Dreaming of International Travel this Summer? There’s a Catch

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Positano, Italy (Image by Ben Davies from Pixabay)

Much of the World is Set to Welcome American Tourists. But…

Travel agencies, airlines and vacation rental sites are bursting with the good news this week that much of Europe, the Caribbean and Pacific island destinations may be open to vaccinated Americans by June.

But before you plunk down nonrefundable deposits, there are a lot of asterisks and fine print to be read on the conditions for getting waved through Passport Control.

The European Union’s 27 member states are expected to open June 1 to American travelers with proof of vaccination against Covid-19, the European Commission announced Tuesday with a list of caveats. Individual EU countries can set their own conditions and timetables for reopening to U.S. travelers, including requiring a negative pre-arrival polymerase chain reaction (PRC) virus test and an on-arrival rapid test as well as proof of vaccination. Some countries plan to retain quarantine mandates as long as 14 days.

Countries across the European continent have suffered devastating loses in vital tourism revenue during a pandemic that has closed restaurants, hotels and sightseeing to contain multiple virus surges. EU countries have been slow to roll out vaccinations, with many areas still seeing less than 10% of their populations immunized.

And coronavirus is not the only impediment to safe travel. The recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on virus dangers and the U.S. Department of State’s more comprehensive travel warnings recommend staying away from most places poised to reopen.

The CDC recommends that U.S. residents continue to avoid nonessential travel — meaning tourism — and limit visits to a puny list of Level 1 holiday destinations based on the rest of the world’s continuing struggle against virus spread and outbreaks of untested variants. On the CDC list of 31 low-risk holiday sites, the only European destinations rated safe are Greenland, Guernsey and the Faroe Islands, all with minimal virus spread due to their isolation.

The State Department further warns that many of the holiday spots open to Americans now, or soon to be, are plagued by risks of ransom kidnapping, terrorism, cartel violence and rampant crime. 

Of 15 foreign destinations that can be reached from Seattle on nonstop flights, 11 get the department’s “Level 4” warning: Avoid All Travel. All five Mexican cities that have direct connections with Seattle – Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, Cancun, Mexico City and Los Cabos — are on the Level 4 list for their risks to physical security as well as virus exposure.

The few European countries already open to U.S. tourism are rated by the CDC and State Department as at the highest risk level, with the exception of Iceland at Level 3. Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia and Greece allow in Americans with an official vaccination passport, a negative virus test or proof that the traveler has already been infected by the virus and recovered.

CNBC.com last week compiled a list of countries that admit U.S. passport holders and the conditions they need to meet. Most require documentation that the traveler is fully vaccinated with one of the four Western-made vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency. Those are Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca. Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac have not been approved for use in the EMA, although some member states are evaluating their efficacy. Hungary, which has been immunizing its population with the Russian and Chinese vaccines, is poised to include them as compliant with its new vaccine passport regime.

Interestingly, the hue and cry of U.S. anti-vaxxers that having to document their vaccination status is a violation of their liberty has not been finding much of an echo elsewhere in the world. Travelers in countries like South Korea, China, Australia and much of Europe have eagerly embraced their ticket to a foreign escape.

“Time to revive EU tourism industry and for cross-border friendships to rekindle — safely,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said of the proposals expected to be approved by the member states this week. “We propose to welcome again vaccinated visitors and those from countries with a good health situation.”

Spain, which suffered one of the continent’s deadliest Covid-19 outbreaks, announced independently of the commission last week that it aimed to open to tourists next month in expectation of having 70% of the population vaccinated by then. As of the announced reopening, 4 million, or about 8%, had received shots.

In the Caribbean, the CDC safe list includes Grenada, Barbados, the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, and St. Kitts & Nevis.

The most attractive destinations on the U.S. government’s A-list for Asia — Australia, New Zealand, China, Brunei and Vietnam – have yet to lift their barriers to Americans’ entrance.

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Carol J. Williams is a retired foreign correspondent with 30 years' reporting abroad for the Los Angeles Times and Associated Press. She has reported from more than 80 countries, with a focus on USSR/Russia and Eastern Europe.

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