If you thought getting to Europe from the United States was the challenging part of your trip, travel within Europe may seem even more daunting.
But travel restrictions and requirements don’t have to be confusing. After traveling around Europe this summer, I’ve found how to make it easy.
The rewards are immense: almost all of Europe is already open, especially once you’re in the EU Schengen area. Lots of areas have ample availability and cheaper prices than normal. I personally know of colleagues having the Trevi fountain in Rome all to themselves this month. Imagine that!
I’ve been traveling across Europe since it re-opened to Americans and I haven’t looked back.
Here’s everything you need to know before your next trip around Europe.
Which countries in Europe are open for American tourists?
You may have heard that the European Union recommended that Americans should be banned from nonessential travel to its member states after a rise in Covid-19 cases in the United States.
- This is only a recommendation for countries in Europe – it’s not mandatory. Each country has the final say for its travel restrictions, and whether they want to allow foreign nationals to enter
- If enacted, this ‘ban’ only applies if you are not vaccinated
For example, France still lists the United States on its list of “green” countries, which means Americans can enter whether vaccinated or not (with other restrictions).
On the other hand, Germany is requiring foreigners who have been in the United States within the last 10 days to be vaccinated.
European countries Americans can enter from the US (as of September 21st) include:
- Austria (with quarantine/self-isolation)
- Belgium (if vaccinated)
- Cyprus (if vaccinated)
- Czechia (if vacccinated)
- Estonia (if vaccinated, with quarantine)
- Finland (if vaccinated)
- Germany (if vaccinated)
- Italy (only with an EU digital vaccine pass or quarantine)
- Liechtenstein (if vaccinated)
- Malta (vaccinated or quarantine)
- Netherlands (if vaccinated, with quarantine)
- Norway (if vaccinated)
- Poland (quarantine if not vaccinated)
- Romania (with quarantine)
- Slovakia (with quarantine)
- Spain (if vaccinated)
- Sweden (only from within the EU)
- Switzerland (if vaccinated)
- Ukraine (must have travel insurance)
Note that most countries have additional restrictions – including testing (and sometimes quarantine). Click on the links above to see more up-to-date details on each country.
Countries not currently allowing direct entry from the US for Americans:
The best way to keep informed on the latest travel restrictions is via the re-open EU system. Here, you’ll find detailed information for each country, including others not listed above.
What’s life like in Europe this summer?
Summer 2021 will probably be the best time to explore Europe for awhile.
Restaurants are fully open across most of Europe, and for once I haven’t needed to make reservations each time just to get a table.
The downside is that some countries still require face masks in indoor areas. And some restaurants that show as open on google haven’t survived 2020. Beware, especially in smaller towns.
Public transportation is almost back to normal, including cross country bus lines. That’s great news for those looking to explore. Backpacking across Europe is a finally a possibility again in 2021!
Covid tests are super easy to get across all of Europe. They’re available in most airports (such as FRA, CDG, etc) and even in pharmacies (such as in France). In many countries, they’re completely free.
- If you don’t want to worry about finding a testing center in Europe, bring an approved at-home test with you and take it within 3 days of your return to the US to meet CDC requirements.
The situation in Europe right now a great mix between places being open but not quite yet too crowded.
The European Covid-19 “green light” system
Europe is very specific (and harsh) with their travel restrictions. They don’t just restrict travel based on which countries you’ve been in – they restrict them based on which regions you’ve been in!
That can make things a bit… spicy.
Cue the “green-light” system. In this 3-color system based on average Covid levels in different regions, the red light district is not the one you want to be in. Sorry, fellas.
Here are what the 3 colors actually mean:
- Green: low Covid-19 cases (least restrictive)
- Orange: moderate Covid-19 cases
- Red: high Covid-19 cases
- Dark red: variants of concern (e.g. “Delta”)
When traveling across Europe, you will have to bear in mind the countries you’ve visited in the last 14 days. Every country has different requirements for those arriving from green, orange, red, and dark red countries.
Most commonly, Covid tests are required for those who have visited orange and red regions in the last 14 days. Arrivals are generally not permitted from dark red regions or may require a quarantine.
Though it varies from country to country, you can generally expect to need a Covid vaccine certificate OR test when coming from a green region.
The foolproof way to travel around Europe this year
Though this tiered travel system looks confusing at first glance, there is a saving grace; this awesome travel planner.
Simply select your countries of departure and arrival and you’ll see all the travel restrictions and requirements impacting your trip.
This is simply the easiest way to find out if you need a Covid test and/or vaccine before visiting countries in Europe – and if a quarantine is required.
Changing travel restrictions
You’ll need to be flexible with travel plans as restrictions and requirements are constantly changing.
For example, some countries are restricting travel from Portugal and Russia as these countries are seeing increasing numbers of the cornering “Delta” Covid variant.
I would highly recommend bookmarking the Re-Open EU website and keeping up to date on the latest travel updates. The website is kept current automatically.
Should I get Travel Insurance before going to Europe?
If you’re flexible and are willing to book last-minute or cancellable hotels, cars, transportation, tours, flights, I would say it’s not necessary. However, it might be some reassuring to have.
If you’re not willing to deal with the hassle of changing plans, seeking refund and reimbursements, and navigating fluctuating restrictions, insurance might be a good idea.
My experience crossing European borders in summer 2021
I flew from Germany to France and was surprised by what I experienced.
At the gate before boarding my flight, airline representatives arduously checked everyone’s documents, making sure we met all the requirements to enter France. In detail.
When I asked why they were so meticulous, the answer shocked me. According to the gate agent, “airlines can run fines of over $1000 per passenger for a rejected entry.” Ok, now I understand.
I showed my passport and vaccination card and the representative happily signed my boarding pass, allowing me entry onboard. On arrival, I had to go through passport control even though I was staying within the Schengen area. It ended up being more of a vaccine card check than anything else.
Just keep in mind that crossing borders may not be as easy as in previous years. Governments are instituting checks, even if that means activating border control between Schengen countries. All airlines, train lines, and bus companies are expected to verify that you meet the restrictions to enter your next country or pay heavy fines.
If that’s all it takes to have an awesome summer in Europe, count me in.