Europe is slowly opening up to vaccinated travelers from the United States and beyond, and here at Rick Steves' Europe, we're eager to get back to what we love. Travel conditions are changing fast, so now more than ever, it's smart to understand entry requirements and reconfirm specifics as you plan and travel.
What does Rick think?
On the one hand, I'm eager to head back to my favorite continent. On the other hand, I'm wary of false starts that could end in disappointment. While I'm personally waiting a bit longer before returning to Europe, I understand that many travelers are ready to go. If you're vaccinated; if you fully understand entry requirements and COVID protocols in the country you're visiting; and if you pack your patience and accept that things will be less-than-fully open or fully predictable…then I see no reason not to head to Europe this summer.
Can I travel in Europe now?
The European Union has announced their nonbinding recommendation that its member states allow nonessentail travel for visitors from the US, but each country may impose regulations, such as quarantines. The entry requirements may be something of a patchwork, so be sure to check the latest requirements and restrictions by country at Re-open EU or Skyscanner.
Why should I need a vaccine to go to Europe?
Vaccine requirements are nothing new. It once was common for countries to require incoming travelers to show a "yellow card" documenting that they'd had certain immunizations. While this practice has faded in many places, Rick had to bring proof of vaccination to visit Ethiopia just two years ago.
Should I travel in Europe now?
You need to weigh the pros and cons. Entry requirements may vary from country to country, so travel to, from, and around Europe may be a little bumpy. On the other hand, many small restaurants and hotels in Europe are struggling, and the resumption of tourism can provide a financial lifeline to these businesses. If you go, it's critical to understand the entry requirements of the places you're visiting and follow all local COVID-19 guidelines (masking, distancing, and so on), which are designed to protect local residents.
How do I get the latest information on which countries I can visit?
For EU countries, you can check Re-open EU (select the country, then the map icon for entry requirements). For the UK and all other countries, check the handy interactive map at Skyscanner. For current travel advisories for US citizens, consult the CDC or the US State Department.
What will I need to do to get into Europe?
The onus is on you to know the latest requirements for each place you're visiting and follow them to a T. These may include some or all of the following:
- Provide proof of full vaccination completed at least 14 days prior to departure with an approved COVID-19 vaccine (including Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson); as an alternative, some countries allow proof that you've recovered from COVID-19 or a recent (generally within three days of departure) negative COVID-19 test result
- Fill out an online profile before visiting
- Download and use local contact tracing apps
Will I need to have a "vaccine passport"?
Europe is working toward a standardized digital vaccine certificate. Details are still evolving; until this is fully implemented, it's likely you can obtain entry by showing your US vaccination card on arrival.
What will I need to do upon returning to the US?
Currently the US requires arriving international passengers (including US citizens) to show a negative PCR COVID-19 test result, taken within three days of your flight.
How can I get a COVID-19 test before returning to the US?
Check your departure airport (major international airports have testing centers on-site) or check with your airline, as most list testing locations on their websites. (It's likely that as more Americans are vaccinated, this requirement will be relaxed — for the latest updates, see the US State Department.)
What if I have to change or cancel my trip?
When booking, be sure that you fully understand your options in case you need to change or cancel. If anything is ambiguous, seek clarification by telephone or email. And remember: Even if there are no "change fees" for a flight, you are still responsible for any fare difference.
Should I get travel insurance?
For some travelers, insurance is a good deal; for others, it's not. Over the course of the pandemic, many travel insurance companies have expanded or adapted their coverage related to COVID-19. If purchasing insurance specifically for COVID-19 concerns, make sure to carefully review and understand your policy. It's important to know that Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) coverage is the only type of policy that covers fear of travel due to COVID-19. For more information, see Rick's travel insurance article.
Is Europe truly "open"?
That remains to be seen. Especially in the early days of reopening, travelers heading to Europe should remain flexible and expect surprise closures and interruptions. If you're easily frustrated by unpredictability, consider waiting until things are more reliable.
As across states in the US, European countries have their own masking requirements, social distancing guidelines, and restrictions on gathering in public — for example, strict limits on restaurant capacity, or outdoor dining only. You can research current rules by searching for the country's name and "COVID regulations." For more information, seek out reports from travelers who've recently traveled to the place you're interested in.
How has the pandemic affected Rick's guidebooks?
We are scrupulous about updating our guidebooks in person — something we haven't been able to do since early 2020. Even so, much of our advice on how to experience Europe is timeless. As Europe reopens, we'll do our best to post updates on our website. Once Europe is fully open to Americans, we'll work hard to update our guidebooks in person, and by mid-2022, we'll begin releasing the most lovingly updated post-COVID guidebooks on the market. Meanwhile, our current editions (which contain a mix of in-person and remote research) are as up-to-date as anything you'll find in print right now.
How can I connect with Rick Steves tour guides?
Many of our Europe-based tour guides can be hired on an individual basis for a guided city walk or a longer tour. This is an excellent investment — and it's a wonderful way to support our guides. Browse your options and get in touch on our Guides' Marketplace; as more countries open up, we'll be highlighting guides who'd be ideal to hire for a personal tour.
How can I get — or share — information about traveling in Europe post-COVID?
In addition to the sources cited above, our Travel Forum remains the perfect place to compare notes with fellow travelers — check the Tips & Trip Reports section for COVID-specific information. If you're planning a trip, we'd love you to share notes with fellow travelers. you can also follow us on Facebook or join the Rick Steves' Europe Group on Facebook for frequent Europe travel updates; there's always a lively conversation in the Comments.
Rick Steves Tour Members
Can I book a 2021 tour?
If Europe's reopening goes well, we hope to run some tours in late 2021. For now, we've cancelled all our departures through October and are keeping a close eye on evolving conditions.
Will you be running tours in 2022?
Yes! We've lined up a full slate of Europe tours for 2022, and we're open for booking now. Start browsing — we expect them to fill up quickly.
What happens if I sign up for a 2022 tour, but then a date opens up in 2021 that I prefer?
If a tour you prefer opens in late 2021, as long as a seat is available, you'll be able to apply your 2022 deposit to the new date. (You're responsible for any costs associated with rebooking your flights and/or pre- and post-tour hotels.)
How do I apply a credit to my tour?
You can submit your booking request online and we’ll automatically apply any credits we find attached to your account.
How will tours be different post-COVID?
We're still working out the details, which will be made clear to anyone who signs up for a tour. A few changes are already known: We've always prided ourselves on our small groups (28 travelers maximum) and are considering reducing group sizes even further, where possible. And, of course, we'll strictly adhere to all COVID-19 health guidelines (including vaccination requirements) in any country we travel to.
Will I need to be vaccinated for COVID-19 to take a tour?
We strongly recommend all travelers be vaccinated against COVID-19 (and up to date with regular immunizations including the annual flu shot) before joining a tour. You'll need to be able to present one of the following: an authentic COVID-19 vaccination certificate showing date(s) and time(s) of vaccination(s) with the final dose having been given at least 14 days prior to your tour departure date, OR a verifiable negative PCR test result for COVID-19 taken within 72 hours of your tour departure date. However, our tours visit a wide variety of destinations where the governments, local authorities, and other entities (hotels, restaurants, sites) may require proof of vaccination. We'll do our best to keep our tour members informed of any requirements prior to traveling with us.
Will I need a negative COVID-19 test prior to departing for my tour?
You'll need to be able to present either an authentic COVID-19 vaccination certificate or a verifiable negative PCR test result for COVID-19 taken within 72 hours of your tour departure date. Your airline and/or the countries you're visiting may have other requirements. It's up to you to be aware of the rules where you'll be traveling.
What happens if I get sick on tour?
We expect tour members to monitor their health and only travel if they're feeling well. However, getting sick while on tour can happen to anyone — and it can affect not just your trip, but your fellow tour members' trip, too. If you start to feel sick during your tour, notify your guide right away, so they can direct you to a local clinic or pharmacy for diagnosis and treatment. If anyone has a confirmed case of COVID-19, we'll follow the requirements of the local health authorities.
What's the best way to stay healthy while traveling?
For advice on how to stay healthy while on tour, see Rick's article: Tips for Healthy, Happy Travels.