By now, we’ve all gotten used to living in a world where travel rules and regulations change often. The timing of these changes has even become somewhat predictable as we ride the waves of pandemic surges and retreats. Case in point, after many countries in Europe tightened travel restrictions in December in the face of an Omicron variant-fueled surge in COVID cases, many are now either relaxing those entry rules and/or amending them to include, for instance, a booster requirement.
The latest round of regulatory updates, however, comes as the European Union is seeking to better streamline travel between member countries by basing entry requirements on a person’s COVID-19 vaccination or testing status rather than on where individuals are traveling to or from. If successful, the changes could move Europe toward more consistent, longer-lasting requirements rather than a revolving door of regulations that change with each ebb and flow of the pandemic.
The European Commission agreed Tuesday on a recommendation that would base entry on a travel certificate that indicates COVID-19 vaccination—vaccination status would be valid for nine months after the last dose of the initial vaccination series, after which an individual would need to get a booster shot for their vaccination status to remain valid. A negative COVID-19 PCR test no more than three days old or an antigen test taken within one day would also permit entry, as would a COVID-19 recovery certificate no more than six months old.
But each country in Europe ultimately has the final say on what its requirements are, and it remains to be seen whether there will be any sort of coordinated effort successfully enacted regarding pandemic travel policies. In the two years since the start of the pandemic, we have yet to see any consistency from European countries.
Instead, individual countries in Europe have again been updating their entry rules in recent days, and as we have seen in the past, they’re a bit, well, all over the place—some are more lenient and some are stricter than the previous round of updates. Here is a brief summary of some of the changes that have occurred in Europe of late.
European countries adding booster requirements
With the European Commission having agreed in December that COVID-19 vaccination status would be considered valid for up to nine months after the original series of vaccines and as booster campaigns gain momentum, we are likely to see more countries develop booster shot requirements for travel. Here are some examples.
Quarantine-free travel from the United States to Austria is allowed as long as travelers pre-register and present a CDC-issued vaccination certificate, as well as proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test from within 72 hours of travel. Those who have received a booster shot do not need to provide a COVID test, nor do those who are fully vaccinated and have recovered from COVID-19 in the past 180 days. Unvaccinated travelers from the U.S. can still enter Austria but must pre-register, present a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival (a PCR test from within 72 hours of travel), and quarantine for five days and then present another negative PCR test, according to the Austrian government.
Vaccinated U.S. travelers can enter Spain, but effective February 1, those who were vaccinated more than 270 days prior to entering Spain will need to show proof of a booster shot. All travelers to Spain must fill out a Health Control form prior to arrival.
Countries that are making it easier to enter
Earlier this year, Ireland dropped its requirement for a predeparture COVID test for vaccinated travelers. Fully vaccinated visitors will simply need a fill out a Passenger Locator Form before departure and provide proof of vaccination or proof of recovery from COVID-19 within the past six months. However, effective February 1, 2022, vaccine certificates will only be considered valid if they are no more than 270 days old or if travelers provide proof of having received a booster shot. Unvaccinated travelers must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test result from within 72 hours prior to arriving in Ireland.
Effective January 26, Norway has dropped its quarantine requirement for international arrivals. All U.S. travelers ages 16 and older, vaccinated or not, are now able to enter Norway as long as they complete an entry registration form no more than 72 hours before arriving in Norway, present a negative COVID test (PCR or antigen) taken no more than 24 hours prior to their departing flight for Norway, and then take a free COVID-19 rapid antigen test upon arrival at the airport in Norway. Children under 16 are not required to take a test before arrival but will be asked to take a test upon arrival. (An exception could be made “if it would be unreasonably difficult for them to take the test,” according to the Norwegian government.)
On February 11, the United Kingdom is doing away with its COVID-19 travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated travelers. Instead, fully vaccinated travelers will simply be required to fill out a passenger locator form within 72 hours prior to arriving in the U.K. (versus the current 48 hours prior), confirming their vaccination status, travel history, and contact details. To be considered fully vaccinated, travelers must have completed their full one or two doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days before arrival.
Additionally, unvaccinated arrivals will no longer be required to quarantine. Now they will need to present two COVID test results (either PCR or antigen)—one from within two days before traveling to the U.K. and one from just after arrival that must be booked and paid for in advance. All travelers under the age of 18 are subject to the same rules as fully vaccinated travelers, regardless of their vaccination status.
Countries that have made it a bit harder to enter
As of its latest update (dated January 22), the French government has placed the United States on its “red list” of countries, meaning that unvaccinated U.S. travelers cannot enter France unless they have an essential reason, and fully vaccinated travelers from the U.S. can enter France if they submit a health declaration form and a negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test from within 48 hours of their departing flight to France. Previously, the U.S. was on France’s “orange” or “amber” list, and fully vaccinated U.S. travelers did not have to supply a negative COVID test.
Unvaccinated minors traveling from the U.S. are allowed to enter France, but those age 12 and older will have to show a negative PCR or antigen test taken within 48 or 24 hours, respectively, before their flight.
Additionally, on January 24, France’s Pass Sanitaire (or Health Pass) officially became a Pass Vaccinal (or Vaccine Pass), which is required to enter numerous establishments, including museums, cafés, restaurants, public transportation, and entertainment venues. Visitors can get the vaccine pass at pharmacies throughout the country and must show that they are fully vaccinated to obtain it. (Proof of a negative COVID test no longer cuts it after a new law went into effect this month making vaccination a requirement for the pass.)
Effective January 24, all travelers age five and older regardless of where they’re coming from or vaccination status, will need to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test from within 72 hours prior to arrival (or a rapid test from within 24 hours before arrival) to enter Greece. Previously, a COVID test was not required for vaccinated travelers.