Travel restrictions

On 17 March 2020, EU Member States agreed on coordinated action at the external borders based on the recommendation by the Commission to restrict non-essential travel for a specific period which has been extended a number of times. On 11 June 2020, the Commission adopted a Communication which set out an approach to progressively lift the restriction afterwards. 

On 25 June, the Commission adopted a proposal for a Council Recommendation to lift  travel restriction for countries selected together by Member States. This should be done on the basis of a set of principles and objective criteria including the health situation, the ability to apply containment measures during travel, and reciprocity considerations, taking into account data from relevant sources such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the World Health Organisation. On 30 June, the Council adopted a Recommendation on the gradual lifting of the temporary restrictions on non-essential travel into the EU. Travel restrictions should be lifted for countries listed in the recommendation. Upon revision by Member States and the Council, the list is reviewed every two weeks.

Based on the criteria and conditions set out in the Recommendation, and on the updated list published by the Council on 30 July, Member States should start lifting the travel restrictions at the external borders for residents of the following third countries:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Georgia
  • Japan
  • Morocco
  • New Zealand
  • Rwanda
  • South Korea
  • Thailand
  • Tunisia
  • Uruguay
  • China, subject to confirmation of reciprocity

Residents of Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican should be considered as EU residents for the purpose of this 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.

Travel restrictions aim to reduce the number of travellers entering the European Union. The aim is to restrict the spread of the coronavirus and protect public health within the EU, as well as to prevent the virus from spreading from the EU to other countries.

As the epidemiological situation in and outside the EU evolves and travel restrictions at the EU’s external borders gradually start to be lifted, visa operations will also resume gradually. On 11 June 2020, the Commission published a 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 will, however, have 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 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 and is entitled ‘Covid Notam (notice to airmen) summary’.
 

Exemptions from travel restrictions

The following categories of  persons are exempt from the temporary travel restriction to the EU+ area from the third countries which are not on the list agreed by the Member States:

(a) Union citizens within the meaning of Article 20(1) TFEU and third-country nationals who, under agreements between the Union and its Member States, on the one hand, and those third countries, on the other hand, enjoy rights of free movement equivalent to those of Union citizens, as well as their respective family members15;

(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.

Exemption details

Seasonal workers

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

Medical professionals

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

EU citizens’ family members*

The temporary travel restriction must exempt nationals of all EU Member States and Schengen Associated States, as well as their family members.

*Family members (as defined in Articles 2(2) and 3(2) of Directive 2004/38/EC):

Articles 2(2):

(a) the spouse;

(b) the partner with whom the Union citizen has contracted a registered partnership, on the basis of the legislation of a Member State, if the legislation of the host Member State treats registered partnerships as equivalent to marriage and in accordance with the conditions laid down in the relevant legislation of the host Member State;

(c) the direct descendants who are under the age of 21 or are dependants and those of the spouse or partner as defined in point (b);

(d) the dependent direct relatives in the ascending line and those of the spouse or partner as defined in point (b);

Articles 3(2):

(a) any other family members, irrespective of their nationality, not falling under the definition in point 2 of Article 2 who, in the country from which they have come, are dependants or members of the household of the Union citizen having the primary right of residence, or where serious health grounds strictly require the personal care of the family member by the Union citizen;

(b) the partner with whom the Union citizen has a durable relationship, duly attested.

Transport personnel

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

Someone claiming asylum

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 students who are third country nationals who are to start or continue their studies in the EU in the academic year 2020/21. A student is defined in Article 3(3) of the EUs Students and Researchers Directive 2016/801 as “a third-country national who has been accepted by a higher education institution and is admitted to the territory of a Member State to pursue as a main activity a full-time course of study leading to a higher education qualification recognised by that Member State, including diplomas, certificates or doctoral degrees in a higher education institution, which may cover a preparatory course prior to such education, in accordance with national law, or compulsory training.” 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, because of their high level of skills and knowledge, are needed to contribute to the EU’s post-COVID economic recovery. It may include those whose application for permits under the EUs Blue Card Directive 2009/50, the EU ICT Directive 2014/66, the Directive 2016/801 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.

Further information

Schengen visa holders currently in the EU

Visa holders present in the Schengen area who cannot leave at the expiry of their short-stay visa must contact the authorities of the Member State in which they are located to ask for an extension of their visa. A visa may generally be extended to allow for a total stay of 90 days in a 180 days period.
List of relevant national authorities in Member States responsible for extending visas.

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 ensuring a continued right to stay on their territory. Information is available on the websites of Member States’ national authorities.

Irish citizens (and residents) 

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

United Kingdom citizens

UK nationals are still to be treated in the same way as EU citizens until the end of the Brexit transition period (31.12.2020). Therefore, during that time UK nationals and their family members are exempt from the temporary travel restriction.

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

EU citizens who are returning to their Member State of nationality or residence, as well as their family members, irrespective of their nationality, should be allowed onward transit. Given the reduced availability of commercial flights, ‘onward transit’ should cover any means of transportation.

EU citizens returning to their Member State of nationality or residence from a third country

The temporary restrictions on non-essential travel to the EU do not apply to returning EU citizens and citizens of the Schengen Associated States. 

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 indeed family members of the EU citizen.

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.