When Will We Be Able to Travel to Europe?


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When Will We Be Able to Travel to Europe?


Photo by Shutterstock Greece is expected to open to vaccinated travelers in mid-May.
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 list was created based on countries’ epidemiological situation, and countries could be added or removed as their COVID-19 situation improved or worsened. 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 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.

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

Algeria, Canada, Georgia, Montenegro, Morocco, Serbia, Tunisia, and Uruguay had been on previous incarnations of the list but have since been removed, and Singapore was added more recently. China could also be included at some point if it agrees to allow EU travelers to visit. Residents of Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, and the Vatican are considered EU residents as part of the lifting of travel restrictions.

There are also numerous exceptions to the ban on travel to Europe, including for European citizens and residents and their family members, passengers in transit, and students.

It’s not a legally binding list, but 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.

At press time, some European countries were not even permitting travelers from the above six countries to enter amid newer, stricter measures.

Indeed, 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 near-term) even more precarious 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.

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. Travelers into the EU may also be required to quarantine, participate in contact tracing efforts, and submit to additional COVID-19 testing for a period of up to 14 days after arrival.

One year after Europe closed its external borders, there is still no concrete plan for when and how Europe will reopen those borders. However, we continue to track developments that could eventually lead to a larger reopening.

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 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

On March 9, 2021, Greece tourism minister Harry Theocharis said that those who are vaccinated against COVID-19, have antibodies, or test negative for COVID will be able to travel to Greece this summer, Reuters reported. “Greece is ready with a complete protocol for summer 2021,” Theocharis said at the global tourism trade fair ITB Berlin. He added that Greece wants to be ready to start its summer travel season by May 14.

Currently, only residents of the European Union, Switzerland, Norway, Lichtenstein, and Iceland can enter Greece, as well as those traveling from Australia, New Zealand, Rwanda, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. Those coming from other countries can only enter Greece for essential travel purposes.

All arrivals into Greece must present a negative COVID-19 PCR test result from within 72 hours before their entry to Greece.

Travelers entering Greece must complete a passenger locator form online, which includes the address of their stay while in Greece. Upon completion of the form, they will be provided with a unique Quick Response (QR) code via email on the day of their scheduled arrival in Greece, according to the Greek government.

Iceland

Effective March 18, 2021, any travelers—including those from the United States—who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can enter Iceland and will not be subject to COVID-19 testing or quarantine measures. Previously Iceland’s policy stated that proof of vaccines simply allowed those who were already authorized to travel to Iceland (namely Icelandic and EU citizens and residents) to skip the country’s quarantine and testing requirements.

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.

“Our experience and data so far indicate very strongly that there is very little risk of infection stemming from individuals who have acquired immunity against the disease, either by vaccination or by prior infection,” stated Iceland’s chief epidemiologist Thórólfur Gudnason. Iceland also allows travelers who have been previously infected with COVID-19 to enter the country without quarantine and testing.

Europe could have COVID-19 vaccine passports by summer

On March 17, 2021, the European Commission proposed issuing digital health certificates that would specifically 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.”

The topic of vaccine certificates has been under discussion for weeks in the EU, where it has proved to be somewhat divisive. The travel industry and southern European countries with tourism-dependent economies like Greece and Spain have pushed for the quick introduction of a program that would help eliminate quarantines and testing requirements for tourists.

But several other EU members, including France, argued that it would be premature and discriminatory to introduce such passes since a large majority of EU citizens haven’t had access to vaccines thus far.

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 been working 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 March 4, 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 is accepting travelers from within Europe

As of February 5, France declared that all travel to and from countries outside of Europe is prohibited, unless there is a compelling reason for travel, according to the French government. Compelling circumstances 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.

Those arriving in France from a European Union country, Andorra, the Holy See, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, San Marino, or Switzerland will 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. Incoming travelers age 11 or older must also provide a negative COVID-19 PCR test result carried out within 72 hours of departure and must agree to submit to a COVID-19 PCR test upon arrival in France.

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



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


Photo by givaga/Shutterstock Permitted travelers to Italy must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test.

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 a COVID test



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


Photo by Shutterstock 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 those arriving in England must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of departure.

Effective January 18, the U.K. canceled its travel corridor program, which allowed travelers from a frequently updated list of countries to bypass the otherwise mandatory 10-day quarantine requirement. The most recent incarnation of the list had approximately 60 countries or territories on it. The new rule applies to British citizens returning home as well.

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.

Additionally, passengers who arrive in England from outside the U.K., Ireland, the Channel Islands, or the Isle of Man must now provide proof of a negative PCR, loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP), or antigen COVID-19 test taken within three days of traveling to England. Children age 11 and younger are exempt from the testing requirement, as are those traveling from Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey, Ascension, Falkland Islands, or St. Helena.

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.

On January 14, the United Kingdom also banned travel from all of South America and Portugal amid concerns over a new variant in Brazil.

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



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


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

Germany 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. More recently, Germany created a list of additional countries described as “virus variant areas.” Travelers from these risk and virus variant areas must provide a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 48 hours of departure, and then quarantine for at least 5 days after arrival, when they can take a second COVID test to end the quarantine early, or quarantine for 10 days without a second test. The United States is on Germany’s list of international risk areas.

The list is being updated regularly and includes countries, counties, and provinces within Europe.

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. Nevertheless, the general rules are that following entry into Germany you proceed directly to your quarantine location until you can provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test to local health authorities, according to Germany’s Federal Foreign Office.

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

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 office, travel to Spain is also allowed from Australia, China, South Korea, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, and Thailand.

As of December 22, Spain has banned travel from the United Kingdom, with the exception of Spanish citizens or residents.

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



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


Photo by Martin Lehmann/Shutterstock 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 the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, and Latvia must also submit to a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Flights to and from Brazil and the United Kingdom have been suspended until March 16, 2021.

Elsewhere in Europe



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


Photo by Shutterstock 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 Mediterranean island nation of Malta has developed a “green list,” an “amber list,” and a “red list” classification for countries, according to Visit Malta. Travelers coming from countries on the green list will have a temperature screening at the airport and will be asked to fill out a health form. Those coming from amber countries must provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 PCR test carried out within 72 hours of boarding their flight to Malta. Random swab tests are being conducted upon arrival at the Malta International Airport. Travelers coming from countries on the red list, which includes the United States, must spend 14 days in a green or amber list country prior to arrival and provide proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test as well.

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 1, 2021, to include current information. Associated Press contributed reporting.

>> Next: Can I Travel Once I’m Vaccinated?

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