Countries requiring travel insurance. Venice “misbehavior" crackdown. Yellow fever vaccine shortage

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the October 2019 issue.

A bridge over a canal in Venice, Italy.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 524th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine, the publication mostly written by its subscribers, people who find travel very rewarding. ITN also stands out from other travel publications because it only covers destinations outside of the United States and its territories. It’s for people not afraid to step out of their comfort zone.

If you’re just back from a trip and would like to share a discovery, a lesson learned or a recommendation with people who will appreciate what you have to tell them, write in. We’ve got the audience for you.

A sentence, a paragraph or a page — a short note is all that’s needed. Lengthier letters are also accepted, but the shorter the write-up, the sooner a space can be found for it in our Travelers’ Intercom section. Pictures are always welcome with any letter or note, too.

If you’re thinking of submitting a full-length Feature Article, keep in mind that about 1,500 words is a good length, and photos from your trip are required with any Feature submission.

While I’m on the subject, we could use a few more photos for our “Where in the World?” page. That’s where we print a picture from someone’s trip, then ask readers to guess where it was taken.

Look through your photo files from recent travels and send us a few shots (editor@intltravelnews.com or write to ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818). With each, include a caption telling us what we’re looking at, where and approximately when the picture was taken and who shot the photo.

The “mystery-location” picture you send in does NOT need to be a stumper. In fact, the more people who can participate in the contest, the better (the winner gets a prize), so a picture of any easily identifiable vista, structure or landmark will work just fine. Or perhaps an unusual angle or portion of something well known. Let’s keep ’em guessing.

The in-house business out of the way, I have a number of travel topics to cover this month, starting with travel insurance.

Purchasing insurance to cover medical expenses while overseas is a smart move. In some cases, however, travelers have no choice in the matter, as there are countries that require visitors to show proof of travel insurance before passing across their borders.

Turkey, Russia, Ecuador and Cuba require each visitor to provide proof of health insurance that will be valid for his or her entire length of stay. (The US, itself, requires that visa applicants from other countries purchase travel insurance.)

For all 26 European countries in the Schengen area, proof of health insurance is shown as a requirement on visa applications, but that’s usually not an issue for Americans, since visas are not required of US travelers spending less than 90 days in the Schengen area. It’s the same for Americans traveling to the United Arab Emirates, except the visa-free time limit is one month.

Further, for anyone thinking of going to Antarctica, even though it doesn’t have a government to officially deny entry to someone upon arrival, a traveler won’t get any farther than the tip of South America unless he or she has comprehensive insurance, including coverage for medical expenses, emergency medical evacuation and repatriation of remains.

Two more countries might soon join the proof-of-insurance list.

Due to being stuck with about $88 million per year to cover the medical bills of uninsured visitors, Thailand is considering a law requiring travelers to be covered for medical expenses. In addition, Thailand is considering charging every traveler, upon arrival, a small fee that would go toward the cost of repatriating the remains of tourists who have died during visits.

Japan is another country where visitors’ unpaid medical bills are causing problems. A recent article in The Japan Times disclosed that one in five foreign tourists treated in hospitals did not pay their bills. A law to make travel health insurance mandatory has been discussed in that country for a few years now, with no consensus having been reached.

If you’re wondering whether a country you’re planning to visit requires visitors to have medical coverage, it’s sure to come up on the visa application. If no visa is required, contact that country’s embassy, consulate or Ministry of Foreign Affairs to inquire.

Heading to Venice, Italy? Under a law introduced there on June 19, visitors can be fined and even removed from the city for acting rudely or being disrespectful of the city, damaging its image.

While the law also targets anyone for begging, drug pushing or public drunkenness, at first the most talked-about recipients of these fines was a German couple who camped out and made coffee with a camp stove under the Rialto Bridge. On July 19, that couple was fined a total of 950 (near $1,066) and asked to leave the city.

It did not stop there, however. From June 19 through Aug. 22, Venetian police fined 98 other people for public offenses, including a woman sunbathing in a bikini, a family having a picnic in the Giardino (Garden) Papadopoli and three men who simply locked their bikes to a railing on a side street.

Fines have generally run 100 to 300, and bans from the city center can range from two days to two years.

What constitutes inappropriate behavior is up to the discretion of the police.

Mike Harrison of Castle Rock, Washington, wrote to ITN, “Travelers heading to countries that require yellow fever vaccinations (many in Central Africa and South America) should be aware that there is a national shortage of the vaccine. They may need to travel some distance to get the immunization shot, so they should plan ahead.”

Mike continued: “Before a 3-week trip to Africa this August, my wife, Marilyn, and I could not find a provider in our area. The CDC listed some places in nearby Oregon, but none had the vaccine.

“As it turned out, we found our Yellow Cards, which showed that we had last had yellow fever vaccinations in 2006, and we were told by a travel clinic that those were still good. Our cards WERE checked when we crossed from Kenya into Tanzania, and they let us through.

“The travel clinic also mentioned that a traveler over 60 might be at increased risk for problems following vaccination, in which case a doctor might provide a waiver letter to show at the border.”

Regarding a waiver letter, the Centers for Disease Control’s website states that a traveler should check with the destination country’s embassy to find out whether a waiver letter will be accepted or not. In addition, it will be up to the border agent whether or not to allow entry with it.

In June, a spokesman for the CDC said that the manufacturer of the yellow fever vaccine expected to begin resupplying providers by the end of 2019.

An UPDATE — Cheryl Sullivan of Skiatook, Oklahoma, wrote, “On our way through Sweden in early July, my husband and I stopped in Lessebo to visit the Lessebo Handpappersbruk, the handmade-paper mill mentioned by Rick Steves in his June 2019 column (page 42). Unfortunately, the mill was purchased sometime in 2018 and has been closed by the new owners.

“We were told that the intent is to expand the mill’s capacity. No estimated date for reopening was known. The gift shop was still open, but the offerings seemed to be a bit depleted.”

CORRECTIONS to note —

• The article “Walking the ‘Blue Paths’ of Greece’s Cyclades” (Sept. ’19, pg. 6) is about a tour with The Blue Walk (551/258-3955, www.thebluewalk.com). That is actually a US company headquartered in Orlando, Florida, not Europe.

Within that article, the author wrote about staying on the island of Amorgos at the Aegialis Hotel & Spa, opened in 1991 by Irene Giannakopoulos “and her now-deceased husband.” However, her husband, Nikitas, is not deceased. The author apologizes for the error.

• After printing the Travel Brief “Uber a Submarine in Australia” (Sept. ’19, pg, 49), about 3-person submersibles, ITN discovered that the sub-hiring service was only meant to last for three weeks, a one-time-only means of raising awareness of Queensland’s coral reef. (Darn! That sounded like fun.)

• No laughing matter — the writer of last month’s “The Funniest Thing” anecdote, Gladys Sheldon of Wisconsin, informed ITN that her name had been misspelled. Gladys added, regarding her hometown, “You do get points for spelling Oconomowoc, correctly, however.”

Thank you, all of you who filled out our July survey “What Do You Read in ITN?” Wanting to devote more space to our subscribers’ letters, articles and trip reports — the basis of this publication — we asked you to tell us which other sections of the magazine you value or refer to the most or the least.

The response was overwhelming, and the enthusiasm shown regarding certain sections of the magazine and your kind words accompanying the surveys meant a lot to us.

Knowing that we will be greatly disappointing a number of readers, it is painful to announce that this will be the last issue in which we print the crossword puzzle. We’ve been running Myles Mellor’s travel-themed crossword since December 2004, and it’s been fun to have. Thanks for all the clever clues, Myles.

Starting next month, we also will no longer be including the money-exchange guide, “On the Money with XE.com.” Just so you know, ITN’s source of the exchange rates each month came from the website xe.com, where there is a much more complete list of countries and their currencies than we ever could fit on the page. Travel “tools” are available as well.

Again, the purpose of these changes is to devote more column-inches to traveler-written content.

Though some readers commented that the hard news we report is a bit outdated by the time this monthly periodical arrives, many readers were adamant that we keep the “News Watch” section, some confiding to us that ITN is their primary source of hard news of interest to travelers.

We will be keeping “News Watch.”

For the record, the hard news we gather comes from various international English-language news outlets. A few that we rely on are BBC, Reuters and Associated Press.

Of course, you will be best informed by referencing several news sources in addition to ITN. Be aware that, due to space constraints, many worthy news items do not make it into our pages.

So if you’re checking issues of ITN (or using the Search bar on our website) for hard news about a country you’re considering traveling to but you don’t find any news of note, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is no news that you should be aware of about that place. Do further research, starting with the US embassy in that country; under “News & Events,” its website will list headlines and warnings.

Meanwhile, we will continue to do the best reporting we can.

Now, before you turn the page, write yourself a reminder to send us a mystery photo for our “Where in the World?” page — or write a short note about a pleasant place where you hung out on your last trip overseas, a way you saved a buck or two or any little packing tip — as soon as you finish reading this issue.

This magazine is a collaboration between staff, advertisers and subscribers. All of us keep it going.