Back in March 2020, nearly all travel between the U.S. and the European Union (EU) was shut down as countries around the world closed their borders to non-essential travel to limit the spread of COVID-19. A year later, travelers are still left wondering: When will Americans be able to go to Europe again?
For months, travelers from America were banned from entering much of Europe, as the European Union restricted foreign visitors to just a handful of countries with the pandemic under wraps – and the U.S. never made the cut. But now the tables have turned: As vaccinations gain steam in the U.S. and travel slowly rebounds, Europe is struggling with a sluggish vaccination campaign and a third wave of COVID-19 cases that have forced many major cities back into lockdown.
Yet there's hope. On Wednesday, the European Union Commission unveiled its rumored plan for a “digital green certificate” that will allow travelers to prove their vaccination status for entry. While the emphasis is on allowing Europeans to travel freely across the continent, Bloomberg reports it will also provide a pathway for outsiders to eventually visit, too.
But the timing is uncertain – at least for most of Europe. Meanwhile, tourism-hungry Iceland is preparing to throw open its borders this week to all vaccinated travelers. Other European countries like Portugal and Greece are suggesting they'll open up for travel with or without the European Union's blessing.
So what does it all mean?
A Digital Green Pass? Europe's Vaccination Passport
Your proof of vaccination could soon become the most powerful card in your wallet.
Across the globe, countries see proof of vaccination as the linchpin to resuming international travel. And Europe is no exception.
Wednesday's proposal would set up a system dubbed the “digital green certificate” that allows travelers to easily prove their vaccination status, show a recent negative COVID-19 test, or prove their recovery from COVID-19 along with some basic personal data like name and date of birth. It sets standards for countries across the EU, from Portugal to Poland, to eventually lift lockdowns and implement the certificate system to resume accepting tourists from around the continent.
Wednesday's emphasis was on clearing the way for travel throughout Europe – not for allowing outsiders from the U.S. or across the globe to return. But the digital green certificate could provide a pathway to allowing Americans and other foreigners back into Europe.
An FAQ on the new system says the EU could eventually decide that other countries' vaccination certificates pass muster.
“Then, such third country certificates would be accepted under the same conditions as Digital Green Certificates,” according to the commission.
Non-EU member countries like the United Kingdom and Ireland continue to set their own entry requirements and travel restrictions independently. Both still currently require all visitors to test negative before departure and quarantine upon arrival. Others like Iceland, Switzerland, Norway, and Liechtenstein are expected to adopt the green certificate system.
That's the big question.
European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the commission aims to have the digital green certificate up and running in time for a summer travel season. First things first, the proposal must get passed, then implemented by individual countries across the continent.
Bloomberg reports that a draft proposal calls to have the system in place by mid-June. But that doesn't mean Americans (and others) will be allowed to visit later this spring.
That likely hinges on the COVID-19 situation in Europe. Countries across the continent are grappling with a third wave of cases, exacerbated by faster-spreading variants of the virus.
If you're wondering when will Americans be able to travel to France and other major tourism areas in Europe, case counts in Italy, France, Germany, and elsewhere are back on the rise, hitting their highest points across Europe since early February, according to The Guardian.
A Glimmer of Hope
The longer borders remain closed, the tougher it will be for economies to rebound. Many European countries rely on tourism – and American tourism, in particular.
Tourism makes up 25% of Greece's GDP. In France, it makes up 9.7% of its GDP, accounting for 2.9 million jobs. And in Spain, the tourism sector is the third-largest contributor to the economy. Put simply, Europe needs tourism to come back.
Some countries have made clear they can't go on much longer without tourism.
European Countries Vaccinated Travelers Can Visit
Officials in Greece say they hope to welcome back tourists from across the globe by mid-May, Reuters reports – with or without the EU's blessing. A week after suggesting an opening was imminent, Iceland announced it would open to tourists from around the globe who can provide proof of vaccination starting March 18 – just a day in advance.
But we've seen how that's played out before. Both countries had planned to open up last summer only to back away under threat of consequences from the European Union.
And it's not all trending that way. Croatia was one of the few EU members that allowed American travelers last year, requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours. But the country shut down nearly all international travel in October and hasn't said when that will change.
Where can U.S. citizens travel to in Europe? Between vaccinations at home and abroad, new digital systems, and a pandemic that isn't over yet, there is so much up in the air. The next few months will be critical in determining whether Americans can return to Europe as soon as this summer.
But don't give up hope. Europe (and the rest of the world) will need tourism. Let's hope our world's leaders can get us all on the right track, and figure out a way for us to safely open up soon.
I know it’s useless to ask you questions, since you don’t answer them…However, just in case you read comments and decide to explain your math in this statement: “the U.S. is averaging about 46,025 new cases per day – or just over 200 new cases per 100,000 residents ”
Because 46,025 cases for 330 millions (that’s how many Americans there are) translates into about 14 cases per 100,000 residents.
We almost always answer questions – and correct stories when we are wrong. And you are correct, we flubbed the math there: We were looking at case counts per 100,000 residents over 14-day periods (because that’s what the EU looks at) but did not spell that out for the U.S. case counts.
Thanks, we’ve updated the story!
European travel ??? What’s wrong with us?? 200,000 people dead and we are worried about tourism to Europe. This is what’s wrong with the country. Let’s stop the virus first and then worry about vacations and traveling. We are so spoiled !!!
You would think two super powers ( EU and USA) in the world could figure out a way to allow tourism to once again to begin in the EU and the United States of America. Cornea virus tests and temperature checks at airports would stop people with the Virus from entering each country. There is a safe way for everyone to travel again. I believe this is more of a political matter and not so much a virus matter. The EU has done more harm to their economy by not permitting Americans into Europe which actually helped the USA economy. Most Americans traveled throughout the in USA sense they couldn’t travel abroad. That’s is actually what President Trump wanted Americans to do.
The USA should be treated as individual states, not as a whole. Many states have complied with the mask wearing, social distancing and so on, whereas other states do not comply and make the good states look bad because of it. I live in Connecticut and there is no way I would travel in the US, especially to covid hot spots such as Texas, Florida, New York , California and Illinois. It is not safe. However, we can’t leave the country because very few countries will let us travel because they include all states as the US and don’t look at the individual numbers from states. We are presently around 3% and less daily, where as many states are 10% and over. I’m willing to wear masks and social distance. I have also been vaccinated with Moderna.
I’m inclined to agree with Kenneth. There are relatively safe ways to resume travel. It gets complex and there are a number of possibilities, but one bad prospect is different stains arising in different regions & due to isolation creating even greater risk. When a country, such as the US, achieves herd immunity from one strain it then becomes at risk for a 2nd wave from a different strain – and that 2nd strain WILL eventually hit us.
That said, I really appreciate the article & travel insights, but I agree the math is wrong. We’ve been running closer to 12/100k lately. Also new cases/day isn’t the critical number. This can be due to testing numbers. We have done 77 million tests to date – approaching 25% of our population & a greater % than any European country. New cases per 100k is not an unreasonable metric for travel, but percent tested should also be factored in. France, for ex., has only tested 1 in 10 of it’s population, so it will miss many asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic people.
It’s a shame politics gets injected into this, but I guess that’s reality. The metric here is deaths/million & we are in line with most countries & certainly better off than some European countries. I’ll just say that I didn’t vote for Trump but have followed closely day-by-day (it’s my job to know), and I fail to see how anyone could have done better under identical circumstances, given what we knew at the time. Even Dr. Fauci said in Feb. that Americans need not be concerned. The CDC messed up with their testing criteria & we soon knew this wasn’t going to be contained. Hindsight is always 20/20 but I think our country has done about as good a job as can be expected.
PS: Contact tracing in a nation so spread out is possible only on a local level. You cannot contact trace someone on a NY subway with thousands of people getting on & off and going in a thousand directions.
The numbers cited are in relation to the criteria set by the EU. They are looking at the # of cases per 100,000 for 14 days. At the time of publishing the average per 100,000 was 14 which is just under 200 cases for 14 days.
Yes, I understand that, and as mentioned it’s not an entirely unreasonable metric. However, beyond that, apples-to-apples should be the comparison. If one country does 1/10th the testing we don’t know the true number of new cases. It gets a bit complex. We use a variety of different tests in the US in order to meet demand & some have notoriously high numbers of false positives. Beyond that, even deaths are calculated differently. In the US we count every death of a patient with covid as a covid death, even if the cause of death is unrelated. Why? Because it pays. Code a record for covid & the govt pays big time. Code for ventilator use & get an extra $40,000. Yep, $40k.
It seems to me that we need an ad hoc committee composed of a virologist, a representative of the travel industry and a representative of the airline industry to develop a protocol that would reduce the danger of flying to Europe to that of not flying to Europe. For example, one could be tested at 10 days and 3 days before flying. One needs a test with few false positives and a rapid readoutl
Why don’t these countries do testing as you enter each country, thereby allowing tourists to go the way they want to go after a day or so of quarantining. I would be more then happy to have a test before I head out of Boston for the UK and then have one when I get there, and anything else I would need. I live in a state where we obey the social distancing and mask rules and our covid level is about 1%. I don’t think those of us doing our share should be punished because of the idiots who refuse to social distance or wear masks. I’ve had 2 Covid tests for medical purposes, negative both times. We need a covid test for every procedure here in CT. I need my annual mental health vacation to England badly. There has got to be a way these governments could come through. I am more then happy to help out their economy by spending money there.
Not everyone who wants to go from the US to Europe fits the profile of “tourist.” Some of us have homes there and want to go for more than a two week stay in a hotel. It would be great if they could open up for different types of entry, though I admit this would be hard to manage.
Agree with Lisa 100%. I’m a post-grad and I was supposed to move to Paris in June on a permanent job contract. The visa centers have told me that I have to wait for the borders to open like everyone else. This makes no sense to me.
If I was going for pleasure, I’d get it, but I’m not – so I don’t… as long as I follow all the precautions, take the test 72 hours before departure, wear the mask till I get to my apartment…?
Good article. A couple of sentences that need some work:
“On Wednesday, the for a “digital green certificate” that will allow travelers to prove their vaccination status for entry”
“An FAQ on the new system says the EU could eventually decide that other countries’ vaccination certificates.”
Whoops, something got messed up with our editing. We’ve fixed it – thanks for pointing it out!
how can I get ” the digital green certificate ” I got my COVID vaccine
It’s not available yet – stay tuned!