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How Countries in Europe are Reopening

There’s only one certainty about travel in the remainder of 2020: It’s going to be different.

After a tough few months in Europe, which saw borders closed, cities in lockdown, and tens of thousands of deaths from COVID-19, early signs of normality are appearing as countries in Europe reopen. Italy reopened its internal borders on June 3, and June 15 saw a flurry of activity: France lifted restrictions in Paris; Germany, Belgium, Croatia, and Switzerland opened up to European travelers; and Greece reopened its borders to some international arrivals. The Schengen zone—which comprises the majority of countries in the European Union—was also due to lift its internal travel bans across the entire region on June 15, however, with infection rates still up and down, many countries have opted not to ease restrictions yet, and non-essential U.S. travelers are still banned from most European countries until at least July 1. But don’t get too excited. For starters, the U.S. State Department is still advising citizens against all international travel. That means that if you do get on a plane, any travel insurance—something that’s of paramount importance right now—would be invalid.

Even those in the travel industry are advising caution. “We simply don’t know what the situation is,” says Tom Jenkins, CEO of the European Tourism Organisation (ETOA). But he does acknowledge that those willing to travel will be able to score bargains this year—and see Europe emptier than it’s been for decades. Research from Italy’s national tourist board predicts that airport arrivals will be down 82.4 percent this summer, and expects a similar drop in numbers for France (down 80.1 percent) and Spain (down 77.4 percent). “It’ll be a dramatically changed landscape, but an exceptional opportunity to enjoy places untrammeled by crowds,” says Jenkins.

So, assuming the U.S. government will lift its advisory at some point this year, what’s awaiting travelers once they get to Europe? So far, that depends on where you’re going. Here’s what to expect, country by country, if you’re flying from the U.S.

The United Kingdom

Nearly a quarter of all U.S. travelers to Europe pick the U.K. as their destination, according to 2018 statistics from the National Trade and Tourism Office. The good news: It’s currently open to foreign visitors. The bad: Those open borders have contributed to the U.K. having the world’s third highest coronavirus death toll (over 41,000, at the time of writing). Only the U.S. and Brazil have seen more fatalities.

While there are no current restrictions on travel to the U.K., once you get there, you must isolate for 14 days. Before travel, you’ll be asked for your quarantine address; if a spot check finds you’re not there, you can be fined up to £1,000 ($1,275).

The rule will be revisited on July 1, three weeks after it was implemented.

The U.K. is also still under lockdown. Shops were authorized to reopen on June 15, but many (including department stores) remain closed. Pubs, bars, and restaurants are closed until July 4 at the earliest. And most hotels are closed—yes, even icons like London’s Claridge’s hotel, which has turned itself into a residence for key health workers.

Quarantine aside, there’s currently no overnight travel allowed anywhere in the U.K. The country is expected to reopen for domestic tourism on July 4, when hotels and Airbnbs are set to reopen.

It’s unclear whether London theaters will reopen this year, and there’s no word from any of London’s big museums. So a trip to the U.K. will look very different for the foreseeable future.

France

President Emmanuel Macron opened borders for anyone in the Schengen area on June 15, and international borders will start to reopen from July 1. However, in an address to the nation, he has warned that “the summer of 2020 will be a summer unlike any other.”

France Organizes Gradual Exit From Coronavirus Lockdown

Parisians in the Jardins du Trocadéro last month. Edward Berthelot.

Bars, restaurants, museums, and cultural attractions have all been given the green light to reopen. Versailles has reopened, and the Eiffel Tower will do so on June 25 (though only the stairs, not the elevators); the Louvre is aiming for July 6, with its online reservations open from June 15. Advance booking will be essential for popular museums, and check online for guidelines in advance—Monet’s house and garden at Giverny, which has already reopened, stipulates visitors must wear face masks. Gatherings of more that 10 people are banned throughout France, so there’ll be no more big tour groups.

Note that if you’re traveling to France via the U.K., you’ll have to quarantine for 14 days on arrival in France—yes, on top of your U.K. quarantine. But if you come directly from the U.S., that might not be the case—currently only travelers from the U.K. and Spain must quarantine.

Italy

The bel paese is normally the third most popular European destination for U.S. travelers, but Italy's time in the pandemic spotlight has seen bookings tumble.

Italy reopened internally on June 3, one of the first countries in Europe to do so. However, along with most of its Schengen counterparts, U.S. residents are not currently allowed in. It’s expected that these restrictions will be lifted on July 1.

Even then, depending on where you’re traveling to, there may be regional hoops to jump through. Arrivals to Lazio and Campania (in other words, Rome and Naples) will have their temperatures tested at the airport—those with a temperature over 99.5 Farenheit will be required to take a coronavirus test before being allowed through.

Additionally, three regions require visitors to register your accommodation with the authorities two days ahead of travel. Register online if you’re traveling to Puglia, Sardinia or Basilicata (the last two are in Italian only).

Daily Life In Roma After The Lockdown

Museums across Italy, including the Colosseum in Rome, have re-opened to the public. NurPhoto.

Once you’re in Italy, things should be more straightforward, though again, you should book all museum entries in advance. The Vatican and the Uffizi galleries, for example, are mandating face masks and temperature checks.

Germany

Germany reopened its borders to E.U. arrivals on June 15, but remains closed to visitors from further afield. There’s no confirmed date when restrictions might be lifted—but July 1 seems to be the next date that the E.U. is working towards.

Spain

Spain has extended its "state of alarm" status until June 21, when it’s expected to open E.U. borders—but visitors from outside Europe will have to wait, probably until July 1 (the land border with Portugal will also remain closed till July 1). There may still be restrictions on U.S. citizens after that date, however: Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has expressed concern over increasing infection rates in both Russia and the U.S.

There’s currently a mandatory 14-day quarantine for arrivals in place until June 30. Masks are compulsory indoors in public spaces, and outdoors where social distancing cannot be maintained.

The good news is that Spain wants tourists back—and is already running a pilot program in the Balearic Islands for German tourists, who have been able to skip quarantine. Expect the government to relax restrictions when they feel it’s safe.

Greece

Like Spain, Greece is heavily reliant on tourism, and the government has said that bringing visitors back is a priority.

However, thanks to an early lockdown, Greece has also fared astonishingly well in the pandemic, with just over 3,000 infections and 183 deaths at the time of writing, and the government needs to protect its people.

The white tower at Thessaloniki city in Greece

International flights to Greece are currently being routed through Thessaloniki (pictured) and Athens.

PanosKarapanagiotis

From June 15 to 30, international flights are being routed through Athens or Thessaloniki. Travelers arriving from high-risk destinations, according to the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, will be tested for COVID-19 on arrival. Those destinations include any flights from 23 U.S. states, including New York, California, Illinois and Massachusetts. (For a full list, see here.)

On arrival, you must self-isolate until your test results come through, which is expected to be within 24 hours. If connecting through Athens or Thessaloniki you’ll be allowed to proceed to your final destination, but must isolate there. If your test is negative, you must then isolate for a further seven days. If it’s positive, you’ll be in supervised quarantine for 14 days.

Having said that, arriving before the end of June is a moot point, because there are no direct flights between the U.S. and Greece until July 1, when Emirates starts its Newark-Athens route. Delta starts JFK-Athens on July 16.

Direct flights to the islands from international destinations will recommence July 1, and testing will be random from that point onwards. However the government has introduced additional restrictions for flights from certain countries. Expect the U.S. to be subject to those once they’re announced.

On the ground, the government is bringing in testing facilities on the islands, designated doctors for each hotel in tourist areas, and quarantine zones for those who test positive. Masks are compulsory on public transport and taxis. Ferries to the islands require masks and temperature tests pre-boarding.

Portugal

Since June 6, Portugal has allowed residents of all E.U. nations, except Spain and Italy, to enter via air. The Portuguese government requires that all entry be reciprocal, so visitors from the U.S. without a Portuguese passport cannot currently enter (this is in effect until the U.S. lifts its entry restrictions on E.U. residents). Those visiting mainland Portugal will not be required to quarantine, but will have their temperature taken upon arrival, and social distancing measures are in effect throughout the country.

Ireland

Like the U.K., Ireland never implemented travel restrictions so U.S. travelers are free to visit. But you must fill in a passenger locator form, then quarantine for 14 days on arrival. There’s a €2,500 ($2,820) fine if you fail to comply.

Ireland has been easing lockdown since May, and Irish leader Leo Varadkar originally said he hoped the country will be out of lockdown by August 10—but infection rates are dropping fast, so restrictions are being lifted earlier than planned. Shops are now open, but you are restricted to staying in one county, or within a 12-mile radius. Restaurants, bars (with a restaurant license), and hotels are due to open June 29. At that point, you’ll be able to travel domestically, too.

Other countries

No country in the Schengen area other than Greece is currently open to arrivals from the U.S. However, Belgium, Croatia and Switzerland reopened borders to E.U. arrivals on June 15, which suggests they will be among the first to move in July.

Currently only EU arrivals are allowed into the Netherlands, but must have confirmed accommodation before traveling. When U.S. visitors are allowed, expect to face the same restrictions.

Austria is now open to all E.U. countries except Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the U.K. People flying in on essential journeys from countries that are not covered (including the U.S.) must produce a negative test for COVID-19, carried out in the past four days, or face a 14-day quarantine. While you can’t fly for a vacation to Austria yet, it’s possible that as they lift restrictions, this will be a requirement when they do. Vienna Airport already offers COVID-19 tests, with a waiting time of up to three hours.

Cyprus is creating ‘"quarantine hotels" where travelers who test positive, and their families, can quarantine in style, with room service available and nightly entertainment to be enjoyed from your balcony. They’ll be paid for by the government. They have also designated a hospital specifically for tourists with coronavirus—again, medical costs will be taken care of by the government. There’s no word on when U.S. visitors will be allowed in, but mid-July has been suggested as an opening for U.K. travelers, and currently the Cypriot government classifies the U.K. and U.S. in the same high-risk category.

Iceland does not currently allow U.S. nationals. However, travelers who are allowed in can circumvent the 14-day quarantine by getting tested at the airport at a cost of ISK15,000 ($111). Expect that to be the case for U.S. citizens, too, once restrictions are lifted.

The Czech Republic is not open to non-E.U. citizens. Restrictions are not expected to be lifted until July 26.

We're reporting on how COVID-19 impacts travel on a regular basis.


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