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.

Safe travel

Re-open EU – a one-stop shop for safe travel in Europe

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 coronavirus 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.

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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.

How tracing and warning apps can help

Digital Green Certificates

On 17 March 2021, the Commission adopted a legislative proposal establishing a common framework for a Digital Green Certificate covering vaccination, testing and recovery. This is an EU level approach to issuing, verifying and accepting certificates to facilitate free movement within the EU, based on a strict respect for non-discrimination and of the fundamental rights of EU citizens.

A technical framework will be defined at EU level, to be put in place by mid-June, to ensure security, interoperability, as well as full compliance with personal data protection. It will also allow the possibility to extend to compatible certificates issued in third countries.

Digital Green Certificates

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.

A common approach to travel measures in the EU

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.

On 25 January 2021, the Commission proposed to add ‘dark red’ to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s mapping of high-risk areas.

In a Communication adopted on 17 March 2021, the Commission charted the way ahead for a balanced policy and common EU approach, pointing to what needs to be done to advance the time when we can recover our European way of life, and do so in a safe and sustainable way with control over the virus.

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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.

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 recommended 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.

On 1 January 2021, with the UK having become a third country, Council recommendation 2020/912 (see below) now applies as travel from the UK to the EU.

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.

On 11 June 2020, 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-EUcountries agreed by Member States, 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

Following this proposal, the Council of the European Union adopted a Recommendation on the gradual lifting of the temporary restrictions on non-essential travel into the EU on 30 June 2020.

Based on the criteria and conditions set out in the Recommendation, Member States should gradually lift the travel restrictions at the external borders for residents of the following third countries:

  • Australia
  • Israel
  • New Zealand
  • Rwanda
  • Singapore
  • South Korea
  • Thailand
  • China, subject to confirmation of reciprocity

Travel restrictions should also be gradually lifted for the special administrative regions of China Hong Kong and Macao, subject to confirmation of reciprocity.

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 6 May 2021.

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.

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.

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.

Exemptions to coronavirus travel restrictions

Measures for travellers

On 2 February 2021, the Council of the European Union updated its recommendation on travel restrictions from third countries into the EU. EU countries should require persons travelling for any essential or non-essential reason, with the exception of transport and frontier workers, to have a negative PCR test taken at the earliest 72 hours before departure.

In addition, they may require self-isolation, quarantine and contact tracing for a period of up to 14 days, as well as further COVID-19 testing as needed during the same period. Quarantine and additional testing upon or after arrival should be imposed in particular to those travellers arriving from a third country where a variant of concern of the virus has been detected.

As regards essential travel, EU countries may decide, in a coordinated way, to waive some of the above measures in those cases where they would impede the very purpose of the travel. For transport personnel, seafarers and frontier workers, member states should not require more than a negative rapid antigen test on arrival. For transport personnel coming from a country where a high incidence of variants of concern is detected, EU countries may require a negative rapid antigen tests before departure

Passenger and traveller rights

Comprehensive information on your passenger rights including package travel is available on Your Europe, the website for help and advice for EU nationals and their families.

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.

The Commission has also issued an information note on the Package Travel Directive in connection with the coronavirus.

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.

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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.

For your rights regarding package tours, see the Information on the Package Travel Directive, and for stand-alone air, rail, sea and bus/coach services see the relevant Guidelines.

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.

Information about EU citizens’ rights to diplomatic and consular protection outside the EU

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.

Documents

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