Although several European countries are again accepting American travellers, the United States refuses to do the same for European tourists. Travelling to the USA with an ESTA or visa therefore remains possible only in exceptional circumstances. Criticism of the US government is growing, both at home and abroad.
EU travel ban during the coronavirus pandemic
When the outbreak of the coronavirus developed into a pandemic, the US government under then President Donald Trump decided to close its borders in March 2020 to travellers from China, the Schengen countries, the UK and Ireland, among others. Having a valid visa or ESTA made no difference. Exceptions were only possible for people with a US passport or permanent residence permit, or for those who were deemed important to the US economy, security or health system. Initially, this measure was to last only 30 days, but it is still in force today. Travellers from the UK or any of the Schengen countries cannot currently travel to the United States, even if they have an ESTA or visa that is still valid.
On 18 June 2021, the European Union added the USA to the list of countries that are epidemiologically safe, which basically means that travellers from the country pose little risk of infection. As a result, many European countries are again allowing American travellers to enter on non-essential trips. This applies to both vaccinated and unvaccinated American travellers. Americans are allowed to travel to, among others, the UK, Germany, France and Switzerland, as long as they adhere to the coronavirus rules that apply in these countries.
USA not planning to open its borders
It is not only European countries that are opening their borders to American travellers. More than 75 countries currently welcome American travellers, although the exact rules vary from country to country. Canada, too, has announced it will allow Americans back in. Fully vaccinated American travellers are allowed to travel to Canada again from 9 August, European travellers from 7 September.
Yet the United States refuses to do the same for the time being. The borders remain closed. On 25 June, the American Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said at a press conference in Paris that he could not give a date for the possible reopening of the borders, and that policy was primarily motivated by "science and medical expertise". This attitude is leading to increasing criticism of President Joe Bidenʼs administration in this regard. Stavros Lambridindinis, the EU ambassador to Washington, said earlier that it is a mistake not to allow EU passport holders into the country. This creates problems for European business travellers, among others, who now have little control over their investments in the United States.
There is also domestic criticism of the US governmentʼs decision to keep the borders closed. Airlines for America, an alliance of US airlines including American Airlines and JetBlue, is not happy with the decision. Katherine Estep, spokesperson for Airlines for America, said that the United States should at least allow fully vaccinated travellers from the EU back in.
Travelling to the USA with an ESTA
It is not yet known when the United States will open its borders again. What is certain is that European travellers will need to apply for an ESTA or visa to enter the country when the USA reopens. European travellers can travel to the USA visa-free via the ESTA system. An ESTA is much cheaper than a visa and is also granted much faster. An ESTA application is usually approved within 72 hours, and in emergencies usually in just over 1 hour.
To submit an ESTA application, you need to fill in the online application form. After the form has been completed and payment has been made, you wait for the ESTA to be approved. An ESTA is not a paper document, but an electronic travel authorisation. This means that it is automatically linked to your passport. At the airport, you will only need to show your passport and flight ticket.