Expat Essentials

Expat Essentials: Dispatches’ complete guide to pandemic rules, restrictions across Europe (updated)

(Editor’s note: Multiple expats across Europe contributed information to this post, with Terry Boyd and Andriana Boyrikova doing the majority of the writing. Pandemic measures are aggregated from official government news releases and websites, as well as from media reports.)

Two months ago, the COVID-19 pandemic was shutting Europe down. As of early June, it’s all about reopening as countries across Europe are throwing open borders and transitioning back to something like a post-pandemic “normal” almost faster than we can document. Italy, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and other countries are all planning to return to the free movement of citizens.

Still, every country seems to have its own peculiar pandemic measures, time frames, rules, restrictions and priorities. One of the most asked questions we see on Facebook expat communities: “Is the border between Country X and Country Y open?”

We have that information and more, aggregated from official websites and media reports, but a lot of the lockdown measures are ending or up for evaluation as of this week as we move toward June and what will be the debut of the new post-pandemic “normal” across much of Europe.

Remember, these are all the national rules. In countries such as France, cities including Paris have local restrictions. So you might have to do some additional research based on where you’re going.

Also, the European Union closed all Schengen Area borders for 30 days starting 17 March, a shutdown that ended 15 April. Except it didn’t. On 8 May, European Commission officials asked member states to keep borders closed to non-essential travel and non-EU residents until 15 June. That said, our sources tell us these border restrictions are unevenly applied and enforced.

On 18 May, 11 countries – Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain – agreed to a set of rules aimed at allowing cross-border travel while minimizing the risk of coronavirus infections.

Finally, we’re including all the expat centers and we will add countries and updates as information becomes available.


Country profile:

Austria acted early with a lockdown and closed borders. As a result, it is one of the first European countries to begin the transition away from coronavirus measures. Austrians have gone back to work for the most part and the borders are starting to open. The country is even investing millions in its tourism sector to get ready for summer.

The rules:

As of late May, public parks, cultural spaces including museums and libraries are opening. But big gatherings such as music festivals remain banned until 31 August.

Austria is exiting a lockdown that was restrictive including a requirement that you must wear a mask to go to the supermarket. Supermarkets had security at the door with gloves and masks. Those security people only allow in shoppers after others have left the store to make sure people maintain a safe distance. And all supermarket staffers are wearing gloves.

Now smaller shops are opening, but customers still are required to wear masks in supermarkets and pharmacies. Larger shops, shopping centers and salons reopened 1 May, while restaurants opened 11 May, but with restrictions on the number of guests.

See a more detailed post here.

The borders

On 13 May, German officials announced they’re planning to open all borders including the one with Austria by 15 June. Austrian officials plan to open all EU borders by 15 June, and some borders with Hungary and Germany are already open.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is promoting opening the border with Switzerland, as well.



Country profile:

Belgium has the dismal distinction of having the highest rate of deaths per million of population – 814 as of 30 May – in the world. That’s partly because Belgium has been more transparent … and diligent about reporting coronavirus cases and deaths. Most countries only document confirmed COVID-19 deaths in hospitals. Belgium counts all suspected pandemic deaths in nursing homes — even if coronavirus was not confirmed as the cause.

The country began relaxing coronavirus measures 18 April. On 4 May, Belgium began rolling back restrictions in phases. The first businesses to open were fabric shops so citizens can comply with a new regulation requiring all Belgians 12 and over to wear masks on public transport. So DIY masks are officially a thing.

On 10 May, Belgium introduced the “corona bubble concept”: Each Belgian household can invite up to four guests to their homes. Those two sets of four people make a “corona bubble” and only this closed set can visit back and forth. So choose wisely, Grasshopper.

As a sure sign of returning to normalcy, Antwerp’s famous diamond center has reopened. And Belgian Interior Minister  Pieter De Crem says the plan is to reopen all borders to tourist by 15 June.


Some of Belgium’s coronavirus measures – including the closure of shops and schools and a requirement to stay at home – elapsed 4 May. Big public events, such as festivals, are cancelled this summer until 31 August.

Belgian officials have relaxed rules, allowing family gatherings of four for Mother’s Day, 9 May, and all stores reopened 10 May, with the number of shoppers limited.

Schools began reopening 18 May, but no more than 10 children will be allowed in each class. Cafes and restaurants will not be permitted to open before 8 June, according to the BBC.

The country returns to normal public transport schedules, but masks are required.

You can see more details on Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès website here.

Look for the rules to be updated on the official government coronavirus page here.

The borders:

After two months of shutdown, Belgium officials are planning to reopen borders as of 15 June, though borders with Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg theoretically open now. Except they’re not. We checked on 30 May, and the roads at Achel on the Belgium/Netherlands border are blocked. (See the photo above.) BUT, an Eindhoven-based expat had no trouble taking the fast road to Brussels and back. So, don’t take the side roads.

Apparently, officially, only people who have special permission, who are traveling for work or who can produce documents justifying their travel can cross into Belgium from the Netherlands and you can get the Dutch form here.

On 22 May, officials announced Belgians might be allowed to travel in Europe beginning 15 June, but told citizens to hold off booking plans for a couple of weeks.

For the present, there are still travel restrictions and they don’t correlate with the neighboring Netherlands.

The New York Times has the most interesting post on what happens on borders when two countries have different policies, in this case the “whatever” approach of the Netherlands meets the Belgian lockdown.


As of 30 May, there have been 2,245 confirmed cases and 103 deaths in Croatia. Trend lines indicate the Adriatic country has moved out of the pandemic, with Croatia escaping relatively unaffected compared to Italy and Spain.

In fact, this Balkan country imposed among the strictest coronavirus measures in the world, according to a study by Oxford University. As a result, the country’s leaders are trying to salvage the summer tourist season, which accounts for about 20 percent of Croatia’s GDP.

The rules:

Back in March, the government closed all the shops, bars, restaurants, schools and public transport leaving open only food stores, pharmacies and petrol stations. Croats have been allowed to leave their homes to buy essentials or seek medical treatment, go for a walk or exercise – but not in a group – while avoiding social contact. Many people have been working from home.

As of 11 May, Croatia lifted some of its pandemic measures. For example, residents with real estate holdings in various areas are now permitted to visit it. Rules vary across the country because of recent lockdowns after cases spiked. Here’s the official Croatian government page.

Other changes include:

• Gatherings of up to 10 people in one placea are allowed, while respecting physical distance measures

• The operation of shopping malls is resuming under specific epidemiological measures

• Preschools and elementary schools are opening with specific rules

• University labs, artistic and clinical exercises and practical work is allowed in small gatherings

As of 11 May, Croatia began the process of:

• reopening inter-county and domestic air services

• allowing catering facilities to work exclusively in outdoor areas and terraces

• allowing catering facilities to work in accommodation facilities only for users of accommodation services

• reopening national and nature parks

The border:

Border restrictions are lifting as of the final week of May. On May 29, Croatia reopened borders with Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria. Hotels and campsites are reopening.

German tourists will be allowed to visit Croatia no later than June 15, and talks with other EU countries already are under way, Cappelli said.

Croatian officials their Czech counterparts established a “green corridor.” Czech tourists who can prove they’re not infected are permitted to enter Croatia on vacay.

Here is the official government page.

Croatia Total News also has a list of changes as of 11 May.


Country profile:

As of late May, media outlets such as the Financial Times are abuzz with posts about Denmark being “the first to close – first to reopen.” Now, Denmark is focused on reopening and reviving its economy.

Also see Reuters’ post “First in, first out: Denmark leads lockdown exit.” That post documents that Denmark didn’t institute many of the measures most other countries invoked – no masks, no testing – yet emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic relatively unscathed by simply shutting down early.

Denmark, along with Greece and Estonia, has shown the world how to deal with pandemics. Denmark reported its first day with zero coronavirus deaths on 15 May, the first time in more than two months, according to Reuters. The plan is to lift all pandemic restrictions by mid-June though borders might not open until later.

The rules:

Stores reopened 11 May, with restaurants, cafés and school classes from sixth to 10th grades reopening the following week.

As of mid-April, Denmark was the first to reopen elementary schools are though parents aren’t allowed in. Salons and barbers returned to work 20 April and tattoo parlors are open … thank goodness, right?

Courts reopened 27 April and now cafés and restaurants are open.

Danish officials announced they will not allow gatherings of more than 500 people until at least 1 September. That said, the Daily Hive has a post about Danes working around those restrictions with socially distanced concerts including in-car music festivals at cultural drive-in theaters. But by and large, as the FT post states, “Danes do what they’re told,” which accounts for the countries pandemic success.

The borders:

The big news in late May is that Denmark and Norway will open their borders to each other, but not with Sweden, which never shut down … and has a much higher number of COVID-19 cases as a result.

 Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, said restrictions on Norwegians entering Denmark, as well as on citizens of Iceland and Germany, will end 15 June.

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