Changing COVID-19 travel fragomen

Changing COVID-19 travel restrictions and the importance of vaccination to minimize travel disruption

Jo Antoons, Partner, and Wout Van Doren, Associate, Fragomen

On August 30, 2021, the European Council removed the United States from its travel ‘safe list’, an advisory list of countries with low COVID-19 infection rates from which non-essential travelers can travel to the European Union. The United States, along with Israel, Kosovo, Lebanon, Montenegro and North Macedonia, were removed due to rising COVID-19 infection rates. For the US, this is a swift retraction as the country was only added to the European Union’s ‘safe list’ in June 2021.

Consequences of removal from safe list

The European Council’s recommendation is non-binding on EU Member States and has to be implemented by the individual States to take effect. Belgium had already removed the US from its own national safe (green) list earlier (on August 12, 2021), but left some travel facilitations in place because America was still on the EU safe list. Most EU Member States have already implemented or are expected to follow the recommendation (see our Fragomen COVID-19 Pandemic – Immigration Situation Overview). Certain countries are even going beyond the recommendation, with the Netherlands moving the US from the safe list to the very high risk list almost overnight.

By removing the United States and other countries from the safe list, EU Member States will reinstate restrictions on non-essential travel from these countries. The qualification as a ‘safe’ country impacts moreover the applicable sanitary measures such as testing and quarantine that travelers are subject to.

Exceptions: vaccinated and essential travelers

As an exception to the rule, travelers from countries removed from the ‘safe list’, may still travel if they qualify as essential travelers (including EU citizens and nationals of Schengen Associated Countries, non-EU nationals having residence rights in the EU, travelling for the purpose of study or qualifying as highly skilled, and their family members, among others), or if they are fully vaccinated, according to individual EU Member States’ guidelines.

Belgium accepts vaccination certificates issued by third countries, if recognized by the European Commission as equivalent to the Digital EU COVID Certificate (Ukraine, North-Macedonia and Turkey), but also any other non-EU vaccination certificate (such as the US and the UK) that is drafted in one of the official languages of Belgium or in English. The certificate must also contain a minimum set of data, including confirmation of administration of all vaccination doses of a recognized vaccine of at least two weeks (as of September 1, 2021, the following brands of vaccines are recognized: Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca-Vaxzevria-Covishield and Janssen).

In order to minimize travel disruption and changes to restrictions as countries change their lists, employers should therefore encourage employees to get vaccinated. In this way, employees have additional safeguards against disruptions and may travel without restrictions (besides some sanitary measures) regardless of the color code of their country and whether their travel is considered essential.

As we described in our Worldwide Immigration Trends Report (2021 Q2 addendum), digital health passports and online traveler information databases are rapidly developing and should facilitate keeping track of your employees vaccination status and its impact on their travel plans.

About the authors

  • Jo Antoons, Partner, Fragomen

    Jo Antoons has 15+ years’ experience in the mobility and labor law field. Jo is responsible for managing corporate immigration compliance and advisory work across Europe, particularly for Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. You can contact her at:

  • Wout Van Doren, Associate, Fragomen

    Wout works with the Belgian Inbound team assisting corporate clients with their corporate migration needs and compliance and is also responsible for the Private Client Practice in Belgium. You can contact him at: