Is Europe Open For US Travelers This Summer Or Not? An Explainer

Americans woke up Monday to some welcome travel news, with headlines that read, “Fully vaccinated Americans will be able to vacation in the EU this summer, European Commission president tells New York Times” from CNN and “European Union will let vaccinated Americans visit this summer: official” from FOX News. The headline of the original New York Times article that was being aggregated was: “E.U. Set to Let Vaccinated U.S. Tourists Visit This Summer.”

Those pieces sure make it sound as though the EU has just flung open its doors. But the New York Times headline displaying on Google News right now isn’t quite so definitive:

New York Times

Since publication, the Times article has been aggregated widely, potentially misleading a world desperate for the chance to travel (and businesses longing for travel revenue). The confusion stems from a brief interview with the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who told the New York Times that “Americans, as far as I can see, use European Medicines Agency-approved vaccines.” She continues, “This will enable free movement and the travel to the European Union.”

The follow-up New York Times explainer goes onto say that “Ms. von der Leyen did not offer a timeline or offer details on how tourism would be enabled. But her public comments suggest that the European Commission will officially recommend the change in travel policy soon.”

To be clear, the head of the European Union was simply stating that the EU would propose that the 27 member states start moving towards a policy of reopening to fully vaccinated U.S. tourists. But also that no policy or actions have even started and there’s no certain timeline. The follow-up article points out that changing “the policy guidelines for the bloc as a whole remains unclear” and that there were still “unanswered questions” that need to be figured out.

It’s worth noting that the European Union does not have the authority to tell its 27 member states what to do with their borders — this was also pointed out in the New York Times article. The European Union can recommend certain paths of solidarity (like their current agreement to restrict non-essential movement between member states). But whether or not a country in the European Union opens to tourists is 100 percent up to that country as they evaluate their current COVID situation. And as Deutsche Welle just reported, the situations are massively different from country to country across Europe right now.

The fact that countries that rely on tourism are eager to get visitors back, isn’t up for debate, though. And clearly, that fact, paired with positive vaccination news coming out of the United States, has von der Leyen feeling optimistic.

“Because one thing is clear: All 27 member states will accept, unconditionally, all those who are vaccinated with vaccines that are approved by E.M.A.,” von der Leyen hopes.

Greece has already decided to open to American tourists with requirements for testing and vaccinations. France is currently working out its own deal with the U.S. government about summer travel for vaccinated Americans. And Iceland (which is in the Schengen Area — the European group that governs borders — but not the EU) is already accepting American tourists. Much of the rest of the continent is still in some form of lockdown.

While the European Union is not in the business of opening up Europe’s borders to vaccinated Americans, it does offer recommendations to help member states adopt universal travel rules. For instance, they’re helping make the digital vaccination passport work in all member states for vaccinated tourists coming and going from countries that decide to open their borders. They also offer a red, yellow, and green light system on a map that shows the current status of COVID lockdowns across member states, which is helpful so that potential visitors know where certain countries stand.

This is all to say: Buy a flight or plan a tour at your own risk. The EU did not reopen Europe for vaccinated Americans this summer. They’re simply looking at shifting policies to help find common ground in reopening if and when that’s deemed possible according to individual nations. And please don’t forget, there are 50 countries in Europe and only 27 of them are in the European Union. So whatever the EU member states decide to do jointly or individually won’t mean anything to all the countries that are not in the EU.