Traveling to the European Union (EU) or Schengen Area is a dream for many global tourists, workers, and students alike. However, health and safety measures have become crucial considerations, significantly reshaped by the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of writing this article, there is no European country that still requires Covid-19 testing or vaccination before allowing entry. That is because. from the beginning of January 2023, the EU COVID vaccine requirements have been lifted by all the countries in the region.
EU nations have now reverted to the same entry measures that applied before the arrival of Covid-19.
Pre-COVID-19 Vaccination Requirements
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU and Schengen Area did not require mandatory vaccinations for travellers, except for certain circumstances. These exceptions usually applied to individuals traveling from countries with high risks of particular infectious diseases.
- Yellow Fever: For travellers from or transiting through countries where yellow fever is endemic, a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required.
- Tuberculosis, Polio, and Other Diseases: Specific vaccines might be recommended depending on the health situation in the travellers’ home country or the EU/Schengen Area member state they intend to visit.
The pre-COVID-19 vaccination recommendations mostly cantered around individual health protection rather than public health security at large.
COVID-19 Impact: From Crisis to Vaccination Rollout
The COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed global travel, and the EU/Schengen Area has been no exception. As the pandemic unfolded, the EU adopted temporary travel restrictions, and stringent health checks became a common feature at borders.
Eventually, as vaccines against COVID-19 became available, they emerged as a key tool in facilitating safer travel. The EU and Schengen countries implemented new vaccination requirements, making COVID-19 vaccinations crucial for traveling to these regions.
Post-COVID-19 Vaccination Requirements
Current vaccine requirements
Currently, there are no vaccine requirements to enter the Schengen Area for travellers entering the block without a visa. If a Schengen Visa is required, travellers will be advised of any possible vaccine requirements at the time of their consulate interview.
Previous COVID-19 Vaccination Certificates
As part of its response to the pandemic, the EU launched the EU Digital COVID Certificate (previously known as the Digital Green Certificate). The certificate functioned as verification that an individual was inoculated against COVID-19, had a negative test outcome, or had recuperated from COVID-19. Only vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) or a comparable national body were deemed acceptable. They primarily include Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
Previous Traveller Health Declarations
Some EU/Schengen Area member states required health declarations or additional health checks from arriving passengers. These measures were put into place to monitor potential COVID-19 symptoms among travellers.
Impacts and Considerations
- Impact on Travel: The COVID-19 vaccine requirement had significantly impacted international travel, with a marked increase in vaccination rates among frequent travellers.
- Equity Concerns: The disparity in global vaccine distribution raised equity concerns. Travellers from countries with slower vaccine rollouts faced greater difficulties in meeting the EU's vaccine requirements.
- Recognition of Vaccines: The EU's acceptance of only certain vaccines posed challenges. Travellers inoculated with vaccines not recognized by the EMA faced restrictions. To make matters confusing, individual member states sometimes had their own regulations and accepted other vaccines.
- Validity and Booster Shots: With ongoing research about vaccine effectiveness and duration, new guidelines concerning booster shots and certificate validity emerged, affecting future travel requirements.
The road ahead
As the global community continues to grapple with the aftermath of COVID-19, the vaccine requirements for entering the EU/Schengen Area will likely remain dynamic. Governments, health authorities, and travellers will need to stay informed and adaptable.
Despite the challenges, these measures underscore the EU's commitment to protecting public health while enabling international travel. As we navigate this new era, the hope remains for a return to normal travel circumstances bolstered by a robust understanding of global health security.
What kinds of vaccinations should I get if I plan to visit Western Europe?
The WHO and CDC recommend that travellers get the following types of vaccinations before they visit Western Europe: rabies, typhoid, hepatitis B, and hepatitis A.
They also recommend the following routine vaccinations: mumps, measles, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, chickenpox, influenza, pneumonia, shingles, polio, and meningitis.
Although these are no longer mandatory, Covid-19 vaccinations are still recommended for all foreigners who want to travel to Europe and for locals who want to travel to a different part of the continent.
Diseases that could be prevented by vaccination, such as mumps and measles, are starting to become increasingly common in parts of Western Europe. We recommend that you double-check your immunization status and get any necessary vaccines before you go.
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly altered the landscape of travel to the EU and Schengen Area, with vaccinations now playing a central role in travel protocols. These changes underscore the ongoing commitment to safeguarding both public health and the freedom of movement. As we continue to adapt to this evolving situation, vaccines will remain a key factor in navigating international travel and fostering global connectivity in a post-pandemic world.