political and economic union of 27 European states
(Redirected from EU)
Travel topics > Preparation > European Union

Capital City of Brussels
Currency Euro (EUR)
Population 447.7 million (2020)
Electricity 230 volt / 50 hertz
Country code no value
Time zone Western European Time to Eastern European Summer Time
Emergencies 112
Driving side left, right

The European Union (EU) is an economic and political union of 27 member states in Europe. Additional countries participate in specific areas, such as immigration controls and currency.

Travel between member states is generally much easier than crossing other international borders, both for residents and for people from outside the union.

Understand edit

History edit

The European Union was in part motivated by the catastrophe of World War II, with the idea that European integration would prevent such a disastrous war from happening again. The idea was first proposed by the French foreign minister Robert Schuman in a speech in 1950. Schuman was from Alsace – a region at the heart of three violent changes of hand between Germany and France between 1870 and 1944. The speech resulted in the first agreements in 1951: the European Coal and Steel Community, which formed the basis for the European Union. Another important milestone was the Treaty of Rome which came into force on 1 January 1958, establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) which evolved into today's European Union.

While the attempt to create a "European Army" failed in the 1950s due to the instability of the Fourth French Republic which was preoccupied with Indochina and Algeria at the time, the six founding members (Italy, France, Germany and the Benelux countries) pressed on with deeper integration and the reduction of barriers to trade and free movement. While the United Kingdom at first saw itself as a benevolent spectator more focused on its special relationship with the U.S. and with its empire and Commonwealth, by the 1960s the French veto was the only thing keeping them from joining. The UK joined the EEC in 1973 together with Ireland and Denmark. During the 1970s military dictatorships fell in Greece, Spain and Portugal, and democracy was reinstated. A few years later, these countries joined the EEC.

The EFTA (European Free Trade Area) was set up as an alternative of sorts to the EEC/EU, with EFTA members mostly participating in the trade aspects of the EU but foregoing other forms of deeper integration. Most former EFTA countries have now joined the EU. The EEA (European Economic Area), covering more areas of coordination, has now mostly taken the role of EFTA. Switzerland was part of both but has now replaced EEA membership with more or less equivalent bilateral agreements.

The mid-1980s to the mid-1990s were important years in the history of the EU, with the Single European Act (establishing a single market), the Schengen Agreement (establishing free movement), and the Maastricht Treaty (establishing the single currency and cooperation in several areas from agricultural policies to peacekeeping) being signed and coming into force. From that point on, the union became known as the EC (European Community) and eventually as the EU. Also during this time the Iron Curtain fell and Germany was reunited, which marked the beginning of the eastwards expansion of the union. The former EFTA members Austria, Finland and Sweden joined in 1995 (the Norwegians voted against membership), and the number of members almost doubled in the first decade of the 21st century, when a large number of the former Eastern Bloc countries joined.

The European Union has been active in brokering peace both at home (e.g. Northern Ireland) and abroad with mixed results. Successes include the relatively peaceful resolution after the Balkan and Kosovo wars, which resulted in two former Yugoslav Republics (Croatia and Slovenia) becoming EU members.

EU institutions have long been criticised for a perceived lack of democracy. Although democracy is a key European ideal, many think that the bureaucracy and the long chain between institutions and voters make the EU significantly less democratic than its member states. That the union was built around economics still shows: social and environmental issues (among others) are often handled as an afterthought. One answer to this criticism is that the European Parliament has been directly elected every five years since 1979, and has increased its power in the last decades. However, it still lacks some of the powers other parliaments have or has to share them with other bodies. Transparency has become much better, though still a problem. There is also an ongoing argument about how to bring the EU "closer" to its citizens. This has resulted in the EU being a highly-visible sponsor for many minor projects, including projects that traditionally were adequately handled locally at least in some countries. This sponsorship has been important in cases where the area has been neglected at the national level, and local resources have been scarce.

The European Union experienced its first departure on January 31, 2020, as the United Kingdom voted in a referendum in 2016 to withdraw from the union, in a process known as Brexit. Although the country had always been known for a high degree of euro-scepticism, the vote was driven by internal government party politics with no actual popular demand for the referendum. Nevertheless, a hard campaign was fought yielding a surprising decisive victory for "leave". There have been similar calls for leaving from growing Eurosceptic parties in France, the Netherlands and Germany and other EU countries, although none are gaining enough traction to push for more referendums, as of Feb 2024.

European institutions and organisation edit

There are at least four EU related groups of countries in Europe relevant to the traveller. They overlap but are not identical:

  • The European Union (EU), a partial political and customs union.
  • The European Economic Area (EEA) and EFTA, where most of the EU legislation applies. EEA comprises the EU plus EFTA, the latter consisting of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. Switzerland used to be a member of the EEA and has equivalent bilateral agreements.
  • The Eurozone comprises countries using and controlling the common currency, the euro (€), all of which are EU members. The euro is also the currency of Monaco, San Marino, the Vatican City and Andorra by agreement with the European Union. Kosovo and Montenegro also use the currency, though they are not part of the Eurozone and there is no agreement with the EU. Eventual adoption of the euro is a requirement for new members, however some existing EU countries neither use nor plan to introduce the euro.
  • The Schengen Area comprises countries using common visas and immigration controls. While primarily composed of EU member states, the Schengen area also includes Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Some EU members, such as the Republic of Ireland, are not part of the Schengen agreement. Some small states in Europe — Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican City — that in practice are inaccessible other than through the Schengen area are de facto part of the area given that there are no border controls. On the other hand, travel to and from Andorra is controlled.
  • The Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) includes the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland, Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City. Transfers denominated in euros can be done with the same rules as with domestic systems. If you have a euro-denominated account, you can pay with chipped debit and credit cards (Mastercard or Visa) issued anywhere in the SEPA. A limitation is that not all countries in the SEPA have adopted the euro, so you still have to exchange from the euro to the national currency.

In addition to these there are European institutions independent of the EU. One such is the Council of Europe (CoE), an international organisation aiming to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe, and to promote European culture. All EU members are also members of the CoE, and the EU has adopted the council's flag and anthem. Another is the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, created during the cold war to further understanding between governments across the Iron Curtain. It is still an important institution for the furthering of peace.

Country Eurozone? Free Movement? European Time zone1
  Austria Euro Schengen CET
  Belgium Euro Schengen CET
  Bulgaria Schengen2
(from March 2024)
  Croatia Euro Schengen CET
  Cyprus Euro CET
  Czech Republic Schengen CET
  Denmark Schengen CET
  Estonia Euro Schengen EET
  Finland Euro Schengen EET
  France Euro Schengen CET
  Germany Euro Schengen CET
  Greece Euro Schengen EET
  Hungary Schengen CET
  Ireland Euro WET
  Italy Euro Schengen CET
  Latvia Euro Schengen EET
  Lithuania Euro Schengen EET
  Luxembourg Euro Schengen CET
  Malta Euro Schengen CET
  Netherlands Euro Schengen CET
  Poland Schengen CET
  Portugal Euro Schengen WET
  Romania Schengen2
(from March 2024)
  Slovakia Euro Schengen CET
  Slovenia Euro Schengen CET
  Spain Euro Schengen CET
  Sweden Schengen CET

1 Winter time. In summer (last Sunday in March to Saturday before last Sunday in October): WET → WEST (UTC+0 → +1), CET → CEST (+1 → +2), EET → EEST (+2 → +3). Summer time may be abolished, probably with related changes in timezones.

2 Air and sea borders only.

The United Kingdom left the EU on the 31st January 2020, and the transition period ended on 1st January 2021.

There are also territories around the world outside of continental Europe that belong to the European Union owing to the sovereignty of an EU member and subsequent agreement:

EU Overseas Countries and Outermost Regions (click the map to enlarge)

Territories outside of continental Europe and not included in the list above are not considered part of the European Union, even if they belong to EU nations. Territories such as New Caledonia (France) and Greenland (Denmark) have separate entry and travel requirements. However, even in territories that aren't part of the European Union, certain EU regulations relevant to travel may apply. On the other hand, even in certain places that are part of the EU certain exceptions to EU or national laws relevant to travel apply.

Get in edit

Entering Spain from Portugal. Open borders like this are normal in the Schengen area.
See also: Travelling around the Schengen Area

The EU does not have an all-encompassing immigration policy, and therefore immigration controls are in principle specific to each country. However, most of its members have adopted the Schengen Agreement, which makes travel very easy between these. Some non-EU countries (Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland) also belong to the Schengen area, while three European micro-states – Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City – do not have any immigration controls with the Schengen countries.

There is an earlier, related but separate, concept of free movement inside the EU, which gives EU/EEA/Swiss nationals the right of abode in each other's countries regardless of Schengen.

There are usually no border controls between countries that have signed the Schengen Agreement. Members of Schengen are still permitted to introduce border checks temporarily for security reasons, such as in connection with major events (and since 2015: crises), and there may be random checks of travel documents, not only at the border. A tourist visa granted for any Schengen Agreement signatory country is valid in all other countries that signed the treaty. However, people who need a visa should get a visa from their "primary destination" country.

Travel between a Schengen Agreement country and any non-Schengen country will mostly result in normal border checks. Ireland and the United Kingdom operate a "Common Travel Area" policy which is outside the Schengen agreement and as such, both countries require passport controls of travellers arriving from other EU countries, while Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus have not adopted Schengen yet, despite joining the EU.

Russian citizens and residents, and perhaps Belarusian ones, have a problem coming from their homeland because of the war on Ukraine. The Baltic countries, Poland and Finland deny entry to most Russian tourists at their respective land borders. There are also no flights between Russia and the EU. Flights via a third country may be the most convenient means of entry. Getting a visa has become more difficult, especially to the above-mentioned five countries, and they are also retracting long-time multi-entry visas. There are negotiations on introducing a more uniform policy. Russian passports issued in or to residents of disputed territories may be rejected.

EU/EEA/Swiss citizens edit

EU, EEA and Swiss citizens face no restrictions on travelling anywhere in the EU, except in some cases for serious criminal convictions. They should use the immigration queue often signed "EEA". Most countries still require people to carry an official ID, and passports may be required when venturing out of the Schengen free travel area.

Citizens do not need visas to study or work in other EU countries (except possible restrictions on working for nationals of new EU members), but moving to another EU country for an extended time (more than three, six or twelve months) can cause a change of residency and mean you lose social welfare and healthcare benefits in your former country. Such longer stays may also require some specific status, such as employed, student or pensioner with own funds. Many countries require registration of new long-term residents, and a change of driving licence after one year.

Customs edit

Animals edit

A European Pet Passport from Catalonia (Spain), written in Catalan

Free movement inside the EU does not always apply to your pets. Relevant national rules should be consulted before travel.

EU citizens can travel within the EU with their cat, dog or ferret provided they have a European pet passport with required treatments documented. The most important compulsory treatments are those against rabies, and against the tapeworm Echinococcus in at least Ireland, Malta and Finland.

Alcohol and tobacco from outside of the EU edit

You're legally allowed tax-free import from outside the EU of 1 litre of spirits (above 22% alcohol) or 2 litres of alcohol (e.g. sparkling wine below 22% alcohol) and 4 litres of non-sparkling wine and 16 litres of beer. If you're younger than 17, it is half these amounts or nothing at all. Amounts exceeding this must be reported at customs for paying (quite heavy) duties and taxes.

Amounts of tobacco allowed depend on your country of arrival.

Age restrictions on handling tobacco and alcohol vary by country.

Moving between countries inside the EU edit

There are no restrictions on moving goods between EU states. For certain types of goods, such as alcohol and tobacco, taxes of the country you are entering may have to be paid, unless the goods are for "personal use" (including as gifts and the like). Claiming that is not enough; if the authorities suspect the goods are for resale and you cannot convince them, you are in trouble. At a minimum they will ask you to pay the appropriate duty or face confiscation of the goods.

Some areas within the EU are not part of the customs union, e.g. alcohol bought on ferries going via the Åland islands has to be imported into the EU customs union.

Long stay with vehicles edit

If you plan on coming by car or yacht and staying for an extended period, check the rules not to have to register it locally – or how to register it without too many bad surprises. Generally the vehicle has to leave the EU within 18 months (get and keep papers proving entry date). Lending such a vehicle to an EU resident or to a non-relative is usually not allowed. Moving vehicles between EU countries is not free either: stays longer than 6 months (depending on local law) can be considered permanent, which means that the vehicle has to be registered locally and substantial taxes have to be paid. For yachts, you can prolong the 18 months by having it wharfed off season (according to specific bureaucracy).

Currency edit

When travelling between EU countries with €10,000 or more in physical assets (euros, other currencies, precious metal etc.), you should check with authorities in each country whether special measures are needed. Maintaining your cash in an EU bank account effectively frees you from any such controls, since the free movement of capital is maintained across the EU.

You must declare at customs when leaving the EU with €10,000 or more in euros or the equivalent in other currencies.

Get around edit

Although the European Union is moving towards the standardization of travel around the EU, national laws do still vary and it is important to refer to the article for each country for planning your trip. Similarly, while open access and harmonization of railway legislation are intended to lead to an integrated railway market for all of Europe, national railways still dominate their countries and overlap tends to be limited.

By car edit

See also: Driving in Europe
A Slovakian car licence plate.

With the exceptions of Cyprus, Ireland, and Malta, which drive on the left, the EU drives on the right. There are no restrictions on these cars being driven to a country that drives on the other side. Extra care must be taken however; simple modifications to mirrors and headlights make driving somewhat easier.

All cars with the standard EU license plate may be driven without additional requirements in another EU country. Cars with other types of license plates must have an oval decal affixed to the car with the international licence plate country code.

Driving licence edit

An EU driving licence issued by Austria

EU drivers are issued with a standard European Union driving licence. If you hold an EU driving licence then it may be used for driving throughout the EU. One important caveat is that age restrictions are not uniform across the EU, and your licence is not valid in any EU country unless you also meet the minimum age requirement. Old driving licences may be a hassle, get one of the standardised type if possible.

If you hold a non-EU driving licence, then check with each country in order to determine whether it is valid.

By train edit

See also: Rail travel in Europe

Border controls on international trains are usually done on the moving train and usually via spot checks. No international train stops at the border for significant amounts of time. Tickets can usually be bought from both national railways involved unless it is a "private" operator like Thalys. Prices may differ depending on the country where you buy the tickets. When you buy online, prices may vary depending on the website you use and sometimes even depending on the language version of the website. The European Union also continues to push for more and better high speed rail connections across borders, designating prioritized corridors and spending EU resources as well as encouraging member states to spend their own or local funds on rail projects. Those corridors are summarized under the heading TEN-T - Trans European Network for Transportation.

Customer protection for travel issues edit

The EU continues to create a common framework for travel between all the member states as well as from/to the EU from other countries. This may assist you with issues you may face when travelling and are covered under the Cope section.

Buy edit

The euro edit

Countries that have the euro as their official currency:

Exchange rates for euros

As of January 2024:

  • US$1 ≈ €0.9
  • UK£1 ≈ €1.2
  • AU$1 ≈ €0.6
  • CA$1 ≈ €0.7
  • Japanese ¥100 ≈ €0.6

Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com

The euro (€; EUR) is the common currency of 20 of the 27 countries that are members of the European Union. These are commonly called the Eurozone. The other 8 countries of the EU retain their national currencies.

One euro equals 100 cents, sometimes referred to as "eurocents" especially when there is need to distinguish them from other currencies divided into cents.

When an EU country decides to adopt the euro, there is a transition period during which the local currency being phased out and euros are both legal tender. Be aware when this period ends, so as not to be left with the phased-out currency when it is no longer possible to use it for payment. The period may be as short as two weeks. If you end up with any of the obsolete currencies, you may be able to change it in a bank, but don't count on it.

Even in EU countries that have not adopted the euro, it is usually the easiest foreign currency to exchange and is accepted in some places at the discretion of the business, but the exchange rate is unlikely to be favourable. For details, see the destination articles.

A €10 note

Euro banknotes are the same in all countries, except for small identifying national features, such as the first letter in the serial number and a printing code. Coins, on the other hand, will be identical on the reverse (value) side across countries, while the obverse is country-specific. Although the coins thus look different, they can be used in any country within the Eurozone, for example a €1 coin with a Greek symbol can be used freely in Spain. There are also commemorative coins, with the obverse looking different than on other coins from the same country, also legal tender everywhere.

  • Normal coins: All eurozone countries have coins issued with a distinctive national design on the obverse, and a standard common design on the reverse. The coins can be used in any Eurozone country, regardless of the design used (e.g. a one-euro coin from Finland can be used in Portugal).
  • Commemorative two euro coins: The obverse differs from normal two euro coins, but they are used like the normal coins (although more likely to end up among collectors). Each country may produce a certain amount of them as part of their normal coin production and sometimes "Europe-wide" two euro coins are produced to commemorate special events (e.g. the anniversary of important treaties).
  • Other commemorative coins: Commemorative coins of other amounts (e.g. €10 or more) have entirely special designs and often contain non-negligible amounts of gold, silver or platinum. While they are legal tender at face value, merchants may not accept them. As their material and collector values are usually much higher than their face value, they will hardly be found in circulation.

Low-value coins (one and two cents) are being phased out to varying degrees in several countries. For example, in the Netherlands all cash payments are rounded to the nearest 5 cents and shops may refuse 1 and 2 cents as long as it is being indicated on for example a sticker at the window or till. In Finland payments in cash will likewise be rounded, but you can use the small coins for paying the rounded prices. In other countries, e.g. in Germany, those coins are treated as any other money and prices are not rounded.

Value added tax edit

All purchases made within the European Union are subject to value added tax (VAT), included in the advertised prices. Non-residents can claim this amount back for goods they are taking back to their home country, under certain circumstances.

In many countries, the purchases must be above a minimum value at a single merchant. Therefore, you may benefit from making several purchases in one transaction, instead of visiting multiple stores. Not all merchants participate in the refund program, so check before finalizing the purchase. Present your passport at the register, and the seller will complete the necessary paperwork. Keep these documents, as you will need to present them to customs before leaving the EU. Paying with a non-EU credit card will make this easier.

EU regulations around VAT and duty do not apply to certain places inside the EU including the Canary Islands and the Åland islands

Debit cards edit

Most EU countries use debit cards as the primary method of payment. However, some merchants in some countries only accept local-only debit card (i.e. those without a Visa or MasterCard logo).

If you have a euro currency debit card then you will not pay any additional charges from your bank when using the card in another EU country to:

  • Withdraw cash from an ATM (although cash machine operators may charge their own fees)
  • Pay for goods or services

Many large banks outside of the EU offer Traveler Cards in the euro currency that have the same benefits. Other debit and credit cards will also work but their use can be subject to fees.

European EC, Maestro, and V-Pay debit cards are being eliminated and replaced with debit cards of Visa Debit and Debit Mastercard.

Transferring money within the EU edit

There are nominally no restrictions in transferring funds between banks in different EU member states (although capital controls were imposed on Greece and Cyprus in the 2010s). Within the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) transfers in euro are considered domestic and no additional charges can be applied in the normal case. This also applies to euro funds transferred to EU countries not belonging to the Eurozone (i.e. a transfer of €1,000 from Germany to Sweden will still be treated as a domestic transfer, even though the euro is not Sweden's currency).

For travellers this means that you can easily pay for goods and services throughout the Eurozone provided that you have a euro currency bank account anywhere in the EU.

See the article on Money for more information on the topic.

Visit edit

Parlamentarium – EU visitor centre in Brussels

The EU isn't a travel destination in itself, although being regarded as an important project it does open many of its institutions in order to help people learn about it and its objectives. These are generally spread across the whole EU, although key institutions are to be found in a small area in Northern Europe in the cities of Brussels, Luxembourg, Strasbourg and Frankfurt.

The public transport between all the institutions below is excellent, and you can visit them all with a combination of train and tram. The memorials may be more remote, but can still be accessed by regular buses.

Map of European Union
  • 1 Parlamentarium, Willy Brandt building, Rue Wiertz / Wiertzstraat 60, B-1047, Brussels, Belgium. A dedicated visitor centre for the European Parliament in Brussels.    
  • 2 House of European History, Rue Wiertz 60, 1047 Brussels, Belgium. A display of European history from the perspective of the EU.    
  • 3 The Luxembourg campus, European Parliament, Robert Schuman Building Place de l'Europe, L-1499, Luxembourg, . A lesser known part of the EU Parliament, Luxembourg actually quietly runs a lot of the EU administration. Group tours in advance are available, but should be made at least 2 months in advance. Visitors must be aged 14 and above. Apply via the email address. free.    
  • 4 Court of Justice of the European Union, Rue du Fort Niedergrünewald, L-2925, City of Luxembourg. The concept of binding and enforceable supranational law, is what differentiates the EU from other intergovernmental organisations. The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) is the highest authority on EU law: composed of two courts, the superior Court of Justice, and the lesser General Court, the CJEU is central to the orderly running of the EU. Visits to its headquarters, the Palais de la Cour de Justice, are possible.    
  • 5 Alsace-Moselle Memorial, Lieu dit du Chauffour, F - 67 130, Schirmeck, France. Strasbourg and its Alsace region are highly symbolic of European identity, given that it changed hands between Germany and France four times between 1870 and 1945. This EU monument tells the story of the people who lived through these times, and how this relates to modern Europe.    
  • 6 The European Parliament Hemicycle, Entrance Louise Weiss No 2 1, Allée du Printemps, F-67070, Strasbourg, France. Although Brussels is widely known as the 'capital' city of the EU, this building in the French city of Strasbourg is the official home of the Parliament. Politicians have to regularly move between Strasbourg and Brussels, largely because of historical French demands that a minimum number of sessions be held there. Nevertheless it is great place to visit, with the local Alsace region regarded as a mix of French and German culture. Visits to this building can be booked both inside and outside of official 'plenary' sessions, but check the website for the best times.    
  • 7 European Central Bank, Sonnemannstraße 20 (Main Building), 60314 Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The financial arm of the EU, with direct monetary control of all current members of the Eurozone. Provides visits for education and architecture. It is building a dedicated visitor centre.    
  • 8 Europa Experience (Erlebnis Europa), Unter den Linden 78, 10117 Berlin, Germany. 10:00-18:00. A permanent European exhibition in the German capital of Berlin. Free.
  • 9 Europol, Eisenhowerlaan 73, 2517 KK The Hague, The Netherlands. National police handle nearly all law enforcement, but there is also an EU agency for these matters, the Europol. Visits are possible for groups of at least 20 when applied for well in advance.    
  • 10 Schengen. The town where the Schengen Agreement was signed. Contains a memorial and piece of the Berlin wall to commemorate the opening of borders, and the European Museum.
  • European Parliament Information Offices. These offices are found throughout Europe, EU member states' overseas territories and in Washington, D.C.. They can provide you with information about the EU, and host events for visitors to understand the EU better.

European Capital of Culture

Current and Upcoming cities designated as European Culture Capitals include:

  • European Capital of Culture. This EU program selects a couple of cities in member states to showcase European culture, with a good number of exhibitions and events.    
  • European Cultural Month (USA). Every May, the EU holds cultural events in the USA. You can hear Spanish folk music, see Shakespeare performed live, view some of the Dutch masters' paintings, take in avant-garde film from Romania, and taste Greek food.    

Work edit

An EU citizen can generally apply for jobs in any EU country under the same conditions as a local citizen. Work permits are not required, but certificates required for some types of work are not always recognised. Only Croatian citizens still face restrictions in some EU member countries.

Accessing social security benefits may depend on the length of time that you have worked in that country. EU/EEA citizens usually get the local social security – and lose the domestic – at the moment they start working, but there are exceptions.

EU workers who settled in the UK before the end of 2020 are eligible for settled or pre-settled status and must apply by June 2021 to continue working in the UK. UK citizens in the EU should check the policies of the country they live or intend to work in.

Stay healthy edit

Health coverage for EU residents edit

All EU countries operate public healthcare services that provide medical treatment for free or low cost to all residents. Non-EU residents can also use these systems, although they may have to pay a fee.

Travellers who live outside the EU and hold citizenship of an EU country may find that it is not possible to access the public health service in the same way as residents. British nationals (for example) must be resident in the United Kingdom for 6 months before they are entitled to take advanced treatment under the British national health service.

European Health Insurance Card issued by France

EU, EEA and Swiss residents can obtain a European Health Insurance Card that gives access to public medical care on the same terms as for local residents in any other of the countries. This includes necessary treatment of chronic conditions, but not advanced medical treatment. The specific rules and practices vary quite a lot from country to country, but generally you will get cheap or free medical care. Not all doctors and hospitals operate within the reimbursement system, so check beforehand.

It is important to carry your Health Insurance Card at all times, since it will simplify greatly getting access to medical treatment abroad in any EU country. You still have the same rights to treatment without it, however you may be asked to pay all costs upfront, and then go through a complex process of reimbursement when you return home.

There are some restrictions:

  • The Health Insurance Card cannot be used in Denmark by holders who are not citizens of an EU country (residency is not sufficient).
  • Croatian citizens cannot use the Health Insurance Card in Switzerland
  • The Health Insurance Card does not cover rescue and repatriation services
  • Health Insurance Card does not cover private healthcare or planned treatment in another EU country

Health coverage for non-EU residents edit

All EU countries have public health services that are available for everyone to use. Non-EU residents may be charged for using these services, and the cost will vary between countries where the health service was used. Being an EU citizen who is resident outside the EU may mean that you fall into this category.

Emergency services are generally available to everyone without having to pay upfront. Nevertheless, private travel insurance should be considered before travel to the EU.

Medical prescriptions edit

Anyone visiting a doctor in the EU can request a cross-border prescription. This means that the prescription is valid and will be honoured in any other EU country.

Pharmacies may refuse to supply you with medicine without this prescription.

Cope edit

Air passenger rights edit

Passengers at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport

You are covered by the same set of passenger rights when flying:

  • within the EU on any airline
  • departing the EU on any airline
  • arriving into the EU on an EU airline

These rights include:

  • Ticket price: Your nationality and the location of purchase must not affect the price
  • Online booking: All websites are legally obliged to clearly display all costs before booking, including taxes, airport charges, surcharges and other fees
  • Financial compensation: You will be compensated a set amount when a flight is cancelled, delayed more than three hours (at arrival) or you are denied boarding.
    • Within the EU: €250 for 1,500 km or less, €400 for over 1,500 km
    • Between an EU and a non-EU airport: €250 for 1,500 km or less, €400 for 1,500-3,500 km, €600 for over 3,500 km

Travellers by air can submit an air passenger rights EU complaint form on return if they wish to apply for a refund or compensation.

Rail passenger rights edit

You are covered by the same set of passenger rights when travelling by rail between any two EU countries. These rules do not apply when travelling by rail inside an EU country, or travelling to or from a non-EU country, however some railways have adopted similar rules for domestic travel and in some countries of the EU they are national law.

If before your journey you are told that you will experience at least a one-hour delay, then you are entitled to:

  • Cancel your journey with an immediate refund
  • Accommodation (if an overnight delay is expected)
  • Meals and refreshments
  • Refund if you continue your journey:
    • 25% of the fare, if delayed between 1 and 2 hours
    • 50% of the fare, if delayed more than 2 hours late.
  • Compensation for lost or damaged registered luggage:
    • Up to €1,300 per piece of luggage, if value can be proven
    • €300 per piece of luggage, if value can not be proven

While it is possible to get a reimbursement for some of the above after you already paid them out of your pocket, it is easier to directly contact the company while still on the train. The easiest way to do this is to talk to conductors or other staff on the train when a delay is probable or when you are likely to miss your connection. They will usually give you forms for your refund and give you contact details for meals or hotels as most major railways have contracts with certain hotels in major cities to be able to hand out vouchers for stranded passengers.

Bus passenger rights edit

You are covered by the same set of passenger rights when travelling by bus between any two EU countries for a distance greater than 250 km. These rules do not apply when travelling by bus inside an EU country, or travelling to or from a non-EU country.

If you experience a two-hour delay in your journey, then you are entitled to either:

  1. Cancel your journey with a refund as well as be provided with a free journey back to your initial departure point
  2. Request alternative travel arrangements to your destination

Additionally you may be entitled to:

  • Refreshments
  • Accommodation overnight to a maximum €80 if required (except when delay is caused by severe weather)

Ship passenger rights edit

You are covered by the same set of passenger rights when travelling by ship from or to the EU. These rights generally do not extend to freight ships or small vessels (less than 13 passenger capacity).

  1. Cancel your journey with a refund as well as be provided with a free journey back to your initial departure point
  2. Request alternative travel arrangements to your destination

If you experience a delay arriving at your destination for more than 1 hour and it is not caused by bad weather, then you may be entitled to compensation worth between 25% and 50% of your paid ticket price.

Consular assistance edit

See also: Diplomatic missions

Although the EU runs its own diplomatic missions, known as delegations, these are dedicated to government-to-government relations, and do not provide consular services. Consular services are provided by the missions of individual EU countries. However, citizens of EU member states have the right to seek consular assistance from the missions of any EU member state when in a country where their country lacks representation.

Brexit edit

The United Kingdom left the European Union on 31 January 2020, and the transitional period ended on 31 December 2020. See the UK government's transition website for details.

  • No change to the open border with Ireland. UK and Republic of Ireland passport holders may freely visit, work, study and reside in each other's country. The reality is that if you travel by air or ferry between the two countries you must show a valid passport, in effect to prove that you don't need to carry a passport. Some of the other requirements below don't apply to Ireland either.

Citizens and residents of the UK:

  • To visit the EU, your passport may not be more than ten years old and must have six months' validity beyond your date of return. Expect this to apply to other countries that align themselves with EU rules (e.g. Iceland as part of the EEA).
  • As of 2024, no visa is needed to travel to the EU as a tourist for up to 90 days in a 180-day period, but a visa-waiver programme "Etias" is scheduled to start in mid-2025 for the Schengen countries. It's like the US ESTA, you'll apply online, pay, and be granted a waiver for stays of up to 90 days. Procedures for those ineligible or refused Etias will probably stay the same, with tedious paperwork and a visit to the relevant embassy. Procedures for the EU non-Schengen countries except Ireland (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania) aren't known.
  • European health insurance cards (EHIC) will continue to be valid until they expire, but only within the EU and not in affiliated countries such as Switzerland. For UK citizens, expired EHICs can be replaced by a GHIC, which is essentially the same thing but with a different name (the G stands for "global"). In any case you need proper travel insurance, as an EHIC card is no substitute.
  • Mobile roaming: despite original declarations that EU roaming would continue for UK operators, this has been since abandoned. Expect high roaming charges.
  • Driving licences: you may need an international driving permit to drive in some EU countries. With your own car you'll need a "green card" from your insurer and a GB sticker displayed on the back.
  • Pet passports will cease to be valid. Instead, your pet will need to be vaccinated and get an animal health certificate, which may take as much as a month.
  • If you are a British national and you've been living in an EU country since before the end of 2020, you're allowed to stay under similar terms to EU citizens in the UK. You may need to apply for a new residency status. The procedures differ by country and the dead lines may have passed.

Citizens and residents of the EU:

  • EU citizens can travel to the UK for up to 6 months as a tourist without a visa. You will need a passport in most cases.
  • Might you be Irish? If you are eligible to claim that citizenship, you would have the special rights that the Irish will continue to have in the UK. This might arise by ancestry, or if you've lived and worked long term in either the Republic or in Northern Ireland. This is in addition to the UK "settled status" arrangements above.
  • Mobile roaming: up to the operator, so check to see if you'll be charged for roaming.
  • Driving: You don't need an international driving permit to drive in the UK. If you're bringing your car to the UK, you need proof of insurance such as a motor insurance green card.
  • EU citizens will continue to have access to the UK National Health Service with their EHIC. However, EEA and Swiss residents lost this right in January 2021.
  • EU pet passports are still valid for the UK.
  • To work in the UK, you'll need a visa. The UK has introduced a "points-based" immigration system favouring those with desired skills and competence in English, with no distinction between EU and other nationalities. The government wants to stop migration to fill low-wage jobs, such as fruit-picking, bar and restaurant work, and in social care - the sort of jobs an overseas student might take on a gap year. Detail is scanty, and it's doubtful if such jobs can be filled by UK residents; the hike in wages and consequent price rises look unaffordable to many businesses.

Stay safe edit

Dialling 112 from any phone will connect you to all emergency services, with English-speaking staff available, wherever you are in the EU. In some countries your call will be forwarded to a more specific number depending on the emergency, in others all or most emergencies are centrally handled. There is always English-speaking staff available on 112. Calling with a SIM-less phone works in some countries, in some the answering is delayed or requires you to to type an additional "5".

Connect edit

See also: Mobile phones#Europe

If your mobile phone operator is based in the European Union, then the default is for roaming to be no more expensive than domestic use. Dubbed "roam like at home", this means that in theory at least, any usage of mobile services in the EU should first be charged against your package's domestic allowances before the per unit Eurotariff surcharges below kick in. However, plenty of exceptions apply, especially if your provider is based in an EU country where the norm is to a) offer unlimited mobile data at extremely cheap rates or b) price data based on the number of days one intends to use it for or the maximum speed (e.g. Finland). Moreover, to further prevent abuse of the scheme and discourage "full time" or "permanent" roamers, an increasing number of EU member states are passing legislation that require those who take out a mobile plan to provide evidence of ties to the country the mobile provider is based in (e.g. tax number, ID number) to at least activate roaming services. This means that non-EU residents will not be able to fully benefit from the "roam like at home" scheme, depending on the EU countries included in their itinerary. See this EU FAQ for more information on exceptions and restrictions to the roaming policy. However, many options still remain for visitors to Europe who would like to be able to use one SIM across multiple countries.

The Eurotariff, which dictates the maximum surcharge for roaming and the maximum cost with it included, applies wherever you travel in the EU, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein (should apply also to the exceptions to the 2017 rules). VAT is not included in the table:

Type Maximum surcharge Maximum cost
Outgoing voice calls (every minute) €0.05 €0.19
Incoming voice calls (every minute) €0.0108 €0.05
Outgoing texts (every SMS message) €0.02 €0.06
Online (data download, every megabyte) €0.05 €0.20

Be careful which network you connect to. By the EU border or at sea (an intra-ship GSM network can have connections via satellite) your phone can choose a non-EU network, for which the maxima do not apply – the prices can then be outrageous. Where this is likely, be sure to choose the network manually.

While roaming in the EU, you will get an SMS stating the current tariffs whenever you change networks.

Be aware that while any EU countries' mainland territory in Europe is covered, EU/EEA providers are not obliged to include roaming in outer territories outside Europe, like the Dutch Caribbean or French island territories.

If you use a provider from a non-EU country, the roaming surcharges are not covered by these regulations. This includes the UK. There were promises that providers in the UK and the EU/EEA would treat UK as a EU country in this respect, but there is no more any international obligation and at least some providers in the EU treat the UK as a normal non-EU country. The Channel Islands and Isle of Man are special cases, which are even less likely to be covered.

If you are from outside Europe and arrive in France early in the trip, consider buying Orange Holiday SIM card. This French carrier's prepaid plans allow calls and data usage in EU countries plus some territories (e.g. Azores, Canary Islands), Schengen Area (e.g. Iceland, Norway) and non-EU countries (e.g. Andorra, Switzerland and Vatican City).

By post edit

Each EU country runs its own postal service. This means that stamps for one EU country are not valid in another, and you will need to obtain the stamps of the country you are in to be able to send mail.

Internet censorship edit

Due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, all Russian government-affiliated news sites, including RT and Sputnik News, have been blocked in the European Union. This includes their content on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, which is not allowed to be viewed within the European Union.

This travel topic about European Union has guide status. It has good, detailed information covering the entire topic. Please contribute and help us make it a star!