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When will it be possible to travel freely to Sweden from the US again?

The US is still one of the countries affected by an entry ban to the EU via Sweden, but there are a few exceptions.

When will it be possible to travel freely to Sweden from the US again?
Tampa International Airport in the US. Photo: AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

Are US travellers exempt from the entry ban to Sweden?

No, not in general.

There is currently (and has been since March last year) a ban in place on travel to Sweden from non-EU/EEA countries (Switzerland, Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican count as EU/EEA countries for this purpose), although it is important to note that it is dependent on the country you travel from, not nationality or residency.

Only the following non-EU/EEA countries are currently exempt from the ban, which means you can travel to Sweden from them regardless of the purpose of travel, including tourism: Australia, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand. This is in accordance with the EU’s recommendations on entry restrictions and is based on how safe those countries are considered to be in terms of coronavirus.

Are there any other exceptions that do apply to US travellers?

If you are a Swedish citizen travelling from the US or elsewhere, you are always permitted to enter Sweden, but there are exceptions for foreign nationals, too.

These include: people who live in or are moving to live in Sweden or another EU country, people with a close family connection in Sweden (siblings or cousins are generally not included), people studying in Sweden, or people who are travelling for urgent family reasons or work in certain key jobs. That’s not an exhaustive list and you can find a full and up-to-date list on the Swedish police authority’s website.

Remember that it is up to you to bring evidence that prove you are covered by one of the exemptions, and it is up to the border police to decide whether or not to accept it. That will be done on the spot, and it is not possible to get advance approval.

Do I need to show a negative Covid-19 test?

It depends.

The requirement to show a negative Covid-19 test result applies only to adults over 18. It does not apply to Swedish citizens, nor to people who hold a residence permit (including if you’re moving for the first time), have urgent family reasons, work in the healthcare transport sector, work in goods transport, work in international police or customs work, are entitled to humanitarian protection, or who need urgent healthcare in Sweden. Note that the list of exceptions is not identical to the entry ban exceptions, so do make sure you check both categories.

Also note that the test must be no more than 48 hours old, and there are certain criteria that have to be met in terms of what types of tests and test certificates are accepted.

Even if you aren’t legally obliged to show a negative test on the border, everyone apart from young children are strongly recommended to get tested on the day of arrival in Sweden and again five days after that, and to self-isolate for at least seven days.

Can I come to Sweden if I’ve been fully vaccinated against Covid-19?

Proof of vaccination isn’t currently a factor in whether you are allowed to enter Sweden, so unless you’re covered by one of the exemptions above, the short answer is no.

This will probably change before the summer, with several plans for “vaccine passes” under way which would allow vaccinated people to travel more easily. The European Union is also working on developing a common framework for “digital certificates” among member states, with the bloc’s tourism chief announcing on Sunday that the certificates should be available within “two to three months”.

In the US meanwhile, President Joe Biden in January ordered agencies to start looking at developing an international vaccine certificate.

As more and more countries issue digital or physical certificates showing vaccination, antibodies or other immunity, Sweden is likely to include that in its entry requirement, probably in concert with other countries in the European Union.

Strictly speaking, you didn’t answer the question in the headline. Restrictions have been in place for a year now – when will it be possible to travel freely from the US to Sweden again?

Sorry, we tried to answer as much as we could! But unfortunately there is little we can say with certainty at the moment, as it depends on the health situation in both countries and how it develops in the future.

We can tell you that Sweden’s entry ban for non-EU/EEA travellers is currently in place until May 31st, but it has been extended several times in the past year, often at relatively short notice, so you may want to hold off on booking tickets for a June trip to Sweden.

Before travelling to Sweden, check with national authorities for information on the latest restrictions and exemptions – that’s the police and the government. Be aware that information provided elsewhere, for example on the ReOpen EU website, may not be up to date. The “updated” time shown at the top of the article you’re reading right now shows when The Local last confirmed the information on this page.

What happens when I arrive in Sweden?

First, remember to follow the advice to get tested on the day of arrival and on the fifth day, and to self-isolate for a week.

Then there are more guidelines to be aware of, such as observing social distancing and staying at home if you have symptoms. Face masks are recommended on public transport during rush hour (or all day in some regions). Be aware that the situation may change fast, so check Swedish crisis information site Krisinformation to make sure you’re aware of the current health and safety recommendations.

Keep up to date with the latest coronavirus news in Sweden via The Local’s coronavirus page or our paywall-free blog.

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TRAVEL NEWS

REVEALED: Countries fear non-EU travellers face delays under new EES border checks

A number of countries in Europe's Schengen area admit they fear delays and insufficient time to test the process ahead of new, more rigorous EU border checks that will be introduced next year, a new document reveals.

REVEALED: Countries fear non-EU travellers face delays under new EES border checks

Schengen countries are tightening up security at the external borders with the introduction of a new digital system (EES) to record the entry and exit of non-EU citizens in May 2023.

The EES will enable the automatic scanning of passports replacing manual stamping by border guards. It will register the person’s name, type of the travel document, biometric data (fingerprints and facial images) and the date and place of entry and exit. The data will be kept in a centralised database on a rolling three-year basis that is re-set at each entry. 

What the EES is intended to do is increase border security, including the enforcement of the 90-day short-stay limit for tourists and visitors.

EU citizens and third-country nationals who reside in a country of the Schengen area will not be subject to such checks as long as they can prove residency in an EU country however they will still be caught up in any delays at passport control if the new system as many fear, causes longer processing times.

READ ALSO: Foreigners living in EU not covered by new EES border checks

But given its scale, the entry into operation of the system has been raising concerns on many fronts, including the readiness of the physical and digital infrastructure, and the time required for border checks, which could subsequently cause massive queues at borders.

A document on the state of preparations was distributed last week by the secretariat of the EU Council (the EU institution representing member states) and published by Statewatch, a non-profit organisation that monitors civil liberties.

The paper contains the responses from 21 countries to a questionnaire about potential impacts on passenger flows, the infrastructure put in place and the possibility of a gradual introduction of the new system over a number of months.

This is what certain the countries have responded. Responses from Denmark, Spain and Sweden do not appear in the report but the answers from other countries will be relevant for readers in those countries.

READ ALSO: What the EU’s new EES border check system means for travel

‘Double processing time’

Austria and Germany are the most vocal in warning that passport processing times will increase when the EES will become operational.

“The additional tasks resulting from the EES regulation will lead to a sharp increase in process times”, which are expected to “double compared to the current situation,” Austrian authorities say. “This will also affect the waiting times at border crossing points (in Austria, the six international airports),” the document continues.

“Furthermore, border control will become more complicated since in addition to the distinction between visa-exempt and visa-required persons, we will also have to differentiate between EES-required and EES-exempt TCN [third country nationals], as well as between registered and unregistered TCN in EES,” Austrian officials note.

Based on an analysis of passenger traffic carried out with the aviation industry, German authorities estimate that checking times will “increase significantly”.

France expects to be ready for the introduction of the EES “in terms of passenger routes, training and national systems,” but admits that “fluidity remains a concern” and “discussions are continuing… to make progress on this point”.

Italy is also “adapting the border operational processes… in order to contain the increased process time and ensure both safety and security”.

“Despite many arguments for the introduction of automated border control systems based on the need for efficiency, the document makes clear that the EES will substantially increase border crossing times,” Statewatch argues.

‘Stable service unlikely by May 2023’

The border infrastructure is also being adapted for collecting and recording the data, with several countries planning for automated checks. So what will change in practice?

France will set up self-service kiosks in airports, where third-country nationals can pre-register their biometric data and personal information before being directed to the booth for verification with the border guard. The same approach will be adopted for visitors arriving by bus, while tablet devices such as iPads will be used for the registration of car passengers at land and sea borders.

Germany also plans to install self-service kiosks at the airports to “pre-capture” biometric data before border checks. But given the little time for testing the full process, German authorities say “a stable working EES system seems to be unlikely in May 2023.”

Austria intends to install self-service kiosks at the airports of Vienna and Salzburg “in the course of 2023”. Later these will be linked to existing e-gates enabling a “fully automated border crossing”. Austrian authorities also explain that airport operators are seeking to provide more space for kiosks and queues, but works will not be completed before the system is operational.

Italy is increasing the “equipment of automated gates in all the main  airport” and plans to install, at least in the first EES phase, about 600 self-service kiosks at the airports of Rome Fiumicino, Milan Malpensa, Venice and in those with “significant volumes of extra-Schengen traffic,” such as Bergamo, Naples, Bologna and Turin.

Switzerland, which is not an EU member but is part of the Schengen area, is also installing self-service kiosks to facilitate the collection of data. Norway, instead, will have “automated camera solutions operated by the border guards”, but will consider self-service options only after the EES is in operation.

Gradual introduction?

One of the possibilities still in consideration is the gradual introduction of the new system. The European Commission has proposed a ‘progressive approach’ that would allow the creation of “incomplete” passenger files for 9 months following the EES entry into operation, and continuing passport stamping for 3 months.

According to the responses, Italy is the only country favourable to this option. For Austria and France this “could result in more confusion for border guards and travellers”. French officials also argue that a lack of biometric data will “present a risk for the security of the Schengen area”.

France suggested to mitigate with “flexibility” the EES impacts in the first months of its entry into service. In particular, France calls for the possibility to not create EES files for third-country nationals who entered the Schengen area before the system becomes operational, leaving this task to when they return later.

This would “significantly ease the pressure” on border guards “during the first three months after entry into service,” French authorities said.

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