The European Union is moving ahead with its plans to reopen to vaccinated travelers with a proposal that could come up for a vote later this week, setting the stage for a summer return to Europe.
Nearly all of Europe has banned American travelers for more than a year. But the EU’s top official signaled just last week in a New York Times interview that vaccinated Americans should be able to return this summer – a much-needed jolt for trips to Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, and beyond.
The timing of when Europe may resume travel is still up in the air – and it’s ultimately up to individual countries throughout the continent to implement the EU’s recommendations. Some European countries like Iceland (which isn’t part of the EU), Greece, and Croatia are already open with vaccination or testing requirements, while France plans to restart international travel by early June – something Spain has echoed.
But this is the surest sign yet that Europe is actually gearing up to welcome back travelers. And the EU’s new proposal sheds more light on what that will look like for travelers.
When Will Europe Reopen?
This is the big question. And it’s still unclear.
The proposal, which was unveiled Monday and set to come up for debate this week, recommends that all 27 member countries of the European Union resume allowing travelers who have completed their vaccinations. Once approved, each country can decide whether or not to implement those changes.
And that’s a critical point: The EU simply makes recommendations. It’s up to each individual country to follow along, stay closed, or add additional safeguards or entry requirements.
That means the current non-essential travel ban could fall away fairly soon – especially in countries like Spain and France that are eager to welcome back travelers. Elsewhere, it could take much longer.
And European countries could hit the pause button once travel resumes. The EU’s proposal includes an “emergency brake” that would allow countries to slow or halt inbound travelers from countries where COVID-19 cases are on the rise, especially where new variants of the virus are emerging.
Who Can Get In?
The EU’s proposal recommends allowing entry to anyone who has received their last dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days prior to arrival. All three vaccines in use in the U.S. meet those requirements: Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. AstraZeneca, which is being distributed in Canada, is also accepted.
“This will enable free movement and the travel to the European Union,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen previously said in an interview with the Times, noting that all three vaccines being distributed in the U.S. have been approved by Europe’s pharmaceutical regulator. “Because one thing is clear: All 27 member states will accept, unconditionally, all those who are vaccinated with vaccines that are approved by (the European Medicines Agency).”
Some countries could also require a negative PCR test on top of proof of vaccination. But the proposal states it should waive a testing requirement for foreign visitors if that country doesn’t require a negative test result from its own residents.
And keep in mind: As of today, the U.S. still requires a negative COVID-19 test before boarding your flight back to the U.S. … regardless of your vaccination status.
What About Vaccine Passports? What’s a ‘Digital Green Certificate’?
Eventually, Europe may have its own version of a vaccine passport, allowing travelers to easily prove their vaccination status.
Europe has been working on its “digital green certificate” for several months. And that work is still underway. The EU plans to eventually require inbound travelers to submit their proof of vaccination in advance for clearance.
But until then, a standard Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vaccination card should work.
“Until the Digital Green Certificate is operational, Member States should be able to accept certificates from non-EU countries based on national law, taking into account the ability to verify the authenticity, validity, and integrity of the certificate and whether it contains all relevant data,” the proposal states.
What About Kids?
Children under 16 still aren’t approved for the COVID-19 vaccine, which has left families eyeing trips in the lurch. We’ve got good news there.
The EU’s proposal specifically states that children who can’t get the vaccine can accompany their vaccinated parents by providing a negative PCR test result taken no more than 72 hours prior to arrival.
Countries could require additional testing or requirements upon arrival.
What If You Haven’t Been Vaccinated?
For the last year, the EU has restricted unvaccinated travelers to a small (and shrinking) number of countries where COVID-19 case rates are low like Australia. That has left the U.S. out in the cold.
The EU plans to loosen those standards: It would allow non-essential travel from countries with a COVID-19 rate of 100 per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period, regardless of their vaccination status. Currently, the EU only allows case rates of 25.
COVID-19 case rates are trending in the right direction in the U.S., but Americans would still currently miss the cut by this metric. The EU plans to revisit the list of acceptable countries every two weeks, so that could eventually change.
Some countries like Spain and France have signaled they’ll allow both vaccinated travelers and travelers with a recent negative COVID-19 test. Neither country has officially reopened yet.
For now, getting vaccinated would be the only surefire way for Americans to get into Europe – except for children. But that could eventually change.
Finally. After a year of being unwelcome and watching as a summer trip to Europe became less and less certain, there’s clear hope for a return to Europe in 2021. And now we know much more about what that may look like.
There are plenty of details to work out, but this is the good news that travelers have been waiting for.