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How to visit the USA from Europe during COVID-19 travel restrictions

Love across continents: my girlfriend lives in Europe and I live and work in the US. I thought I was in a small minority – until 2020 hit. After figuring out the restrictions, my inbox became flooded with people asking me how I managed to have my European partner come visit me in the United States.

At first, it seems daunting. How do you enter the United States with a European passport right now?

I’m here to tell you that it IS possible, and it’s actually super easy! Here’s why.

Starting November, vaccinated and pre-flight tested Europeans will be able to fly directly to the US

That’s right!

We’ve been waiting on this news for 18 months now. Families have struggled to find ways to see each other, long distance couples have become super proficient at FaceTime, and tourists have had to restrain their awesome travel plans.

No longer. According to a tweet made by the EU Ambassador to the U.S. Stavros Lambrinidis, “Travel ban lifted! Vaccinated, pre-flight tested Europeans will again be able to travel to the US from November, just as vaccinated Americans are today allowed to travel to the EU.”

According to the White House, the “ban” is lifted starting November 8, 2021.

Those looking to travel to the United States before that date still can! Keep reading for more information.

Update 28.08,21: Added Croatia to the list of accessible countries, updated travel restrictions
Update 15.10.21: The ban officially ends November 8!

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The ban on Europeans visiting the states is not really a ban

Entering the US with a German passport: Can it be done?
Entering the US with a German passport in 2021: Can it be done?

Although the ban on nonessential travel to Europe (which may be ending soon) actually is a ban, the Presidential Proclamations barring entry for certain kinds of travelers into the United States is NOT.

The Presidential Proclamations simply prohibit all foreign travelers who have been to these countries in the last 14 days from entering the United States.

The 26 countries in the Schengen Area are included on that list, so if you live there, you have two options to get to the United States.

  • Travel for essential reasons
  • Spend 2 weeks in a country not listed in the Presidential Proclamations, then enter the United States

Where do I need to go before entering the United States?

I’ve actually entered and exited the United States four times in the last year with my European partner. We never had any issues.

One important note is that you CANNOT even transit through any country listed in the Presidential Proclamations on your way to the United States. And you cannot transit through the United States, either. This makes things more complicated.

Here’s our formula for deciding where to go for 2 weeks before entering the US:

  • What countries are not listed on the Presidential Proclamations banning travelers from visiting the USA?
  • Which countries are you allowed to visit from Europe and don’t require a quarantine period?
  • Which countries have direct flights to the US and Europe?

What countries are listed on the Presidential Proclamations?

Right now (8/28/2021), the Presidential Proclamations restrict any foreign nationals who have visited or transited any of these countries in the last 14 days from entering the US:

  • China
  • Iran
  • India
  • European Schengen area (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City)
  • United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland)
  • Republic of Ireland
  • South Africa
  • Brazil

It’s important to note that this does not apply to US Citizens or Residents. It’s also important to note that your nationality does not matter, it’s your presence in these countries within the last 14 days that does. This means that you simply need to spend 14 days and nights outside these countries to be able to visit the US (assuming you have a valid US visa or are in the ESTA Visa Waiver Program).

The Presidential Proclamation also states that you cannot transit via any of the above countries. This means you have to visit a country that allows Europeans in AND has direct flights to the US. Luckily, I’ve compiled that below.

Every country you can easily visit from Europe before entering the United States

We ended up spending 2 weeks in Egypt before entering the United States with a European passport.
We ended up spending 2 weeks in Egypt before entering the United States with a European passport.

If you’re looking for an easy solution, you’re in luck.

I’ve extensively researched which countries have flights from Europe AND to the US and what their current travel restrictions and quarantine periods are.

My personal favorite from the list below is Croatia, where I experienced the best 8-day road trip of my life from the north of the country along the insanely gorgeous coast and islands all the way to the south.

  • Croatia
    • Daily nonstop flights from all over Europe to Dubvronik (DBV), Split, Zagreb, and more
    • 3 times weekly service from Dubrovnik (DBV) to New York (JFK) on Delta and Newark (EWR) on United
    • Requires either a PCR test (72 hours) Rapid/Antigen test (48 hours), or complete vaccine course. See more here.
  • Egypt
    • Daily nonstop flights from all over Europe to Cairo (CAI)
    • Direct flights from Cairo to New York 4x a week, Washington DC 2x a week on EgyptAir
    • Requires a negative PCR test (<72 hours) to enter. See up-to-date restrictions here.
  • Turkey
    • Daily nonstop flights from all over Europe to Istanbul (IST) on Turkish Airlines and others
    • Daily direct flights from Istanbul to New York, many other US cities 4x a week on Turkish Airlines
    • Requires a negative PCR test (<72 hours) to enter. Other restrictions may apply.
  • Mexico
    • Daily nonstop flights from many cities in Europe to Mexico City (MEX) on multiple airlines
    • Direct flights daily from many cities in Mexico to all over the US,. Caution: land border to USA is closed
    • No testing or quarantine requirements
  • Ghana
    • Daily nonstop flights from many cities in Europe to Accra (ACC) on multiple airlines
    • Daily direct flights from Accra to New York
    • Requires a negative PCR test (<72 hours) to enter. See up-to-date info here.
  • Senegal
    • Daily nonstop flights from many cities in Europe to Dakar (DSS) on multiple airlines
    • Direct flights Dakar to New York 3x a week
    • Requires a negative Covid test (within 5 days), no quarantine required. See more here.
  • Barbados
    • Daily nonstop flights from London (LHR) to Bridgetown (BGI) on Virgin Atlantic
    • Direct flights Bridgetown to New York 2x a week
    • Requires a negative PCR test (within 3 days) and 1-2 or 7 day quarantine (vaccinated vs unvaccinated). More details here.
  • Dominican Republic
    • Daily nonstop flights from Paris (CDG) and Frankfurt (FRA) to Punta Cana on Air France and Lufthansa
    • Multiple daily flights on Delta from Santo Domingo (SDQ), Punta Cana (PUJ), and Santiago (STI) to New York
    • No testing or quarantine requirements
  • Panama
    • Daily nonstop flights from Amsterdam (AMS) to Panama City (PTY) on KLM
    • Daily flights to USA on Copa Airlines
    • Requires a negative COVID-19 test (PCR) within 72 hours -OR- test on entry for $50. Full details here.

For the ultimate reunion, have your American partner/family/friend spend 2 weeks in one of these awesome countries with you before heading back to the US!

Important note for Croatia: since Croatia is still in the EU, you might not encounter the same immigration controls you normally would exiting a country. To avoid difficulties, make sure to ask for a passport stamp when exiting the Schengen area on your way to Croatia. Also, ensure that your passport is scanned by the border authorities. Use the border checkpoint for non-EU residents and ask for a stamp - even if you have an EU passport.

Always keep records of your travels in case you are asked by the United States Customs and Border Patrol.

Related: The Ultimate 2-Month Central America 2021 Itinerary

The perfect itineraries we used to enter the United States in 2020 and 2021 with a European Passport

Here’s an example of crafting an itinerary using the information above. This is exactly the itinerary my partner, Andi, and I took in July.

Step 1: Take a cheap flight down to Egypt:

We flew down to Cairo for just over $200 per person with an awesome 9 hour layover in Athens, Greece.

Our itinerary ended up having an awesome layover in Athens, Greece on the way to Egypt.

Step 2: Enjoy a two week vacation exploring an awesome country (or countries!)

We found that exploring Egypt without the hoards of tourists was incredible.

Other itineraries we used to enter the USA with a European passport this past year include:

Step 3: Take a Covid test

As per the newest CDC recommendations, the United States requires Covid test (PCR or rapid/antigen) negative results from a test taken within 3 calendar days of entry.

In my experience, this is checked by the ticketing agent of your airline prior to departure to the United States. You will also have to sign a sworn affadavit stating that you meet the health qualifications to enter the United States. I’ve never actually had my Covid-19 documentation checked on arrival into the United States; only before departure.

Step 4: Take a Direct Flight to the US:

The next step is, well, flying to the United States! Just make sure not to transit through any countries listed in the Presidential Proclamations as I explained earlier.

If you’re looking for the cheapest flights, CheapOAir is running a special summer sale giving you another $35 off airfare.

Click on the image to book your flights on CheapOAir and make sure to use the $35 coupon.

Flying back to Europe from the United States

After visiting the US, you can fly directly back to Europe (assuming you have an EU passport). No loophole needed here.

Just note that every country has their own entry, testing, and quarantine requirements. Some, like Belgium, are more strict. Others, like Croatia, Greece, and Spain are much more liberal.

Flights headed to Europe are selling for significantly cheaper than normal prices. Here’s an example:

Less than 200€ to head back to Paris!

The first time we tested the loophole to enter the United States with a European passport

We spent about 5 of our 14 days on this traditional Egyptian Felucca on this exact itinerary

Equipped with this knowledge, Andi and I visited Egypt and spent two weeks in the summer heat (up to 47C/118F) before hopping on a direct flight to Washington D.C. (IAD) last July.

Andi is enrolled in the ESTA Visa Waiver Program, so we confirmed with Customs and Border Patrol as well as ESTA that she would be able to embark on her flight to the US and make it through customs. See the below Q&A from the ESTA Website:

What if I am a passport holder of a Schengen country with a valid ESTA but I have not been present in a Schengen country within 14 days of my travel to the United States?

  • Travelers are subject to the Proclamation if they were physically present within the Schengen Area during the 14-day period preceding their entry to the United States. This prohibition necessarily includes direct travel from, and transit through, the Schengen Area within the 14-day period. If you have not been in the Schengen Area during the 14-day period preceding entry, and you are not departing from or transiting through the Schengen Area during your travel to the United States, then you are not subject to the Proclamation.

Since then, Andi has returned to the United States an additional 3 times from Mexico, St. Lucia, and Costa Rica.

Where can I get a PCR test done in Europe?

Some airports in Europe, such as Frankfurt (FRA), provide designated COVID testing sites which can produce results within 2-8 hours, depending on which service you pay for.

We actually used the Covid-19 testing centre in FRA twice – once for entering Europe and once before visiting Egypt. There is usually about a 1-2 hour wait in line at the airport to get tested for the 8 hour/non-rapid test. If you pay extra for the rapid option, that wait in line to get tested is reduced to about 5-10 minutes, followed by a 2-3 hour wait for your results via e-mail.

So, did your love story work out?

Absolutely. Though we were nervous, Andi was able to enter and visit the US with absolutely no issues. It was a complete breeze entering via Customs and Border Patrol at Washington-Dulles International Airport.

The officer only asked the usual questions – how long she’s staying, purpose of her visit, etc. And soon after, I was able to take her flying with me!!!

I know how exciting it is to KNOW you can see your loved ones. Go ahead and enjoy your trip! As they say, life is an adventure.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with further questions or success stories.

Keep Exploring the World

8 Comments

  1. great article, thanks! When I saw Dominican Republic in your list I started wondering… what about Puerto Rico?

    1. No worries. Puerto Rico is wide open!

  2. Hi, my boyfriend and I are trying to enter the USA. I’m American and he’s South African. We spent 14 days in Mexico (departed SA on a Friday, arrived in Mexico the next day, Saturday, and then two weeks later on a Saturday, attempted to fly to the US). He was denied boarding because he’s from South Africa, though he has a valid US B1/B2 visa. They claimed he needed 15 days in Mexico. When your girlfriend visited you in the US, do you remember what counted as 14 days outside of a variant country? Any insight from your own experience would be deeply appreciated!

    1. Hi Bianca, apologies for the late reply. They consider this as 14 days AND nights.

  3. Hi there,

    I am planning on going to croatia for 2 weeks and then to the USA – I hold a norwegian passport. Will I need an ESTA or something whenever entering the USA?

    1. Yes, you’ll need an ESTA or B1/2 visa. This works, but make sure to keep records of everything – and stay 14 nights.

  4. Great article thank you for the info 🙂

    If I travel to Istanbul from Norway for 14 days and nights, and take a direct flight from Istanbul to New york then New York to Nashville is that a possibility sir? Or am I not allowed to transit thru America

    1. Yes, that is totally fine!

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