As COVID cases rise and the Delta variant spreads, here’s everything you need to know about traveling to Europe right now.
Rising COVID-19 vaccination rates—not only in the U.S. but around the world—renewed hope that going on vacation no longer meant taking your life (or anyone else’s) in your hands. But then came the Delta variant.
Delta is as contagious as chickenpox, and that means COVID cases are multiplying rapidly. Restrictions to prevent further spread follow in its course. While it is still possible for Americans to travel to Europe, you need to be prepared to show your vaccination and testing status, wear a mask to prevent further transmission, and be flexible for frequently changing rules.
To help your travel planning, here’s an overview of where U.S. passport holders can travel for tourism in Europe now. Being fully vaccinated is needed for entry into some countries and reduces or eliminates testing in others. If you’re not fully vaccinated, quarantine may still be necessary. Be sure to check your destination’s current requirements before you book your plane ticket, plus a few days before your departure so that you’re prepared for any changes.
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What to Know About the Delta Variant
Because the Delta variant is so contagious, the precautions that worked for other variants are less effective. If you’re fully vaccinated, you’re unlikely to be hospitalized or die from COVID, but you could still get sick. Health experts are studying the brain, heart, lung, and joint damage that long COVID can cause in order to determine the chances people can develop it, even if their initial COVID case was mild.
The greater concern about traveling is that being fully vaccinated doesn’t prevent you from carrying the virus and transmitting it to others—particularly kids and immunocompromised people who are unable to be vaccinated, as well as people who don’t yet have access to the vaccines.
Though many officials have been reluctant to accept it, the virus that causes COVID-19 is airborne and is mainly spread by breathing and talking, often without the person realizing they’re infected. Think of COVID like cigarette smoke spreading indoors: it wafts around plexiglass barriers and beyond six feet from the person who exhaled it, and it can hang in the air for hours. Too many jurisdictions emphasize deep cleaning and hand hygiene despite little evidence for transmission by touching contaminated objects.
Whenever you’re indoors and in crowded areas outdoors, it’s important to wear a well-fitting mask. That means a KN95 mask or a MyGo2Mask with its graphene oxide lattice structure. If you don’t have either, wear a fabric mask on top of a surgical mask to minimize the gaps where air can escape and enter. Wearing a mask will prevent you from transmitting the Delta variant and help minimize you breathing it in and getting infected. Masks are required by law in many European jurisdictions.
What to Consider Before Traveling to Europe
The State Department and CDC provide both country-specific travel advisories and border entry requirements. European countries on the CDC’s lowest-risk level 1 list include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Hungary, Kosovo, Lichtenstein, Moldova, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia.
The CDC recommends non-vaccinated travelers avoid the countries it classifies as level 3, which includes Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey. Nonessential travel to level 4 countries like Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and the U.K. is not recommended at this time.
The E.U. aims to have a common approach to travel, but member states can make their own decisions on the rules to enter their borders. The E.U. categorizes regions by risk based on case counts per capita and test positivity rate and discourages travel to areas classified as red (high risk) and dark red (very high risk). The E.U. recommends that areas classified as green (low risk) have no COVID-related restrictions on free movement. In early August 2021, most western European countries are classified as red or dark red. Eastern and northern European countries are generally classified as green.
With the Delta variant rapidly increasing case counts, you should assume COVID rules will change accordingly, both at borders and within countries. Some destinations, like Belgium and France, classify countries according to the number of cases there. If cases continue to rise in the U.S., entry rules for Americans might change.
Many European countries want proof you’ve had a full course of vaccines at least 14 days prior to your arrival or want proof of a recent negative PCR or antigen test. Some want both. Check details carefully, particularly for the timing window of your COVID test, including whether it’s a count of hours before departure or before arrival. You might also need to take a test on arrival, often at your own cost. If the results are positive, you will likely need to quarantine at your own expense.
Some countries allow proof of recovery from COVID during the last 12 to 180 days—it varies by country—as a replacement for testing or vaccination requirements. Children are exempt from some COVID requirements, but each country has different age cut-offs.
Also, keep in mind that some countries require you to have travel health insurance that covers COVID-19. To enter some countries, like Croatia, add proof of your paid accommodation to the list of documents you need to bring.
Regardless of where you decide to go, winging it is no longer as easy as it was before the pandemic. Due to reduced capacities, tickets to Europe’s best attractions are harder to come by than usual. If you have your heart set on seeing Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia or the Louvre, buy your tickets well in advance. Tiqets is a new Dutch ticketing platform that can make booking those tickets easy, with free cancellation options.
Countries Requiring Vaccination Upon Entry
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Finland, Malta, and Slovenia are among the countries giving the green light for fully vaccinated people. Travelers from some U.S. states may face additional restrictions for Malta. Note that Slovenia allows proof of recent COVID recovery in lieu of vaccination.
To travel to Finland, check the Finnish Border Guard website and use the FINENTRY system. Fully vaccinated travelers can enjoy Finland without the need for a COVID test. For those not vaccinated, border entry is limited to essential travel. Finland is an ideal destination for safe outdoor spaces with 40 national parks and a forested area covering almost 80% of its land. Thanks to jokamiehen oikeudet (Everyman’s Rights), anyone living in or visiting Finland has the freedom to roam the countryside and natural areas as long as they treat them with respect.
Countries Requiring Vaccination to Avoid Quarantine
Several European countries waive requirements for additional testing and quarantine for fully vaccinated travelers. These countries include Estonia (you’ll need your vaccine lot number, and non-vaccinated travelers must quarantine for ten days), Germany (you’ll need a paper copy of your vaccination certificate, and unvaccinated people need to quarantine five to ten days), Iceland (if you’re unvaccinated, you’ll need three tests plus a five-day quarantine), Ireland (unvaccinated travelers need a negative test and a five-day self-quarantine), Lithuania, Poland, and Romania (14-day quarantine for unvaccinated travelers; kids 3 to 16 need a negative PCR test).
Countries Requiring Both Vaccination and a Negative COVID Test
If you want to avoid quarantine in destinations like Sweden and the U.K., you’ll need to be both fully vaccinated plus have a negative COVID test. As of August 2nd, fully vaccinated travelers from the U.S. no longer need to quarantine in England or Scotland. However, they do need to test negative plus prove U.S. residency. If you aren’t fully vaccinated, be prepared for a hotel quarantine of 10 days and three different COVID tests (three days before departure, one on day two, and another on day eight).
Countries Requiring Proof of Vaccination or a Negative COVID Test
For many European countries, you can substitute one (or more) negative COVID tests for vaccination status. Medical certification showing recent recovery from COVID can replace those requirements too. Check timeframes for when the clock starts for vaccination, testing, and COVID recovery, as they differ by country. Keep in mind that if the risk categorization of the U.S. changes, entry requirements will change too. France, for example, will require both vaccination and a negative test if it moves the U.S. back to orange status.
Countries requiring either vaccination or negative testing or certified COVID recovery include Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, France, Greece (if you test positive in a random test, you’ll have to go to a quarantine hotel), Italy, Luxembourg, Moldova, Monaco, Switzerland, and Turkey.
As an example, Denmark is open to fully-vaccinated travelers from OECD countries, including the U.S. The U.S. is currently designated as a yellow country, which means Americans need proof of vaccination to enter Denmark or a negative test prior to and on arrival. Everyone needs COVID credentials to enter indoor spaces like restaurants in Denmark. If you’re worried your U.S. vaccination card doesn’t look official enough (Danes have a “Corona passport”), a negative antigen test is sufficient within the country and there are free testing centers with turnaround times between 15 and 30 minutes. Denmark is an excellent destination for COVID-safe outdoor activities—you could cycle the Tour de France route in advance of the 2022 race (Copenhagen is hosting the start next year), hike the national parks, and even go on a “forgotten giant” treasure hunt for giant trolls.
Countries Where Vaccination Isn’t Needed for Entry, But COVID Credentials Are Needed for Activities
The Czech Republic is unusual because travelers from low-risk (green) countries (which currently includes the U.S.) can skip most border restrictions. But, you will need a negative COVID test or vaccination credentials in order to participate in typical tourist activities, including checking into hotels. Travelers need to complete a Passenger Form for entry, but there’s no need for COVID testing or self-isolation if you’re fully vaccinated, under the age of six, or can prove you’ve had COVID-19 in the last 180 days.
However, to check into a hotel, eat in a restaurant, or enter indoor spaces, you’ll need a negative COVID test (which you may need to renew during your stay) or be fully vaccinated. As well, everyone needs KN95 or FFP2 masks for public transportation and shops, though cloth masks are fine for outdoors. Prague hotels offer a point system for free entry to museums and other Prague hot spots. You can explore outdoors at the Czech Republic’s newest UNESCO World Heritage site, the beech forests of the Jizera Mountains in North Bohemia.
Countries Only Requiring a Negative COVID Test
You don’t need to be fully vaccinated to visit these countries, but you do need a negative COVID test (either in advance or on arrival): Cyprus, Czech Republic, Greece, Latvia, Portugal (although the Azores and Madeira have stricter rules), Serbia, and Sweden.
European Countries With Few Entry Restrictions
Some countries have minimal COVID rules. You might be checked for symptoms at the border, complete a form (sometimes in advance, sometimes on arrival) attesting to being symptom-free and providing your contact information, or may be subject to a COVID test on a random basis. Other than that, you’ll face few restrictions like proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test.
Currently, these countries include Albania, Belgium (but if the U.S. changes from orange to red categorization, you’ll need a PCR test), Hungary (but Americans can’t arrive by air), the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Romania, and Spain.
You’ll need to register on the Spain Travel Health portal or SpTH app and get a Q.R. code for travel to Spain. Spain categorizes countries by risk, and, currently, Americans traveling directly to Spain from the U.S. need neither vaccination, a negative test, nor quarantine. However, travelers from some countries do, and the U.S. could be put back in that category with little notice. Consider a trip to Valencia—its website details the COVID situation in the city. Valencia is home to paella and is Spain’s 2021 culinary capital. It’s also the world’s first city to verify the carbon footprint of its tourist activity so that it can be carbon neutral by 2025. For exploring, there are 75 miles of beaches, 100 miles of hiking and bike paths, and the city has three UNESCO designations, including the 500-year-old La Lonja (Silk Exchange), which is celebrating its 25th UNESCO anniversary.
Hungary is open for tourism with few COVID restrictions, but it depends on how you enter the country. It’s possible to enter Hungary by land or water via Austria, Croatia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, or Slovenia. For example, a cruise ship passenger can enter via Austria or Germany; enjoy Hungary’s UNESCO sites, thermal spas, and historical sites along the Danube; and then depart from the Budapest airport. The border isn’t yet open for U.S. passport holders arriving by air (currently, only visitors with an E.U. immunity certificate can fly into Hungary).