The United States didn’t get to stay long on Europe’s safe travel list—the country was removed by the European Union a little more than two months after it was finally added following a seemingly endless 458-day ban on travel from the U.S. to Europe.
So, what does this mean for travelers?
America’s spot on the European Council’s approved travel list meant that EU countries could relax restrictions for U.S. leisure travelers, both vaccinated and unvaccinated—and that’s exactly what the vast majority did. Now that the United States has been removed, European countries could restrict nonessential travel for unvaccinated travelers and could also implement more stringent travel restrictions on vaccinated travelers.
The council’s recommendations state that only vaccinated travelers, those traveling for essential reasons, and those traveling for nonessential reasons from the list of approved countries should be allowed to enter Europe.
But each country in Europe ultimately has the final say on what its requirements are—and will be—for travelers entering its borders regardless of the European Council’s recommendations. The recommendations are not legally binding.
In reality, given the latest Delta variant–fueled surge, several European countries had already been tightening up their entry requirements and restrictions in recent weeks. And in the coming hours and days, we’re likely to see European countries update their policies anew to reflect the European Council’s decision, with the biggest impact probably being on unvaccinated travelers for whom nonessential travel to European countries could be cut off again.
For instance, France has a policy in place that states that “if you are vaccinated, you can travel to France with no restrictions linked to health conditions.” That could, of course, change at any time, but at press time, vaccinated travelers can still enter France. For those who are unvaccinated, the policies differ depending on whether they are coming from a “green,” “orange,” or “red” list country. At press time, the United States was still on the “green” list, but that could change with the new European Council vote. If the U.S. is placed on the “orange” list, unvaccinated travelers will only be able to travel to France if they have “pressing grounds,” such as an approved work reason, for studies or research, or are citizens or residents of the EU, among a few other accepted reasons for travel. Thus, leisure—aka nonessential—travel would be off-limits for the unvaccinated.
Why did the United States get removed from the list?
Once countries 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.
Unfortunately, during the current Delta variant–spurred wave, the United States has surpassed some of those benchmarks and thus has been removed from the list. For instance, one of the requirements is that cases should be stable or decreasing, but the United States has seen a steady uptick in cases in recent weeks.
Other countries were removed from the list as well, including Israel, Kosovo, Lebanon, Montenegro, and North Macedonia.
You can find the complete list of approved countries and territories on the European Council’s website.
Could vaccinated travelers be prevented from traveling to Europe?
On May 19, European Union leaders agreed on measures to allow fully vaccinated travelers to enter the 27-nation bloc. But those measures were designed to “take into account the possible risks posed by new variants by setting out an emergency brake mechanism.”
What that means is that while vaccinated travelers continue to typically be allowed into Europe, if said “emergency brake mechanism” is implemented, they, too, could see their permissions curbed.
In the era of the Delta variant and other variants, some countries are now requiring both vaccination and a negative COVID test or adding (back) more postarrival testing or quarantine requirements.
The European Union is facilitating travel within Europe with the EU Digital COVID Certificate, a digital pass for EU residents who have been vaccinated for COVID-19, tested negative for the virus, or have recovered from it. While the digital document has not yet been made widely available to U.S. travelers thus far, European countries asking U.S. travelers for proof of vaccination status as one of the requirements for entry have indicated that the CDC-issued paper certificate will suffice.
It is worth noting that the United States still has a ban in place on travel from the European Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, and Ireland, with the exception of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.