checked all the rules and requirements she needed and performed an antigen self-test. Everything looked perfect and the journey seemed to have gone well as the airline also accepted the test.

However, when she arrived at Faro airport a series of unfortunate events took place. "I had my passport taken off me, had to pay for another test, wait for the results, told to sign a form where I could be fined €800 to get my passport back. I landed at 10.30pm and was allowed to leave only three hours later", adding that such a situation made her feel vulnerable and violated.

EU and UK different rules

To clarify what is happening, we spoke to João Fernandes, head of Algarve Tourism Board, who explained the origin of this misunderstanding. In fact, while for Portugal and other EU countries an antigen test has to be done by a healthcare professional to be valid, in the UK the test can be a simple self swab test.

"In the United Kingdom there is an understanding that tests are carried out on a self-test basis, without a health professional, they can be admitted for different purposes, namely for travel, but in fact there is a difference in interpretation between the United Kingdom and the different countries of the EU”, he said.

Adding: “The EU does not recognise self-tests for travel between countries, which means it doesn't matter if it's a PCR test or an antigen test, because there are also self-tests that are PCR, and there are self-tests that are antigen, but the point is: it has to be done by a health professional, otherwise it is not valid when they arrive in Portugal”.

Furthermore, this is not just a problem for Portugal. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, Portugal has followed the rules of the European Union, namely the EU Health Security Committee”, so there are more European countries following the same rules as Portugal.

All in all, if passengers do not comply with these requirements: “Faro airport is equipped with a certified laboratory so that those who do not have this document can take the test at the airport's facilities, in an accredited laboratory, but it is still an uncomfortable situation for the passenger”, adding that both the passenger and the airline may end up being fined.

Algarve recovering from the pandemic

Despite this unfortunate situation, there is also good news for Portugal as the Algarve is moving forward in the final months of autumn. According to João Fernandes, October and November were months in which Portugal recovered a lot, with numbers almost similar to the same months before the pandemic.

“In October and November we were already very close to the numbers of a normal year. Portugal had an excellent performance in the vaccination process and is considered one of the most successful in the world. Therefore, since August we have been reaping the fruits of such a good image, which is an image of security that makes Portugal an even more attractive destination”, stressed João Fernandes.