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.
On 15 June 2020, the European Commission launched Re-open EU. The platform was initially set up as one of the measures announced by the Commission in its Tourism and Transport package to help travelling and tourism safely resume in the EU while respecting the necessary health precautions.
Following the current health situation and coronavirus resurgence, the focus has shifted more towards providing an overview per country on
- epidemiological data, and
- national corona safety and travel measures such as quarantine and testing requirements
Information is available for all European countries and Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland and is updated daily using verified data from the European Centre for Disease prevention and Control and the Member States.
Available in the 24 official EU languages, the platform is easily accessible on desktop and mobile by following and bookmarking the Re-open EU link: https://reopen.europa.eu/. Since 14 December Re-open EU is also available as a free mobile app on Android and iOS.
Mobile contact tracing applications
Contact tracing and warning apps can be voluntarily installed and used to warn users if they have been in the proximity of a person who is reported to have been tested positive for coronavirus. In the case of an alert, the app may provide relevant information from health authorities, such as advice to get tested or to self-isolate, and who to contact.
Mobile contact tracing apps can help speed up traditional contact tracing and save precious hours of work for public health staff tracing the chain of infection.
A common approach to travel measures
On 13 October, 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.
The Recommendation sets out four key areas where Member States will coordinate their efforts
- a common mapping system based on a colour code (green, orange, red, grey)
- common criteria for Member States when deciding whether to introduce travel restrictions
- more clarity on the measures applied to travellers from higher-risk areas (testing and self-quarantine)
- providing clear and timely information to the public.
The Commission calls on Member States to fully implement the Recommendation.
On 19 January 2021, the Commission adopted a Communication setting out actions needed to avoid a third wave. All non-essential travel should be strongly discouraged until the epidemiological situation has considerably improved. Restrictions on travel should be proportionate and non-discriminatory, in line with the Council Recommendation from October 2020. Proportionate restrictions, including testing of travellers, should be maintained.
Recommendation on a coordinated approach to travel and transport in response to new variant of coronavirus in the United Kingdom
Following the rapid increase of COVID-19 cases in parts of England, of which a large proportion belongs to a new variant of the virus, the Commission adopted a Recommendation on a coordinated approach to travel and transport measures on 22 December.
Regarding travel, the Commission recommends to Member States that:
- In the light of the precautionary principle, all non-essential travel to and from the UK should be discouraged until further notice.
- However, EU citizens and UK citizens travelling to their Member State or country of residence as well as third-country nationals that enjoy EU free movement rights should be exempted from further temporary restrictions provided that they undergo a test or quarantine.
- Travellers with an essential function, for instance medical staff, should be required to undergo a test (RT-PCR test or a rapid antigen test within 72 hours prior to departure), but should not be required to undergo quarantine while exercising this essential function.
- Transit of passengers, especially for essential travel, should be facilitated without quarantine. A test can be required, but authorities need to inform about such requirement in advance or offer testing during the journey.
- Given the need to ensure essential travel and transit home as described in the recommendation, any prohibition of transport services, such as flight or train bans, should be discontinued.
While it is important to take swift temporary precautionary action to limit the further spread of the new strain of the virus and all non-essential travel to and from the UK should be discouraged, essential travel and transit of passengers should be facilitated. Flight and train bans should be discontinued given the need to ensure essential travel and avoid supply chain disruptions.
Restrictions on travel to the EU
The European Commission has adopted a proposal for a Council Recommendation on 25 June to lift travel restriction for countries agreed by Member States. This was done on the basis of a set of principles and objective criteria including
- the health situation
- the ability to apply containment measures during travel
- reciprocity considerations
- data from relevant sources such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the World Health Organisation.
The European Council has adopted a Recommendation on the gradual lifting of the temporary restrictions on non-essential travel into the EU on 30 June. Travel restrictions were lifted for countries listed in the recommendation. The list is updated, in principle, every two weeks.
Based on the criteria and conditions set out in the Recommendation, updated by the Council on 16 December, Member States should gradually lift the travel restrictions at the external borders for residents of the following third countries:
- New Zealand
- South Korea
- China, including the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macao, subject to confirmation of reciprocity
Residents of Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican should be considered EU residents for the purpose of the recommendation.
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.
For all other third countries not on this list, Member States and Schengen Associated countries are temporarily suspending 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 are 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.
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.
Passenger and traveller rights
Passengers and travellers can be assured that their rights are protected. The European Commission has published interpretative guidelines on how certain provisions of the EU passenger rights legislation should be applied in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. This is to ensure clarity and legal certainty in the application of passenger rights.
At the same time, the guidelines clarify that the current circumstances are “extraordinary”, e.g. compensation may not be paid in case of flight cancellation less than two weeks before the departure date.People travelling during the COVID-19 pandemic should not automatically be considered a high risk for spreading infection unless they have been in known contact with a confirmed positive case, according to new European guidelines for air travel. Based on the latest science, the guidelines published on 2 December by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency conclude that the number of new coronavirus cases among travellers is estimated to be lower than is the case for the general population. In addition, the measures already put in place for aviation minimise the likelihood of transmission during flying.
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 find a list of all the national authorities that issue travel advice here.
Advice for consumers in Europe
The European Consumer Centre Network provides advice and assistance to citizens on consumers’ rights on cross-border issues. This includes hotel or travel bookings affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Information on resolving consumer disputes is also available here.
EU consumer law does not regulate the conditions for, and the consequences of, cancellation of events or individual services (sports and cultural events, car rentals, accommodation arrangements, etc.). Therefore, your rights as a consumer depend on the respective national contract law and the type and terms of your contract, including the stated cancellation policy of the service provider (e.g. refundable or non-refundable booking).
Standard contract terms used by traders have to be transparent and must not unfairly limit the rights of consumers under the relevant national contract law.
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 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.
Overstay caused by travel restrictions
In the context of the coronavirus outbreak, 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.