During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, many countries across the globe simply cancelled all but necessary flights into and out of their country. Even when flights resumed in limited numbers, it became a mandatory requirement that all passengers be fully vaccinated against the disease. This vaccine mandate remained in place for many months, but as the pandemic began to wane and the severity of the disease lessened, Europe and the world began to reopen their doors to overseas visitors.
It was only in early May of 2023 that the World Health Organisation declared that the public health emergency of Covid-19 was officially over, although stressing that the virus had not gone away and was still a cause for global concern. May 2023 was also a landmark for world travel as the United States announced that, from the 11th of May, visitors to America were no longer required to be fully vaccinated.
The vaccination requirement may be (at least for now) a thing of the past, but does this mean that all visitors to Europe are now free to visit Europe regardless of vaccination status?
European Union and Travel Restrictions
A December 2022 press release from the Council of the European Union recommended the lifting of all travel restrictions across the European zone. These restrictions include the requirement for travellers to be fully vaccinated, the filling out of passenger locater forms, proof of recovery from Covid-19, and the need for self-isolation or quarantining on arrival in a European Union country. However, these are only recommendations, and individual countries are not required to follow any or all of the guidelines. In fact, the press release specifically allows countries to reintroduce travel restrictions in certain circumstances should they be deemed necessary.
While many EU member states currently do not require visitors to show proof of vaccination before entering their country, it is a fluid situation which can change almost overnight. The main areas of concern which could trigger the reintroduction of travel restrictions are:
A severe increase in the number of coronavirus cases
The emergence of a new variant or strain of the virus that is more virulent or contagious
Should either of these situations arise, a country is entitled to respond immediately with measures such as cancelling flights from any affected countries, imposing a quarantine on arriving travellers and requesting proof of vaccination or recovery from the virus. Such measures should last for three weeks, but this period may be reduced or extended depending on the situation.
In such an emergency situation arriving visitors may, once again, require a digital Covid-19 certificate or undertake a Covid-19 test before departing their home country or upon arrival. A positive result before departure will result in a refusal to travel, while a similar outcome on arrival will mean time spent in quarantine or self-isolation.
As the world reacted to the threat posed by Covid-19 in 2020 and 2021, many countries introduced their own regulations regarding who was allowed to do what and where people could and could not go. Unvaccinated nationals and foreigners alike were treated like second-class citizens and severely restricted in their movements.
When international flights returned to something approaching normal, it was not possible for unvaccinated people to embark on virtually any journey as a Covid-19 certificate confirming vaccination or recovery from the virus was compulsory to do so. In some countries, the unvaccinated were not allowed to enter restaurants, bars, art galleries, museums and other public places.
These restrictions have largely all been shelved, but some countries still enforce some Covid-19 measures on their citizens and visitors from overseas.
Some Covid-19 rules are still in force in some of the bigger EU member states, including:
There is no requirement for a Covid-19 certificate or a negative test before entering Italy, with the exception of visitors arriving from China. Some airlines, however, still require documented proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid-19 test. Similarly, there is no quarantine requirement. Wearing face masks may be necessary in certain settings such as hospitals, cinemas or on public transport, although these regulations can vary from region to region.
A Covid-19 certificate is no longer required to enter France, and neither is the requirement for a “vaccine pass”, which allows access to various public venues throughout the country. It is not necessary to take a Covid-19 test before travelling to France or to enter quarantine on arrival. Wearing masks is not mandatory in any situation though it is recommended in large gatherings or enclosed spaces as well as in hospitals.
In June 2022, all entry restrictions for Germany were lifted, with the exception of those arriving from areas of concern. Currently, there are no areas of concern listed, although non-German visitors from China must have a valid reason for visiting Germany. Travellers arriving from areas of concern will require proof of Covid-19 vaccination or a negative result from a PCR test taken no more than 48 hours before arrival in Germany and must self-isolate for fourteen days.
There are no Covid-19 vaccination or testing requirements to enter Spain, with the exception of travellers from China, who will be checked on arrival. The regulations regarding wearing face masks are decided on a regional basis but are generally recommended to be worn in care homes, medical centres and pharmacies.
Proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test is only required by visitors from China. No period of quarantine is required, nor is the wearing of face masks in any setting.
The World Health Organisation recommends a range of vaccines for visitors to Sweden, including the Covid-19 vaccine. However, none are compulsory, as the Swedish authorities removed entry restrictions early in 2022. Similarly, mask-wearing is not compulsory anywhere in Sweden, although it is recommended in crowded places and on public transport.
Polish authorities terminated all Covid-19 restrictions in March of 2022, so no proof of vaccination or a recent PCR test is required. Filling Passenger Locator Forms is also a thing of the past as Polish society approaches near pre-pandemic normality, with mask-wearing no longer compulsory anywhere in the country.
Republic of Ireland
In line with many other EU countries, the Republic of Ireland ended all Covid-19 restrictions and quarantine requirements in 2022. Mask-wearing is no longer a requirement in any setting, although the Irish health authority still recommends doing so in crowded spaces, retirement homes and hospitals.
Europe is Open to Visitors
As of May 2023, all European Union (and Schengen Area) member states have reopened for air and sea travel and are slowly getting back to normal. All visitors to the European area, whether vaccinated or not, no longer require any form of Covid-19 documentation or the results of a recent PCR test. Quarantining on arrival has also been scrapped, although this may still apply if a visitor contracts the coronavirus while in Europe. Mask-wearing has largely been done away with, although it remains strongly recommended (if not compulsory) in certain situations in some countries.
Even though this is the situation at present, it should be noted that all previous Covid-19 restrictions and rules can be swiftly reinstated should the situation demand it. Reintroduced rules may apply to a single country, several countries or even the whole of Europe so intending travellers should keep themselves informed of the current situation in the destination country and how it may affect any travel plans.
Ease of Travel
Although Europe, and the world, is still recovering from the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the travel situation is improving rapidly. Visiting the European Union, or Schengen Area, is now as easy as it was before the pandemic struck. EU citizens simply require a valid passport for European travel while those from outside the European Union will soon require ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System) approval before visiting any of the EU member states. Non-EU citizens wishing to visit Schengen Area countries will also require the correct form of Schengen Visa to do so, and it is expected that they will also require an ETIAS in due course.
Also, while vaccination against Covid-19 is no longer required to visit Europe, some airlines still insist on proof of vaccination before boarding an aircraft and the wearing of masks during flights. Hopefully, these, too, will soon be a thing of the past.