What is traveling to Europe from the US like right now?
Can Americans travel to Europe right now? The short answer is — yes. Though there are some Europe Covid travel restrictions in place, many countries have already opened up to American tourists, especially if you’ve been fully vaccinated. Summer is fast approaching, and is predicted to become one of the busiest travel seasons ever — there is an immense demand right now to go out and travel after nearly 2 years of pandemic restrictions.
Some countries have already dropped all entry restrictions
Europe as a whole has been opening up in a bid to revive the tourism industry in their countries. There are some countries who have abolished all Covid entry rules altogether, such as Hungary and Ireland, who, as of March 2022, now allow tourists to enter without having to present vaccination passes, test certificates, or their recovery status. Other countries such as Norway, Iceland, and Slovenia have similarly dropped their restrictions, and you can enter even if you haven’t been vaccinated. This is because countries such as Norway have already abolished the majority of their local Covid-19 rules and no longer require wearing masks or social distancing.
But most countries still have many rules in place
Though there are a small handful of European countries that have dropped all their Covid rules, many haven’t, including some of the most popular destinations such as Greece, Spain, Italy, and France.
Generally speaking, many countries still require that you present some form of vaccination certificate, proof of recovery, or a negative test. Some countries also still require that you wear a mask in public facilities such as airports, train stations, and on public transport.
Tips for US travel to Europe
So what do you need to keep in mind right now if you plan to travel from the US to Europe? We’ve asked some travel experts to find out what it’s like and what you should expect if you do hop on that plane.
Be sure to prepare for possible testing requirements
Europe Covid travel restrictions currently vary a lot, with some countries still requiring testing, while others have no restrictions at all. The best thing to do is to check what you will need to enter a specific country and if there are any tests required — even if it’s just a layover. Some countries will require you to test even if you can present proof of vaccination.
Be sure that you check which test you will need — it’s usually either a PCR test or an antigen test. PCR tests are usually valid for 48 to 72 hours, while antigen tests are valid only for 24 hours.
Yana, the founder of New York Simply, and NYC-based travel website flew to Paris in February 2022 and shares her experience with testing:
“France takes Covid precautions very seriously, as such, their entry requirements are some of the strictest in Europe. Complete all the requirements as early as possible rather than waiting for the day of departure because a technical glitch might throw a wrench into things.
Helpful Tip: If you need to have a Covid test before departure, get 2-3 tests done (especially if you can find free testing sites). I got 3 PCR tests before my trip to Paris and only 2 arrived within 3 days, the last one arrived a month late — had I relied on that one test I wouldn't have been able to board the plane.
My biggest tip for travelers is to not get overwhelmed by the paperwork required to travel, because it's not as onerous as folks assume. Don't let one form prevent you from traveling. In fact, there's huge benefits to traveling right now — most of the places I went to didn't have notoriously long lines and I was able to get reservations at a fancy restaurant with one week's notice (which would have been unheard of pre-pandemic).”
If you are planning to visit more than one country, Antonina Pattiz of Embrace Someplace also warns that you should be sure to check if you will need tests for each country you enter. “It's very important to remember that different countries have different rules and to follow instructions to a T. For example, I was required to have a negative PCR test, my vaccine card and a completed travel form in order to fly into Lisbon. However, when I flew from Lisbon to Mallorca I only needed to have a completed travel form and my vaccine card, but no Covid test. When I returned to Lisbon from Mallorca, I needed to get a test.
My traveling advice is to set a reminder on your phone 3 days before you fly into or out of a country so that you can properly read the travel requirements. In my experience countries are doing a great job of making the information as clear as possible.”
Check if your vaccination certificate is (still) valid
Can vaccinated Americans travel to Europe? If you are vaccinated, chances are, you will likely not need any tests and will only need to provide proof of vaccination. This is because most EU countries want to encourage vaccinated tourists to travel again and only a handful require additional testing — but be sure that your certificate is still valid!
Many EU countries have declared that current vaccine certificates are only valid for 9 months or 270 days after your last vaccination. After that, you will need to have a booster shot for your certificate to still be considered valid. This means that you will need at least 3 shots, or 2 if you’ve had a single dose shot such as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Some countries will accept CDC cards as a valid vaccination certificate, but others won’t, and will require you to upload your certificate in a valid format, such as on an app like VeriFLY. Rebecca Deitsch of Day Trip Queen shares her experience: “My husband and I were supposed to honeymoon in Malta in 2021, but Malta didn’t accept CDC cards as proof of vaccination back then. Now, however, you can upload your CDC card to the VeriFLY app and obtain a QR code that allows you to enter Malta. We had to show the VeriFLY app and a completed Passenger Locator Form to enter the country.”
Fill out the Passenger Locator Form or other entry documents
Lief Simon, an international real estate expert from Live and Invest Overseas reminds passengers that they should “make sure which apps and forms you will need in the country you’re traveling to. Spain has an app for completing your travel information as part of their passenger tracking. Other countries have had online forms for passenger tracking.”
The majority of EU countries require that you fill out a form called the Passenger Locator Form, sometimes also called a Health Control Form. This form gives the authorities in that country a way to locate you in case of an outbreak, and will often require you to include details such as your flight number, when you are arriving, where you are flying from, and if you’ve recently visited any high risk countries.
Most official tourism websites include a full list of documents that you’ll need to fill out.
Buy the right masks
“Even though restrictions are lifting, airports in Europe and America still require passengers to wear masks. Make sure to have high-quality masks and bring a few extra for backup.” says Tim White, CEO of MilePro.
And by high-quality masks, it likely means an FFP2 mask, or the N95 mask which is its equivalent in the US. Though several countries no longer have mask requirements, there are others who do, or require them in public areas such as airports, transport stations, and on public transportation.
Airlines will also still likely require that you wear masks while you’re onboard, though some are calling for an end to the restrictions.
Consider signing up for STEP
If you’re a US citizen and traveling to Europe, it might be worth signing up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program or STEP. STEP is a free program that makes it easy to enroll your trip with the local US embassy or consulate, making it easier to locate you and possibly repatriate you in case of an emergency, such as if you test positive for Covid. They will also give you up-to-date information on the country you are traveling to, and warn you of natural disasters or civil unrest.
Watch out for cancellations and pay special attention to airline communication
Luisa Favaretto of Strategistico says that you should double check all emails that you receive from your airline, in case there are changes to your flight. She shares her experience: “We recommend that you read every email that comes through from your airline, even if they just look like ordinary confirmation messages. The situation is very fluid for all airlines and countries at the moment, so things can change quickly.
My partner and I recently traveled to Germany and we were shocked to find out that our flight was canceled 3 days before our departure. Well, I was shocked to find out as my partner actually received an email about it a few weeks ago, but it was written in German and the subject was just labeled as ‘Flight Information’, so he skipped over it.
Therefore, you should review every message that comes through or remind your partner to actually read their emails if they were the one who booked the flight.”
Though most airlines provide information in multiple languages, some will send information only in their company’s main language.
And if your flight is canceled, you can always check if it is eligible for compensation.
Check if you need to fill out an ETIAS
Don’t forget to check travel requirements beyond Covid restrictions. As of 2022, the EU has started rolling out an entry and exit system known as the European Travel Information and Authorization System, or ETIAS. It is very similar to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) for travel to the US, and likewise, is designed to improve the management of borders, make it easier to detect and prevent crime and terrorism, and prevent irregular immigration. ETIAS is also designed to make it easier to travel to the EU by reducing procedures and application times.
Though it will only be fully implemented by the end of 2022, many EU countries already have it in place. If you’re from a country outside the EU and the Schengen Area and have a Visa exemption, you must apply for ETIAS Authorisation. There are currently 63 countries whose citizens are Visa exempt, and they can travel within the EU for up to 90 days.
Michelle Halpern of Live Like it’s the Weekend says the new ETIAS is nothing to worry about:
“For U.S. citizens, traveling to Europe will require an electronic travel authorization. Specifically, travelers who want to visit Schengen zone countries will first need to register with the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS). The system is very much in line with the electronic systems used for travel in the USA. As an avid traveler, I can say that most travelers do not have anything to fret over. This is because the process is short and requires a quick online application and a €7.00 credit card payment. The European Commission has released a statement saying that ETIAS will be extremely efficient and user friendly, making it easier to attain positive answers for travelers within minutes — a revolutionary step.”
However, even though the ETIAS is designed to be quick and easy, some countries may take longer to process it than others, with some taking a month or more. So be sure to apply for an ETIAS as soon as you can. It is valid for 3 years, or up until your current passport expires.
It’s a good time to travel to Europe right now
Even though you still have to jump through a lot of hoops to travel to Europe, for many travelers, it’s worth it. Since flights have not quite recovered to pre-pandemic levels, many tourist destinations that are otherwise crowded have shorter lines and wait times, so that you can enjoy them without the crowds.
And since this upcoming summer is promising to be a busy season, now is the time to make sure you plan your trip before flights become too expensive. Just make sure you always keep up to date with the latest requirements!
Editor’s note: Some statements have been shortened or edited for clarity.
Photos by jimmy teoh, Greenvalley Pictures, WiR_Pixs, and bogitw.