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Vaccinated Americans will be able to travel to Europe this summer, says EU chief

Americans who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 will be able to visit the EU this summer, president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has vowed.

Vaccinated Americans will be able to travel to Europe this summer, says EU chief
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. Photo: John Thys/AFP

“The Americans, as far as I can see, use European Medicines Agency-approved vaccines,” von der Leyen told The New York Times.

“This will enable free movement and the travel to the European Union.

“Because one thing is clear: the 27 member states will accept, unconditionally, all those who are vaccinated with vaccines approved by the EMA”, Von der Leyen said.

US health authorities have recommended the Covid-19 vaccines made by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, all of which are also authorised for use in the EU.

The president of the EU Commission did not spell out a timeline on when exactly US tourists would be able to visit EU countries or what documentation they would need, however the European Parliament is debating vaccine passports on Wednesday, April 28th.
 
The European Union halted all non-essential travel to the bloc in March 2020 to limit the spread of coronavirus.
 
While border policy is a matter for individual member states, the EU has adopted some rules across the bloc particularly around travel from outside Europe.
 
Last month the head of the European Commission vaccines task force, Thierry Breton, unveiled the first European “health passport”, claiming he hopes Europe will have a summer season “comparable to last year”. 
 
The provisional plans for the health passport include an option to show either a vaccination certificate or a recent Covid test.
 
 
The new health certificate should be available “within two to three months” in both digital and paper formats.
 
Americans who are frequent visitors to European countries have been eagerly awaiting news that governments will relax travel restrictions, but with a third wave of Covid-19 infections hitting much of Europe their hopes have been dashed.
 
The EU’s initially slow vaccine rollout has also hampered the chances that borders would soon reopen to non-essential travel from outside the bloc.
 
And for the time being at least Americans have been advised not to travel to Europe, even if they are vaccinated.
 
Last week the US government increased its travel warning for most EU countries to “Level 4 – Do Not Travel”, citing “very high” Covid-19 numbers.
 
The warning does not bar Americans from travel to these countries, however the Department of State warns that insurance policies may not be valid.
 
What is “essential” travel?

The EU does not define what counts as an “imperative reason”, however people who can travel into the European bloc now include:

  • Citizens of an EU country
  • Non-EU citizens who are permanent residents of an EU country and need to come home
  • Healthcare workers engaged in crucial work on the coronavirus crisis
  • Frontier workers and in some circumstances seasonal workers
  • Delivery drivers
  • Diplomats, humanitarian or aid workers
  • Passengers in transit
  • Passengers travelling for imperative family reasons
  • Persons in need of international protection or for other humanitarian reasons
  • Third country nationals travelling for the purpose of study
  • Highly qualified third-country workers IF their employment is essential from an economic perspective and cannot be postponed or performed abroad

Find more details on the exemptions here.

 
 
 

Member comments

  1. I’m an American hoping to take a long-awaited trip to Geneva/Lausanne and London, in August. For those familiar with how such things tend to go, is it reasonable to expect that Switzerland and the UK will follow in the EU’s footsteps and open up to fully-vaccinated tourists from the United States over the Summer?

    Thanks in advance for any input.

    1. I’m British living in Italy and think it’s very likely that the UK will open up to American tourists by August. I have my fingers crossed for you!

  2. I have owned a house in Italy for 20 years, but I am not a resident. i am a retired British resident but have been used to spending at least 5 months a year in Italy at a time of my choosing. My house has been used for tourism being let for holidays in the past. Can I apply for a visa extension to allow me visits of any duration?
    I do not work in Italy, or have family residents in Italy, and I am too old to be a student. I contribute all local taxes in my commune and i contribute to the local economy. Can I apply for a long stay visa simply as a home owner?
    I would appreciate any information. Thank you.
    Sally
    ?

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EXPLAINED: Which Schengen area countries have border controls in place and why?

Borders within Europe's Schengen area are meant to be open but several countries have checks in place but are they legal and will they be forced to scrap them? Claudia Delpero explains the history and what's at stake.

EXPLAINED: Which Schengen area countries have border controls in place and why?

The European Court of Justice has recently said that checks introduced by Austria at the borders with Hungary and Slovenia during the refugee crisis of 2015 may not be compatible with EU law.

Austria has broken the rules of the Schengen area, where people can travel freely, by extending temporary controls beyond 6 months without a new “serious threat”.

But Austria is not the only European country having restored internal border checks for more than six months.

Which countries have controls in place and what does the EU Court decision mean for them? 

When can EU countries re-introduce border checks?

The Schengen area, taken from the name of the Luxembourgish town where the convention abolishing EU internal border controls was signed, includes 26 states: the EU countries except for Ireland, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia and Romania, plus Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland, which are not EU members.

The Schengen Borders Code sets the rules on when border controls are permitted. It says that checks can be temporarily restored where there is a “serious threat to public policy or internal security”, from the organisation of a major sport event to a terrorist attack such as those seen in Paris in November 2015.

However, these checks should be a “last resort” measure, should be limited to the period “strictly necessary” to respond to the threat and not last more than 6 months.

In exceptional circumstances, if the functioning of the entire Schengen area is at risk, EU governments can recommend that one or more countries reintroduce internal border controls for a maximum of two years. The state concerned can then continue to impose checks for another six months if a new threat emerges. 

Which countries keep border checks in place?

Countries reintroducing border controls have to notify the European Commission and other member states providing a reason for their decision. 

Based on the list of notifications, these countries currently have controls in place at least at some of their borders: 

Norway – until 11 November 2022 at ferry connections with Denmark, Germany and Sweden. These measures have been in place since 2015 due to terrorist threats or the arrival of people seeking international protection and have sometimes extended to all borders.

Austria – until November 2022 11th, since 2015, at land borders with Hungary and with Slovenia due to risks related to terrorism and organised crime and “the situation at the external EU borders”. 

Germany – until November 11th 2022, since November 12th 2021, at the land border with Austria “due to the situation at the external EU borders”.

Sweden – until November 11th 2022, since 2017, can concern all borders due to terrorist and public security threats and “shortcomings” at the EU external borders. 

Denmark – until November 11th 2022, since 2016, can concern all internal borders due to terrorist and organised criminality threats or migration.

France – until October 31st 2022 since 2015, due to terrorist threats and other events, including, since 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic.

Estonia – until May 21st 2022, from April 22nd 2022, at the border with Latvia “to facilitate the entry and reception of people arriving from Ukraine”.

Norway, Austria, Germany and France also said they are operating checks on non-EU citizens. 

Can Schengen rules survive?

Despite the exceptional nature of these measures, there have been continuous disruptions to the free movement of people in the Schengen area in the past 15 years. 

Since 2006, there have been 332 notifications of border controls among Schengen countries, with increasing frequency from 2015. In addition, 17 countries unilaterally restored border controls at the start of the pandemic. 

In December 2021, the Commission proposed to reform the system to ensure that border controls remain an exception rather than becoming the norm. 

According to the proposals, countries should consider alternatives to border controls, such as police cooperation and targeted checks in border regions. 

When controls are restored, governments should take measures to limit their impacts on border areas, especially on the almost 1.7 million people who live in a Schengen state but work in another, and on the internal market, especially guaranteeing the transit of “essential” goods. 

Countries could also conclude bilateral agreements among themselves for the readmission of people crossing frontiers irregularly, the Commission suggested. 

If border controls have been in place for 6 months, any notification on their extension should include a risk assessment, and if restrictions are in place for 18 months, the Commission will have to evaluate their necessity. Temporary border controls should not exceed 2 years “unless for very specific circumstances,” the Commission added. 

At a press conference on April 27th, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said the EU Court ruling about Austria is in line with these proposals.

“What the court says is that member states have to comply with the time limit that is in the current legislation. Of course we can propose another time limit in the legislation… and the court also says that it’s necessary for member states, if they would like to prolong [the border controls] to really do the risk assessment on whether it’s really necessary… and that’s exactly what’s in our proposal on the Schengen Border Code.”

Criticism from organisations representing migrants

It is now for the European Parliament and EU Council to discuss and adopt the new rules.

A group of migration organisations, including Caritas Europe, the Danish Refugee Council, Oxfam International and the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) have raised concerns and called on the EU institutions to modify the Commission proposals.

In particular, they said, the “discretionary nature” of controls in border regions risk to “disproportionately target racialised communities” and “practically legitimise ethnic and racial profiling and expose people to institutional and police abuse.”

Research from the EU Fundamental Rights Agency in 2021, the groups noted, shows that people from an ‘ethnic minority, Muslim, or not heterosexual’ are disproportionately affected by police stops.

The organisations also criticize the definition of people crossing borders irregularly as a threat and a new procedure to “transfer people apprehended… in the vicinity of the border area” to the authorities of the country where it is assumed they came from without any individual assessment. 

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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