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It’s getting harder to travel to Europe — even if you’re vaccinated

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It’s starting: European countries are beginning to enact travel restrictions on travelers from the United States due to the continued spread of COVID-19.

The beginning of the summer seemed like the moment of travel’s big rebound: people were getting vaccinated, hospitalizations were down and countries that shut their doors to U.S. travelers were repening. But it’s getting harder and harder to travel now. And that doesn’t apply only to unvaccinated travelers anymore — fully vaccinated Americans are also facing new restrictions on travel.

Stricter restrictions for US travelers

When, on Aug. 30, the European Union recommended that member states reimplement travel restrictions for U.S. visitors, it wasn’t clear how many individual countries — if any — would tighten their entry requirements. And it was thought that new restrictions would largely apply to unvaccinated travelers.

But in the days that followed, it was clear some countries would take significant steps to enhance entry requirements for Americans regardless of vaccination status.

The Netherlands on Sept. 3 enacted one of the most restrictive entry requirements for U.S. visitors, and if you have upcoming travel plans to the country, you need to pay attention.

The Netherlands is designating the U.S. and several other countries as “very high-risk areas” and is applying the European Union’s entry requirements to these countries.

According to an email from United Airlines, U.S. travelers — regardless of vaccination status — must quarantine for 10 days upon arrival. Travelers “might be able” to end quarantine on the fifth day with a negative test, according to the government’s website. The only way to avoid the mandatory quarantine is if you’re transiting through the Netherlands (and not staying) or in the country for essential reasons such as attending a funeral or going to school.

Travelers will also have to show proof of a negative coronavirus test starting Sept. 6: proof of recovery or vaccination will no longer be enough.

This requirement can throw a wrench in your travel plans, particularly if you’d planned a short trip, as your first five days in the Netherlands will have to be spent in quarantine.

If you do decide to continue your trip even with the quarantine requirement, you may also find it’s more difficult to book travel to and from the Netherlands, as one major airline has already cut service.

KLM canceled service from Amsterdam to several U.S. cities from Oct. 31 through March 26, 2022, in light of the restriction. If you’re ticketed on one of these flights, you’ll be able to request a full refund once the cancellations are loaded into the airline schedules next week. Delta Air Lines, United and American Airlines all offer nonstop service from U.S. hubs to Amsterdam, but right now, it’s unclear whether these airlines will reduce service.

KLM (the flag carrier of the Netherlands) released a tersely worded statement, calling the move a “big step backwards.”

Putting a recommendation into action

The new restrictions on American travelers headed to the Netherlands are almost certainly related to the EU’s recommendation last week that member states reimplement travel restrictions for U.S. visitors. The recommendation also removed the U.S. from the EU’s “safe list,” as countries on the list can’t have more than 75 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

The U.S. is well past the EU’s benchmark, averaging over 300 cases per 100,000 inhabitants daily.

Several EU countries began welcoming Americans with open arms earlier this summer, and U.S. travelers poured in due to relatively lax travel restrictions. But that welcome has quickly faded, and now countries are implementing some or all of the EU’s recommendations on travel restrictions.

But because it is still a recommendation, member countries can choose to apply it how they see fit.

Italy was one of the first countries to respond to the recommendation by adding a testing requirement even for fully vaccinated travelers and a self-isolation mandate for unvaccinated visitors.

Starting Sept. 6, Spain will now require either proof of full vaccination (completed at least 14 days prior to arrival), a negative COVID-19 test or proof of recovery from COVID-19. Before the EU’s recommendation, neither COVID-19 tests nor proof of vaccination was required.

Belgium added the U.S. to a “red zone,” which means it considers it a place where people are at a high risk of COVID-19 infection. However, it also “whitelisted” the U.S., so nonessential travel to Belgium is still allowed.

Denmark banned unvaccinated Americans over the weekend, where previously U.S. travelers could enter the country with only a negative COVID-19 test or proof of recovery. The entry requirements for vaccinated tourists remains the same.

And other countries have taken no action at all.

Travel will get more complicated in the coming months, and if you’re expecting a universal policy throughout the EU, you’ll likely be disappointed.

Ultimately, the Netherlands’ new policy for U.S. visitors represents a significant setback for travelers. And with it, other countries may follow. For now, if you have Europe travel planned, you should be hyper-vigilant about checking the entry requirements up until your departure and booking travel insurance in case you have to cancel.

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