Safe travel between European countries
To slow down the spread of coronavirus and protect the health and well-being of all Europeans, some travel restrictions have been necessary. The European Commission is doing its utmost to allow people to meet friends and family and to ensure free movement of citizens, goods and services – with full respect of health and safety measures.
The Commission has launched initiatives to help citizens travel safely across Europe:
A common approach to travel measures in the EU
On 13 October 2020, EU Member States adopted a Council Recommendation on a coordinated approach to the restriction of free movement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This Recommendation is based on the Commission’s proposal adopted on 4 September 2020.
Common passenger locator form
Data exchange between Member States' contact tracing authorities can be particularly important when travellers are crossing borders in close proximity to each other, such as in airplanes or trains. Digital Passenger Locator Forms can be used by Member States to collect data from cross-border travellers entering their territory. In order for Member States to exchange relevant data through the exchange platform developed by the Commission and EASA, the Commission published draft measures on 17 March 2021, which establish the necessary legal conditions for processing such personal data. These measures should be adopted by the time of the summer holiday season.
Passenger and traveller rights
Under EU rules, passengers and travellers have the right to choose between vouchers or cash reimbursement for cancelled transport tickets (plane, train, bus/coach and ferries) or package travel. While reaffirming this right, the Commission recommendation of 13 May 2020 aims to ensure that vouchers become a viable and more attractive alternative to reimbursement for cancelled trips in the context of the current pandemic, which has also put heavy financial strains on travel operators.
You can check the list of all the national authorities in Europe that issue travel advice:
Restrictions on travel from third countries to the EU
A temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU is currently in place from many non-EU countries. The European Commission presented a proposal for a Council Recommendation setting out a progressive approach to lifting the travel restriction for a list of non-EU countries agreed by Member States, based on the following criteria:
- the health situation
- the ability to apply containment measures during travel
- reciprocity considerations
EU Member States should gradually lift the travel restrictions at the external borders for residents of the following third countries:
Republic of North Macedonia
United States of America
China, subject to confirmation of reciprocity
Travel restrictions should also be gradually lifted for the special administrative regions of China Hong Kong and Macao. The condition of reciprocity for these special administrative regions has been lifted.
Under the category of entities and territorial authorities that are not recognised as states by at least one member state, travel restrictions for Taiwan should also be gradually lifted.
Residents of Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican should be considered EU residents for the purpose of the recommendation. Schengen associated countries (Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway, Switzerland) also take part in this recommendation.
The Council reviews the list of countries for which Member States should start lifting the travel restrictions every 2 weeks, and where relevant updates it. The Council last updated the list on 16 June 2021.
Non-essential travel to the EU
On 3 May 2021, the Commission proposed Member States to ease restrictions on non-essential travel into the EU, in view of the ongoing vaccinations campaigns and the developments in the epidemiological situation worldwide.
The Commission’s proposal includes allowing entry to all persons from countries with good epidemiological situations as well as all individuals that received the recommended dose of an EU-authorised vaccine. The Commission also proposes to raise the threshold related to COVID-19 cases used to determine the list of countries from which travel should be permitted. To limit the risk of new COVID-19 variants entering the EU, a new ‘emergency brake' mechanism is to be coordinated at EU level. The Council is currently considering this proposal.
Information on travel restrictions in place should be made available on the websites of the relevant national authorities (e.g. Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs). A daily summary of flight and passenger restrictions is available on the Eurocontrol website, titled ‘Covid Notam (notice to airmen) summary’.
Some exemptions have been put in place to ensure free movement of citizens, goods and services – with full respect of health and safety measures.
While the restrictions on non-essential travel and their lifting depend on the traveller’s place of residence, the visa requirement continues to depend on nationality.
- If a traveller resides in a country where restrictions have been lifted, but is a national of a visa-required country, he or she must apply at the consulate of the Member State to which he wishes to travel to, in his or her country of residence.
- The rules for applying for a short-stay visa remain unchanged. Member States’ consulates and external service providers have however, adapted practical aspects of access management, hygiene measures, payment methods, etc. Appropriate information on the procedure to follow for lodging an application should be provided to applicants.
- For all other third countries not on this list, Member States and Schengen associated countries should temporarily suspend all non-essential travel from those third countries to the EU+ area, meaning that only certain categories of travellers could be authorised for entry. The “EU+ area” includes 30 countries: 26 out of the 27 EU Member States as well as the four Schengen Associated States: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Ireland does not currently apply the travel restriction.
- As the epidemiological situation inside and outside the EU evolves and travel restrictions at the EU’s external borders were gradually being lifted, visa operations have also resumed gradually. On 11 June 2020, the Commission published guidance for a phased and coordinated resumption of visa operations.
The rules for applying for a short-stay visa remain unchanged. Member States’ consulates and external service providers have however, adapted practical aspects of access management, hygiene measures, payment methods etc. Appropriate information on the procedure to follow for lodging an application should be provided to applicants.
Overstay caused by travel restrictions
In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, visa holders present in the Schengen area who could not leave before the expiry date of their short-stay visa have had their visa extended up to a maximum stay of 90/180 days by the designated Member States’ authorities. If the visa holders were compelled to stay beyond the extended period of 90/180 days, a national long-stay visa or a temporary residence permit should have been issued by the national authorities.
Member States are encouraged to waive administrative sanctions or penalties on third-country nationals who during the period of travel restrictions were unable to leave their territory due to travel restrictions. Overstays due to the temporary travel restrictions should not be taken into account during the processing of future visa applications.
Nationals of visa-waived third countries who have remained in the Schengen area beyond the permitted 90-day stay
For nationals of visa-waived third-countries who are compelled to stay beyond the extended 90/180 days, the competent national authorities should extend the validity of the authorisations for legal stay, issue a new one or take other appropriate measures that ensure a continued right to stay on their territory. Information is available on the websites of Member States’ national authorities.
Expired travel documents due to an unexpectedly extended stay abroad
EU citizens and their family members who are not in possession of a valid passport and/or visa should be allowed to enter the EU territory, if they can prove by other means that they are EU citizens or family members of an EU citizen. Possession of an expired passport should be deemed to constitute proof by other means in the current situation. Family members should always be able to prove that they are family members of the EU citizen.
Consular assistance for EU citizens abroad
Under EU law, citizens are entitled to seek help from the embassy or consulate of any EU country other than their own if they find themselves in a situation where they need assistance outside the EU, with no available embassy or consulate from their own EU Member State.
The European Commission and the European External Action Service help in bringing home stranded EU citizens from all over the world, while Member States issue advice about how to handle the travel restrictions. EU citizens in need of assistance outside the EU are encouraged to contact their Member State.