With the number of people vaccinated against the coronavirus rising in the United States, Americans are starting to explore their prospects for international travel this summer, a season in which Europe has traditionally been a major draw.
Most of Europe has been off limits to most U.S. citizens for over a year, and the continent is currently grappling with a third wave of coronavirus infections and an increase in new, more contagious variants, making it unclear when the borders will reopen. But some European countries have begun to welcome vaccinated travelers, including American tourists, and others are preparing to ease restrictions in time for the summer season.
Vaccination and health certificates that can speed up travel are under development, which could make it easier for tourism to resume. The 27 Member States of the European Union have endorsed the idea of a vaccine certificate. While individual European countries will still set their own rules, the initiative is expected to establish a coordinated approach across the continent.
“Finally we have a tangible solution for coordinating and harmonizing travel measures,” said Eduardo Santander, CEO of the European Travel Commission, an association of national tourism organizations based in Brussels. “I think other countries like the US will also come up with their own technology solutions that will be compatible and after a period of testing this summer, a global standard will be set.”
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still condemns travel – even for vaccinated individuals – citing the risks of catching and spreading the virus while away from home. And ultimately, the course of the virus will determine what travel around the world looks like. But here’s what we know about how European countries are preparing to get tourism back on track.
I want to go to Europe this summer. Who let me in?
Last summer, when the United States reported more coronavirus infections and deaths than any other country, Americans were not allowed to enter the European bloc for vacation.
There are a few exceptions: Turkey has let American citizens in if they provide proof of a negative Covid-19 PCR test before departure, as have Croatia and several countries that are not members of the European Union, including Albania and Armenia.
As the number of cases in Europe has increased and vaccination has been slow, several countries of the European Union have been closed again. France, Belgium and Portugal have reintroduced strict measures restricting non-essential travel even within the bloc and within what is known as the Schengen zone, which also includes non-member states that allow free movement across their borders.
“Right now in some European countries it can feel like you are in the middle of a storm, as we felt in the UK a few months ago,” said Gloria Guevara Manzo, CEO and President of World Travel & Tourism Council, a forum that works with governments to raise awareness about the travel industry.
“But I think once we accelerate the roll-out of vaccinations while applying and testing strong safety protocols, we will be in a situation by the summer where European countries will be able to open around the same time,” she added.
But that’s likely for travel within Europe, rather than between Europe and the United States.
“The current focus is on opening internal markets within the EU and the UK, and more third countries will be included depending on reciprocal agreements,” said Eric Dresin, Secretary General of the European Travel Agents ‘and Tour Operators’ Association. “But at the moment we are not talking about Americans visiting Europe.”
However, American travelers have a few options: Once the virus has been brought under control, Iceland will allow all vaccinated travelers – including those from the United States – to enter without being subject to Covid-19 testing or quarantine measures.
Greece, one of the most popular European summer destinations for Americans, announced this month that it would reopen to all tourists in mid-May, provided they show proof of vaccination, antibodies, or a negative Covid-19 test result before departure. All visitors are randomly tested upon arrival.
Turkey said it will not require international travelers to be vaccinated this summer and will re-evaluate testing policies after April 15.
Other European countries such as Slovenia and Estonia allow vaccinated tourists in, but not those from the United States.
Spain, which relies heavily on tourism for its economy, said it would reopen to international visitors in the spring, once between 30 and 40 percent of the adult population has been vaccinated. Portugal also hopes to reopen its borders by May, but it is not yet clear whether Americans will be admitted.
What about Great Britain?
Americans were never barred from entering the United Kingdom, which left the European Union last year, during the pandemic and can visit today, but faces strict testing and quarantine requirements. In England, where a 10-day quarantine is required, the time can be shortened if a person shows a negative Covid-19 PCR test on day five.
Violations can lead to penalties of up to $ 13,860 and 10 years in jail.
Most of Britain is under strict lockdown and although a stay-at-home order will be lifted on March 29, most shops, restaurants and pubs will remain closed until at least mid-April. Scotland has started to relax restrictions and will continue to do so in phases.
Domestic tourism and indoor dining are expected to resume on May 17 at the earliest. Pending the lifting of the restrictions, several cruise lines have announced “staycation sailings” around the British Isles starting in June.
Many Brits traveled last summer when the virus appeared to have died down, and a recent study found they were returning a significant number of infections to the UK. A ban on UK travel abroad for leisure was enacted on January 4 and was due to expire in May, but the government this week introduced legislation laying down the legal framework to extend the restrictions until the end of June.
It’s not clear when the UK will lift its quarantine requirements for more tourism, but Visit Britain predicts a slow recovery that will begin towards the end of the summer.
Do I need proof that I have been vaccinated to enter Europe?
Earlier this month, the European Commission proposed a digital travel certificate that would prove that a person has been vaccinated, received a negative Covid-19 test result, or has recovered from contracting the virus.
To travel to the European Union, you must tick one of the three boxes.
The document, known as a digital green certificate, would allow residents of the European Union and their family members to travel freely within the bloc’s member states. The committee is also working with the World Health Organization to ensure that the certificates are compatible with systems in countries outside of Europe.
The documents would be free and available in digital or paper format and if approved by the European Parliament, the block plans to roll them out within three months.
Non-EU nationals can apply for a digital green certificate from the Member State they wish to visit. The rules for proofing vaccinations will be the same as for European Union nationals: vaccines approved by the bloc will be accepted and individual member states will be able to decide whether to accept others.
“The digital green certificate will not be a prerequisite for free movement and it will not discriminate in any way,” said Didier Reynders, the bloc’s top official for justice. “A common EU approach will not only help us gradually restore free movement within the EU and avoid fragmentation. It is also an opportunity to influence global standards and lead by example based on our European values such as data protection. “
If I go, what happens if I return to the United States?
Currently, all air passengers 2 years of age and older traveling to the United States must present a negative Covid-19 viral test (NAAT or antigen test) within three calendar days of travel. States have different quarantine requirements, so travelers should check what their state requires before booking a vacation abroad.
What types of health and safety measures can I expect in Europe?
Each country sets its own rules, but most safety protocols are unlikely to change this summer, even for those who have been vaccinated.
Visitors are expected to wear masks and to keep a safe distance in public areas. Hotels, restaurants and event spaces have improved cleaning protocols and some may impose capacity restrictions.
“I think it is very important for governments to strike a balance this summer between relaxing restrictions while enforcing safety protocols to combat the disease,” said Mr Santander of the European Travel Commission. “We really don’t want to find ourselves in a situation in 2022 where we have to close the borders again and lock ourselves for another year.”
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