Touring European cities like Paris, Barcelona, and Berlin is a performing artist’s dream. Europe’s cultural scene is vibrant and supports up-and-coming musicians. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, travel to Europe is currently restricted. Foreign travelers are banned from the EU bloc for 30 days, and France is in near-total lockdown.
Thankfully, governments are hopeful everything should return back to normal by summer, which just happens to be prime music festival season. Sadly, the United Kingdom’s legendary Glastonbury Festival is one of the casualties of the pandemic, canceling its 50th anniversary. Without Glastonbury, there were still be plenty of festivals and shows to play in the coming months as the continent comes back to social life.
Even if you have to wait until the pandemic is over, if your band is planning to travel and tour in Europe, you and your bandmates are in for an unforgettable experience. But first, there are some considerations about touring abroad you should think about and a few practical steps you need to take to make the European gig dream a reality.
Get Your Passport and Visa Ready
If you don’t have a passport, it’s the first thing you should apply for after you read this. Getting a passport takes six to eight weeks. You can always pay an extra $60 to expedite the process, but it won’t rush the process much faster — expedited applications can take two to three weeks. There are better ways you can spend $60, so allow yourself a couple of months to get your passport. You’ll need the time to get other things taken care of.
Then there’s the visa issue. We’re not talking credit cards — a visa gives you permission to enter a country. The European Union does not offer an artist visa. If you’re an American passport holder, you’re golden. You can enter Europe without having to apply for a visa in advance. You’ll be allowed to travel through the “Schengen” region of European countries for 90 days. Once your 90 days are up, you’ll need to exit and can’t return for six months. If you plan on staying longer, you’ll need to apply for a D-type visa, which allows you to stay longer than 90 days.
London and the U.K. Are No Longer Part of Europe
Musicians should not miss the United Kingdom while on their European tour. Cities like London, Liverpool, and Belfast should be at the top of the list of destinations to tour. But due to Brexit, the United Kingdom is officially out of the European Union. Keep an eye on new developments as the nation makes changes to its entry policy. This year is one of transition, and the UK has until Dec. 31, 2020, to fully flesh out its policies for its removal from the EU.
Once that happens, you’ll no longer have open access to the United Kingdom as once before — and neither will the airlines. This could lead to an end of the low-cost flights between London and major European cities. Besides uncertainty on how borders will work, the United Kingdom’s currency is the British Pound. Although the U.K. never adopted the Euro, you definitely won’t get any slack if you choose to pay with Euros. The United Kingdom isn’t considered part of Europe for visa purposes, either. You’ll need to apply for a work visa to tour the United Kingdom as a musician.
Get Your Finances in Order Before You Go
If one of the ways you plan on making money for your tour is by working your freelancing side hustle while you’re on the road, set up your business invoicing system before you go. Once you’re on the road, the internet is readily available, and your clients won’t even know where you’re working from. Make sure your clients are paying into the bank account you can access money from while you’re traveling overseas. Here’s why:
Europe’s currency is the Euro. As mentioned, the UK uses the pound sterling, and Switzerland only accepts Swiss francs. You’ll need to have a system to exchange money or withdraw funds while you’re on the road.
The most affordable way to access cash as you need it is to skip the currency exchange booths and go straight to the ATMs. There are ATMs readily available throughout Europe, and you’ll usually get the bank’s wholesale exchange rate, which will be better than what you’ll get at an exchange office.
Make sure to let your bank and credit card companies know you’re traveling ahead of time by issuing a travel alert, or they may deny your withdrawal and payment attempts, thinking someone has gotten hold of your cards. You’ll need to tell your bank are card issuer what countries you will visit. While you’re on the phone with them, ask about what type of fees they will charge you to make withdrawals internationally. Some banks add an extra 3% foreign transaction fee for purchases made with a credit or debit card. Knowing which of your cards are most international-friendly ahead of time can save you from the unpleasant surprise of high bank fees you didn’t expect when you get home.
Plan Ahead for Your Band’s Power Needs
Europe has different electrical outlets than the U.S. To further complicate things, the voltage is different, too. America runs on 110 volts and Europe on 220. It shouldn’t be a big deal when you’re talking about personal devices like your phone, camera, or laptop, which are likely dual voltage — all you’ll need is a travel adaptor (or two).
But larger equipment like amps or mixing tables may run into issues with the voltage. Check your equipment for dual voltage by looking at the electrical label. Dual voltage devices will display 100/240V or 110~220V AC. You can buy a voltage converter, but they tend to be heavy and expensive. When in doubt, contact the manufacturer to check on your equipment’s voltage, or leave your gear at home and look into renting equipment when you’re in Europe.
If you’ve been planning a European tour for your band for some time, now is the time to postpone and put some extra effort into the preparation. Use the time to side hustle to save some extra cash for the tour itself, or save up to buy new equipment. All the while, keep an eye on travel restrictions and the spread of coronavirus to make sure you and your band are fully prepared for when borders reopen and you’re free to share your awesome live show with your European fans!