Europe may allow vaccinated US travelers this summer. Here are the documents you'll need and how to know when it's safe.

Aria Bendix
·6 min read
airport mask
A federal police officer checks the document of a passenger who landed from Prague at Frankfurt Airport in Germany. Boris Roessler/picture alliance via Getty Images
  • European countries could accept fully vaccinated US travelers this summer.

  • Americans would need to prove they've had their shots, but the specific rules may vary by country.

  • Greece and Iceland, among the few countries already open to US tourists, are accepting CDC cards.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Hold on to your vaccination cards: Americans who have been fully immunized could be allowed to travel to Europe this summer, the president of the European Commission recently told The New York Times.

While the European Union hasn't yet announced the formal requirements to enter its 27 member nations, it's likely that Americans will need government-issued vaccine certificates. For now, neither EU nor US officials have specified whether people will need to show the white vaccination card issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or other documentation.

Lisa Lee, a public-health expert at Virginia Tech, said European countries will probably have patchwork of different rules for US travelers.

"Some have said they're only going to accept electronic [vaccine records] so it can be verified," Lee told Insider. "Other people are afraid that the CDC cards are too prone to fraud and they won't accept the paper cards."

In an interview with Ouest France, French President Emmanuel Macron said foreign tourists could visit France with a "health pass" starting June 9. Macron didn't expand on what that pass would look like, though. Spain's tourism secretary, meanwhile, said this week that the country is prepared to let travelers back in in June - as long as visitors show proof they've been vaccinated, recently tested negative for the coronavirus, or recently recovered from COVID-19. And UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested earlier this month that British people could start traveling internationally on May 17.

"One thing is clear: All 27 member states will accept, unconditionally, all those who are vaccinated with vaccines that are approved by EMA," Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, told The Times, referring to the European Medicines Agency. The EMA has authorized all three vaccines used in the US: Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.

Already, a few European countries - including Greece and Iceland - are allowing visitors from the US. Their policies could offer a hint at what to expect from other nations moving forward.

The US still doesn't recommend travel to Europe

A TSA officer wears a mask at Logan International Airport in Boston in March 2020.
A TSA officer wears a mask at Logan International Airport in Boston in March 2020. Brian Snyder/Reuters

The CDC currently recommends avoiding all international travel to European countries, with the exception of Iceland. (The agency says Americans can travel there for essential visits only.) Similarly, the US is denying entry to visitors from the EU or UK unless they're US citizens.

The Biden administration hasn't said whether it will remove these restrictions in the near future, but travel and aviation groups are pushing the US government to open its borders to more countries, with testing requirements in place.

For now, the US also requires fully vaccinated Americans to test negative before reentering the country.

Lee said this policy helps protect the population from highly transmissible coronavirus variants that are more prevalent in other countries and might evade protection from vaccines.

"These vaccines are incredibly effective, but they're not 100% - and they're certainly not 100% or as effective against strains that we don't know about yet that might be developing through transmission, so it's still a good time to be somewhat cautious," she said.

Greece and Iceland are accepting CDC cards as proof of vaccination

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Tourists wear face masks at the the Akropolis in Athens, Greece on November 2, 2020. Panayotis Tzamaros/NurPhoto/Getty Images

As of April 19, Greece is welcoming US travelers with a few stipulations: Visitors are asked to fill out a locator form at least one day before entering or leaving the country. Americans must also provide proof that they've been fully vaccinated - a CDC card is sufficient - or present a negative PCR test within 72 hours of their arrival.

US travelers don't need to quarantine under this policy, a change that came with the new rule. Previously, Americans entering Greece had to isolate for a week. If a person tests positive upon arrival, however, they'll be transported to a hotel, where Greek authorities will confirm the test results and ask them to stay inside for 10 days. After that, they can be released following a negative PCR test.

US travelers to Iceland can also avoid the nation's mandatory quarantine by presenting a CDC card that shows they are fully vaccinated. Alternatively, a person can provide proof that they've had COVID-19 already - either through a positive PCR or antibody test result.

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Tourists walk in Reykjavik, Iceland on April 3, 2020. Ernir Eyjolfsson/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

But those going to Iceland still need to take another COVID-19 test upon arrival, then wait at their accommodation until the results are back (which can take up to 24 hours). Hotels in Iceland may ask to see your CDC vaccination card as well.

Croatia, Georgia, Montenegro aren't requiring US travelers to quarantine, either, if they show proof of vaccination.

Travel requirements aside, an international trip brings risks

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A traveler wears a face mask at Los Angeles International Airport on January 25, 2021. PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP/GETTY

Just because a country is accepting US travelers doesn't mean a visit is low-risk. For Americans trying to decide whether to travel or where to go, Lee recommended that fully vaccinated people look at two key metrics: low levels of transmission and case numbers that are declining day over day.

"If you look at Portugal, for example, the incidence is a lot lower than Spain and they're right next to each other," Lee said.

On average, Spain is recording nearly 180 daily cases per 1 million people, while Portugal is recording around 45 daily cases per 1 million people. The CDC defines low transmission as fewer than 5 cumulative new cases per 100,000 people over the prior 28 days, and moderate transmission as fewer than 50 cumulative new cases per 100,000 people over 28 days.

If you're looking to lower your risk of infection, choose less crowded locales where you're unlikely to bump into people who haven't been vaccinated. Opt out of large events like concerts or soccer matches, too.

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Outdoor dining in London on April 18, 2021. Belinda Jiao/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

"If you're planning a trip to the countryside, that's a very different calculus than if you're planning a trip to the middle of a bustling city," Lee said.

Of course, outbreaks can also change course quickly, so a country that looks safe now may have high levels of transmission in three months.

"Check the requirements frequently, right up until the departure date, as every country's policies are going to be changing in response to the way the epidemic evolves," Lee said.

The website Skyscanner offers real-time updates on countries' travel restrictions and quarantine requirements. Make sure to prepare the necessary documentation for each country you plan to visit.

"You don't want to get from one place to another and discover, 'Oh, whoops, they need this piece of paper or that piece of software and I don't have that,'" Lee said.

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