American expats are heading back to the US for vaccinations
(CNN) – Eric Barry has seen a seemingly endless wave of uncertainty in his life over the past year.
The 35-year-old author and podcast host, originally from the Bay Area, California, was doing research on a novel in Ecuador when the global pandemic broke out in March 2020.
As Barry spent the next 12 months trying to establish his new home base in Berlin, where he is getting a Masters degree, he faced one challenge after another: an apartment that failed in the notoriously difficult rental market in Berlin; try to track down a German residence permit, which was probably sent to his previous address; and navigate an unknown healthcare system where he has no idea when to get vaccinated.
Now Barry is returning to the US to control something he’s in control of: getting his Covid-19 shot in the near future. A few weeks ago, when he heard an expat colleague’s plans to travel to the United States for her own vaccination, “she planted a seed,” he says.
“And then on a Facebook group I saw wave after wave of Americans all traveling back, and I thought maybe I want to do that,” says Barry, while waiting in a Starbucks over 30-hour trip to California before the first three-way flight where he wants to stay with his already vaccinated mother.
“I never thought that when I left the US for Germany with this promise of a life with a better health system, I would return to the US for health care less than a year later.”
This appears to be a growing sentiment among Americans living abroad – especially in Europe, who are disappointed with a vaccine rollout that the World Health Organization recently declared “unacceptably slow” in a report.
Only 10% of the European population has currently received the first shot in a two-dose regime, and many countries, including Germany and France, are strictly banned.
A poster of the vaccination campaign hangs on the Berlin Cathedral in Germany. Some American expats living in Europe have been frustrated by the slow adoption of the vaccine and are returning to the US for their admission.
Maja Hitij / Getty Images Europe
“We both felt so relieved”
It’s a very different scene across the Atlantic as more U.S. states continue to open vaccines to all adults over 16. I got the shot stickers and vaccine selfies are growing on social media.
The United States continues to set records for the number of doses given daily, and President Joe Biden has pledged that by the end of May – a target raised by two months – the US will have enough vaccines for every adult who does want one.
Some Americans overseas also want to participate.
U.S. State Department and Customs and Border Protection spokesmen told CNN via email that they are not tracking any data on U.S. citizens living overseas and returning for their vaccines.
But it is certain that there are quite a few who do exactly that on half-full flights to the US, whose borders remain largely closed except for US citizens.
Mindy Chung, her husband and young son were among them recently. Chung and her husband decided to fly from Berlin, where they live, to their home state of California earlier this year after her doctor in Germany told her that despite her underlying health conditions, she would not be able to receive the vaccine anytime soon.
“That was a moment like, yes, we can’t stay,” says Chung.
A few days after landing in California about a week ago, Chung and her husband made appointments.
“As soon as we checked-in and got our shot, we were both so relieved that we had another layer of protection,” says Chung.
Meanwhile, online American expat groups rave about posts about travel restrictions and border closings, and which states are strict on proof of residence. Others provide information on site about the course of the process.
A vaccination center at the former Berlin Tempelhof Airport went into operation on March 8th. Some American expats fly to the US to get vaccinated faster.
Michele Tantussi / Getty Images Europe / Getty Images
“There is no right answer”
Unsurprisingly, setbacks can happen both online and in real life.
“Sometimes you feel like this is part of the package now that you live here,” says Austin Langlois, a former digital nomad who moved to Amsterdam for a full-time communication job in Spring 2020, I feel like that it’s an excuse to go to the US to get your vaccination to get it faster. ”
Langlois’ scope for a shot in the Netherlands extends well into autumn, which is “still a long way off,” says Langlois, who is originally from Michigan.
“My perspective is that there shouldn’t be a debate about what [vaccine] you get or where to get it. Everyone should get it as soon as possible where they can because that will support the collective health of our society. “
Although Langlois is considering returning to the US this spring, he has not yet bought a ticket. He remains confident that the Netherlands will speed up their vaccination program and wants to “respect” the current travel advice. He is also keeping an eye on the still fragile situation in the United States.
“We are intervening in a third wave in the US, so you have a bit of that dilemma, too,” says Langlois. “Travel and put yourself and others at risk of getting your vaccination sooner or wait to get vaccinated here. Who knows when? There is no one right answer and there is no straight answer.”
On March 31st, people on the banks of the Seine in Paris enjoy warm weather. Hospital stays in the city are increasing and the introduction of vaccines in France has been slow.
Rafael Yaghobzadeh / Getty Images Europe
“Take back control”
For American expats with health problems, the decision takes on a different level of complexity. Ali Garland, a Berlin-based travel blogger, says although she has an autoimmune disease that puts her in a higher priority group, it is unclear when her recordings would actually take place, and the schedule for her husband could extend to 2022.
The risks and problems of the trip itself – flying with your new pup, finding short-term accommodation in the US – are also daunting. This leaves Garland and her husband in a fearful “wait and see” mode.
“A big part of the reasons I’m considering returning to the US is for control,” Garland told CNN via email. “The past year has felt like a total lack of control over my own life. So it feels like everything has been taken away from me and considering going to the US to possibly have months in advance to be vaccinated, you would feel like you have some control back on my own hands. “
Eileen Cho, a Paris-based freelance writer and photographer from Seattle, can relate to this. Cho spent three months with his family in the United States before returning to France in March – and being banned again.
Cho has heard alarming reports from other expats whose residence cards have been confiscated at the French border. This makes her reluctant to return to the US for a vaccine, only to not be allowed to return to France, where she lived for six years and is now thinking about her home.
Even so, says Cho, who says she has severe asthma, if things don’t improve by June, she could just get on a plane to the United States to get her vaccine.
“All of my friends have been vaccinated or have an appointment and send me vaccination selfies,” says Cho. “Of course I’m so happy for them. But because of the way things are going in Europe, right now it just feels like there is no hope.”
Blane Bachelor is a Florida-born, Berlin-based journalist who writes about travel, outdoor adventures, parenting, and women doing great things. Visit her website at www.blanebachelor.com.