The number one question on everyone’s lips right now is “when will this pandemic be over?” The number two question (probably) is “when can we travel to Europe again?” On March 17 the EU passed a travel ban prohibiting international visitors from entering Europe for 30 days. Since then, the ban has been renewed every month, plunging travelers to a nightmarish Groundhog Day-esque reality that keeps us wondering when we’ll be able to freely explore our world again. Not much has changed for us since March.
Flights are running on limited schedules between the US and Europe, but that doesn’t guarantee you can actually get in. EU countries are allowing entry to those with EU passports or residency permits, close family members of EU residents, and some countries are allowing essential workers and students. All that to say that, unless you meet very specific criteria, you’re not allowed in.
Technically each member state of the EU is free to do as it pleases. Pretty much every country, however, has decided to stick to the collective agreement and not open any borders unless it’s part of a coordinated effort to do so. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some slight deviations, which may prove intriguing to travelers.
Croatia is one of the only countries in the EU allowing US tourists to visit. All you have to do is present evidence of a negative COVID-19 PCR test, with a result no more than 48 hours old. Without a test you’ll have to quarantine for 14 days at your own expense, or for one week if you take a test within seven days of entering the country. Before arriving you’ll also have to fill out an online travel form with a confirmed hotel or accommodation booking.
US travelers are also able to visit the UK but must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival and complete a passenger locator form no sooner than 48 hours before landing. The UK released a list of countries and territories exempt from quarantine, but of course, the US isn’t on it. Upon arrival you’ll have to provide UK border control with your contact details, including phone number and address in the UK where you’ll be self-isolating. Failure to quarantine may result in a fine of up to $1,270. Similarly, US citizens are allowed to travel to the Republic of Ireland but must self-isolate for 14 days and complete a public health passenger locator form.
Back in June, Portugal got many travelers’ hopes up when it announced it would open, quarantine-free, to international travelers. However, when the EU announced the extension of its border closures in July, Portugal followed suit. Portugal has vowed to open to Portuguese-speaking countries and those with large Portuguese communities — including the United States — as long as reciprocity is granted for Portuguese citizens. The US’ travel ban currently remains in place for EU citizens, but if that should end, Americans would presumably be able to travel to Portugal.
Serbia is another country welcoming US citizens, as long as travelers present a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours of arrival.
The schadenfreudian silver lining is that Europe isn’t exactly one big party right now. Even if US citizens could travel throughout the continent freely they’d likely be met with domestic lockdowns that limit movement pretty severely, including the closure of bars and restaurants, public spaces, and even the introduction of curfews to get COVID-19 cases under control.
But not all hope is lost. There are some encouraging signs that travel to Europe is taking steps toward becoming a reality again. Airlines are beginning to launch pre-flight testing programs for flights between the US and Europe, allowing US citizens to travel abroad without having to quarantine. Delta, for example, launched a new transatlantic program on December 19 for flights between Atlanta and Rome. If passengers present a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure, take a rapid test at their airport in Atlanta, a third test upon arrival, and provide contact tracing information, US citizens can enter Italy without quarantining. Eligible passengers include those traveling to Italy for work, health, or education reasons.
Similarly, Delta is also working with KLM to implement a COVID-19 testing program on flights between Atlanta and Amsterdam. The program will require passengers to take a COVID-19 test five days before arriving in Amsterdam, followed by a rapid test upon boarding, and then a second PCR test once they arrive in Amsterdam. This program, which launched December 15, will allow travelers to forgo the Netherlands’ 14-day quarantine requirement.
European travel rules and restrictions are changing daily. The best way to stay abreast of the evolving situation is to check each country’s embassy website for updates. But if you were dreaming of a winter getaway, unfortunately you’re going to have to wait a little longer.
A version of this article was previously published on September 29, 2020, and was updated on December 18, 2020, with more information.