Should You – Can You – Travel to Europe This Summer?

A closed off border – a site not seen in much of Europe for decades, but currently almost everywhere.

I am writing this from The Travel Insider world headquarters (ie my basement) while being very conscious that if things were slightly different, I’d be in Bordeaux today with a happy group of Travel Insiders, touring through the vineyards of that amazing region of France, and looking forward, a week later, to moving across the Channel to Britain for ten days in Scotland with a second Travel Insider group.  I’d much prefer to be in France today, and with a glass of fine wine rather than a glass of coconut water in our hand.

As you might recall, we cancelled both tours back in February.  Just as well, as it turned out.  Not only might they be ill-advised at present; they’d also be impossible.  Both France, Scotland, and pretty much all of Europe (and most of the rest of the world too) are essentially closed at present to all visitors – both tourists and business visitors.

When will this change?  When can you head to Europe this summer?

The short answer is that most of Europe seems like it will be closed until at least early July (some but not all countries have dates ranging from 1 – 6 July), and maybe longer.  The longer answer is more complicated.

Europe has acted in a surprisingly uncoordinated manner when it came to acting to limit the spread of the virus, but is now trying to coordinate, at least within the 26 countries within the Schengen free travel area (a mix of EU and some non-EU countries).  The success of this is – so far – more notable in its absence than its presence.

For example, Switzerland, Germany, France and Austria will open their borders to allow citizens of each country to visit each other country, on 15 June.  Italy is opening its border on 3 June, and would allow visits from Switzerland, but Switzerland has said it will not allow visits from Italy on 3 June (nor, apparently, on 15 June, either).

On the other hand, Norway has a totally different schedule – it is considering allowing visitors in from other Nordic countries on 15 June, and by 20 July, it may add some more nearly countries too.  But note the term “considering” and “may” – neither the dates nor what will happen on those dates is definite.

France is generally closed to all visitors at present, but if a country says French people can visit their country, France will reciprocate and allow those people to visit France, but currently with a 14 day quarantine requirement, which certainly kills the concept of other Europeans visiting France for a day or long weekend or short week, and makes the idea of one or two week visits by tourists from further away totally impossible too.

Spain has said it plans to gradually open up for international tourists in July, and stop imposing a 14 day quarantine (as at present).  But the exact dates and details have not yet been revealed, although some reports suggest that things will be largely open from early July.

Maybe other Schengen zone countries will also open up to visitors from other Schengen zone countries on 15 June, too, but such announcements (for an event little more than two weeks in the future) are still laden with conditional statements in terms of “depending on the level of virus activity within Europe and the rest of the world”.  Those vague phrases are very vague.  They don’t specific specific trigger levels to either justify reducing or increasing restrictions, so there’s no way to guess at what the future might hold.

We don’t know what would happen if you found a way into the Schengen zone through a more liberal country – could you then travel within the Schengen zone, even if it was only officially open for residents within that area?  Probably you could, because we expect that such barriers as there are on border crossings between participating Schengen zone countries currently would be removed, and the enforcement would more be at airports and borders between zone countries and other countries, seeking to restrict people from “outside” entering.

But even if you could do this, you’d be illegally present in the countries you were visiting, and if anything happened to bring you to the notice of the authorities, you might be liable for fines, deportation, and possibly even future banning from entering.

The UK (not a Schengen zone member) is allowing people into the country again from 8 June, but if you are planning a trip to Britain, be aware that you’ll have to quarantine yourself for two weeks after arriving in Britain.  Your actual vacation can only start on the 15th date of your stay.  This applies to people from Europe too – for a while it seemed people from France would be excluded, but Britain changed its mind and included them in the quarantine requirement, too.

Britain says it will review their requirements every three weeks.

When will the EU countries review their opening plans and dates?  There are no exact dates we’ve uncovered.

These two articles (this one dated 26 May  and  this one dated 28 May) have additional helpful information.  But things are changing, almost daily.  To try and get a sense of what is happening, keep an eye on infection rates in Europe (click on the Europe tab at the top of the table here) – both in the countries you are thinking of visiting, and across Europe in general, and monitor the situation obsessively, because if there are changes in policy – particularly returns to more restrictive policies – they are likely to be enacted and enforced immediately, rather than after some days or weeks of advance notice.

One more thing.  Just because an airline has scheduled service between two cities at present does not mean you can take the flight and expect to be allowed off the plane at the destination and welcomed into the city/country you’ve arrived in.  Many of these flights are between two countries, neither of which allow travelers into their countries at present, with only a few very limited exceptions (which do not extend to tourism and ordinary business travel).

The planes are continuing to fly, although often with reduced schedules, primarily for the benefit of the loads of commercial freight they are carrying, not for passengers.

A final point to keep in mind.  If there are specific reasons for visiting – particular activities you want to do, or places you want to see – you should make sure that, no matter what the general policies are, the places you wish to visit will allow visitors, and if there will be changes to their opening hours or what they allow visitors to see/do/experience.

If some of Europe’s most popular attractions try and implement social distancing, this could make it very difficult to visit them, because they might fill up early in a day and then restrict admission for the rest of the day.  It may be possible to pre-reserve admission at a specific time, if so, that could be a good thing to do.

On the other hand of course, we’d not be surprised if a very large percentage of potential visitors decide not to go to Europe at all this summer season.  Maybe this year will see Europe emptier and easier to enjoy than any time in the last few decades?

Summary and Recommendation

We’d suggest you hold off making any plans or prepaying for any travel, including air fares, as long as possible.  Alternatively, and in any case, consider a travel insurance policy that includes coverage for Covid-19 related cancellations or trip interruptions.

While every different country seems to be doing its own thing, in general it appears most European countries will remain essentially closed to all non-European travelers until sometime in early July.  We don’t know when countries, or Europe as a whole, or the Schengen zone, will review and perhaps change their policies, and neither is it inevitable that such reviews and revisions would be in the direction of removing current restrictions.  Most of all, if a “second wave” comes along, then all bets might be off and countries or the region as a whole might close themselves off from the world again.

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