Archive:EU citizenship - statistics on cross-border activities

This Statistics Explained article is outdated and has been archived - for recent articles on asylum and migration see here.

Data from April 2013. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: no.

Citizens of European Union (EU) Member States (referred to hereafter as EU citizens) enjoy a range of rights and freedoms making it easy to live and work in other Member States, to travel within the EU for private or professional purposes, to study in other parts of the EU, and to readily make cross-border purchases within the EU single market. In many cases, some of these rights apply also to third-country nationals (citizens of non-EU countries) who reside legally in the EU.

Using the latest available Eurostat data, this article looks briefly at the different ways in which EU citizens make use of these rights.

Table 1: Foreign and foreign-born population by group of citizenship and country of birth, 1 January 2012, (in absolute numbers and as a percentage of the total foreign/foreign-born population)
Source: Eurostat (migr_pop1ctz)
Figure 1: Share of foreigners in the resident population, EU-27, 1 January 2012 (%)
Source: Eurostat (migr_pop1ctz)
Figure 2: Main previous citizenships of EU citizens acquiring another EU citizenship in 2011 (1 000)
Source: Eurostat (migr_acq)
Figure 3: Share of foreigners in the total employed population, 2012
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_egan)
Figure 4: Distribution of employed foreigners by broad citizenship group (%), 2012
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_egan)
Table 2: Number of foreign trips of at least one night’s duration for personal purposes made by residents of EU Member States, with destination in the EU or a third country, 2008-2011
Source: Eurostat (tour_dem_ttw)
Figure 5: Percentage change in number of trips for personal purposes to another EU Member State, 2011 compared with 2008
Source: Eurostat (tour_dem_ttw)
Figure 6: Country of study of EU tertiary level students studying in an EU Member State other than the country of citizenship, 2010, (as a percentage of the total number of EU citizens studying in other Member States)
Source: Eurostat (educ_enrl8)
Table 3: Five main countries of citizenship of tertiary level students studying in an EU Member State other than the country of citizenship, 2010
Source: Eurostat (educ_enrl8)
Table 4: Five main places of study of tertiary level students studying in an EU Member State other than the country of citizenship, 2010
Source: Eurostat (educ_enrl8)
Figure 7: Percentage of individuals who bought or ordered goods or services for private use over the internet in the last 12 months, 2012, 2008
Source: Eurostat (isoc_bde15cbc)
Figure 8: Percentage of individuals purchasing over the internet who bought on-line from suppliers in another Member State in the last 12 months, 2012, 2008
Source: Eurostat (isoc_bde15cbc)

Main statistical findings

Foreign population in the EU and Member States

13.6 million EU citizens live in an EU Member State other than their country of citizenship

In 2012, the population of the EU included 34.3 million foreign citizens, representing 6.8 % of the total population (Table 1). More than one third (13.6 million) of these people were citizens of another EU Member State. Foreign citizens are defined here as persons who do not hold the citizenship of their country of residence, regardless of whether they were born in the country or elsewhere. As shown in Figure 1, Luxembourg was the EU Member State with the highest share of foreign citizens (43.8 % of the total population). A high proportion of foreign citizens was also observed in Cyprus (20.1 %), Latvia (16.3 %) and Estonia (15.7 %).

In most Member States, the majority of resident foreigners are third-country nationals. At the beginning of 2012, only in Luxembourg, Ireland, Slovakia, Belgium, Cyprus, Hungary, The Netherlands and Malta were there more citizens of other EU Member States than third-country nationals.

Due to better data availability, information on citizenship has often been used to study populations with a foreign background. However, since citizenship can change over time, it is also useful to present information by country of birth.

On 1 January 2012, there were 33.0 million people living in an EU Member State who were born outside the EU and 17.2 million persons who were born in a different EU Member State from the current country of residence. Only in Luxembourg, Ireland, Hungary, Cyprus and Slovakia did foreign-born persons from other EU Member States outnumber those born outside the EU. People born abroad outnumbered foreign citizens in all Member States, except Luxembourg, Latvia and the Czech Republic.

In 2011, 782 thousand people acquired citizenship of an EU Member State. Although the great majority of acquisitions were by people who were previously third-country nationals, 82 thousand persons who were already citizens of one of the Member States acquired citizenship of another Member State; this corresponds to 10.5 % of the total of persons acquiring citizenship. As can be seen in Figure 2, mainly people with Romanian and Polish citizenships acquired another EU citizenship in 2011.

Foreigners working in the EU

A majority of foreign workers are citizens of another EU country in nine Member States

In 2012, just over 15 million people employed in the EU were foreign citizens, corresponding to 7.1 % of the total population in employment. 6.5 million (43.4 % of employed foreign citizens) were citizens of another EU Member State, while 8.5 million (56.6 %) were third-country nationals. The share of foreign citizens as a proportion of the employed population varied greatly between Member States (Figure 3). Luxembourg had the largest proportion of foreign citizens in employment (50.1 % of the employed population), followed by Cyprus (23.2 %), and then Ireland, Estonia, and Latvia, ranging from 14.9 % to 14.4 %.

In nine Member States the majority of employed foreign citizens were citizens of other EU Member States (Figure 4). In order of magnitude, these were Luxembourg, Ireland, Belgium, Slovakia, Cyprus, Hungary, UK, Netherlands and Sweden.

It should be noted that these figures relate only to persons resident in the reporting country. Cross-border workers (who work in the reporting country but who reside elsewhere) are excluded.

EU residents traveling abroad

A decrease in the number of trips to another EU Member State for personal purposes between 2008 and 2011

Although the statistics above refer to people who are living and working in another Member State, it is also useful to consider the far larger number of EU citizens who make temporary visits to other Member States. One of the basic principles of the EU is that of free movement. EU citizens may travel freely to other Member States, facilitating holidays, visits to friends and family, and business travel. It is important to note that the available statistics relate to visits made by EU residents rather than citizens of the Member States.

As shown in Table 2, in 2011, EU residents undertook around 179 million trips of at least one night for holiday and other personal reasons to a Member State other than the country of residence. Approximately 28 million business visits of at least one night were also made to another Member State.

A number of factors may result in increases or decreases in the number of personal and business visits over time – in particular, economic changes. Comparing annual figures for 2011 with those for 2008 (see Figure 5), EU residents made around 4.4 million fewer trips of at least one night for personal purposes to another EU Member State, a decrease of 2.4 %. 14 of the 22 Member States for which data are available and comparable for both years observed an increase in trips to other Member States, the highest increases being observed in Spain (+30.8 %), Finland (+30.4 %) and Belgium (16.6 %). In contrast, decreases were reported in 9 Member States, with the biggest decrease in Poland (-32.5 %).

EU tertiary level students studying abroad

The UK is the top destination for students from other Member States

An increasingly important part of intra-EU mobility is that of students choosing to study in another EU Member State. The number of EU citizens studying in other Member States has grown steadily over the past decade, reaching a total of 571.1 thousand in 2010. The five main countries of citizenship of these students were Germany (15.8 % of all EU citizens studying elsewhere in the EU), France (9.0 %), Italy (8.1 %), Poland (7.7 %) and Greece (5.7 %).

In 2010, educational institutions in the UK had by far the highest number of students from other Member States with 177 thousand students (31.0 % of the total number of EU citizens studying in other Member States), followed by institutions in Germany and Austria with 14.1 % and 8.2 % respectively. Overall, these three Member States were the place of study for over half of the EU foreign students who were attending undergraduate or postgraduate university courses (Figure 6).

The proportion of students who are citizens of another EU Member State varies greatly – between 0.1 % of students studying in Lithuania and Malta, to 42.3 % in Luxembourg. It is important to note however that these are not necessarily people who have migrated for study reasons. Some will already be living in the country of study, including the descendants of migrants to that country who have not acquired citizenship.

Several patterns can be seen when the main countries of citizenship and place of study are examined (Tables 3 and 4). It appears that EU citizens' decisions on where to study are influenced by a number of factors including geographical proximity and the use of a common language (German citizens studying in Austria and vice versa, French citizens in Belgium and vice versa). The situation of the UK as a key destination country for citizens of a number of EU Member States may partly result from the widespread study of English as a foreign language.

Cross-border e-commerce

About a quarter of internet shoppers bought from another EU Member State

The use of the internet as a means of shopping means that citizens are less restricted to making purchases from suppliers in their immediate area. Information is readily accessible about goods and services that are being marketed by suppliers in other areas and, indeed, in other countries. Prices may be compared and purchases made remotely, without the supplier and the purchaser physically meeting.

In 2012, 45 % of individuals (aged 16-74 years) in the EU reported having bought or ordered goods or services over the internet for private purposes, an increase of 13 percentage points compared to 2008 (Figure 7). The share of e-shoppers varied between Member States, ranging from 5 % in Romania, 9 % in Bulgaria and 17 % in Italy to 73 % in Denmark and the United Kingdom and 74 % in Sweden.

As the proportion of individuals purchasing over the internet has grown, there has been an overall increase in the proportion of those who are placing orders with suppliers in other Member States. In 2012, about a quarter of the EU population who made purchases over the internet bought at least once from a seller in another Member State (24 %). In 2008, about a fifth of e-shoppers (19 %) made EU cross-border purchases (Figure 8).

There are large differences between Member States in terms of the proportion of internet shoppers who made purchases in other Member States. In 2008 and 2012, 88 % of persons in Luxembourg who had ordered over the internet had made online purchases from suppliers in other Member States. Malta had the same high proportion with 88 % (with an increase of 9 percentage points compared with 2008) and Cyprus recorded 87 %, an increase of 19 percentage points compared with 2008. The lowest proportions were recorded in the Czech Republic (14 %), Germany (14 %) and Poland (8 %).

It is likely that these patterns are explained by the particular characteristics of the Member States concerned. Smaller Member States such as Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta will have fewer domestic suppliers, giving a stronger incentive for internet purchasers to look to suppliers abroad. In contrast, the size of the UK and Germany means that there is a large number of internal suppliers and therefore purchasers have less reason to compare prices and services available with suppliers in other Member States. In certain cases, geographical and cultural proximity, as well as a common language with another larger Member State, may result in relatively high levels of internet purchases from abroad. This is likely to be the case for Ireland (purchases made from suppliers in the UK) and Austria (from suppliers in Germany).

Data sources and availability

Student exchange programmes: Students in exchange programmes that fulfil part of their studies at an educational institution abroad but are credited at their home institution are excluded from the enrolment statistics of the host country and are reported only in the country of original enrolment. Exchange programmes (or short-term postings) are characterised as normally lasting 3 months (or one semester) and in many cases less than a full academic year.

The defining characteristic of such students are that they are given credits for their stay abroad at their home institution where they originally enrolled (they are therefore also called credit students/ credit point students). Students in exchange programmes do not obtain their qualification at the host institution abroad but at their home institution where they originally enrolled. It is recognised that this will result in under-reporting of student mobility as these students are currently outside the scope of the UOE (UNESCO, OECD, Eurostat) data collection.

E-commerce (e-shopping): The ordering of goods and services by individuals aged 16-74 years refers to the twelve months prior to the survey and includes confirmed reservations for accommodation, purchasing financial investments, internet auctions, as well as information and other services from the internet that are directly paid for. Goods and services that are obtained via the internet for free are excluded. Orders made by manually typed e-mails are also excluded.


In May 2013, the European Commission published the 'EU Citizenship Report 2013'. The Report notes that 'EU citizenship brings citizens new rights and opportunities. Moving and living freely within the EU is the right they associate most closely with EU citizenship. Given modern technology and the fact that it is now easier to travel, freedom of movement allows Europeans to expand their horizons beyond national borders, to leave their country for shorter or longer periods, to come and go between EU countries to work, study and train, to travel for business or for leisure, or to shop across borders. Free movement increases social and cultural interactions within the EU and creates closer bonds between Europeans. In addition, it generates mutual economic benefits for businesses and citizens, including those who remain at home, as the EU steadily removes internal obstacles.'

See also

Further Eurostat information


Main tables

International Migration and Asylum (t_migr)
Acquisition of citizenship (tps00024)
Population by citizenship - Foreigners (tps00157)
Population by country of birth - Foreign-born (tps00178)


International Migration and Asylum (migr)
Acquisition and loss of citizenship (migr_acqn)
Acquisition of citizenship by sex, age group and former citizenship (migr_acq)
Population by citizenship and by country of birth (migr_stock)
Population by sex, age group and citizenship (migr_pop1ctz)
Population by sex, age and broad group of citizenship (migr_pop2ctz)
Population by sex, age group and country of birth (migr_pop3ctb)
Population by sex, age and broad group of country of birth (migr_pop4ctb)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

External links