South Africa travel vaccine
European travel for fully vaccinated South African travellers (Image: Sherpa, 8 July 2021)
  • Europe is slowly reopening to international travellers, with at least ten countries now accepting fully vaccinated visitors from South Africa.
  • Switzerland, Iceland, Romania, and Estonia are just some of the countries which are willing to welcome fully vaccinated South Africans.
  • But most EU member states, despite adopting a vaccine passport, are still off limits to South Africans who have received a jab.
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Global travel prospects are slowly reopening to fully vaccinated South Africans who have previously been barred from roaming abroad due to fears about emerging variants and consecutive Covid-19 waves.

South Africans were the most restricted travellers in the world during the first quarter of 2021. At least 120 countries had imposed strict restrictions – equivalent to total bans, with few exceptions – on South African travellers by March.

The number of major restrictions identified by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) had dropped to 84 by July, with South African travellers' grim title of being the most restricted having been passed to India.

Countries with moderate restrictions on South African travellers – including mandatory quarantine periods – have also dropped by around 70%, with at least 43 nations now only requiring a negative Covid-19 test certificate.

Most of these relaxed regulations apply to countries in Africa and Central America, while much of Europe, Asia, North and South America remain off-limits to South African travellers.

A collaborative information project, Sherpa, involving major international airlines and travel agencies, reveals exemptions which apply to fully vaccinated travellers. At least ten European countries are open to all fully vaccinated visitors from South Africa.

South Africa travel vaccine
Global travel for fully vaccinated South African travellers (Image: Sherpa, 8 July 2021)

The European Union’s (EU) plan to reopen borders and stimulate travel among member states received a boost on 1 July with the introduction of a Covid-19 passport. The passport allows fully vaccinated EU residents and visitors from abroad to travel through Europe. Most EU member states have adopted the new passport, which is afforded to those who have received two shots of a multi-dose vaccine, like Pfizer, or a single jab, like Johnson & Johnson (J&J).  

Only travellers who have completed their full course – and received a vaccine which is approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) – are considered fully vaccinated. And despite most of Europe adopting the Digital Green Certificate, existing bans on South African travellers – owing to the Delta variant, a slow vaccination rollout, and the current third wave of Covid-19 infections – supersede the EU's recommendations.

Individual member states are not legally obliged to adopt the EU's vaccine passport and, even if they do, can still exclude travellers from certain countries during the phase-in period which is due to last until mid-August.

South Africa travel vaccine
European travel for fully vaccinated South African travellers (Image: Sherpa, 8 July 2021)

Popular European destinations, like Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal have adopted the Digital Green Certificate but still restrict fully vaccinated South African travellers from entering. Data provided by Sherpa reveal that the following European countries accept fully vaccinated South African visitors:

  • Switzerland
  • Ukraine
  • Moldova
  • Romania
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Montenegro
  • Lithuania
  • Estonia
  • Iceland
  • Norway

Some of these countries may still require a negative Covid-19 test certificate, but do not require fully vaccinated travellers to quarantine.

Unvaccinated visitors are allowed to enter Bosnia and Herzegovina and Ukraine but will be required to undergo additional Covid-19 testing and acquire mandatory travel insurance.

Albania and North Macedonia are two of the only countries in Europe which currently permit entry to South African travellers who have not been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

The United Kingdom (UK), South Africa's key source market in Europe, remains off limits to South African travellers regardless of their vaccination status. The UK’s “traffic light” travel system has kept South Africa on the red list – the highest level of restriction – alongside 55 other countries from which travel is banned.

And although the UK is considering dropping its mandatory quarantine requirement for travellers who have received two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine according to The Times, this exemption will only be afforded to visitors from countries on the amber list which does not currently include South Africa.

The UK updates its red, amber, and green lists every three weeks and risk profiles are determined according to individual countries' genomic surveillance capabilities, Covid-19 transmission risks, and variant of concern transmission risks.

Note: This article has been updated to exclude Albania and North Macedonia from the list of European countries which only permit entry to fully vaccinated South African travellers. Albania and North Macedonia are open to visitors regardless of their vaccination status. 

(Compiled by Luke Daniel)

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