Coronavirus US

The EU is open to American travellers. Why can't Europeans travel to the US?

The EU lifted its ban on American travellers back on June 18 but the move has yet to be reciprocated by the US.

The EU is open to American travellers. Why can't Europeans travel to the US?
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Why can American tourists enter the EU?

Since June 18 the EU recommended to its member states to allow travel from the US and a host of other countries.

This was a result of the vaccine rollout in the US, which was developing at a steady pace, and its overall reaction to combating the pandemic since the turn of the year.

At the time there was an expectation that the US would follow suit. European Commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz explained, "It goes without saying that we would expect the same from partner countries outside the EU for EU citizens traveling to those countries."

The EU unilaterally took the move as the bloc decided it needed to act in the face of the great pressure on its tourism industry. As of publication, EU tourists are still banned from entering the US.

Why can European travellers not enter the US?

As per the January 25 proclamation the US blocked entry to travellers coming from the EU Schengen area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil and South Africa.

This was to prevent the US from developing cases of the Alpha and Beta variants of the virus. These strains were found in large numbers in South Africa and the United Kingdom respectively. The prevalence of the Delta strain currently menacing Europe makes any opening for travel much more of a risk for the US.

Despite this, there is some hope for the latent EU tourism sector as President Biden is expected to announce in the next few days when the end of the travel ban will be.

This comes as German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits the US for the last time before she steps down this autumn.

Why has the freedom to move not yet been reciprocated?

It was much more of a pressing matter for the EU to open its borders to tourists before the US.

Many of the blocs economies are very reliant on tourism, for some it contributed more than a fifth of their entire gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019. Indeed, tourism contributes 10% to the entire EU GDP and creates jobs for 26 million people, notes a European Union Tourism Trends report.

The pandemic has damaged economies the world over but countries with such a reliance on foreign tourism are even more at risk. For example, Spain lost 82% of its English tourists between 2019 and 2020, traditionally the country's largest tourism market. US travellers took over 36 million trips to Europe in 2019, but data from the European Travel Commission shows that this number fell to 6.6 million in 2020.

With an economy so reliant on tourism, as shown on the list below, it is much more important for the EU to get tourists back into the country than it is for the US, hence the unilateral move back in June.

Tourism as a percentage of GDP in the EU for 2019

  1. Croatia (24.3%)
  2. Greece (20.3%)
  3. Portugal (17.1%)
  4. Malta (15.9%)
  5. Spain (14.1%)
  6. Cyprus (13.4%)
  7. Italy (13.1%)


The balance needs to be struck between opening economies to save people's livelihoods but also keeping the population as safe as possible. It is certainly a very difficult square to circle but an important problem to tackle as Europe enters its busy tourist period of July and August.

On the contrary, the US is nowhere near as reliant on tourism, let alone EU specific tourism, as the EU.