It’s October 2020. The US is in chaos about the upcoming elections. Most countries in Europe are about to go into another lockdown as Covid cases rapidly increase. Winter is coming…Dun Dun Dunnnnn.
JetAir Caribbean announces their first flight to Curaçao since Curacao reopened its borders to St. Maarten. I rush to their website, eager to find out what the price for a ticket is and am pleasantly surprised to see the fair for a return ticket at quite a favorable amount. Lower than it has been in years. I jump at the opportunity and book my ticket. My mom has been living by herself on the island since the passing of my dad the previous February. She was beyond ready to be in the company of one of her children again and I was more than happy to oblige.
This would also be my first time stepping foot onto a plane since early March. For someone who was used to traveling every two months or so, the wait of 7 months was pure torture at times. At the same time I wondered what it would be like to travel during the pandemic and I was certainly not looking forward to getting probed in the nose. The PCR nasal test is a requirement to be able to enter into Curaçao.
Here is what you need to know when traveling to Curaçao.
First things first. You need to check which group your country of departure falls into, low risk, medium risk or high risk.
For the low risk countries and these are countries with very few or no cases of the Coronavirus, the requirements are simple:
- Completing the DI (Digital Immigration) Card on the dicardcuracao.com
- Completing the PL (Passenger Locator) card on the same website.
After completing this last one, you will receive an email with a pre-approval to enter the country. Please note though that this is not a guarantee. All documents must still be checked upon arrival. So walk with a hard copy of everything, the pre-approval email, the test result and whatever other paperwork you might need.
For Medium risk countries, which St Maarten is a part of at the time of this article, there is a third requirement and that is the PCR Nasal Swab test to be done within 72 hours prior to departure.
The negative test result then needs to be uploaded onto the Passenger Locator Card form. You will then receive a pre-approval to fly.
The Curaçao website was easy to use and the forms easy to complete. Make sure you have a valid insurance because without it you might be denied entry.
The PCR test on the other hand was unpleasant but necessary. I also thought it a bit expensive at around USD 100 per test.
My elatedness at getting a super affordable ticket quickly diminished once I realized I had to pay for two PCR tests as both Curaçao and St, Maarten require a negative test for entry at USD 100 each. This brief trip to visit my mom was getting up there in price.
Now, let me tell you about that darn PCR test. My first test was a pain. I’m not sure if my nose was too sensitive or if it was done a little harshly but my nose stung for a good day and a half after the test. This is not to scare you and really, in hindsight, it’s doable. But I would be lying if I told you it was a pleasant experience.
The good news is that my second time doing this test went much more smoothly and other than the 3 seconds of discomfort, there was no lingering side effects afterwards. More about this later.
I cannot tell you much about what all those traveling from high risk countries need because I did not experience it for myself. But my brother, who lives in Belgium, a high risk country at the moment, tried to book a ticket to see my mom during the same time and was told he would need a doctor’s letter saying that he is healthy to travel and would also need to go into quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. This all is in addition to the three requirements I had to complete.
For more on the details of what exactly you need to travel to Curaçao from a high risk country, visit the website I mentioned above. It is all listed there in details.
The day of my flight was uneventful. Traveling nowadays feels weird but still comes natural to me. Masks are a must at all times inside the Princess Juliana International Airport on St Maarten and physical distance from one another is encouraged at all times. I must have used about every other hand sanitizing station just to make sure I did not catch anything. After all, I was about to visit my elderly mother.
At check in the hard copy of the email saying I’m pre-approved to enter Curaçao was presented along with the copy of my negative test result. Checking in was easy and uneventful as well. The only difference is that I had these documents to present and I was wearing a mask. The airport itself was very quiet at the time of embarkation. Eerily so.
For more on traveling to and from the St. Maarten airport, click here.
Once we landed on Curaçao, we were escorted to the terminal building where we lined up at immigration. This took a bit longer than usual since forms had to be checked and double checked.
Once outside I was a bit disappointed to see so many people without masks. While on St. Maarten masks are mandatory pretty much anywhere you go, it was not on curaçao or so it seemed. The majority of people did not wear one inside supermarkets, pharmacies and other stores I’ve been to. To be honest, this made me instantly worried about my mom being there but she makes sure that whenever she leaves the house she wears her mask.
It was weird not hugging her when I arrived and tried not to come to close to her for the entire trip. I needed to be extra careful for her sake.
After a week of time well spent with my mom it was time to return home.
Here is the funny part, Curaçao is listed as a medium risk country on St. Maarten, so I had to go through a similar procedure as before. St. Maarten though requires the PCR test to be done within 120 hours prior to flying instead of the 72 Curaçao asks for. I needed no appointment and the whole test went super smoothly. The person who did it for me was very gentle and it was over before I knew it. My result was in my email inbox less than 24 hours later. I must say that it was the same on St. Maarten as well. I had my test result by 6am the next morning.
With my negative test result in hand, I visited the St. Maarten website EHAS, which stands for Electronic Health Authorization System.
Much the same as with Curaçao, I needed to complete an application form, which is easy to understand and complete. Just follow the directions and read everything carefully. Instead of two different forms, St. Maarten has both in one. So, this is also where you upload your negative test result.
Again, make sure you have valid insurance. Without one you will get denied entry. Take it from me. I am a resident of St. Maarten and I accidentally ticked off the no insurance button and received an email with big red letters saying DENIED. I almost cried. I may have been born and raised on Curaçao, but St. Maarten is home. Which reminds me, you could be asked to present a proof of insurance upon entry. So, have that ready in a hard copy as well.
It was now time to head to the airport.
Everything went extremely smoothly at the Hato international airport. I presented both my pre approval email and negative PCR test result. Not all travelers were wearing masks inside the terminal but I made sure I followed the rules from my home island of St Maarten. I didn’t play it safe all through the week on Curaçao only to take risks at the last minute.
The flight this time was delayed but that is nothing new. I can count on one hand how many times the flight departing from Curaçao to St. Maarten was actually on time and I have taken plenty of flights to and form Curaçao in my lifetime and with different airlines.
About an hour later than we were supposed to we were finally up in the air and by the time I saw the tip of St. Maarten appear in the plane window, I was beyond elated. What can I say, I really love my home island. No disrespect to Curaçao but I actually feel more at home here.
Be aware that the arrival procedure on St. Maarten may look hectic and chaotic when you first step out of the plane but the airport is still under construction after hurricane Irma, which means that only a small percentage of the building is currently in use.
Airport representatives are there to guide you through the whole process. Once inside the terminal you are led to a makeshift check point. Here is where the thermal camera is that takes your body temp while you wait in line. You are then escorted to a desk, where all your paperwork is checked and questions are asked. After this you are led to immigration and afterwards the baggage carousel.
Should your paperwork not be in order, you will be required to test at the airport and pay for the test (USD120) yourself.
All in all, my first experience traveling during this awkward pandemic was ok. Would I fly again after this? Hell yes. Depending on where to and what the entry requirements are of course. Many will say that it is irresponsible to travel. But, in my opinion, so is leaving you house during this crisis. If you do not follow the rules and you don’t sanitize, mask up and keep your physical distance, you too could contract the virus.
To those of you who are ready to fly the skies again, make sure you follow the guidelines and the rules of whatever country you are traveling to, read the requirements carefully and always walk with a hard copy of whatever documentation the country of entry requires. Also, since things tend to change daily during these coronavirus times, make sure you are complying to the latest and most updated requirements. The information in this blog post may not be accurate by the time you read this.
Safe travels and stay healthy.