It has been 15 months—458 days, to be exact—since the majority of Americans were first barred from entering Europe due to the pandemic, a period of restricted transatlantic travel that lasted much longer than many could have ever imagined. But on June 18, the United States was added to the EU’s list of countries approved for entry.
What does the move mean for U.S. travelers hoping to head to Europe? It’s significant in that it gives EU countries (that have not already done so) the green light to lift restrictions on U.S. travelers. Being on this list also opens up travel options for U.S. travelers who are unvaccinated and not just those who are vaccinated. On May 20, European Union leaders had already agreed on measures to allow fully vaccinated visitors to enter the 27-nation bloc.
Once countries, such as the United States, reach certain epidemiological benchmarks (no more than 75 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, for instance), they can be considered for the approved countries list, which allows for the lifting of restrictions on nonessential travel regardless of vaccination status.
In reality, several European countries had already started opening back up to Americans in recent weeks prior to this announcement, including France, Greece, Iceland, Portugal, Spain, and Italy. Some, like France, were requiring that U.S. travelers be vaccinated; others, like Portugal, were not requiring vaccination.
The European Council, which made the recommendation, has asked throughout the pandemic that member countries act “in a coordinated manner.” Its recommendations are not legally binding, however, and each country in Europe has the final say on exactly what its requirements are and will be for travelers entering its borders.
But now that the United States is on the approved travel list, it’s likely that European Union countries that have not yet unveiled their plans for welcoming back U.S. travelers will do so.
One such example? Germany, which has been following the European Council’s recommendations, has already announced that effective June 20, it will allow “unrestricted entry” to travelers on the new approved list of countries. Until now, the United States was considered an “international risk area” by Germany, and travelers arriving from the U.S. had to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR upon arrival and then quarantine for up to 10 days. As of June 20, travelers from the U.S. must provide either a negative COVID-19 test result, proof of vaccination, or proof of recovery from COVID-19 and are not required to quarantine.
We could also see some countries adjust their requirements. For instance, on June 18, the same day that the European Council made its recommendation, France moved the United States to its “green list” of countries, which is open to unvaccinated travelers as long as they submit a negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test that was taken within 72 prior to boarding. Previously, the United States was on France’s “orange list” of countries, and only vaccinated leisure travelers could enter from the U.S. carrying with them a negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test.
Prior to the easing of restrictions, travelers from the U.S. and other countries not on the list could only enter Europe if they were EU citizens or residents, or were traveling for essential reasons, such as for work, study, or a family emergency—with very few additional exceptions. The more than year-long ban on travel to Europe from the U.S. has not just severely hampered Europe’s formerly thriving tourism industry but has also kept loved ones apart for months on end.
As mentioned above, the European Council’s recommendations are nonbinding and European countries can implement entry requirements as they see fit. U.S. travelers who are ready and willing to head to Europe should confirm the rules and restrictions for each individual country they plan to visit.
One excellent resource for this is the U.S. State Department’s detailed COVID-19 travel information and country-specific advisories, which are typically updated regularly. We often cross-check these references with each individual country’s foreign affairs office, which typically establishes and publishes entry requirements.
U.S. travelers should be aware that all international passengers age two and older flying into the U.S. (including returning U.S. citizens and permanent residents) must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test procured within three days before boarding their flight to the U.S.
The CDC also has detailed recommendations for travel during the pandemic, both for vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers.
The complete list of countries and territories now on the European Council’s approved travel list are (the June 18 additions are marked with an asterisk):
- Hong Kong*
- China (subject to reciprocity)
- New Zealand
- North Macedonia*
- South Korea
- United States of America*
>> Next: You’re Vaccinated. Now What? Our Complete Guide to Vaccinated Travel