It’s time to begin planning your faith-based trips abroad.
After the coronavirus pandemic led to protracted border shutdowns worldwide, some countries that depend heavily on tourism have begun welcoming visitors again. Among these are some of the most popular international destinations for church groups, including Israel, Jordan and Greece.
While each of these countries has its own health regulations and protocols in place — and those may change at any time if pandemic conditions deteriorate — their reopening signals a turning point for church groups, who can now look forward to taking trips they postponed in 2020 or planning new adventures to these faith-based destinations.
Here’s an overview of the operational status and procedures required for travel to Israel, Jordan and Greece.
Israel made headlines early this year thanks to its highly effective vaccination rollout. Because of widespread vaccination, COVID-19 is largely under control in this small but popular nation. As a result, the Israeli government reopened its borders to foreign tourists on May 23.
This decision is momentous for the travel and hospitality industries in Israel, which represent a high percentage of the country’s overall economy. But it comes with several caveats.
First, only fully vaccinated travelers will be allowed to enter the country, at least for the time being. Visitors will need to show proof of a negative PCR test for COVID-19 before boarding an Israel-bound aircraft and will be tested for SARS-COV-2 antibodies upon landing in Tel Aviv.
Additionally, the May opening applies only to small preformed groups of travelers, which authorities say are easier to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms. This means church groups may be able to visit the country before individual travelers, who are expected to be permitted later this summer.
Anticipating a flood of pent-up demand, U.S. airlines have been racing to add capacity for flights to and from Israel.
Jordan was among the first countries in the world to allow foreign visitors after the pandemic closure when it opened its borders last September. The country is a popular destination for many faith-based groups because of its large number of biblical sites, including Mount Nebo, where Moses overlooked the Promised Land, and Bethany Beyond the Jordan, believed to be the site where Jesus was baptized.
While some other countries have different rules for different categories of travelers, Jordan has a single set of regulations for all international visitors. The government requires that travelers show proof of a negative PCR test conducted within 72 hours of departure from their home country. They must also fill out a health declaration form and install the AMAN app — a COVID exposure tracking application — on their mobile phones.
The policy also includes a provision requiring all visitors to have a valid travel insurance policy in force at the time of their visit. Finally, all arriving passengers must undergo a second COVID-19 test upon their aircraft’s arrival in Amman. They must register and pay for the test, which costs around $40, before beginning their trips.
Breaking with the rest of the European Union, which has been slow in its vaccine rollout and has not revealed plans to restart international travel, Greece reopened its borders to international travelers on May 15, approximately two weeks after the country reopened outdoor dining and other activities for local residents.
The new policy will require that visitors show proof of a negative PCR test conducted 72 hours or less before departure from their home country. Alternatively, they can provide proof of vaccination that certifies they were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 more than 14 days before arriving in Greece. People who have recovered from COVID-19 more than 90 days ahead of travel will also be permitted to enter the country.
Travelers from the United States will not be required to quarantine upon arrival in Greece. But other public health measures remain in place; these include mandatory masking in public areas, a curfew and limits on large gatherings.