The new reality of interpreter traveling.
December 27, 2021 § 2 Comments
The world has changed and it will never get back to where we were at the beginning of 2020. Even when the pandemic turns endemic, immunizations are widespread, and science learns how to treat and cure this disease, some aspects of life will forever change. Just after September 11, 2021, traveling will be one of those things.
After staying home mainly working remotely for twenty one months, I finally traveled by plane to a foreign country. I previously took two domestic trips during the pandemic: one by car and one by train, but this was my first time going abroad and getting back to what for many years was my regular routine: airports, airplanes, and hotels. During this December, I traveled once and booked other three trips by air. As an individual who used to travel about 300 days a year and fly two or three times a week in the pre-Covid world, these were the changes I found:
Before accepting an assignment abroad, find out the health department requirements for the country of destination to see if you are eligible, and even if you are, determine if it is feasible to meet them all.
You need to know if the country you are traveling to:
- Currently admits people from your country of origin;
- Requires proof of full vaccination (2 doses) or needs evidence you received a booster;
- Accepts the shots you received as proof of immunization. Many countries will only accept those vaccines approved by the World Health Organization (WHO);
- Needs recent negative Covid test results before you leave your country of origin (The test must be performed within 72, 48, or 24 hours before boarding a plane to the country of the assignment);
- Will accept a rapid test result or will ask you to show a negative PCR;
- Do not admit individuals, regardless of their country of habitual residence, who have traveled to certain third countries within a given period of time before embarking to the country of destination (presence in a third country within 5 days, 10 days, etc. before traveling to destination);
- Requires you test for Covid immediately after arriving to the country of destination, or needs you to test multiple times during your stay in their country (3 days after arrival and then 7 days after arrival for example);
- Will ask you to quarantine upon arrival (10 fays, 14 days, 20 days, etc.)
- Needs you to register with their National Public Health System before entering their country or immediately after arrival;
- Needs you to get a special application or immunization card to prove your vaccination status before you can enter the Country, or if you need to carry your original vaccination card at all times while visiting their Country;
- Requires you get a local government immunization card that must be scanned at all restaurants, bars, and other public places before you may enter;
- Demands proof of Covid insurance covering medical expenses and quarantine stay at a hotel if you test positive during the trip;
- Will the Country of destination treat third-Country stays differently depending if you:
- Just changed flights at that Country and stayed in a designated area;
- Remain inside the airport between flights;
- Left the airport just to go to another airport in the same city to catch the plane that took you to the Country of destination;
- Left the airport for a few hours, observing health department protocol and did not stay overnight in the Country;
- Spend several days in the third-Country;
- The Covid levels in the third-Country at the time of your visit, or the reliability of that Country’s official statistics and reports;
- Needs a letter by a physician clearing you for international travel after recovering from Covid before your trip to the Country where you will work as an interpreter.
You need to know if your country of residence:
- Will ask for a negative Covid test performed within a certain period of time before reentering the Country (24, 48, 72 hrs.);
- Will accept a rapid test result or will ask you to show a negative PCR;
- Requires you test for Covid immediately after arriving home, or needs you to test multiple times after arrival (3 days after arrival and then 7 days after arrival for example);
- Will ask you to quarantine upon arrival (10 fays, 14 days, 20 days, etc.);
- Needs a letter by a physician clearing you after recovering from Covid abroad before your return trip.
Researching these rules is imperative before accepting any assignment. Sometimes you may be precluded from doing a job you do every year because the immunization shots you received are not on the WHO list. Consider how burdensome the requirements to enter a country are before you commit yourself to the assignment: testing and compilation of required documents could take too long or the process may be too expensive to justify such a short assignment. Before saying yes to more than one event, consider if you have enough time between 2 assignments in different locations. What will happen if you test positive at the first destination and you have to quarantine? What of you test positive at your last assignment and now you cannot go back home in time for another local assignment you already booked. We need to be very careful with our professional schedule as we must consider factors we never needed to ponder before the pandemic.
Once you clear the above, and before you take the assignment, make sure you check the following:
- Will the airline reimburse me or credit the cost of the ticket to my account if the trip gets cancelled or postponed due to the cancellation of the event, change on the foreign Country’s visitors’ admission policy, or if you tested positive for Covid before or during the trip? If so, how long will you have to use that credit before you lose the money, and how many times will the airline honor a cancellation of the same ticket for Covid-related reasons;
- Does your health insurance policy cover emergency medical and hospitalization expenses above if Covid occurs? If it does, will the terms of coverage differ from those that apply at home, such as deductible, copayments, maximum amount covered, etc.?
- Will you need a Covid insurance travel policy that covers medical and quarantine hotel stays while traveling abroad? Make sure it covers the countries you visit, there are no preexisting condition exclusions, it covers transportation by ambulance, and gives you enough coverage to pay for a hotel during your quarantine. Some countries are way more expensive than others. Shopping for Covid insurance coverage is difficult, many plans cover medical but not hotel stay; others offer little coverage for quarantine-related expenses, and others are more expensive because they cover things you will probably won’t need, like evacuation coverage, unlike the assignment is in a volcanic area or a small island;
- Does the country of destination offer medical services and quarantine stay free of charge? Some Countries do.
It is only after you consider all of these elements that you can truly decide to accept or turn down an in-person assignment abroad.
If you are taking the assignment, you will be doing the right thing if you:
- Book a plane ticket that is fully refundable if cancellation due to Covid-19 occurs;
- Book a first-class or business seat on the plane. This will keep you away from other passengers who may be unmasked, cough, sneeze, or spit. If your client does not want to cover the ticket, and you want to do the assignment, use frequent flyer miles to upgrade to one of the more desirable seats;
- If short flights occur (3-4 hours) abstain from eating or drinking anything on the plane. That way you will not need to remove the mask. In longer flights, make arrangements with the airline ahead of time so your meals are served before or after other passengers eat. First and business class seats give you enough privacy on wide-body airplanes for this to go unnoticed by others;
- Have disposable wet towels and hand sanitizer handy to clean your immediate area and to use before and after meals if applicable.
- Become a TSA Pre-check, Clear, or a Global Entry member so you can clear airport security through expedited lines, avoiding close and prolonged contact with other passengers;
- At the airport, stay at the airline club if possible; there are fewer people and there is a better chance to keep your distance from others. Because first-class and business seats let you board the plane before others, the time spent at general areas of the airport is brief.
- To keep socially distanced, get to the airport by car (your own, rental, taxi, Uber, or other single-passenger company) and avoid public transportation like train, subway or bus.
- Wear a N95 or KN95 mask at all times: From the moment you leave home until the time you close the door of your hotel room;
- Reserve a room at a contactless hotel so you can use your phone to check in, check out, and open your room. If your stay will be a week or shorter, ask the hotel not to clean your room so nobody but you enter. They can deliver fresh towels and toiletries daily upon request.
- If possible, ask for a room with a refrigerator and microwave so you have the option to have your meals in the room. Have food delivered to your hotel room;
- Ask for a hotel room with ethernet connection. By now you already know why we need this. Take your own ethernet cable and adapter in case you need them. Take your own headset so you do not use the ones in the booth.
- Obviously, request individual interpreting booths or large booths where you can stay distanced from your boothmate.
Before you sign a contract with your client, make sure it covers cancellations due to Covid-19 and a clause where the client assumes the risk of not having your interpreter services if you have to quarantine in that or other country or an authority denies you entry due to a pandemic-related issue. You must consult with already booked clients before accepting other travel assignments that could affect the service because of a Covid-19 related issue.
Finally, you have to prepare yourself for the emotional aspect of traveling to interpret in times of a pandemic. Airport clubs will be quiet and scarcely populated; if you are a frequent flyer, be prepared to learn some of the staff you knew for years may have died in the last 2 years, and be ready for the reunion with airport/airline/club staffers and flight attendants you have not seen for almost two years.
Be careful when you travel, but do not stay home unless public health policy dictates so. We need to reclaim our jobs as conference interpreters. Our clients need it, our markets need it, the profession need it, and for our own sanity: we need it.
Please leave comments or suggestions about this new travel adventure we are just starting in many parts of the world, and please, if you plan to comment against masking, public health, or science, please save your time as we will not post those comments.