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What Americans need to know about the EU travel ban

Steven Hoekman wants to visit Germany this summer. But with the European Union banning travelers from the United States, he’s not sure he’ll be allowed into the country.

Hoekman, a retired dentist from Brooklyn, Michigan, owns a rental property in Friedenweiler, in the southern Black Forest.

“I wanted to visit in August or September since I have things to do on the house,” he says. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance I can get over there because of business interests, is there?”

There is. The EU exempts those who hold long-term visas from the entry restrictions. So if Hoekman has the right paperwork, he’s in.

The travel ban announced recently has raised lots of questions. Who can travel to Europe? Who can’t? How long will the ban last? Can I get a refund for my airline ticket if I cancel? And is there a way around any of these restrictions?

“It’s more uncertainty,” said Cate Caruso, a travel adviser with Virtuoso-affiliated True Places Travels in Vancouver, Washington. “As if we didn’t have enough of that.”

The worry extends beyond summer. Travelers are already looking for ways to cancel or postpone their fall trips. I had plans to visit the Azores in December, and I’m starting to doubt that I’ll make it.

“It’s unlikely that this ban will be lifted soon,” said Mahalia Desruisseaux, an infectious-disease specialist at Yale Medicine. “The next few months will be crucial in determining whether the restrictions will be loosened, depending on how successful we are in better controlling the spread of the virus. It is probably prudent to postpone any European vacations until at least 2021.”

Here are frequently asked questions about the Europe travel ban:

Q: Why are Americans banned from EU countries?

A: The U.S. has too many coronavirus cases. On March 17, the EU closed its external borders and restricted nonessential travel in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. On June 11, the EU gradually began lifting its restrictions, and on July 1, it allowed international arrivals from some countries. They included Canada, Japan and New Zealand – but not the U.S.

Q: What’s meant by “too many” cases?

A: The number of cases has to be close to or below the EU average as of June 15. The European average is about 15 per 100,000 people over the past two weeks. The U.S. average is about 145 cases per 100,000 people over the same period. “We are hot in a bad way,” said Ed Daly, editor of WorldAware’s global intelligence division.

Q: What about the U.K.? Can I still travel there?

A: Yes. But you will have to self-isolate for 14 days, and authorities may contact you to verify compliance. If you don’t comply, you face a fine of 1,000 pounds (about $1,250). For most summer travelers, that’s the equivalent of a travel ban.

Q: When will the ban end?

A: When the U.S. has the coronavirus under control or can negotiate an exception to the EU ban – whichever comes first. The EU will review its list of countries every two weeks. Estimates range from soon to June 2021. Geoffrey Millstone, a travel agent with Clarksburg Travel Service in Clarksburg, West Virginia, thinks it may be that long. “The rest of the world is watching this and are sure that our stupidity will endanger their lives,” he says.

Q: If I can’t travel to Europe, will I get a refund for my plane ticket?

A: No. If you purchased your ticket in the U.S., your airline must cancel your flight for you to be entitled to a full refund under Transportation Department rules. Otherwise, you’ll receive a ticket credit. You may, however, be able to negotiate a refund for an extenuating circumstance. For example, if you won’t be able to use the ticket credit because of health concerns, the airline might offer a refund.

Q: Should I cancel my summer vacation to Europe?

A: The odds of the ban ending soon are remote. “Many Americans may not want to wait to see if Europe opens up in August and are instead planning alternative vacations,” said Peter Vlitas, senior vice president of airline relations at Internova Travel Group. But don’t call your travel agent just yet. If you’ve already paid for a tour that includes airline tickets, you may want to wait until your tour operator cancels the vacation. The odds of getting a full refund are greater if you wait for the tour operator to call the whole thing off.

Q: What about late summer or early fall?

A: Experts say you might be pushing your luck. “Travel in late summer – early September – is possible but very risky and subject to airline cancellations,” said Levi Borba, chief executive of Expatriate Consultancy, a company that offers immigration consulting services.

Q: Are there exceptions to the EU ban?

A: There are. Besides people with permanent-resident status, the ban doesn’t apply to health care professionals, seasonal workers in agriculture, diplomats, passengers traveling for family reasons and passengers in transit. You can see a full list on the EU website. Remember, it’s up to the EU member state to interpret exceptions, so you may find differences between countries.

Q: Will the EU loosen any restrictions this summer?

A: Possibly. Online campaigns such as #LoveIsEssential and #LoveIsNotTourism are urging lawmakers to allow unmarried couples to reunite despite the ban. Those efforts appear to be gaining traction. Denmark already allows partners to reunite across the border.

Because it’s unlikely that you will be able to visit Europe this summer, maybe it’s time for a change of plans. That’s what Hoekman, the retired dentist who owns a house in Germany, is doing.

“Since we don’t stay longer than three months, it wasn’t worth getting the long-term visa,” he said. So he’s staying home.

Maybe that’s a lead worth following. It’s better to wait until COVID-19 is under control. Europe will still be there next summer.

Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate, journalist and co-founder of the advocacy group Travelers United. Email him at chris@elliott.org.