What to know about traveling to Europe this summer as an American

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The European Union will reopen to fully vaccinated American tourists this summer.

It’s an encouraging sign for Americans who are eager to venture abroad and return to some of their favorite destinations in Europe — though an ever-changing landscape with the pandemic means that reopening dates and requirements can constantly shift.

It will also be up to individual member nations to decide when to relax border restrictions, and some countries will welcome Americans sooner than others. Greece, for example, has already reopened to Americans who can present a valid vaccination certificate or a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival. Italy has also reopened to tourists. And Croatia allows travelers to skip testing and isolation if they’re fully vaccinated.

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But other countries might remain closed to visitors until late summer or even early fall, especially as cases surge in several regions worldwide and Europe continues to trail behind the U.S. in terms of vaccination rates. Additionally, the U.S. State Department still recommends that U.S. citizens reconsider traveling abroad, which conflicts with what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said publicly about travel.

And some prior reopening announcements have been updated or amended, which has made things even more confusing.

Still, travel is beginning to reopen, and many Americans are wondering whether they’ll be able to take a summer vacation to Europe this year. Since several European countries have indicated they’re ready for tourists again, we’re answering all your questions about hopping across the pond to Europe this summer.

When will Europe reopen to Americans?

The European Union is expected to welcome vaccinated American tourists this summer.

“All 27 member states will accept, unconditionally, all those who are vaccinated with vaccines that are approved by E.M.A.,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on April 25.

The European Union confirmed in mid-May that it would reopen to fully vaccinated travelers this summer. According to a spokesperson, the group’s member states came to an agreement that will allow fully vaccinated travelers to enter the EU — including Americans.

What countries are open to Americans?

The European Union could add the United States and several other countries to its travel “white list” as early as Wednesday, allowing vaccinated visitors to forgo quarantine requirements and move more freely between the 27 EU nations.

A handful of European nations popular with American travelers have already reopened their borders to vaccinated U.S. citizens, including Iceland, France, Spain, Portugal, Croatia and Greece.

Portugal on Tuesday, June 15 said that nonessential travel — which includes tourism — from the U.S. to mainland Portugal is now allowed for travelers with proof of a negative COVID-19 test. And fully vaccinated visitors to Croatia no longer need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test result and can also bypass the country’s quarantine requirements.

France has reopened to tourists from a handful of nations, including the U.S. Those coming from the U.S. must still possess proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test to gain entry to the country without mandatory quarantine.

Other European countries not in the EU with already eased border restrictions include Iceland, which is now open to vaccinated Americans and travelers who have recovered from COVID-19.

What do I need to travel to the EU?

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Travelers must be fully vaccinated with one of the approved vaccines in the EU, which means that any vaccine approved for use in the U.S. will be accepted — Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer. People who aren’t fully vaccinated will likely need a negative COVID-19 test result and may be required to quarantine (depending on the country).

As of now, however, there’s no consistent way to provide proof of vaccination across the continent. That said, there are ongoing talks to expand the EU’s Digital COVID Certificates (formerly called “green passports“) to Americans.

The New York Times reported earlier this month that citizens of seven European Union countries — Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Croatia and Poland — can use these certificates. All member nations should have access by July 1, 2021.

Under this initiative, EU member states would adopt the same entry requirements for visitors. The agreed-upon notion will see fully vaccinated travelers allowed entry to each EU country without the need for a further COVID-19 test result or quarantine on arrival.

The certificate will be available for free in digital (with QR code) or paper format, and non-EU member states, such as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, will also use it. That does not, however, include the United Kingdom at this time — and U.S. travelers remain on the U.K.’s “amber” list, meaning a 10-day quarantine is still required even for fully vaccinated Americans.

Just remember that even if you can avoid testing in Europe, you’ll need a negative test to fly back to the U.S., regardless of whether you’ve been vaccinated or not. All travelers 2 and older flying to the U.S. from abroad must show a negative viral COVID-19 test result taken within three days of departure before being allowed to board their flights. Documented proof from a licensed healthcare provider of recovery from the virus within the past 90 days will also be accepted.

What if I’m transiting through Europe?

There may be specific transit requirements in the airports you use to enter or travel throughout the EU — and these policies aren’t always clearly disclosed. Be sure to do your research ahead of time, so you know exactly what you need to do before departing the U.S. — and during your travels to your final European destination.

For instance, all passengers (including transiting travelers) who fly to Lisbon (LIS) are required to have a negative COVID-19 PCR test result taken within 72 hours prior to departure. All passengers traveling to the U.K. — including transiting passengers — are also required to have proof of a negative COVID-19 test result. That means travelers simply passing through London Heathrow (LHR) who aren’t leaving the airport still required to have a negative test result in order to board their flight.

According to Copenhagen Airport, passengers who transit via the airport are required to have proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test taken no more than 48 hours prior to boarding a plane bound for Denmark.

The Netherlands, however, says that passengers can travel to a third country via Schiphol. The passenger must stay in Schiphol’s transit zone and leave within 48 hours in order to transit — you must be able to prove that you have a connecting flight within 48 hours. However, transiting travelers no longer need to provide a negative COVID-19 test as of June 1.

What if my children aren’t vaccinated yet?

Currently, there’s an age limit on all three vaccines available under the Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only vaccine available for kids 12 to 17 so far. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are only available for adults 18 and older.

That means if you’re planning travel as a family, there’s a possibility not every member of your household will be fully vaccinated, and navigating different sets of rules can get confusing.

Some countries allow people traveling with unvaccinated children entry with a negative coronavirus test result, similar to what several cruise lines have done.

For instance, travelers from the U.S., EU and Schengen area are now permitted to enter Greece by providing proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. This requirement would apply to nonvaccinated children, but children under 6 are exempt.

Italy is also open to travelers again with similar requirements, as is Croatia. As more European countries open their borders, you can expect to see other vaccination and negative COVID-19 test requirements. In brief: It will be quicker and easier to bring vaccinated teens and tweens across borders, but younger kids should still be able to travel with you as long they test negative for COVID-19.

Can I use a vaccine passport to travel to Europe?

Many destinations will accept proof of vaccination to allow some travelers to skip COVID-19 tests and lengthy quarantines. This proof, in some countries, may come in the form of a vaccine passport.

The EU is rolling out a vaccine passport dubbed the EU Digital COVID Certificate. The Digital COVID Certificate will show that a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19, received a negative test result or recovered from the virus.

Fully vaccinated travelers would be allowed entry to each EU country without the need for an additional COVID-19 test result or quarantine on arrival. However, the certificate is only available to EU residents at the moment.

And, while not an EU member, United Kingdom residents already have access to the NHS app, a digital vaccine passport only available to travelers in England.

Bottom line

While several countries worldwide have recently reopened to U.S. travelers (or didn’t close at all), much of Europe has been off-limits to Americans. That’s now beginning to change — albeit with some hiccups along the way. While we don’t have all the details at this time, and some precautions (such as pre-travel testing) may remain, a broader reopening of Europe to travelers from the U.S. is a big step in restarting the industry.

Additional reporting by Nick Ewen. 

Featured photo by Emeric Fohlen/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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