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European travel restrictions: Nonessential travel curbed

Susan Bonney-Cox
May 19, 2021

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, many countries worldwide continue to restrict entry and most travel remains discouraged. DW Travel offers a brief recap of what rules apply in the EU — and how to get the latest info.

UK Edinburgh airport - empty trollies at the check-in counters
Travel across Europe is very much at a minimumImage: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The European Union

Several European Union nations are easing or lifting lockdown measures ― and with them travel and entry requirements ― as a third wave of the pandemic begins to subside across the continent. 

Detailed information is available on the European Commission website.

Complete information and resources for each of the individual 27 EU member states is also available on the EU's Reopen EU website.

However, each EU country maintains its own standards for deciding whether and how citizens of third countries may enter if they are already in an EU or Schengen country. Each EU member state also decides and implements its own further measures to curb the spread of the pandemic, such as quarantines upon entry from another region or country. Local regulations also differ widely on various social distancing measures, curfews and mask-wearing requirements.

A hand holding a passport and a vaccination certificate - an airport flight departure board in the background
The EU is pushing ahead with work on a single COVID-19 vaccination passportImage: Frank Hoermann/SVEN SIMON/picture alliance

Understanding the EU coronavirus traffic light system

In order to provide travelers in Europe with a better overview of the COVID infection situation and possible restrictions, the EU has introduced a  coronavirus traffic light system , according to which the EU is divided into green, orange and red zones. In addition, there is the color gray for regions from which not enough data are available. Currently, red dominates the continent.

If you still have to travel, the EU Commission's Re-open EU App can also help. It provides up-to-date information on the health situation, safety precautions, and travel restrictions for all EU countries and members states of the border-free Schengen area, which includes Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.

Please note: The information listed here is not exhaustive, serves as a reference only and is subject to change at any time. All travelers to and within Europe, the EU and the Schengen Area are strongly advised to keep informed with the official guidance and regulations of local, state and national authorities of the relevant countries.

Spain - Mallorca - an empty beach with wicker parasols
Empty beaches where the masses sunbathed before the pandemic — a picture that has almost become familiar Image: Clara Margais/dpa/picture alliance

Will vaccinations make vacations possible again?

In February the EU decided to introduce a uniform vaccination certificate for travelers by the summer. The Greek and Cypriot governments have also already concluded a bilateral agreement with Israel, according to which from April all Israeli nationals will be able to enter the country without any problems if they show Israel's recently-introduced "green pass," which provides proof that the bearer has been vaccinated. Israel, in turn, plans to open the country to vaccinated tourists from the end of May, Greece even from mid-May and Malta from June.

Sweden and Denmark have announced the creation of electronic vaccination certificates, which will be used primarily when traveling abroad. In Estonia, on the other hand, entrants are already exempt from the general quarantine requirement if they present proof of vaccination. The same applies in Poland, where an app is being developed specifically for this purpose.

Europe's five most-visited countries: Germany, France, UK, Italy, and Spain

Germany, along with France, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom, is among the world's 10 most-visited countries, according to the UN World Tourism Organization. Travel to France, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom remain restricted.


Abandoned cafe chairs and tables are seen on the deserted Unter den Linden boulevard leading up to landmark Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany
Areas usually bustling with tourists remain quiet and closed in Germany's lockdownImage: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images

As new infection numbers fall, more and more states are relaxing coronavirus rules for regions where the national emergency brake of 100 new infections per 100,000 residents within seven days no longer applies. On May 15, Baden-Württemberg already eased the rules for areas where the number of new infections fell below the incidence of 100 for five days.

In Schleswig-Holstein, Corona rules are to be relaxed from Monday, May 17, especially in tourism and hospitality, outdoor contacts and recreation. Lower Saxony has already reopened tourist accommodation and outdoor catering for residents of the state. In other federal states, relaxations are planned for the Whitsun weekend beginning on May 21. In Bavaria, for example, hotels, holiday apartments and campsites are to be allowed to open from May 21 if the seven-day incidence is stable at under 100.

Prior to this, tourism was not possible in Germany except for a few test model regions. In most federal states, hotels are still not allowed to offer overnight stays for tourism purposes, and tourist visas are only issued in exceptional cases. So you always have to inform yourself about the current regulations of the federal state you want to go to.

Anyone entering Germany by airplane needs to take a coronavirus test in advance. Only those with a negative test will be allowed to fly into the country. 

Throughout Germany a lockdown has been in effect since mid-December. This means distance and hygiene rules apply. Medical masks — surgical masks or  FFP2 respirators, which also protect the wearer — must be worn in stores and on buses and trains, and simple fabric masks are no longer sufficient.

In order to get a hold on the number of infections, the government has decided to introduce a " national emergency brake". If the seven-day incidence (infections within seven days per 100,000 inhabitants) exceeds the threshold of 100 on three consecutive days, stricter measures are to apply there with effect from the day after next. These measures are to remain in force until the seven-day incidence falls below the threshold of 100 on five consecutive days - at which point the extra measures will cease to apply within 48 hours.

Only for very few regions of Europe does the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin currently not issue a travel warning. The Robert Koch Institute's risk list provides an up-to-date overview of the risk areas.

Entry conditions from high-risk areas

Germany has instituted a classification system that divides geographical regions into risk areas, high-incidence areas and virus variant areas. Arrivals from high-risk areas must register online at  www.einreiseanmeldung.de.

In view of falling Corona infection figures throughout Europe, the German government has removed a major hurdle to summer vacations: with a regulation in effect since Thursday (May 13), it lifted the blanket quarantine requirement for entry from more than 100 countries. Among them are some of the Germans' favorite vacation destinations, such as Spain, Italy, Greece, Austria and Switzerland. Anyone entering Germany from these countries can be exempted from quarantine by presenting a negative COVID test. For air travelers, this test is obligatory anyway.

For those who have fully recovered from a coronavirus infection or have been fully vaccinated, the exemptions go even further. They only have to go into quarantine if they come from an area with new virus variants. Vaccinated and those who have recovered and come to Germany from the approximately 190 other countries in the world also no longer have to be tested for COVID-19 before or after entering the country. The regulation is the most far-reaching loosening of entry requirements since the coronavirus began spreading in Germany at the beginning of last year.

 In addition, there are the quarantine rules set individually by the 16 German states. Travelers are therefore well advised to inform themselves accordingly.

Read more: FAQs for travelers to Germany during the pandemic

The Eiffel Tower in Paris, seen from under a nearby bridge
One of the world's most recognizable landmarks, the Eiffel Tower, remains closed for the time beingImage: Getty Images/AFP/P. Lopez


The world's top tourism destination country by arrivals, France has banned all travel with countries outside the European Union, due to a continuously high infection rate and new mutations of the coronavirus. Exceptions will only be made for a good reason. Complete information is available on the French Foreign Ministry website. Upon entry into France, a negative PCR test must be presented, which must not be older than 72 hours. Travelers must also fill out a declaration stating, for example, that they have no COVID-19 symptoms. According to the Interior Ministry, travelers from Europe may also enter France without "compelling reasons."

The situation in France is still tense, and the country continues to be considered a high-incidence area. Nevertheless, the measures within the country have been relaxed. People are now once again allowed to travel more than ten kilometers from their homes without good reason. There is a nighttime curfew from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m., which is to be pushed back to 9 p.m. as of May 19. Outdoor areas of restaurants as well as stores and cultural institutions will then also be allowed to reopen. 

United Kingdom

People sitting at tables at a terrace bar in London, England
Pubs and restaurants have been able to reopen in EnglandImage: Henry Nicholls/REUTERS

In order to prevent the spread of new coronavirus variants, the UK obliges entrants from countries on its "red list" of high-risk countries to quarantine in hotels for ten days. The countries affected are those classified by Great Britain as virus-variant areas, such as South Africa, all South American countries, and the United Arab Emirates. The arrivals must book a 10-day stay from an approved list of hotels where they have to remain in their room and are provided with three meals a day. Security teams at the hotels monitor compliance. Passengers have to pay for their own stay in isolation.

Travel for tourist purposes is not permitted in and to Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In principle, people travelling to the UK must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test (PCR, LAMP or antigen test) before setting off. This may be taken up to three days before their journey begins. This regulation applies to EnglandNorthern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. All travelers entering the UK, regardless of departure country or nationality, must complete a passenger locator form.

Despite the spread of the more contagious Indian coronavirus variant, the United Kingdom has taken a major step toward a return to normalcy on May 17. Cafes, pubs and restaurants in England, Wales and much of Scotland were allowed to serve indoors for the first time after a months-long break. Cinemas, theaters and sports venues were allowed to reopen. Domestic travel is permitted. In principle, there is a requirement to wear a mask on public transport, in taxis and in supermarkets.

In England, a traffic light system has been introduced setting out the rules for travel abroad. For example, red-rated countries will continue to be banned from travel, while people will be able to travel to green countries without barriers. For travel to yellow-rated countries, strict testing and quarantine rules apply. 

A lockdown is in place in Scotland, with significant restrictions on movement that exceed the level of recommendations and have the force of law. Entry into Scotland is only permitted in urgent cases.


People walking in the city center by the cathedral wearing masks in Milan, Italy
Milan is now in a "yellow zone" meaning shops and bars are open againImage: Chioccia Simona/IPA/ABACA/picture alliance

The country still maintains its state of emergency, and entry from abroad remains heavily restricted. Complete information is available at the Italian Foreign Ministry website. Entry from most of Europe is allowed in principle but persons arriving from these countries must provide a negative COVID-19 test result taken within 48 hours upon entry, undergo a five-day quarantine, and present another negative test after five days. This regulation runs until mid-May. Then a national "green vaccination passport" is to be introduced in order to be able to travel freely within the country. 

Italy is gradually easing the restrictions within the country where a traffic light system is in place. Where infection numbers are moderate, restaurants and bars are allowed to serve at tables outside in the evening. A curfew continues to apply from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Italy Rome | Colosseum
The Colosseum in Rome is open to visitors again as the Italian capital is currently in a region classed as a yellow zone - meaning low case numbers.Image: picture-alliance/chromorange/M. Ibold

Museums and cinemas in the yellow zones with a low risk of infection have already opened. From June 1, people are also to be allowed to sit inside in bars again. Italy is targeting June 2 for the official start of the summer season. Exactly what the regulations will be for people entering the country in June, including those who have been vaccinated, is not yet clear.  


Boats in a bay on Mallorca, Spain
In Spain the number of infections in popular holiday resorts are currently lowImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Zoonar

Entry from EU and Schengen-associated states is possible in principle. However, mandatory testing is still required for entry from high-risk countries (including Germany). The country's official tourism website provides complete information and resources.  

Most recently the seven-day incidence has been significantly lower, coming in at 87. In some vacation regions such as Valencia (around 17) or the Balearic Islands (just under 28) including Mallorca, the situation is even more relaxed.

In the various regions, strict restrictions still apply in some cases, but almost all of them will end on May 9 with the expiry of the six-month coronavirus state of alert. Several regions, meanwhile, want to maintain especially the nighttime curfew. In addition, among other things, the mandatory wearing of masks, even outdoors, is to continue for the time being.

Find more information here.


Recent travel restrictions in selected countries across the EU


Main street through a village in Austria
Austria is preparing to welcome holidaymakers in the summerImage: imagebroker/siepmann/imago images

The German government has declared the whole of Austria a risk area, with the exception of the Kleinwalsertal valley and the municipality of Jungholz, with a combined population of just over 5,000. Both exclaves can only be reached by road from Germany.

On May 19, restaurants, hotels, theaters and sports facilities are allowed to reopen. As a protective measure, entry tests are planned. Events are allowed outside with up to 3000 and indoors with up to 1500 people.

The steps to open up are also expected to lift the quarantine for holidaymakers from Germany. Those vaccinated, tested or who have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed into the country. The government plans that people will no longer have to show negative test  three weeks after their first vaccination. Because Austria is still a risk area from a German perspective, a test and at least five days of quarantine are required on the return trip.

Find more information here.

The Netherlands

A windmill at sunset, the Netherlands
In the Netherlands restrictions are slowly being easedImage: picture-alliance/Zoonar

The Dutch government "strongly advises" against all travel to the country unless it is strictly necessary. People traveling to the Netherlands not only need a negative result of a PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival in Holland, but also need a negative result of an antigen rapid test, or LAMP (loop mediated isothermal amplification) test taken within 4 hours before departure to the Netherlands. Furthermore, all travelers are expected to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival in Holland. After five days of quarantine, you can choose to get tested for coronavirus. If you test negative, the quarantine is lifted.

Find more information here .

The Netherlands has ended a controversial nighttime curfew and allowed cafes to serve customers outdoors as part of an easing of coronavirus restrictions. Cafes will be allowed to operate outside only between 12 and 6 p.m. with a maximum of 50 people. Households will be allowed to have two guests, as opposed to the current limit on one.

The nighttime curfew had led to the country's worst riots in decades. After first opting for a more relaxed lockdown, Dutch authorities brought in stricter rules in October when the number of cases soared. Infection rates there are still rising, as the country seeks to speed up its vaccination rollout.

Belgium, Bruegge, cityscape with canals
Belgium is trying to stop the rise of infections by controlling travel into the countryImage: picture-alliance/blickwinkel/D. John


Travel to Belgium is still discouraged, even though the country's ban on non-essential travel has expired. Arrivals from EU, Schengen area and the EU's safe list are technically allowed entry to Belgium but all countries have been color-coded and all of these are currently red, except for 8 countries which are labelled orange: Denmark, Spain, Finland, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Norway  and Portugal. Anyone traveling from a red country must take a PCR test before departure and it must be negative to be allowed to enter.

Arrivals travelling by plane, train, bus or boat and staying for more than 2 days have to complete a Passenger Location Form (PLF) 48 hours before arrival. Based on their answers, visitors will receive a text message if they are high risk and need to quarantine for 10 days. If they do, they must take a COVID-19 test on days 1 and day 7. If visitors do not receive a text message, they do not need to quarantine.

Belgium has begun easing some restrictions allowing schools to return. This is to be followed by businesses like hairdressers, and outdoor service at bars and restaurants reopening over the next few weeks.

Find more information here


People walking along the beach of Praia da Luz, Algarve, Portugal
Portugal's Algarve region, a popular tourist destination, has been declared a no longer a COVID-19 risk areaImage: Getty Images/AFP/P. de Melo Moreira

The situation in Portugal has improved. Only the Algarve region, the Azores and Madeira are still considered risk areas. Non-essential tourist travel to the remaining regions continues to be discouraged.

On May 1, for the first time in about five and a half months, the state of emergency was not extended. Restaurants, cafes and bars as well as cinemas, theaters and other cultural and leisure venues have since been allowed to stay open until 10:30 p.m. on weekends.

Previously, a very early curfew applied throughout Portugal on weekends, starting as early as 1 p.m. In addition, among other relaxations, the land border with Spain has been reopened. However, non-essential tourist travel from countries with a 14-day incidence above 150, which includes Germany, is still not permitted.

All passengers, whether by land or air, must present a negative PCR test carried out over the previous 72 hours. Those who have not undertaken one will have to have one done at the airport, at their own expense.


Portugal eases lockdown

Find more information here


Greece, Crete, the Elafonisi beach with its clear waters and white sands
Empty perfect beaches: Greece is not expecting tourists again until the summerImage: picture-alliance/imageBROKER

Since May 3, cafés, bars and taverns in Greece have been allowed to open their outdoor areas for all guests, whether vaccinated or not. However, they have to close at 10:45 p.m., and an evening curfew then applies from 11 p.m. onwards.

Greece has been open again for vacationers from EU countries as well as from some other states such as Great Britain and Serbia since May 14. People are allowed to enter the country and go on vacation without having to undergo quarantine. Visitors must register online before entering the country.

Upon entry, a proof of a full vaccination or a negative PCR test no more than 72 hours old must be presented. Fully vaccinated means here that the second vaccination was at least 14 days ago. There is no longer a quarantine requirement. However, tourists should always inform themselves about their exact travel destination. For example, a local lockdown was recently imposed again on the island of Kalimnos due to high case numbers.

Visit Greece provides a summary of all the important information. I

Find more information here


Irland Giant's Causeway
Ireland is begining to ease its strict Covid-19 lockdown Image: picture-alliance/robertharding/N. Hicks

 Anyone entering Ireland must present a negative PCR test no more than 72 hours old. In addition, all entrants, including Irish citizens and residents, are required to severely restrict their movements for 14 days after entry.

The Irish government has announced a gradual relaxation of its strict Covid-19 lockdown over the next six weeks. The country has been at Level Five, its highest level of restrictions, since Christmas. On 10 May, close-contact services such as hairdressers can reopen and click-and-collect retail can resume. From the same date, people can travel outside their own county for the first time in more than four months. Up to 50 people will be allowed to attend weddings, funerals and other religious services. From 17 May, all non-essential shops are to reopen to customers. From 2 June, hotels, guest houses and self-catering accommodation will be permitted to trade. All pubs, regardless of whether they serve food, along with restaurants are set to open up for outdoor service on 7 June.

The situation in Ireland was particularly dramatic at the beginning of the year. For a time, the Republic had the highest number of new infections per capita in the world. After a temporary easing of the nationwide lockdown before Christmas, the infection figures there, fueled by the highly contagious COVID-19 variant, rose unchecked. In the meantime, the situation has eased but the infection rates remain at a high level and severe restrictions remain in place.

 Find more information here .