Editor’s Note: National policies update frequently. Always consult the latest information from official sources prior to making travel arrangements. More information on current travel restrictions is available on our COVID-19 Travel Restrictions page.
Table of Contents
Current Situation in Various Countries
WHO Recommendations for International Travelers
Ever since the World Health Organization (WHO) in March, 2020, declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, the European Union and the United Kingdom have struggled to contain the outbreak. A sluggish vaccination rollout in EU Member States coupled with persistently high infection rates have exacerbated a crisis that has dragged on now for more than a year. The United Kingdom, which has so far done better than the EU in terms of vaccinating its citizens, has itself struggled to contain a worrying variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Officially known as B.1.1.7, this UK variant spreads more easily than other variants. As a result, both the EU and the UK remain mired in a patchwork of stringent travel restrictions and lockdown policies. Below we detail the situation in several prominent countries.
Despite attempts to ramp up vaccine production and distribution, almost all EU member states have encountered significant difficulties. The situation has so frustrated some Eastern European states that they have attempted to negotiate access to Chinese- and Russian-developed vaccines, none of which are currently approved by the European Medicines Agency for use in the 27-member bloc. The EU’s problems with vaccine procurement and distribution stand in rather stark contrast to the rollout in the United Kingdom. To date, more than 28 million people in the UK have received at least one vaccine dose. Priority is still being given to those over 50 years of age and frontline healthcare and social workers. The UK government is projecting that other age groups will begin to have access starting around the end of July.
Across Europe, governments and travel industry players are anxious to restart largescale travel and tourism. This is particularly true in economies that depend heavily on an annual influx of visitors from abroad. Several countries have announced they are actively working to develop a COVID-19 vaccine passport as a way to verify the health status of incoming travelers. Proponents of vaccine passports argue a widely-recognized and trusted verification mechanism will allow governments to assuage domestic concerns that relaxing current travel restrictions will result in a resurgence of infections. The goal is to ultimately reduce the barriers to travel within the bloc while also allowing tourism-heavy economies such as Cyprus 🇨🇾, Greece 🇬🇷, Malta 🇲🇹, Portugal 🇵🇹, and Spain 🇪🇸 to once again welcome travelers from non-EU countries.
-- Don't miss our other coverage on how COVID-19 is impacting the global travel industry --
Current Situation in Various Countries
Reopening borders and restarting international travel will depend heavily on whether countries and regions can get their domestic rates of infection brought under control. Despite a number of what seemed like early success stories, both the United Kingdom and European Union as a whole continue to struggle. Here is how things stand in various locations.
🇫🇷 France 🇫🇷
France is currently under a nationwide curfew and most non-essential businesses have been forced to close. Famed attractions such as the Louvre Museum remain shuttered as do cinemas and theaters. Individual departments, a division of territorial administration in France, permit varying degrees of freedom of movement depending on local conditions. Throughout France inter-regional travel remains prohibited except for essential reasons. Workers have been instructed to continue working from home to the maximum extent possible given the requirements of their employment. The French government warns against all non-essential travel to France. At present only travelers from other EU member states, Schengen-associated countries, and a handful of third-counties are permitted to travel to France. All arriving passengers must have proof of a negative COVID-19 test and anyone traveling from outside the European area is obliged to undergo additional testing and a 7-day quarantine.
🇩🇪 Germany 🇩🇪
After being initially lauded for its pandemic response, Germany has seen a worrying rise in infections over the past several weeks. This prompted the government under Chancellor Angela Merkel to extend current lockdown restrictions through the upcoming Easter holidays. In an extraordinary turn of events, the government had announced a ratcheting up of restrictions for Easter only to scrap the plans within the span of 24 hours. Merkel’s government finds itself contending with growing domestic pressure to ease lockdown measures despite worries among health experts that the country faces a significant third wave of infections. Restaurants, cultural attractions, and non-essential businesses remain closed across the country. At present only travelers from other EU member states, Schengen-associated countries, and a handful of third-counties are permitted to travel to Germany. Anyone arriving from an area with known circulation of a new virus variant or a sufficiently high case rate must have proof of a negative COIVD-19 result and undergo a 10-day quarantine upon arrival.
🇮🇹 Italy 🇮🇹
Italy was the first country in Europe to feel the full effects of the pandemic. Several Northern provinces, including the hard-hit region of Bergamo in Lombardy continue to have alarmingly high case rates. Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government has imposed nationwide restrictions on travel and movement based on a color-coded system that takes into account the current epidemiological situation. In high-risk areas, travel between municipalities or regions is prohibited other than for essential reasons. For the moment, only travelers from other EU member states, Schengen-associated countries, and a handful of third-counties are permitted to enter Italy for non-essential reasons. Even when permitted, arriving travelers are obliged to have proof of a negative COVID-19 test result and, depending on their recent travel history, undergo a 14-day quarantine.
🇪🇸 Spain 🇪🇸
Like France and Italy, Spain too remains under a nationwide curfew. Several regions and provinces are under restrictions that prohibit travel into and out of those areas except for essential reasons. The Spanish government has announced a tightening of general travel restrictions across the country in the lead up to the Easter holiday, which is normally a time when many Spaniards go on vacation. Generally throughout Spain there are restrictions on social gatherings involving more than 6 people, with some regional variation. Most businesses and cultural establishments remain open with various pandemic prevention measures in place. Travelers from outside the European Union and Schengen-associated countries are prohibited from entering Spain. Unlike most other EU member states, however, Spain permits visitors from China, including Hong Kong and Macau. All arriving persons from high-risk locations must have proof of negative COVID-19 test and quarantine is required for some depending on recent travel history.
🇬🇧 United Kingdom 🇬🇧
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government imposed stringent lockdown measures in January of this year following discovery of the new B.1.1.7 virus variant. Households across the UK remain under mandatory stay-at-home orders while travel into and out of the UK is restricted. Despite having initially established so-called travel corridors to facilitate quarantine-free travel, all persons arriving in the UK now face a mandatory 10-day quarantine during which they’re required to undergo multiple COVID-19 tests. According to the current timeline, UK health authorities anticipate gradually easing lockdown measures provided vaccination and case rate targets are met. Beginning March 29, people will once again be permitted to meet outdoors in small groups and other outdoor actives will resume.
🇬🇷 Greece 🇬🇷
Greece is under a nationwide lockdown and residents are prohibited from venturing away from their homes except in limited circumstances. Museums and cultural sites are closed, as are most restaurants and cafes. Travel into the country remains limited; however, the Greek government is working to lauch a vaccine passport scheme and restart tourism.
🇮🇸 Iceland 🇮🇸
Iceland remains more or less the lone success story in Europe. Like other island nations including Australia and New Zealand, Iceland has essentially brought the pandemic under control. The government recently announced that anyone with proof they are vaccinated against COVID-19 can travel to Iceland without the need for testing and quarantine.
🇳🇴 Norway 🇳🇴
The Norwegian government recently re-imposed strict prohibitions on entry. Nearly all travelers are barred from crossing the border with very limited exceptions.
🇵🇹 Portugal 🇵🇹
Portugal remains under a state of emergency with non-essential businesses and cultural establishments closed. The country’s land border with Spain is closed to all non-essential travel and international arrivals from outside of Europe are prohibited with limited exceptions.
🇳🇱 The Netherlands 🇳🇱
The Netherlands remain under a national curfew. Most businesses are open with pandemic control measures in place. All non-essential travel into the country is prohibited, including from other EU member states. Anyone returning from abroad must have proof of a negative COVID-19 test result, except in limited circumstances.
WHO Recommendations for International Travelers
Travelers who are sick should delay or avoid travel to affected areas. This is particularly true for the elderly and people with chronic diseases or underlying health conditions. General recommendations for personal hygiene, coughing etiquette, and keeping a distance of at least one meter from persons showing symptoms remain particularly important for all travelers. Everyone should:
- Perform hand hygiene frequently, particularly after contact with respiratory secretions. Hand hygiene includes either cleaning hands with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand rub. Alcohol-based hand rubs are preferred if hands are not visibly soiled; wash hands with soap and water when they are visibly soiled.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a flexed elbow or paper tissue when coughing or sneezing. Dispose immediately of the tissue and perform hand hygiene.
- Refrain from touching your nose and mouth.
- Wear a mask and dispose of it properly after use.
Travelers should self-monitor for symptoms and follow the all current health protocols at their destination. If symptoms occur, such as fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, contact local health care providers, preferably by phone, and inform them regarding your symptoms and travel history.
Staying vigilant and practicing these simple precautions will dramatically reduce the likelihood you contract COVID-19. Keep your wits about you and consult expert information from the WHO or your country’s infectious disease specialists. COVID-19 continues to spread and the risk remains high. The best advice remains staying cautious and getting vaccinated as soon as possible.