Article updated on January 11, 2021. Many who wish to travel to Madeira are full of questions about how Madeira has organised things are organised exactly concerning the compulsory covid test, either before departure or upon arrival. Of course, all this information is available online, but it is very scattered and it is difficult to get a clear image of what to expect. Time, I thought, for a step-by-step description, giving my readers a clear view of what it entails and how it works.
Personally, I don’t have the experience as we arrived here in October, long before the sh*t hit the fan, and we certainly do not plan to go back to The Netherlands as long as people persist in irresponsible and stupid behaviour. I am sure it is not much different in many other countries.
going back home
This article is about getting to Madeira. Returning to your country of origin is a different matter and it is a good idea to get the relevant information on this before you book your flights. We know that it is compulsory from mid-January to have a negative PCR-test result when travelling back to the UK. Peter Marsland has written about this in his Madeira Island Direct news blog, and I don’t feel like inventing the wheel when someone else did it before me!. So here is the link. From early January, it is also compulsory to have a negative test when travelling to the Netherlands. If you have no such test result on you, you will be forbidden to board the plane to Amsterdam.
jump to comments
If you have already read this article and you just want to check for new comments, jump to the comments section here. Remember there are a lot of relevant questions in the comments, and therefore a lot of useful answers. If you really want to know what it’s like, you have to sit down and take your time reading through everything on this page.
whatever you do: don’t worry
This was the advice that our friend Yvon would like to give you. After her arrival back here after a necessary visit to the Netherlands (which she and her husband cut as short as possible), she said: do not worry about the procedures. Everything sorts itself out, and if there are things you don’t understand, there is a large number of hosts and hostesses that help you and guide you through the process. The organisation is amazing and the number of people recruited for this purpose is incredible.
before you travel
Before you travel, you must register on the website madeirasafe.com. I write ‘must’, but if you don’t there are no sanctions. But it will speed up the whole procedure considerably upon arrival in Madeira. All questions are simple enough. I registered myself, not because I plan to travel but because I wanted to be able to tell and show you how it works. I entered a date for my flight in autumn next year, which I can change when I really will travel. It is a straightforward process, apart from one or two details which I will point out later.
Remember that Madeira loves to see you arrive. Tourism is their lifeblood and they put their act together accordingly. The fact that they offer a free covid-19 test is a costly affair, but they put their money where their mouth is. Investing in keeping the island a safe destination and making the tourists feel welcome is a very clever idea.
separate mobile phone numbers and separate email addies
Before you start, make sure everyone who travels with you has his or her own separate email address. Also, having a separate mobile number for each one of you makes life easier. The email address will be linked to your data and that is were the test result and other communications will be sent. Using one email addy for several people upsets the system and will cause you headaches getting your test results. So do yourself a favour and create a free Gmail or Hotmail account. Make sure you have access to these new accounts once in Madeira.
registering at madeirasafe.com
After these preparations, you can start the process of registering. You can do this even if your trip isn’t imminent. You start by choosing your language. Then, start entering the details the system asks. It’s quite simple. When they ask if you travel with dependent people, they mean children under 12. They do not need a covid-19 test, by the way. Where you need to fill out your cellphone number, click on the Portuguese flag. That will open a pull-down menu where you can choose the relevant country code. I found that just typing the code doesn’t work.
When they ask you if you have been in an area with covid cases, just tell them the truth. There are no consequences and anyone with a TV knows that most countries outside Madeira are covid-infested.
Work your way through all pages. Of course, you can only enter your seat number after having checked in. But that will be at a later moment than when you first registered. Therefore, do check-in online, so that you can enter these last details before you leave for the airport. Just go to madeirasafe.com, log in and tap/click ‘add trip’. This button should be called ‘add or edit trip’ but it isn’t. No matter, you will land on the page with your travel dates and, after checking if everything is still correct, you can use the ‘next’ button (twice) to get to the page where you can enter your flight and seat number.
tell us how you feel
That is also a good moment to go to the page ‘tell us how you feel‘ from the main menu, to answer the last health questions before you leave on holiday. You need to do this in a time slot between 48 and 12 hours before you board the plane.
Should you have a negative covid-19-test report, which may not be older than 72 hours at the time of boarding the plane, you can upload it here. There is a place where you can upload additional documents, like proof of the test appointment time and date. It seems that the test results you receive are sometimes quite rudimentary and do not state the time and date of the test. Therefore you need to have separate proof of that.
QR-code: passport for a speedy procedure
Finally, click/tap ‘QR-code’. The code appears. You can either print it and take it with you, but it is more practical to go to madeirasafe.com in your smartphone, allow the app to install and hey presto, you can display the QR on your Phone. Very handy when you arrive at Madeira airport. The QR code links to all your information and speeds up the whole process considerably.
After you finish your registration – even if there are some details that you don’t have yet like seat numbers – click or tap ‘end session’. Only after you have done that you can start the process anew if you want to register someone else travelling with you.
test before departure?
free tests in some countries
TUI Netherlands offers a free covid-19 test to all who book a flight to Madeira with them. TUI Belgium only offers free tests to people who book a package to Madeira with them. We have heard of test possibilities in other countries, but not for free. When you book your flight, it may be worth checking with the airline. Problem with many tests taken by public health institutions is that they won’t provide you with a test report. Therefore, their reports are useless if you want to avoid a test being taken again at Madeira airport. If you decide you are going to take a private test, make sure to take the test less than 72 hours before the moment of boarding. And, keep proof of your appointment and hang on to the test results.
find out if you can get a corona test in your country
You will understand that I really am not able to find out all the possibilities and also the obstacles to getting a test in your country of origin. Too many different countries, too many national rules and regulations, too many different availabilities of the necessary resources. So if you consider having yourself tested before you come to Madeira, find out how it works in your country and make sure you have an appointment that falls into the time slot of 72 hours before boarding.
If you haven’t been on a plane since the outbreak of the covid-pandemic, you may find that some things you were used to changed quite a bit. Things may differ from airport to airport and from airline to airline, but here is an infographic from Gatwick. We suspect other airports will have similar rules in place. Depending on the country and airport you fly from, you will probably need to wear a face mask everywhere at the airport.
Many airlines do no longer allow carry-on cases in the cabin. It makes sense: we all know the chaos when people start looking for their carry-on after landing and you will find someone else’s face closer to yours than you would like under the circumstances. So, depending on the airline’s policy, your carry-on case goes into the belly. Handbags and other small stuff will still be allowed, so make sure and put everything you will need during the flight in there. Your laptop has a lithium battery and has to stay with you in the cabin for security reasons.
On the plane, you have to wear your mask. There may be an exception for children, but then again, there may not. You have to check this with your airline. For those who object to wearing them: stop moaning and get used to it. In Madeira we use them without a problem and – honestly – the figures prove us right.
If the airline hands you health forms or passenger locator forms to fill out, yes, you have already done that when you filled everything out the madeirasafe.com pages. I would not waste any energy convincing the crew you are exempt, just humour them and get it over with. Nothing else to do anyway.
Madeira at last!
And then, before you know it, you have landed and you can get off the plane. You still have to keep your masks on though. First, as always, to the luggage conveyor belt to get your bags. You may find the baggage claim area busier than usual. Makes sense, many who would normally take their carry-ons as hand luggage had to check them into the belly. This is one of the few areas where social distancing is not very well respected and people may get too close for comfort. Keep that in mind and don’t worry, your bag won’t go anywhere without you!
Once you have your bags, it’s on through the customs ‘nothing to declare-passage’, in a single file, as the airport has installed infrared sensors here (zone 1) that will check all passengers for fever. You might not even notice it, but anyone who is ill and has a fever will be singled out. And transferred to the health authorities.
an army of kindness
Once passed the infrared sensors, you are awaited by a small army of hostesses and hosts. (zone 2). You can easily recognise them. Super kind, super helpful. They are wearing shirts with a big orange splash on it asking you if they can help you. They will first ask you if you have rented a car at any of the companies having their desk in the arrivals hall. If you have, go and do the rental car’s paperwork now and come back. The other question is whether or not you have a negative covid test report. If you have, it’s the right lane with the green dots. If this is you, you can jump to the relevant section of this page.
not tested yet: you get a free covid test in Madeira
If you have no test done before departure, you can follow the left alley with the blue dots. At the next stop (zone 3) you will be asked if you have a QR-code. If you have (and after what I told you, you should) you can go on to zone 4. If you don’t have one (shame on you) a host or hostess will help you to go through the process of registering in madeirasafe.com until you do. Armed with your newly acquired QR code you, too, can go on to zone 4. That’s where your QR code is scanned and your cellphone number and your email are thoroughly checked.
Your Phone now receives a validation code which you have to tap (you can do that later as well) after which your QR code has been successfully linked to your Phone and email. This is extremely important for later communication, that’s why their checking is so meticulous. Now, you will be given a small label, actually two, with a bar code and a number, which you will need at the next stop. Keep them safe.
the corona test
Now it’s on to zone 5, where finally the actual covid test is taken. You are almost done. A nurse is waiting for you and sits you down. She will take one of the two labels that you received at zone 4. Just relax and lean your head against the wall. The nurse will take two nasal and one throat swab and you’re done. If you are lucky, there will still be a ‘welcome to Madeira’- present left. If there isn’t, the important information in it I have worked into another article you may find useful here.
For a story telling about an actual trip from London to Madeira, including the covid-test, read this article. There is a video registration you may like.
From now on, you will regularly receive an email or a text message asking about your health. It will ask about your body temperature and possible covid-19 related symptoms. If nothing has changed since the last message, you only have to tap or click ‘unchanged’ and you’re done. Nothing to worry about. This stream of messages will continue for two weeks, or shorter when you leave before two weeks have passed.
on the move at last
Now, it’s time to collect your rental car or, if you use a car rental company outside of the airport, to find your transfer. They are all waiting for you when you get out of the test alley. If you have a transfer to your hotel, someone will be waiting for you here as well. Travelling by rental car, you can now continue to your destination. You are required to self-isolate until you have received the (hopefully) negative test report. If you are in a hotel, you will be looked after, and they know you are not supposed to go wandering around the island just yet. You will probably be allowed to sit somewhere quiet in the garden, or you can go to your room and relax.
food shopping before you have your test result.
If you have rented a house or an apartment, all this is different. You have no-one to take care of you. I have now altered this paragraph, because as Steve B. correctly pointed out: you would not want to start a chain of infection on an island that tries to take such good care of you. So as opposed to what I wrote here before: NO food shopping until you get a negative test result. If you have good contact with the owners of the house or apartment you rented, you can ask if they can provide you with the necessary groceries to tide you over. In these times, that is not an uncommon thing to ask, and everyone is prepared to help you.
If this is not an option, bring whatever you need from home. Make sure and buy a nice bottle of something at the airport before you leave. It will make time fly and before you know it you will have your results emailed to you. In the great majority of the cases that result will be negative. In the less likely case you would test positive, you will be contacted by the health authorities to see what the best way to proceed would be for you.
The rules say you will get your result within 12 hours. Usually, you will. But if many planes arrive at the same time as yours, it may sometimes take a bit longer. This is what the message may look like:
If it takes far too long, there are some telephone numbers you can call. No need to add country codes for a number in Madeira. The 291 number is a landline, the numbers starting with 9 are cellphones. People will speak English. Keep your registration label (the one you received at stop 4) at hand, you will need to tell them the number printed on it.
you arrive with a negative covid-19 test?
If you arrive and you have taken a test in your country of origin, you probably have done your homework and uploaded the test results plus the additional documents, like a proof of your test appointment stating the time and date, to your space in the madeirasafe.com website. The test result should have been validated in the meantime, and you should be in possession of a QR code.
You follow the lane with the green dots until you get at a desk (zone 6 in the floor plan) where you will be asked for your QR code. They will scan that and check your ID, and the other details like your cellphone number and your email. Sometimes, it happens that the validation of your test results has gone wrong. Therefore, make sure and carry the report on you, and the additional documents, because they can correct the data in the system accordingly. If all else fails, they won’t send you back home, rest assured. You will be directed to the blue lane, however, to get a new test taken.
When that is done, they will validate the data you entered in your madeirasafe.com space. After that, the system sends you a text message for authentication, tap the link and you are done. They will send you regular messages asking you how you feel and how your body temperature is during two weeks after arrival. Should you leave Madeira earlier, they will stop sending messages, obviously. It’s all very simple: if nothing has changed since the last time they asked, just tap or click ‘unchanged’ and you are done.
To test or not to test
Some airlines say you need to have a test taken before you are allowed to travel to Madeira. This is not true. The choice is yours: you can have a test taken before you leave, or on arrival. But don’t think that you can skip registration at madeirasafe.com if you have a valid negative test report. All tests taken beforehand must be checked for validity and all other details of the traveller have to be linked to a person known in the madeirasafe.com website. Perversely, the waiting line of people arriving with a covid-19 test is often twice as long or more than the waiting line of people who are waiting to get tested. This is probably because all these people with a test think that is all they need.
Well, not. Therefore, register and give madeirasafe.com all the details they want.
The advantage of arriving with a valid covid test is obvious. You are almost 100% certain to be covid-19 negative. You do not need to wait in self-isolation for a test report.
And there is more: If you arrive without a test, there is always a chance, albeit a small one, you may test positive at the airport. In that case, you will be placed in quarantine until you recover and test negative. Quarantine usually means you are being put up in a dedicated hotel unit. You will be properly looked after, but you can’t leave your room.
Some horror stories go around Facebook (yes, I know) about a couple of which he tested negative and she tested positive. After a week she still tested positive, he tested negative still, and they gave him an hour to leave the hotel to be better able to help her from the outside. After another week they were scheduled to fly back home, and he had to, while she had to stay and take unpaid leave because she ran out of days. Again, it’s Facebook and we should not take it at face value, but still, you get the point.
facebook aside, sh*t happens
As an average, some five to ten people a week test positive upon arrival. That is a very small percentage. Still, it happens. And let’s be clear, (especially young) people who operate in partying circles and whose motto seems to be ‘f*ck the covid’ run a much higher risk of testing positive than really careful people, who have taken little risks especially in the weeks running up to departure for Madeira.
on a positive note
Or not quite so positive. Should you test positive, you will either have to stay in isolation in your room or in the apartment or house you rented. If only one of you tests positive, he or she may be transferred to a specialised hotel unit to await his or her recovery. The Madeiran government kindly pays for your stay there, so that is one worry less. Of course, you will be in contact with the health authorities, so any questions about where to stay until recovered you can discuss with them to find the most adequate solution.
home or hotel: no clear criteria
It was almost impossible to get the clear criteria on which the health authorities would base a decision whether to move you to the dedicated hotel or to let you stay in isolation at your own residence if you have one. In the comment section, I received some questions about this, and I tried to get some answers from official sources. However, it was Luís Fonseca’s comment that succeeded in clarifying at least a part of the issue. Read it here.
really ill? There is a special unit in the Funchal hospital.
Should you really fall ill from covid-19, you will be treated in a special unit of the Funchal hospital. It is well equipped and will keep you isolated to avoid any new chain of infections. Those who have worries about the financial aspects of falling ill with covid-19, bear with me. I am currently extending my knowledge in that field, but it may be some days until I get my answers. Meanwhile, if you have any doubts about your health where covid is concerned, the Madeiran covid-hotline is depicted below.
If you have travelled to Madeira recently, do share your experiences with us in a comment below. If you find my information incorrect or if you find certain things lacking, I would be grateful if you’d tell me. Are you planning to come to Madeira and you have any questions that aren’t answered in the article? Ask away. But please do so in the comments section below. Jump to the comments text field and tell us what you think. Some people email me, but I don’t answer questions by email, otherwise, I end up answering the same questions over and over again. I don’t know everything but I will try to help and send you an answer in any case. If you think this article may be useful for anyone you know, please use the buttons below to share. The more the merrier!
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