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Here's how the new EU recommendation affects travel from the US to Europe

Aug. 31, 2021
7 min read
View Of Saint Peters Square In Rome, Italy
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American travelers could face new restrictions and roadblocks to visiting the European Union, which announced on Aug. 30 it would remove the U.S. from its “safe list.”

The EU on Aug. 30 recommended that member states reimplement travel restrictions for U.S. visitors. The move is the result of the continued spread of the coronavirus in the United States. The recommendation, which is not mandatory, removes the U.S. from the EU’s “safe list” but gives member states the ability to make their own rules.

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“Following a review under the recommendation on the gradual lifting of the temporary restrictions on nonessential travel into the EU, the Council updated the list of countries, special administrative regions and other entities and territorial authorities for which travel restrictions should be lifted,” the Council of the EU said in a statement.

The new recommendation may come as a surprise for people with upcoming trips to Europe, but there’s a lot we’re still learning. So, will the recommendation put a damper on your European travel plans? It depends on your vaccination status. Here’s what you need to know.

What is the EU’s new recommendation for travel?

(Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images)

The European Union announced that nonessential travel to the EU from countries not on its “safe list” is subject to temporary travel restrictions. The U.S., Israel, Kosovo, Lebanon, Montenegro and North Macedonia were removed from the list.

It’s important to note that this is a recommendation -- not a mandate -- and EU member states can choose to adopt the restrictions (or not). And the EU reviews this list every two weeks, which means that, in theory, it could revisit the recommendation very shortly if the COVID-19 situation in the U.S. improves.

Unvaccinated U.S. travelers are likely to face the most stringent restrictions if countries decided to reimpose entry requirements, such as additional testing and quarantine requirements.

However, the new restrictions (if imposed) would not likely apply to vaccinated travelers or children traveling with their vaccinated parents if they also show a negative COVID-19 PCR test. The EU has said vaccinated travelers should still be allowed entry if it has been at least 14 days since their final dose.

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Should you cancel your trip to Europe?

(Photo by Andrew Kunesh/The Points Guy)

Deciding whether you should cancel or postpone a trip is a profoundly personal decision. But some tourists are increasingly less comfortable with travel (particularly international flights) as the delta variant surges in the U.S. and worldwide.

If you're thinking about canceling or postponing your travel, make sure to take a good look at your itinerary to ensure your travel plans are fully refundable or have modest change or cancellation fees.

You can start by checking to see if you booked a refundable fare. Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and United Airlines all eliminated change fees for most flights, and Delta and United took it further by waiving change fees for basic economy fares through the end of the year. You can read additional information on specific airline, hotel, cruise and train changes and cancellation policies here.

General travel insurance usually does not cover epidemics and pandemics, so you should make sure to book travel insurance that covers COVID-19 costs. You can use a site such as InsureMyTrip to quickly compare numerous policy options that include various types of coverage — including coverage for COVID-19.

Just be sure to thoroughly read and understand any terms or exclusions before making a (potentially expensive) purchase.

Why is the EU changing its stance?

Brussels, Belgium. (Photo by Yeo Khee/Unsplash)

The recommendation is almost certainly related to a surge of COVID-19 cases in the United States related to the delta variant.

The EU says countries on its “safe list” must have a limit of no more than 75 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. The U.S. is well past that figure and is currently averaging over 300 cases per 100,000 inhabitants daily, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. Additionally, eight states and Guam currently record more than 75 cases per 100,000 daily, with Mississippi topping the list.

The EU also considers how a country has progressed in having its citizens vaccinated against COVID-19 -- and just 52% of Americans are fully vaccinated. More than half of U.S. states are below the national average, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Finally, the EU also uses what it calls an “emergency brake mechanism,” a temporary restriction on all travel into the EU if a country’s epidemiological situation has worsened or if a variant of concern is found.

Which countries are changing their rules?

(Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

It’s important to point out that individual member nations can decide when to relax — or tighten — entry requirements.

And there will likely be varied responses (or non-responses) to the recommendation because EU member states don't act in a bloc. And because this is a recommendation and not an order, some countries have already bungled their responses. Unfortunately for travelers, unclear directions can be anxiety-inducing and can throw your travel plans in limbo.

For instance, there have already been conflicting reports on Italy's requirements.

Italy's official website lists two contrasting requirements: one that states U.S. travelers must show a negative COVID-19 test taken within the previous 72 hours, regardless of vaccination status, while another that states that the test must be taken within 48 hours. We've reached out to the Italian National Tourist Board for clarification and will update this post if we get more guidance.

Elsewhere in the EU, Belgium added the U.S. to a “white list” of red zone countries, which also include Israel, Lebanon and Azerbaijan. It’s unclear why Belgium further separated red list countries, but this list means nonessential travel is still allowed despite the EU recommendation. Vaccinated travelers still don’t have to quarantine or test before arrival, while unvaccinated travelers must show a negative PCR test taken at least 72 hours before arrival.

Generally, your best bet is to consult a country’s official tourism, local news organizations or government website for the most updated entry restrictions due to COVID-19. Additionally, the U.S. Department of State maintains a country page with the information most relevant to Americans and international travel via the U.S. Embassy in each location.

What if you're a dual citizen?

The EU says the “emergency brake” should not apply to EU citizens or long-term residents, meaning if you hold dual citizenship with the U.S. and a member country, you should be able to enter freely.

Bottom line

While the recommendation from the EU, at first, seems distressing, travelers should take some comfort in the fact that it's still just a recommendation. Despite rising cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., no EU country appears to have made significant travel policy changes yes, which is an encouraging sign. But we aren't entirely out of the water yet, as the EU can revisit its policy in two weeks.

Still, if you have travel plans to Europe coming up in the next few weeks or months, the best thing you can do for now is to monitor local news reports, purchase travel insurance and only book completely refundable flights and hotels.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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