Coronavirus: The U.S. Ban on Travel From Europe—A Lawyer explains what it means for you

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Coronavirus Update: The U.S. Ban on Travel From Europe – A Lawyer’s Perspective

As you may or may not know, I’m also a lawyer. Indeed, I’m licensed as a New York Attorney as well as a Barrister & Solicitor in Ontario, Canada. I spent the past 8 years practicing Mergers & Acquisitions on Wall Street, at some of the world’s most prestigious law firms. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to shed some legal insight on what exactly tonight’s (March 13, 2020) ban on travel from Europe to the United States due to COVID-19 (Coronavirus) actually means.

American Citizens & Green Card Holders are Exempt

Firstly, the ban does not apply to American Citizens and Green Card Holders, or their immediate family members. This includes spouses, parents or legal guardians, siblings under the age of 21, and children of American Citizens and Green Card Holders. Individuals with other forms of visas, such as the TN visa or H1-B are not exempted.

The Ban Applies to the Schengen Area with Some Exceptions

The ban applies to the entire Schengen area, except the United Kingdom and Ireland. This is the region that covers most of Western Europe in which there is a free-flow of goods and people. While the U.K., Ireland and Eastern Europe are not presently included in the ban, my guess is that Ireland and the U.K. will soon be added to the list, so I’d hold off on travel plans to those regions for now if I were you. 

UPDATE: As predicted, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland will become part of the ban as of midnight on Monday, March 16, 2020.

UPDATE: As of Saturday, March 21, 2020, the United States’ borders with Canada and Mexico will be closed to nonessential travel, with the ban to be reviewed after 30 days.

UPDATE: Summary of Banned Countries

As of March 21, 2020, the United States has banned the entry of all foreign nationals (American citizens, Green Card Holders and their families are excluded) who have travelled to China, Iran, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom or Ireland 14 days before their arrival in the United States.

All nonessential travel between Canada and Mexico is also prohibited.

Screenings for Exempted Persons and Pre-Approved Airports

Even in the case of exempted persons, such individuals will only be able to travel to the United States from Europe to one of 11 CDC-approved airports. There, passengers will undergo a screening before being allowed to continue on with their journey.

This list of approved airports includes the following:

  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
  • Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport
  • Detroit Metropolitan Airport
  • New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport
  • Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (Honolulu)
  • New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport
  • Los Angeles International Airport
  • Chicago O’Hare International Airport
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
  • San Francisco International Airport
  • Washington-Dulles International Airport

Ban to Last for at Least 30 Days

The ban will last for at least 30 days but possibly longer. As the virus has a long incubation period, my guess is that we will see some extensions to this 30-day period.

No Prohibitions on Leaving the United States

It’s important to note that the United States is not under lockdown. There are currently no restrictions on movement within the United States and neither Americans nor foreign nationals are prohibited from leaving the country. So, if you’re a foreign national seeking to go home, the United States does not prevent you from doing so. Your own country, however, may have regulations requiring quarantine or border screening upon arrival.

How Airlines are Responding

Thus far, airlines appear to be responding cooperatively to the ban, with American Airlines releasing a statement that it’s working to assist customers affected by the restriction.

“American is committed to taking care of any affected customers by assisting them with rebooking options. Our team is proactively reaching out to customers who may be affected by these travel restrictions to ensure they are accommodated,” the airline stated.

The airline also indicated that it will help to reroute customers departing the Schengen area to one of the CDC-approved airports but that customers should ensure they arrive at the airport three hours before their flight to allow for additional screening measures.

Delta has temporarily suspended certain Europe – United States bound flights, including:

  • Cincinnati–Paris;
  • Indianapolis–Paris;
  • Orlando–Amsterdam;
  • Portland–Amsterdam;
  • Raleigh/Durham–Paris;
  • Salt Lake City–Amsterdam; and
  • Salt Lake City–Paris.

The company also stated that it is “capping fares for travel from Europe,” amid reports of the cost of airfares skyrocketing as travelers raced to book flights from Europe to the United States. Delta will also be waiving change fees for customers traveling to, from, or through Europe and the United Kingdom between now and May 31.

United Airlines has also indicated that it has capped the cost of airfares between the United States and Europe. The airline also indicated that it has not altered its flight schedule between now and March 19. Thereafter, they expect to fly daily to Zurich, Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam, Manchester and Edinburgh, maintain multiple flights to Frankfurt and Munich, and operate 18 daily flights to and from London, three to Dublin and less than daily service to Lisbon, while continuing to monitor demand.

A Lawyer’s Conclusion

With this in mind, I hope you’re all back safely in the United States by midnight tonight (Friday, March 13, 2020). But if not, what should you do?

Well, if you’re one of the exempted persons mentioned above, work with your airline to reroute your flight to one of the CDC-approved airports and be prepared for a health screening. If you’re not one of these categories, you could consider flying to a non-exempt country, and waiting out the 14 day incubation period then coming to the United States thereafter.

As a last resort, many airlines are waiving their cancellation and change fees, so you could always cancel your flight or change it to a later date, such as the end of April or early May. But in this strange new world, who’s to say things will be any better by then?! Only time will tell!

I hope this helps to answer some of your questions. Until next time, stay safe and healthy!

Stay safe and healthy, everyone!

By Eileen Rhein, esq.


  1. Agnese
    March 14, 2020 / 4:09 pm

    Thank you for sharing this with us. This is reality for us right now but Im absolutely sure, that soon everything will be back like it was before!

  2. Marcella Rhein
    March 14, 2020 / 11:15 pm

    Thank you for the well written and comprehensive report on the US travel ban.

  3. Emma
    March 15, 2020 / 12:35 pm

    Very informative read! Well done on highlighting the key points babe, stay safe!

  4. Olya
    March 16, 2020 / 2:16 pm

    Thank you for this update – it’s very useful at this uncertain time !

  5. Freida
    March 17, 2020 / 5:16 pm

    Thanks for the helpful update. It’s a very tough time for this world.

  6. Hayley
    March 17, 2020 / 5:17 pm

    Thank you for sharing this information with us

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