If It's Thursday, It Must Be My Confusing Column on Europe
THURSDAY, JULY 1, 2021 -- When the vaccines arrived and the pandemic began to ease, I'd have bet dollars to donuts that London would be the first place Americans could travel in Europe.

Turns out I was a real doughnut.

Other than that wan bit of Anglo-American wordplay, it made sense to believe a U.S.-U.K. travel bubble would be the first to inflate. Except for Israel, the United States and the United Kingdom were leading the world in vaccinations. Then there was the historic reality: Before the pandemic, traffic between the United States and Britain outpaced any other transatlantic runs. Even after Brexit, London/Heathrow still functioned as the key transit point for Americans headed elsewhere in Europe.

So I may be a "doughnut"--that is British slang for fool, in case you didn't know--but I wasn't an idiot. It all pointed to us again cursing Heathrow's shortfalls long before we ever got back to Paris or Frankfurt, Madrid or Milan, Athens or Copenhagen.

Crow is obviously on my Fourth of July menu instead of donuts, but there's also the obvious question: Where can you go in Europe now? Not just safely--although vaccinated Americans shouldn't worry too much about the Coronavirus Delta variant now so "popular" in Europe--but also conveniently?

After running through a nearly endless list of rules, regulations and health bureaucracies this week, I've got some thoughts.

Thanks to several very recent rule changes, you can now fly into Spain or The Netherlands without proving you've been fully vaccinated or had a negative Coronavirus test. All that's required is a health declaration. (By the way, get used to that phrase "a health declaration." Virtually all European countries are now requiring more paperwork.) The same is true for Belgium, Finland and Denmark. If your tastes (or your business needs) skew to the more esoteric, the same can also be said for Romania, Albania, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Slovenia. Unfortunately, I'm unaware of any nonstops to those five nations from the United States and that will complicate your travel, a situation I'll discuss in just a bit.

Most of the rest of Europe fits into a second category: Fully vaccinated Americans are welcome again, but will be required to prove to local authorities that they've "gotten the jab." Proof of vaccination is a local-level regimen and will vary by destination. (Good news: All approved U.S. vaccines are accepted in Europe.) Some nations will also require a negative Coronavirus test atop your vaccination. This is where you must check with your airline for details. I also urge you to do your own homework: Check with the local U.S. Embassy's Web site, the country's tourism authority and, if available in English, the nation's health agency.

Since it first began allowing international travelers back into Britain, the United Kingdom has had the United States in amber, meaning required quarantine and testing. But England is hardly alone. Norway and Ireland also require quarantine for arriving Americans. Ditto Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and North Macedonia. And keep your eyes on Portugal. The mainland is open, but a new 11pm curfew has been imposed in Lisbon and Porto and some island destinations may require quarantine.

I have a long-standing business traveler's aversion to connecting flights. Always fly nonstop if you can. That's better advice now than ever. The "immunity" Americans have in some European countries does not extend to you if you've arrived via a third country. If you connect, you'll almost always be required to follow the rules for entry from the connection country. And if you think American-European rules are opaque, man, you haven't tried to figure out the intra-Europe travel restrictions. This is especially true for connections from Britain. Other European nations--especially some of England's former EU partners--have slapped quarantine restrictions on arrivals from England.

You remember, of course, the McGuffin of Casablanca: the "letters of transit" signed by de Gaulle that couldn't be questioned or rescinded. Letters of transit didn't exist in the 1940s and they certainly don't exist now. Just because you can enter a country from the United States does not mean you are exempt from local rules--or challenges to your status from local officials. Be prepared for anything, including everything from continued public mask usage to a requirement to show a specific form of vaccination proof before entering a museum.

Remember the spring when the 27-nation European Union was promising a Green Passport that would essentially be an all-in-one resource for storing and showing your testing and vaccination status? Yeah, about that ... The EU today officially began implementation of the system and it is much less than meets the eye. For starters, all the Green Passport does is codify what member states already implemented on their own. Worse, there is no central place to apply for the passport. You can only get one through the local country you're visiting. There doesn't seem to be any harm going through the bureaucratic hoops to get one, but it hardly seems especially useful, either.

Pundits who are as much a doughnut as me have predicted for months that the United States, United Kingdom and European Union would create a transatlantic travel bubble to salvage the 2021 vacation season. It hasn't worked out and there's one reason: The AstraZeneca vaccine. While the three parties agree on the other Western vaccines--Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson--the United States has yet to approve the AstraZeneca shot even on an emergency basis. American bureaucrats are unwilling to approve a travel bubble that would cover Europeans vaccinated with AstraZeneca. And European bureaucrats are adamant that they'll never ban its vaccinated citizens because the United States won't recognize the AstraZeneca shot. We're at an impasse--and, honestly, no one knows how to solve it.

You're forgiven if you've forgotten, but the United States still requires everyone, even U.S. citizens, to test negative before coming into the country. (See the current CDC wording here.) And, no, vaccinated travelers are not exempt from the requirement. Make sure you have a testing service at the ready--some self-tests are acceptable, by the way, and your airline may sell them to you--before you depart for home.

Now go have a wonderful, All-American Fourth of July. Me, I have a sudden craving for a donut. Maybe I can find one with red, white and blue sprinkles ...