It's been a long, bleak year, but with more and more people getting the COVID-19 vaccinate — enough for the CDC to partially lift mask restrictions, even — we're starting to spot a light at the end of the tunnel. And yesterday, there was more good news: After being prohibited from entering the European Union for over a year, fully vaccinated U.S. citizens may be able to resume nonessential travel as early as this summer, according to Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission.
The 27 countries that make up the E.U. will accept people who have been vaccinated with "European Medicines Agency-approved vaccines," von der Leyen said in an interview with The New York Times. Luckily, the three vaccines currently approved for emergency use in the U.S. — Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson — are EMA-approved.
This is good news if only because it's another indication that the world is inching toward a post-pandemic future. But there's still a lot we don't know about the details. Exactly when U.S. tourists will be able to travel to Europe is up in the air, for instance. Officials are also still figuring out exactly how people will prove that they're fully vaccinated. It seems likely that some form of vaccine certificate will be the solution: The Times reports that the U.S. and E.U. have been discussing the logistics about these for several weeks now.
What's more, just like each state in the U.S. had to develop their own vaccination rollout plan, each nation in the E.U. will create their own requirements for potential visitors. "Each country basically has full control over who can visit and who can not visit," explains Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights and author of Take More Vacations. Just last week, for instance, Greece opened its borders to U.S. citizens that provide proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test. Once approved, visitors will not be required to quarantine.
Still, Keyes says, von der Leyen's statement is a big deal. "A part of why this announcement is important is because that coordination is important when thinking about international travel within the E.U.," Keyes points out. "Having a broader coordination makes it much more seamless to be able to get back to that pre-pandemic, effectively borderless situation that existed in Europe as a result of the E.U."
Keyes says that this announcement was also important due to the fact that there hadn't been any real guidance or comment from the E.U. about travel yet. "A lot of countries started to jump the gun because they didn't know whether or not the E.U. was going to allow international travel this summer, which is why you saw places like Greece reopen early. Even France the weekend before said that they intend to open as soon as May for international travelers," he says. "The E.U. has recognized that they can't go slowly on this, they need to hurry up and give folks some guidance on what's coming down the pipe."
But just because the E.U. is hoping to accept more visitors this summer doesn't necessarily mean traveling the right move for everyone. As of now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still categorize most countries in the E.U. as a level 4 area, which means travelers should avoid them due to the high level of COVID-19 cases. If you must travel to countries in the E.U., the CDC recommends that you get fully vaccinated before you visit, and while you're there, stick to the precautions you've been adhering to since early pandemic: Wear a mask, stay six feet from others, avoid crowds, and wash your hands often.
The CDC's newly released guidelines for fully vaccinated people touch on travel a bit as well. Fully vaccinated Americans don't need to get a COVID test before going abroad, "unless your destination requires it," the CDC states. You also don't need to quarantine once you return home, though you should get a test three to five days after getting back. Ultimately, the health agency notes, "You need to pay close attention to the situation at your international destination before traveling outside the United States."
So if you're itching to book a ticket to Europe this summer, we feel you. Just remember: We're not fully out of the woods yet. And while our steps into post-pandemic life may seem frustratingly small and slow at times, the caution isn't misguided: There are still concerns over how long the vaccines last, for instance, or how well they protect against COVID-19 variants. The best strategy is to continue listening to the CDC guidelines, and if you do book a trip, to keep your eye on the situation in your dream destination too.