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When Will We Be Able to Travel to Europe?

By Michelle Baran

Apr 22, 2021

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On April 18, French President Emmanual Macron said he does believe vaccinated Americans will be able to travel to France this summer.

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On April 18, French President Emmanual Macron said he does believe vaccinated Americans will be able to travel to France this summer.

With a handful of European countries starting to open up to travelers—and France recently announcing its intentions to open to Americans by summer— traveling to Europe this year is becoming an actual possibility.

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On March 17, 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic gripped Europe and the world, European Union leaders agreed to impose travel restrictions on most foreigners entering Europe to limit the spread of COVID-19. Those restrictions were ultimately extended until July 1, 2020, when the European Union began welcoming back travelers from a short list of countries that had been approved by its leaders.

The United States was never on the list. And conversely, the United States still has a ban in place on travelers from the European Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, and Ireland, with the exception of U.S. citizens and permanent residents. From the original 14 approved countries, the list has shrunken to just 6, according to the latest version on the European Union’s Re-Open EU site

The six countries currently on the European Commission list are Australia, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea, and Thailand.

There are numerous exceptions to the ban on travel to Europe, including for European citizens and residents and their family members, passengers in transit, and students. And while it’s not a legally binding list, EU leaders have agreed that member countries should not independently lift travel restrictions for unlisted countries before it’s been decided upon in a coordinated manner.

As we turned the corner into 2021, despite the fact that COVID-19 vaccines have been developed and are being deployed in Europe and globally, the situation for travel to and from Europe has been, at least for the first several months of the year, even more precarious. That is due largely to the emergence of new coronavirus variants that have been found to be more transmissible. These variants have generated concern among governments racing to get their populations vaccinated. Numerous European countries have experienced recent surges in coronavirus cases and some have implemented new lockdown measures and restrictions to help curb the rises. 

On February 2, 2021, EU countries agreed on updated recommendations for travel restrictions into Europe, which state that if the epidemiological situation in a given country worsens quickly and if a country is found to have a high incidence of a worrisome variant, travel restrictions could be “rapidly reintroduced.” European governments have already implemented such rapid-fire restrictions on countries that include Brazil and the United Kingdom, where new variants have emerged.

Additionally, the EU is now requesting that all member states require travelers entering Europe to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test taken no more than 72 hours prior to departure. 

France Aims to Reopen to Americans by Summer

Nevertheless, there are some signs of progress. On April 18, French President Emmanuel Macron said the country will begin lifting some of its restrictions in May and aims to reopen to Americans by the summer

A growing number of European countries have already opened to vaccinated travelers and to those who present negative COVID-19 test results, signaling the possibility of a larger reopening of Europe's borders in the coming months.

European countries vaccinated travelers can visit

Not all of Europe is closed off to travelers from the United States and elsewhere. Some countries have recently announced policies that allow travelers who have received their COVID-19 vaccine—or present negative COVID-19 test results—to enter.

Croatia 

As of April 1, anyone can travel to Croatia if they present a COVID-19 vaccination certificate (the final dose must be administered at least 14 days before arrival); can present a negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test taken no more than 48 hours prior to arrival in Croatia (if it’s a rapid test, a second test must be taken 10 days after the initial test if your stay in Croatia is longer than 10 days); or were diagnosed with and recovered from COVID-19 no more than 180 days prior to arrival. Children under seven years of age are exempt.

The U.S. Embassy in Croatia reminds travelers that tourists who meet the above requirements will only be permitted to enter Croatia if they provide evidence that they have paid for their Croatia accommodations in advance and in full prior to arrival at the border.

Estonia

Effective February 2, the northern European country of Estonia has declared that those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 can enter the country without having to submit to an otherwise mandatory 10-day quarantine and COVID-19 testing requirements. The Estonian government has said that vaccinated travelers must still adhere to any public health measures that are in place in Estonia.

Georgia

As of February 1, 2021, any fully vaccinated traveler from any country is allowed to enter Georgia as long as they present documentation confirming their COVID-19 vaccination status. (If the vaccine required two doses, proof of both doses must be provided.)

Unvaccinated travelers arriving from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belarus, the European Union, Israel, Kazakhstan, Norway, Northern Ireland, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, or the United States must present a negative COVID-19 PCR test result conducted within 72 hours prior to travel at the Georgian border. On their third day in Georgia, travelers must submit to a second PCR test.

Greece

Effective April 19, travelers from the European Union, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, Thailand, Rwanda, Singapore, the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel, Serbia and the United Arab Emirates are allowed to enter Greece without having to quarantine if they meet certain conditions, according to the Greek government.

Those who are traveling from the above countries and have been vaccinated for COVID-19 at least 14 days prior to arrival do not need to quarantine and are also not required to provide a negative COVID-19 PCR test. Those who are not vaccinated will need to provide a negative COVID-19 PCR test that was conducted no more than 72 hours prior to arrival in Greece. Children five and under are exempt.

All travelers must fill out a passenger locator form no more than 24 hours prior to arriving in Greece.

All international arrivals will be subject to random and mandatory health checks in Greece, which can include a rapid COVID-19 antigen test. Those who test positive for SARS-Cov-2 will be transported to a quarantine hotel, paid for by the Greek government, where they will take a COVID-19 PCR test to confirm the results. For travelers who test positive again, they will remain in quarantine for at least 10 days after which they will undergo a new round of testing to determine if they are COVID-free.

Iceland

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Iceland recently announced that vaccinated travelers and those who have recovered from COVID-19 are allowed to enter the country. They will still have to submit to a COVID-19 test upon arrival and quarantine until the results are ready (typically within 6 to 24 hours), a requirement currently in place until May 1, according to Visit Iceland. Those who are not vaccinated may travel to Iceland as well, but they will have to submit to a COVID-19 test upon arriving in Iceland, quarantine for five days, and then undergo a second test after the five-day quarantine. Everyone needs to preregister before visiting the country.

Travelers must provide proof that they have been fully vaccinated (so two doses if two doses are required) with a vaccine that has been certified for use by the European Medicines Agency, which includes the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

Montenegro

Montenegro is allowing in vaccinated visitors from any country, including the United States. Travelers must present either a negative PCR test from the previous 72 hours or proof that they received the second dose of a vaccine more than seven days before their arrival. The CDC still currently classes Montenegro as a level four (“do not travel”) country. The country’s government declared that there were 6,446 active cases of COVID as of April 1.

Europe could have COVID-19 vaccine passports by summer

On March 17, 2021, the European Commission proposed issuing digital health certificates that would allow EU residents to travel freely across the 27-nation bloc by the summer as long as they have been vaccinated, tested negative for COVID-19, or recovered from the disease. The commission has yet to address how such vaccine certificates or passports would affect travelers coming from abroad.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told the Wall Street Journal in a March 3 report that “the aim is to gradually enable [EU citizens] to move safely in the European Union or abroad—for work or tourism.”

To secure the participation of all member countries, the commission proposed delivering free “Digital Green Certificates” to EU residents who can prove they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, but also to those who have tested negative for the virus or can prove they recovered from it.

“Being vaccinated will not be a precondition to travel,” the European Commission said. “All EU citizens have a fundamental right to free movement in the EU, and this applies regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not. The Digital Green Certificate will make it easier to exercise that right, also through testing and recovery certificates.”

EU officials also hope that vaccine certificates will convince the member states that have introduced travel restrictions aimed at slowing down the pace of new infections to lift their measures.

If EU leaders agree to the proposal, it will still need to be approved by EU lawmakers. The commission said the certificates should be suspended once the World Health Organization declares the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The latest guidelines for travel to and within Europe

While the European Commission has been slow to update its position on foreign travelers who wish to enter from outside of Europe, it has worked to establish a better system for those traveling within Europe—a system that could also be used as a model for restrictions on travel from any country outside of Europe to any country within it.

On October 13, European Union countries approved a set of criteria for countries to follow to determine how and whether to restrict arrivals. Those criteria were updated on February 2 and now include:

  • Coronavirus cases—Member states should not restrict travel from other countries with fewer than 25 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over the last 14 days.
  • Test positivity rates—Member states should not restrict travel from other countries with a COVID-19 test positivity rate of less than 4 percent provided that the weekly testing rate exceeds 300 tests per 100,000 people.
  • Reporting—Member states should supply the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) with their coronavirus case and testing data on a weekly basis to create a common database.

As European countries furnish their coronavirus data, the ECDC produces a color-coded map (which is published on the European Commission’s Re-open EU site) that indicates countries as:

  • Green—if the new case rate is less than 25 per 100,000 and the test positivity rate is less than 4 percent
  • Orange—if the new case rate is less than 50 per 100,000 but the test positivity rate is 4 percent or greater, or if the new case rate ranges from 25 to 150 per 100,000 but the test positivity rate is less than 4 percent
  • Red— if the new case rate ranges from 50 to 500 but the test positivity rate is 4 percent or greater, or if the new case rate ranges from 150 to 500 per 100,000 but the test positivity rate is less than 4 percent
  • Dark Red— if the new case rate is greater than 500 per 100,000

Nonessential travel from countries coded as red or dark red is to be discouraged. European Union countries are being asked to require either a quarantine or mandatory COVID-19 testing for travelers coming from countries coded as orange or red; a quarantine and COVID-19 testing should be mandated for travelers coming from countries coded as dark red. No restriction on movement is necessary for travelers coming from green countries, according to the guidance.

A country-by-country guide to travel restrictions and policies in Europe

Despite all of these protocols, each country in Europe has taken a bit of its own approach. The situation regarding travel in Europe has been and remains an ever-evolving puzzle during this pandemic. Here’s a brief summary of how some European countries are approaching travel as of April 21, 2021. This is far from an exhaustive list, but it serves as an example of just how different all the rules and regulations are within Europe. It remains vital that travelers crossing borders in Europe are up to date on the latest coronavirus-related travel restrictions because they are constantly changing.

France aims to open to Americans by this summer

One year on, Paris remains off limits to most U.S. travelers.

French President Emmanual Macron has signaled that more travelers may soon be able to visit France once again, including vaccinated Americans.

“We are working hard to propose a very concrete solution, especially for U.S. citizens who are vaccinated,” Macron said in an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation, which aired on April 18.

In the full transcript of the interview, when Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan asked Macron if vaccinated Americans will be able to visit France this summer, the French president responded, “I hope so, and I do think so.”

Macron said that French officials are “finalizing” the discussions and that the country plans to begin “progressively” lifting restrictions in May, with the aim of having a plan in place by summertime.

As of April 14, France is allowing travel to and from countries within Europe as well as from the six countries approved by the European Commission, according to the French government. Travelers from these countries must provide a negative COVID-19 test result procured within 72 hours of boarding their flight to France. They will also need to provide a declaration stating that they do not show signs of COVID-19 and have not (to their knowledge) been in contact with anyone confirmed to have COVID-19. 

Travelers from all other countries can only enter France if they have an exemption. Exemptions include returning citizens or residents of France or Europe; long-term visa holders entering to be reunited with family; health professionals involved with the fight against COVID-19; those who hold a French “talent passport,” a long-term residence visa for certain working professionals; students and researchers returning to France to finish their schooling or work; transport sector workers; some diplomats and foreign citizens working for international organizations headquartered in France; and passengers in transit.

Travel from Brazil is currently banned outright in France until April 23, 2021. 

Italy is open to travelers from the EU and some additional countries—with conditions

Permitted travelers to Italy must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test.

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On June 3, 2020, Italy became the first country in Europe to reopen its international and regional borders following the initial pandemic lockdowns. At the time it was open only to those arriving from member countries of the European Union, countries within the Schengen Zone, the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, and the microstates and principalities of Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, and the Vatican.

As of January 14, travelers coming to Italy from most of Europe must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours prior to arrival in Italy. Those coming from Austria must also quarantine for 14 days after which they must take a second COVID test. Travel from the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland is banned save for Italian citizens and residents.

Those arriving from Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Rwanda, and Thailand must quarantine for 14 days.

Those traveling from any other country or territory can only enter Italy if they are traveling for work, health reasons, for study, “absolute urgency,” or are returning to one’s home or dwelling, and they must quarantine for 14 days as well.

The latest information on requirements for travelers to Italy is available on Italian Foreign Ministry travel site.

All travel to England now requires quarantine and three COVID tests

At the start of 2021, travel to the United Kingdom was severely restricted again.

Anyone who arrives in the United Kingdom is now required to quarantine for 10 days and take three COVID tests—one within three days prior to departure to the U.K., and two (reserved in advance) after arrival, on day 2 and day 8 of the 10-day quarantine.

Children age 11 and younger are exempt from the testing requirement.

Those coming from "red list" countries are banned from entering the U.K. The United States is not on the banned list. The list includes several countries in South America and Africa, and India will be added on April 23.

Travelers to England can reduce their 10-day quarantine period if they test negative for the coronavirus. As part of the government’s Test to Release option, travelers can opt to take a COVID-19 PCR test after 5 full days of self-isolation, and if the test comes back negative they are allowed to skip the remainder of the 10-day quarantine.

Travelers arriving in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales must self-isolate for 10 days and do not have the shortened quarantine option.

Those traveling to the United Kingdom from abroad will need to fill out a passenger locator form prior to arrival in the U.K., on which they will provide U.K. border control with their contact details, including their phone number and the address of their U.K. accommodation where they will self-isolate for 10 days.

Those who fail to self-isolate can be fined up to £1,000 (or approximately US$1,270), and if they do not provide accurate contact details, they can be fined up to £3,200 (about US$4,070). Leaving a quarantine location should be limited to urgent medical needs, obtaining basic necessities such as food and medication, to attend a funeral of a close relative, or for an emergency.

The U.K.'s travel corridor program, which allowed travelers from a frequently updated list of countries to bypass the otherwise mandatory 10-day quarantine requirement, was canceled on January 18.

Germany requires travelers from a long list of countries and regions to quarantine and provide COVID tests

Travelers to Germany from a list of “international risk areas” must quarantine until they produce a negative COVID-19 test result.

All travelers to Germany must provide a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 48 hours of departure. Travelers under the age of six are exempt.

Germany maintains a list of countries  described as “virus variant areas.” At press time, travel from these countries was banned with very few exceptions. 

Germany also maintains a list of countries—and even specific counties and regions within countries—that it deems as “international risk areas” or countries that present an increased risk of COVID-19 infection. In additon to providing a negative COVID-19 PCR upon arrival, travelers from these risk areas must quarantine for 10 days. The United States is on Germany’s list of international risk areas. The list is being updated regularly by Germany’s Federal Foreign Office.

Further complicating matters is the fact that in Germany, each individual länder, or state, dictates its own quarantine regulations, so the rules could be slightly different depending on which state you are entering.

Spain is only permitting those from Europe and the European Commission approved countries—with COVID tests

For the time being, Spanish cities such as Bilbao are only available to select travelers.

According to the U.S. Embassy in Spain, Spain is allowing in travelers who are Spanish nationals, legal residents of Spain, long-term visa holders, or those who are coming from the European Union, Schengen associated countries, Andorra, Monaco, the Vatican, and San Marino. Spouses, parents, and descendants (those under the age of 21 or who are still supported by their parents) of Spanish nationals are also being permitted to enter the country, as are essential workers, students, and passengers in transit.

Of those travelers who are permitted to enter Spain, if they are coming from a high-risk country (which as of March 2021 was the majority of countries in Europe), they must present a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure.

According to Spain’s national tourist officetravel to Spain is also allowed from Australia, China, South Korea, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, and Thailand.

Portugal is allowing travel from within Europe and some non-European countries, with COVID tests

Hotels and tourism establishments in Portugal sporting a “Clean and Safe” label have verified health and hygiene measures in place.

Currently, travelers from EU countries, as well as Liechtenstein, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, are allowed entry by air, according to information posted on Portugal’s Immigration and Borders Service website. Travelers from the following countries and autonomous regions are allowed to enter as well: Australia, China, South Korea, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Macau.

All passengers age two and older must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure. Those traveling from Brazil, Bulgaria, Czechia, Czech Republic, Croatia, Estonia, France, Hungary, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, or Sweden must also submit to a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Elsewhere in Europe

A ban on nonessential travel to Sweden from non-EU countries remains in effect at least through March.

The ban on nonessential travel to Sweden from non-EU countries has been renewed multiple times and is currently in place until at least May 31. Sweden now requires approved inbound travelers to provide a negative COVID test taken within 48 hours of arrival at the Swedish border.

Denmark has restricted entry for all but Danish citizens and residents to essential travel—that is, travel for work, family, or legal matters. All arrivals into Denmark must provide proof of a negative COVID test taken within 24 hours of arrival and must quarantine for 10 days.

Effective February 4, 2021, all travelers to Ireland must provide a negative COVID-19 PCR test result from no more than 72 hours prior to departure and quarantine for 14 days.

The key takeaways

Among the many things this pandemic has taught us travelers is that patience is a virtue. As we wait to see how European governments continue to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, we will need to hang onto a bit more patience.

So many of us cannot wait to get back to Europe. And we most certainly will. It has always just been a matter of when.

This story originally appeared on May 6, 2020, and was updated on April 21, 2021, to include current information. Associated Press contributed reporting.

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