Confused about the EU’s travel restrictions? You’re not alone. Ever since August 30th, 2021, when the EU removed the United States from the safe travel list, changes to the travel protocol for Americans abroad have been occurring at a near-daily rate. This European travel news is certainly upsetting at a time when everyone is lusting after either a bucket-list overwater bungalow trip overseas or an urbane return to life and glamour. (Paris, for example, has never sounded better.) But before you give up and refocus on the Caribbean or Hawaii—both spectacular choices, of course—let us help you navigate this maze of complications and restrictions in the European Union.
Editor's Note: This story is current as of the publish date. While we've done our homework, the constantly changing situation requires that you do your own research before booking travel to Europe. Please visit the ECDC page on traveling for more information.
Update Sept. 20, 2021: The Netherlands has dropped their mandatory quarantine for vaccinated U.S. travelers.
(Image provided by Casa Angelina in Italy)
What is the new ruling exactly?
Previously, visitors from the U.S. were on the list of approved countries—travelers who could visit European countries on nonessential business (a.k.a: leisure.) Today, however, the U.S. is now eliminated from this formalized version of the ‘fly zone,’ and the European Council recommends only vaccinated or essential travelers should be allowed entry into the European Union. The current ruling is more of a recommendation, however, as at the moment, each of the 27 EU countries is free to determine their own policies. The policies are, perhaps unsurprisingly, not uniform in the slightest. While some countries have banned American travelers altogether (Sweden), others (Portugal) have remained open. So, what exactly should we expect when booking a trip to the continent—and what can we anticipate in the future? We’ve compiled a guide to the key things you should know about European travel at the moment—so read on before booking your next last-minute flight.
(Image provided by the Gand Hotel Kronenhof in Switzerland)
Which countries are still open to Americans?
We have to caveat this first—upbeat—portion of the list by noting that this, too, is subject to change. (After all, if it seems like every day the rules and regulations impacting American travelers visiting the continent have become more and more confusing, it’s because they have.) At the moment, however, Germany, France, and Austria haven’t announced any changes to travel protocol—their entry requirements remain the same for now. Serbia and the United Kingdom—both of which aren’t technically members of the European Union—are open for U.S. visitors. Unvaccinated travelers need to be tested prior to arrival, however, as is the protocol for most of the rest of the world. Portugal also remains open to U.S. travelers, with a negative PCR or antigen test completed within 72 hours of their flight.
(Image of Predjama Castle in Slovenia provided by Katherine Parker-Magyar)
Where are Americans not allowed to travel?
While Americans have been able to visit Sweden ever since the Nordic nation lifted its travel ban on June 30th, the restrictions are once again in effect as of September 6th. Similarly, Bulgaria listed America as a “red zone”—meaning that only Americans with a legitimate (persuasive) reason for travel will be granted entry, regardless of whether or not they have been vaccinated. In short, non-essential travel is not an option for both Sweden and Bulgaria.
(Image of Belogradchik rocks Fortress, Bulgaria provided by Adobe Stock)
Will this impact my layover? (And therefore my travel plans?)
Though this is a lesser-made point, there are exceptions to the EU’s travel ban—if you are a U.S. citizen but have temporary or permanent resident status in an EU country, or if you’re a visa holder (the longer-term, the better,) you won’t be affected. Other people who won’t be impacted by the new regulations include healthcare workers, seasonal agricultural laborers, and diplomats. Crucially, travelers who are visiting Europe for family reasons will still be permitted to arrive on the continent, as will travelers who have a stopover in the European Union on their way to Asia, or South America, or any other nation outside of Europe.
(Image of Kulm Hotel St. Moritz in Switzerland provided by Gian Giovanoli)
Will this affect me even if I’m vaccinated?
In short: Yes. (See above for countries you can’t visit whether you have a vaccine passport or not.) But even if you are technically admitted to entering the country as a vaccinated passenger, there are still individual rules you must follow according to local governance. In the Netherlands, for example, travelers must be vaccinated to enter the country and also consent to a 10-day quarantine. But the complications will be far less drastic for vaccinated travelers than for unvaccinated explorers: in Spain and Germany, for example, unvaccinated leisure travelers are prohibited. Denmark, alternately, requires unvaccinated travelers to quarantine upon arrival.
(Image of Switzerland provided by Schweiz Tourism and Christof Sonderegger)
Are vaccine passports the future?
The influx of varying travel restrictions across the continent indicates that vaccine passports truly will be the way of the future. In Iceland, for example, travelers are only welcomed into the country upon showing certification of full vaccination. The alternative? Certified evidence of a previous Covid-19 infection. (And the latter is far more of a painful nuisance than the former, trust us—it doesn’t matter how afraid you are of needles, it’s less traumatizing than entirely losing your sense of smell.) Though the rules vary by country, being vaccinated is a good rule of thumb as a way to make life easier for yourself.
(Image of Iceland provided by the Blue Lagoon)
What can I do to ensure my travel plans won’t be ruined?
The answer to this is quite simple: Get vaccinated. If the regulations move in the direction they are headed, it will continue to be more and more difficult for non-vaccinated people to move about the planet (at least from an international perspective.) Unless you have a critical medical issue preventing you from receiving the vaccine, you won’t have much of an argument and Europe will remain difficult to travel to. This will change only when we have a more sophisticated Covid-19 response (contact tracing, etc.) or the pandemic subsides. And if the full severity of the EU recommendation is eventually enforced, it will impact unvaccinated American travelers only. So, in the words of Humphrey Bogart: As long as we’re vaccinated, we’ll always have Paris.
(Image of Le Tour Eiffel in Paris, France provided by Adobe Stock)