Europe is easing travel restrictions this summer, as the European Union (EU) agrees to open its borders to vaccinated visitors and those from COVID-safe countries.
Unnecessary travel from most countries outside the EU was curtailed over the past year to curb the spread of COVID-19. But on Wednesday, the EU agreed to open its borders to "not only for all persons coming from countries with a good epidemiological situation but also all people who have received the last recommended dose of an EU-authorised vaccine". Here's what we know about the situation so far.
When can vaccinated travelers visit EU countries?
Speaking at a press conference today, Christian Wigand, spokesman for the European Commission (the executive branch of the EU) said the EU "will now recommend that member states ease some of the current restrictions" for those who have been vaccinated. No precise timeline has been given and the Washington Post reports that "a formal final approval is still necessary" from EU countries.
However, president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said in an April 25 interview with The New York Times that vaccinated US travelers are expected to be permitted to travel to Europe this summer. As it prepares to open to visitors from countries with a good epidemiological situation, the EU is preparing to publish a list of those COVID-safe countries for reference.
EU suggests policy for its member states, but individual countries ultimately set out their own rules. For example, Italy is now welcoming American travelers on COVID-safe flights, and France is preparing to welcome vaccinated travelers from non-EU countries on June 9. Some European countries that are not EU members, like Iceland, have already opened their borders to vaccinated travelers.
Will I need to have received a specific vaccine?
It is important to note that the vaccines received must have been approved by the European Medicines Agency, which includes the Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. This could potentially be extended to vaccines approved by the World Health Organisation's emergency use listing process.
Do I need a vaccine passport?
This hasn't been clarified yet. It is expected that travelers will need to corroborate vaccination with documentation that is compatible with the EU's proposed Digital Green Certificate, which it estimates may be in use by June. In addition, French president, Emmanuel Macron, revealed that his government and the White House are finalizing the technical discussions around granting a "special pass" to allow US citzens to enter as part of a broader tourism reopening.
Are there any potential restrictions?
Due to the emergence of COVID-19 variants of concern, the Commission is proposing a new ‘emergency brake' mechanism to limit the risk of such variants entering the EU. This will allow member states to act quickly to prevent travelers from countries where variants of concern are spreading from entering, including those who are vaccinated.
What is the COVID-19 situation like in Europe?
The situation in Europe is still volatile in places thanks to a third wave of COVID-19 that swept over parts of the continent in spring. But the situation has improved in recent weeks as more vaccines become available. Indeed some countries, including France, Ireland and Italy, are easing lockdown restrictions already, opening tourist attractions and resuming hospitality services.
Are there flights available to Europe?
Airlines are gradually increasing their services to Europe from many countries as travel restrictions ease and it's likely that this will jump again as soon as there's an official date for Europe's reopening. In the meantime, United Airlines has added new flights to Croatia, Iceland and Greece. Delta is launching a direct flight between Boston and Iceland, New York and Croatia, as well as quarantine-free flights to Italy, alongside American Airlines. Passengers must provide proof of a negative PCR or antigen test taken no more than 48 hours before departure to Italy, regardless of their vaccination status.
As the rules and restrictions are frequently updated, please check with the relevant embassy for any country you hope to visit to obtain the most up-to-date travel information.
This article was originally published on April 26, 2021 and updated on May 19, 2021.