Coronavirus pandemic: Where can you travel this summer?

Countries where the coronavirus pandemic appears to have eased are gradually opening up their borders — but the picture remains inconsistent and subject to change.

The EU is still wrangling over how much to ease a ban on travel from outside the bloc from July 1, with the likelihood that only a small number of countries where the disease is well under control will be given the green light.

Here, the Financial Times breaks down who can travel where as the northern hemisphere summer and European holiday season approach their peaks. The situation is changing all the time, so it is recommended to check an official source for the latest information before making travel plans.

 Heatmap showing Oxford Covid-19 government response stringency index focusing on international travel restrictions

The EU

EU ambassadors reached a provisional deal late on Friday to exempt 15 countries from the existing blanket entry ban on residents of countries that aren’t in the bloc or Europe’s passport-free Schengen common travel area. The favoured states have been picked because of their apparent relative success in managing coronavirus.

Fourteen of the nations — subject to EU member-state confirmation by 18.00 Brussels time on Saturday — are Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay. The 15th, China, would be covered only if it agrees a reciprocal arrangement with EU countries. The list — which is due to become active on July 1 — also includes four European microstates.

A camper van enters Spain at the Spanish-French border after it was reopened on June 21 © David Borrat/EPA

The UK has not been subject to any EU entry ban even though it quit the bloc in January, because it is still covered by EU free-movement rules until the end of the Brexit transition period in December.

EU member states haggled over both the names on the list of countries and the criteria being used to evaluate who will be let in, diplomats said. Officials pointed to uncertainties around infection rates, including over whether nations are doing enough testing or being sufficiently honest about the prevalence of the virus to reveal the full picture.

Further complicating matters, the list will be a recommendation to member states rather than a hard rule. Countries will retain the right to continue to exclude nations on the list — or even to take a less stringent approach, if they are prepared to risk political criticism and a potential legal rebuke.

EU and Schengen states have opened up many of their borders with their neighbours in the past weeks — and the commission has called for the restoration of full free movement by the end of June. The official list of remaining restrictions can be found here.

The UK and Ireland

UK Border Force agents check the passports of passengers arriving at Gatwick airport, London, on May 28 © Oli Scarff/Getty

The UK’s most contentious decision is the requirement, introduced this month, for all foreign arrivals to spend two weeks in self-isolation, even though many visitors will be arriving from places with lower infection rates.

London has been trying to create “air bridges” between countries that are popular holiday destinations to waive the quarantine requirement in both directions.

The UK government said on Friday that it would publish a list next week of “low-risk countries” whose citizens would be able to enter Britain without being required to self-isolate. London added that it was likely to discuss these plans with countries including France, Greece and Spain “over the coming days”.

UK border control decisions have had a knock-on impact on Ireland, which remains an EU member, because of the bilateral Common Travel Area agreements for a light-touch border between the two countries.

Some countries, such as Spain, have agreed to let Britons visit without a quarantine requirement, although a potential deterrent to such holidaymakers is that they would then have to isolate for two weeks on their return home.

Turkey

A passenger wearing a protective suit waits to check in at Istanbul airport on the first day Turkish Airlines flights to the US resumed © /Murad Sezer/Reuters

Turkey, which resumed international flights this month, is desperate to lure back tourists who are vital to its $750bn economy. It has yet to strike agreements for “travel corridors” that would allow visitors from key countries such as Germany and the UK to avoid a quarantine period when arriving in Turkey and returning home.

Asia

Flight attendants wearing face masks and gloves on a flight from Xichang, Sichuan province, China © Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

Japan has barred travel from more than 100 nations, including many in Europe. It also prohibits foreign residents of Japan from re-entering if they have visited any of the countries on the list during their travels, although nationals are allowed to come back and observe quarantine.

Popular tourist destinations in Asia that appear to have controlled coronavirus relatively well have retained tough restrictions. Thailand has maintained a ban on all but a handful of inbound international flights. Vietnam still prohibits the entry of almost all foreign nationals.

Chart showing that searches for flight bookings are beginning to recover for some destinations, but remain close to zero for many

China’s ban on overseas national arrivals remains in place, although the government has recently begun to allow foreign residents to return on a discretionary basis subject to a two-week government quarantine on arrival in most cases.

It has also signed “green lane” agreements with South Korea and Singapore, allowing business travellers from those countries to enter a selected number of Chinese cities without lengthy quarantines.

India still prohibits the entry of all foreigners and incoming passenger flights, which has left many of its own citizens stranded abroad for months though they are now slowly being allowed back in. A few exceptions are allowed for business travel or for overseas nationals who are of ethnic Indian origin or have family ties in the country.

The US

Workers wearing protective masks push cleaning trolleys through O’Hare international airport in Chicago, Illinois © Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Washington has banned most travel from the 26 countries in the European Schengen area, the UK and Ireland, as well as Brazil, China and Iran. But in many of those nations the virus appears to be spreading less ferociously than in the US itself.

Latin America

A plane passes in front of the full moon as seen from Curitiba, Brazil © Andrey Heuler/AFP

Brazil and Mexico have been hit hard by the virus and have border restrictions in place. Argentina and Colombia have closed airports to all normal passenger traffic, while Lima airport in Peru is shut to all passengers.

The countries which have had most success controlling the virus so far are Uruguay, Cuba and Costa Rica. The Americas Society-Council of the Americas has a detailed summary of country-by-country restrictions here. 

Additional reporting by Tom Mitchell in Singapore, Jim Pickard in London, Laura Pitel in Ankara, Michael Stott in London and Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

Produced by Adrienne Klasa