European Travel Heading for Shutdown

| March 22, 2020
Europe Visa Shut Down


As the coronavirus Covid-19 continues to expand its hold in Europe and across the globe more and more countries are closing their borders and limiting, if not totally prohibiting, incoming and outgoing flights. The whole of Italy is already in quarantine with no flights into or out of the country leaving many people stranded and with no apparent way to get home. Other European countries currently operate limited flights and there are severe restrictions with some destination countries no longer accessible to travellers. Italy may be the worst case example at the moment but it cannot be long before other European Union member states and the United Kingdom follow suit.

Worsening Situation

The rapid spread of Covid-19 can be largely put down to modern air travel which has brought easy and rapid access to all parts of the globe. As the number of coronavirus cases continues to grow in every country the authorities are reacting by limiting, if not denying, travel to and from their countries to (hopefully) slow down and contain the spread of the disease.
Across Europe the various governments have imposed different measures regarding flights, ferries and cross-border traffic. And even those countries that are still accessible require new arrivals to self-quarantine for up to fourteen days after arrival.

As it Stands on 20th March 2020

Travellers, whether for business or pleasure, will find flights hard to come by, if not impossible, and this is what can currently be expected across Europe:

  • Italy. All flights into and out of Italy are suspended and the borders with France and Switzerland are closed. Towns and cities are under official lockdown with 60 million people affected and even more stringent measures are expected with over 3,000 confirmed deaths due to Covid-19.
  • The Netherlands. The Dutch authorities have introduced a ban on non-EU residents and third country nationals entering their country. Although Britain is now officially a third country and no longer a member of the European Union the ban does not apply to British passport holders or those with long-term permits such as a Schengen Visa.
  • Switzerland. The Swiss have tightened their border controls and expanded entry restrictions from Spain. Incoming flights from Covid-19 “high risk” countries including Germany, France, Austria and Italy have all been halted.
  • Italy. Italy is a no-go area and the only good news out of the country is the Italian Embassy’s decision to re-issue unused Schengen Visas free of charge when the coronavirus situation is resolved. Public gatherings are prohibited and all shopping malls, cafes, museums, theatres and schools are closed.
  • Germany. With over 13,000 coronavirus cases, Germany is tightening border controls with its neighbouring countries still further. Flights from Austria, Spain, France, Denmark, Luxembourg and Switzerland are all reduced to a bare minimum. Maritime travel from Italy and Denmark is also almost non-existent. Barring exceptional circumstances non-EU citizens are not permitted to enter Germany although this does not apply to British passport holders or those from Switzerland, Liechtenstein or Iceland.
  • France. Holders of a French or European visa trapped in France because of flight cancellations or travel restrictions will be granted an automatic extension to stay. This extension, however, does not apply to British citizens resident in France because of the United Kingdom’s recent departure from the EU. British residents must apply online for an extension but this is a major problem as the application website is not due to go online until July! France also announced its intention to cease issuing all visas from its overseas embassies including short-stay Schengen Visas.
  • Republic of Ireland. The Irish government has not yet implemented any travel restrictions for non-EU nationals entering the Republic but will probably do so after discussions with the UK authorities. British citizens remain free to travel to the South of Ireland although health checks may be carried out on arrival, flights are very limited and a two week self-quarantine period is now mandatory for all arriving travellers. There are no plans for checks at the border with Northern Ireland which is causing some concern with British and European governments.
  • Estonia. Since March 17th, Estonia has been closed to foreigners and anyone entering the country must self-quarantine for two weeks. The issuing of Schengen Visas and other long-stay visas has also been suspended indefinitely.
  • Poland. So-called “sanitary inspections” have been introduced along Poland’s eastern borders and at seaports as a preventive measure. Temperature checks and other medical procedures are mandatory for all travellers entering the country. These inspections are also in operation on the borders with Germany and the Czech Republic with further preventive measures planned.
  • Austria. With the situation in Italy worsening daily, the Austrian government has decided to introduce a ban on all Italian citizens entering the country. All flights and train journeys originating in Italy will be forbidden from landing or arriving in Austria while outgoing flights to Milan and Bologna will also cease.
  • Czech Republic. The Czech government has imposed a ban on travellers from a number of countries including Germany, Austria, Sweden, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Denmark, Switzerland, Norway and the United Kingdom.

Schengen Area Closing Borders for 30 Days

The EU Commission is to enforce a 30 day closure of the external Schengen area borders. All non-essential travel is to be prohibited and the ban includes all non-EU citizens and third country nationals except for those holding valid residency permits.

ETIAS Implementation Delayed for Britons

The proposed introduction of the European Travel Information and Authorisation System is going ahead as planned and is still on course to come into effect from January 2021. From that time ETIAS approval will be mandatory for passport holders from around sixty countries who intend to visit any of the European Union member states. As Britain is no longer a member of the EU since Brexit, ETIAS approval will also be necessary for British passports but implementation of this requirement may be delayed. According to a prominent EU official ETIAS approval for British travellers may be deferred until possibly 2023 thus eliminating the need for British tourists and business people to lodge an online application and receive approval.

The delay in implementing ETIAS is to allow for a six-month transition period followed by another six months to get the system running smoothly and fix any problems. This could then be followed by a further six month grace period during which most European countries will not require ETIAS approved British passports but this is by no means a certainty.
Unless further clarification is forthcoming from the EU Commission it would seem that British citizens need not apply for ETIAS approval until early 2022 but it is advisable to lodge applications well in advance of any intended trip to the European Union to avoid potential backlogs or the possibility of a refusal.