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European Union

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EU Globe No Borders.svg
Capital Brussels
Currency Euro (EUR)
Population 508.4 million (2015)
Time zone UTC±00:00 to UTC+03:00
Emergencies 112
Driving side left, right
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The European Union (abbreviated "EU") is an economic and political union of 28 member states that are located primarily in Europe. Some more countries are part of the cooperation in specific areas, such as immigrant controls or currency.

Travelling between the countries involved is generally much easier than crossing other international borders, both for residents and for people from outside the area.


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, which resulted in the first agreements in 1951 (the European Coal and Steel Community) that formed the basis for the European Union.

There are at least three groups of countries in Europe that overlap but are not identical:

  • The European Union (EU), a partial political and customs union
  • The Eurozone, countries using the common European currency, the Euro. The euro is also the currency of Monaco, San Marino, 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 formal 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 Agreement, countries using common visas and immigration controls. While primarily composed of EU member states, the Schengen zone also includes Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Some EU members such as the UK and the Republic of Ireland are not part of the Schengen agreement.

The European Union will soon experience its first departure, with the United Kingdom voting in a referendum in June 2016 to withdraw from the union. The manner of the United Kingdom's exit is still unclear as of March 2017, although the current timeline is pointing to a formal exit on 29 March 2019.

Country Eurozone? Free Movement? European Time zone1
Austria Austria Euro Schengen CET
Belgium Belgium Euro Schengen CET
Bulgaria Bulgaria EET
Croatia Croatia CET
Cyprus Cyprus Euro CET
Czech Republic Czech Republic Schengen CET
Denmark Denmark Schengen CET
Estonia Estonia Euro Schengen EET
Finland Finland Euro Schengen EET
France France Euro Schengen CET
Germany Germany Euro Schengen CET
Greece Greece Euro Schengen EET
Hungary Hungary Schengen CET
Ireland Ireland Euro WET
Italy Italy Euro Schengen CET
Latvia Latvia Euro Schengen EET
Lithuania Lithuania Euro Schengen EET
Luxembourg Luxembourg Euro Schengen CET
Malta Malta Euro Schengen CET
Netherlands Netherlands Euro Schengen CET
Poland Poland Schengen CET
Portugal Portugal Euro Schengen WET
Romania Romania EET
Slovakia Slovakia Euro Schengen CET
Slovenia Slovenia Euro Schengen CET
Spain Spain Euro Schengen CET
Sweden Sweden Schengen CET
United Kingdom United Kingdom 2 WET

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)

2 The United Kingdom has voted by referendum in June 2016 to leave the EU. The actual date of departure is currently set for 29 March 2019, though the details on departure procedures are currently being negotiated and have yet to be announced.

There are also territories around the world outside of continental Europe that belong formally 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 Bermuda (United Kingdom), New Caledonia (France) and Greenland (Denmark) have separate entry and travel requirements. However, even in territories that aren't officially 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.


The EU does not have an all encompassing immigration policy, and therefore immigration controls are specific to each nation. Much of the Union has adopted the Schengen Agreement that makes travel very easy between members, however some EU countries have not adopted Schengen whereas some non-EU countries actually have.

There are usually no border controls between countries that have signed the Schengen Agreement. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen Agreement signatory country is valid in all other countries that signed the treaty. Travel between a Schengen Agreement country and any non-Schengen country will result in the normal border checks. Members of Schengen are also permitted to introduce border checks temporarily for security reasons.

Some European Union countries are not members of the Schengen Agreement or have not implemented it, while some countries from outside the Union have. For instance, the United Kingdom and Ireland run a separate border control scheme and require passport controls of travellers arriving from other EU countries. Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus have not adopted Schengen yet either, despite joining the EU. On the other hand, the EEA countries (Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland) have implemented Schengen, while three European micro-states – Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City – do not have any immigration controls with the Schengen countries.

Citizens of EU and EEA member countries don't need visas to visit other member countries, but non-citizens will have to get a visa from their "primary destination" country.

Citizens of some non-EU member countries, such as Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States of America don't need visas if they are travelling for tourist purposes and their stay lasts no longer than 90 days within a 180-day period inside the Schengen area. Citizens of most Balkan countries also don't need visas, and neither do citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Citizens of these four countries should use the immigration queue often signed "EEA" – even though Switzerland left the EEA some years ago.

The 90 days visa-free stay for non-EU and non-EEA citizens applies for the whole Schengen area; in other words, it is not 90 days per country. Those who wish to travel within the Schengen Treaty region for longer than 90 days must apply for a residency permit. This is best done in Germany, as all other Schengen countries require applicants to apply from their home countries. Alternatively, you can arrange your travel to spend 90 days in the UK or Ireland (or other non-Schengen countries) to satisfy the "90 days in 180 days" provision.

While border controls do not exist between Schengen area countries, you can still have your travel documents checked during your journey. For example, a train journey between two Schengen countries may still have immigration spot checks by the authorities en-route.

EU citizens[edit]

EU citizens have no restriction in travelling anywhere in the EU, although exceptions are occasionally applied for serious criminal convictions. Passports may still be required when venturing out of the Schengen free travel area, and otherwise most EU states still require people to carry a form of official identification.

EU citizens moving to another EU country for an extended time (more than three, six or twelve months) can potentially face a change of residency and lose social welfare and healthcare benefits in their former country. Many countries require registration of new long term residents, as well as a change of driving license after one year.



A European Pet Passport from Catalonia (Spain)

Free movement inside the EU does not always apply to your pets. E.g. the United Kingdom and Ireland have strict requirements such as documented vaccinations. EU citizens can travel within the EU with their cats, dogs or ferrets provided they have a European pet passport with required treatments documented. For other pets, they should consult the relevant national rules before travel. When travelling to Finland, Ireland, Malta or the United Kingdom, pets must be treated against the tapeworm Echinococcus. Also check rabies regulations.

Coming 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.

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 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 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.


When travelling between EU countries with €10,000 or more in euros or other currencies, you should check with authorities in each country whether special measures are needed.

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.

Driving license[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, provided you stay in another country for less than a year. 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.

If you hold a non-EU driving licence then this does not apply. You must still 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.

Customer protection for travel issues[edit]

The EU is creating a common framework for travel between all the member states. Implications for issues you may face when travelling are covered under the Cope section.


The euro[edit]

A €10 note

The euro (€; EUR) is the common currency of many countries of the European Union. One euro equals 100 cents, sometimes referred to as "eurocents".

The euro has not been adopted by all EU countries. The 19 countries out of the 28 in the EU that have replaced their own national currencies, are commonly called the Eurozone. The other 9 countries of the EU retain their national currencies. When an EU country decides to adopt the euro, there is a period during which both the local currency being phased out, and euros, remain legal tender. Be aware when this transition period ends so as not to be left with the phased-out currency when it is no longer possible to use it for payment. It may be very short, such as only two weeks in Latvia. It's not a good idea to accept any of the obsolete currencies. Even when it still can be changed, e.g. in the relevant national bank, this means a lot of hassle for a tourist. As of March 2017, no country in the EU is undergoing currency transition.

Even in EU countries that have not adopted it, the euro is the easiest foreign currency to change and is accepted in some places at the discretion of the shop or restaurant you are visiting; bear in mind that the exchange rate is unlikely to be favourable. For details, see the destination articles.

Any banknote will be the same from Portugal to Finland, except some 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 one side across countries, while the other side is country-specific. Although they 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 national side looking different than on other coins from the same country, also legal tender everywhere.

Low-value coins are being phased out to varying degrees in several countries. For example, retailers in the Netherlands by law do not have to accept 1 and 2 cent coins, and all payments in cash will be rounded to the nearest 5 cents. 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 – potentially leaving you with a handful of worthless coinage if you visit the Netherlands afterwards!

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, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar.

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 separate fees)
  • Pay for goods or services

If you are from outside the EU, then many large banks around the world 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.

A European EC or Maestro is becoming less accepted in shops and machines while V-Pay, although not universal, is becoming more widespread.

Transferring money within the EU[edit]

The EU has a directive for the 'Free Movement of Capital', and therefore there are nominally no restrictions in transferring funds between banks in different EU member states. (This has been undermined somewhat by the imposition of capital controls on Greek and Cypriot depositors.) In addition, if the Euro currency is used then the transfer will be 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 travelers 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.


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 works are not universally accepted. 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.

The future status of EU workers in the United Kingdom is unclear as of January 2017. EU workers will enjoy full working and residency rights within the UK until the country formally leaves the European Union, which will be in 2019 at the earliest. What happens after that is uncertain, although a deal that allows EU citizens to remain in UK and UK citizens to remain in the EU may eventuate.

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 country. 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]

Since October 2013, 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.


Air passenger rights[edit]

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 EU and non EU airport: €250 for 1,500 km or less. €400 for 1,500 km to 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 domestically 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 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 the like 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 250km. These rules do not apply when travelling by bus domestically 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 to 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.

Stay safe[edit]

Dialling 112 from any phone will connect you to all emergency services 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.


If your mobile phone operator is based in the European Union, then the Eurotariff, which dictates the maximum surcharge for roaming and the maximum cost with it included, applies wherever you travel in the EU (from May 2016 and July 2014; VAT not included):

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 what network you connect to. By the EU border or in international waters (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 network manually or to check the used network before each call.

From 15 June 2017 the default is for roaming to be no more expensive than domestic use. If a provider offers roaming services at all (for a specific deal), they are bound to offer it to this price, although they may also offer other pricing schemes.

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

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