Exemptions from restrictions on travel to the EU

To slow down the spread of coronavirus and protect the health and well-being of all Europeans, some travel restrictions have been implemented for travel into the EU from third countries. However, some exemptions have been put in place to ensure free movement of citizens, goods and services – with full respect of health and safety measures.

The following categories of people are exempt from the temporary travel restriction to the EU+ area from third countries:

(a) EU citizens and nationals of Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, as well as their respective family members;

(b) third-country nationals who are long-term residents under the Long-term Residence Directive, or deriving their right to reside from other EU Directives or national law, or who hold national long-term visas, as well as their respective family members.

The temporary travel restrictions should also not apply to people with an essential function or need, including 

  • healthcare professionals, health researchers, and elderly care professionals
  • frontier workers
  • seasonal workers in agriculture
  • transport personnel
  • diplomats, staff of international organisations and people invited by international organisations whose physical presence is required for the well-functioning of these organisations, military personnel and humanitarian aid workers and civil protection personnel in the exercise of their functions
  • passengers in transit
  • passengers travelling for imperative family reasons
  • seafarers
  • persons in need of international protection or for other humanitarian reasons
  • third-country nationals travelling for the purpose of study
  • highly qualified third-country workers if their employment is necessary from an economic perspective and the work cannot be postponed or performed abroad

The Commission encourages Member States to facilitate the reunion of people in durable relationships who can provide evidence of their situation.

Exemption categories

Critical and seasonal workers

Temporary travel restrictions should not apply to people with an essential function or need, including seasonal workers.

To allow for continued professional activity despite the temporary travel restrictions, the Commission has issued guidelines concerning the exercise of the free movement of workers during the coronavirus pandemic to facilitate border crossings of essential workers, particularly in the health care and food sectors, and other essential services (e.g. health care professionals, personal care workers, food manufacturers and seasonal workers).

Medical professionals

Temporary travel restrictions should not apply to people travelling with an essential function or need, including healthcare professionals, health researchers, and elderly-care professionals.

Family members

The temporary travel restriction must exempt all EU citizens and nationals of Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, as well as their family members.

According to the Council Recommendation on the temporary restriction of non-essential travel into the EU, the restrictions must exempt nationals of all EU Member States and Schengen Associated States and third-country nationals with a right of residence, as well as their family members.

Member States can require such persons to undergo quarantine upon return from a third country that is not on the list of Annex I to the Council Recommendation, provided they impose the same requirements on their own nationals.

For family members of EU citizens who have exercised their right to free movement, in particular those who reside in a Member State other than that of their nationality, the Council Recommendation’s definition of who is a family member must correspond to the definition in the Free Movement Directive.

According to the Free Movement Directive, a Member State must facilitate entry of unmarried partners with whom EU citizens “have a durable relationship, duly attested”. Member States are required to confer a certain advantage on applications submitted by such partners compared with applications for entry for other third country nationals.

Such unmarried partners may be required to present documentary evidence that they are partners of an EU citizen and that the partnership is durable. Evidence may be adduced by any appropriate means.

National rules on durability of partnerships can refer to a minimum length of time as a criterion for whether a partnership can be considered as durable. However, in this case national rules need to foresee that other relevant aspects (such as for example a joint mortgage to buy a home) are also taken into account.

Members of a registered partnership that is equivalent to marriage in the country where it was registered must be treated like spouses.

For family members of EU citizens who have not exercised their right to free movement, the definition of a family member in the Free Movement Directive does not apply. However, according to the information available to the Commission, many Member States intend to adopt a similar practice for unmarried partners of EU citizens who have not exercised their right to free movement.

Transport personnel

The temporary travel restrictions should not apply to transport personnel. This category should be interpreted broadly.

Persons claiming asylum/ Asylum seekers

The temporary travel restrictions should not apply to travel by people with an essential need, including persons in need of international protection or for other humanitarian reasons.

Students who are third-country citizens

This exception covers third-country students starting or continuing their studies in the EU in the academic year 2021/2022. The exception may also cover third-country nationals coming for the purpose of study but who do not fall under this definition (for example, pupils or students attending secondary schools, language schools, boarding schools or vocational schools, exchange pupils, etc.).

Workers who are third-country citizens

This exception covers workers who are third country citizens and who are needed to contribute to the EU’s post-coronavirus economic recovery due to their high level of skills and knowledge. It may include those whose application for permits as researchers, or under a national scheme for skilled migrants was approved, but who were until now prevented from entering the EU due to the entry ban.

Irish citizens (and residents) 

Although Ireland is not a member of the Schengen area, all EU citizens and their family members must be exempt from the temporary travel restriction.

United Kingdom citizens

As of 1 January 2021, UK nationals will be treated as other third country nationals. As of this point in time, UK nationals will no longer be considered as “persons enjoying the rights of free movement under Union law”. This means that they will no longer be exempted from the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU granted to EU citizens. However, exemptions apply to third-country nationals who are legally resident, including legally resident UK nationals, as specified in point 5(a) of this Council Recommendation.

UK nationals who are not legally resident in the EU are not covered by that exemption. This means that UK nationals who are not protected by the Withdrawal Agreement and are also not legally resident under any other provision of EU law or national law cannot benefit from the Council Recommendation. However, such UK nationals may nevertheless be covered by the exception on essential travel (essential function or need) as set out in Annex II to Council Recommendation 2020/912.

The Commission confirmed this approach in its Commission Recommendation of 22 December 2020 on a coordinated approach to travel and transport in response to the coronavirus variant observed in the United Kingdom.

Transit through other EU Member States (road transit or airport transfer)

EU citizens entering the EU from a third country, as well as their family members, irrespective of their nationality, are exempted from the travel restrictions regardless of whether or not they are returning to their country of nationality or residence.

Transit through airports located in an EU Member State or Schengen Associated States

Passengers travelling from a non-EU country to another non-EU country may transit through the international transit area of airports located in the Schengen area. Rules regarding airport transit visa requirements continue to apply.

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