|Capital||Brussels (de facto)|
|Currency||Euro (€) and 10 others|
|Population||507,890,191 (2012 est.)|
|Electricity||230V / 50Hz (plugs vary)|
|Time zone||UTC to UTC +2|
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 member states of the European Union are: Austria1,Belgium 1, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Cyprus 1,2, Denmark, Estonia 1, Finland 1, France 1, Germany 1, Greece 1, Hungary, Ireland 1, Italy 1, Latvia1, Lithuania, Luxembourg 1, Malta 1, Netherlands 1, Poland, Portugal 1, Romania, Slovakia 1, Slovenia 1, Spain 1, Sweden, United Kingdom
1 These European Union member countries have replaced their national currencies with the common European currency, the € (euro). They are often commonly referred to as the "Eurozone". The euro is also the currency of Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City, Andorra, Kosovo, and Montenegro even though they are neither members of the euro treaty, nor the European Union. The first three countries are allowed to mint their own euro coins.
2 Officially the whole of Cyprus lies within the European Union. However, the de facto EU border runs along the Green Line, dividing the country in a Greek and Turkish part. EU law is currently not applied in the Turkish northern third of Cyprus.
The European Union was motivated by the catastrophe of World War II. The idea of "European integration" was developed to 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 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, Andorra, Kosovo, and Montenegro even though they are neither members of the euro treaty, nor the European Union. The first three countries are allowed to mint their own euro coins.
- The Schengen Agreement, countries using common visas and immigration controls
Here is a table showing which European countries belong to each of these three groups:
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||BIH, .ba||BAM||n||n||CET||n||y|
|Czech Republic||CZ, .cz||CZK||2004||y||CET||y||y|
|Montenegro||MNE, .me (.yu)||EUR||n1||n||CET||n7||y|
|Russia||RU, .ru (.su)||RUB||n||n||MSK4||n||n|
|San Marino||RSM, .sm||EUR||n||n5||CET||n||n|
|Serbia||SRB, .rs (.yu)||RSD2||n1||n||CET||n7||y|
|United Kingdom||GB, .uk||GBP||1973||n||WET||n||y|
|Vatican City||V, .va||EUR||n||n5||CET||n||n|
1 Official EU applicant countries.
3 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)
4 Russia uses multiple time zones. EET in Kaliningrad Oblast, MSK (UTC+4) in Moscow, up to UTC+12 on Chukotka and Kamchatka.
5 Officially not a Schengen member, but Schengen visa holders are generally allowed entry.
6 Independence disputed, claimed by Serbia.
7 Certain EuRail passes cover these countries (and only the Germany-Poland pass covers Poland), but the general 21-country pass does not.
There are many ways to enter the EU/EEA; your best course of action is to read up on the individual nation you wish to enter. For passport, visa, customs etcetera the formalities are mostly uniform across groups of countries.
Passport and visa requirements
You will have to get a visa from your "primary destination" country. In the case of Schengen Treaty countries, that visa is then valid for all other signatory countries. See the "Get around" section.
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 stays 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, as well as citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Citizens of these four countries should use the immigration queue often signed "EEA" - even though Switzerland formally left the EEA some years ago.
The 90 days visa-free stay for citizens of Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States of America applies for the whole Schengen area; in other words, it is not 90 days per country. Citizens of the above countries 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 sneakily 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.
Many of the world's largest and most important airports are in the European Union, including (although certainly not limited to) Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, Frankfurt Airport, London Heathrow Airport, and Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.
You're legally allowed to import from outwith the EU limited amounts of tobacco (exact numbers depend on your country of arrival) plus 1 litre of spirits (above 22% alcohol) or 2 L of alcohol (e.g. sparkling wine below 22% alcohol) and 4 L of non-sparkling wine and 16 L of beer. If you're younger than 17, it's half these amounts or nothing at all. Note age limits on handling tobacco and alcohol, which vary by country.
Coming with 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 bad surprises. Lending such a vehicle to an EU resident or to a non-relative is usually not allowed.
Passport and visa requirements
There are 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 to and from a Schengen Agreement country to any other non-Schengen country will result in the normal border checks.
These countries have implemented the Schengen agreement so far: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Denmark, France, Finland, Hungary, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty and not all Schengen treaty countries are members of the European Union. Several countries are members of the Schengen Agreement, but nevertheless have not implemented it. Switzerland became a full Schengen member in 2008, as did all the other EEA members at that time. Three European micro-states – Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City – do not have any immigration controls with the Schengen countries. Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania will follow at a later date, perhaps as late as 2016.
Citizens of EU and EEA member countries don't need visas to visit other member countries.
The European Union has an extensive selection of low-cost airlines, which can fly freely within the Union.
All flights within and from the European Union limit liquids, gels and creams in hand baggage to 100 mL/container, carried in a transparent, zip-lock plastic bag (1 L or less). The bag must be presented during security checks and only one bag per passenger is permitted.
At some airports, airlines will still insist on seeing your ID card or passport.
There is a set of traffic signs valid in many EU countries. The most important are described here:
- Speed limit - A round white or yellow board surrounded by a red ring with a black number in the middle. This is the maximum allowed speed in km/h. 1
- End of Speed limit - A round white board with a gray number on it (speed in km/h 1), slashed with 4 thin black lines.
- Stop - A red octagon with 'STOP' in white letters.
- Yield - A white or yellow triangle surrounded by a red edge standing on one corner.
- Priority street - A yellow square with a white edge standing on a corner.
- End of priority - The same, but slashed with 4 thin black lines.
- No overtaking - A round white or yellow board with a red edge and a red car on the left and a black car on the right inside. Often the sign is only valid for trucks and shows a red truck in this case. 2
1 All speed limits and distances are measured and marked in miles or mph in the United Kingdom.
2 In countries that drive on the left (the United Kingdom, Malta, Cyprus and Ireland), the red vehicle is on the right.
Both the EU and the EEA offer limited support for Eurovelo; that is implementing cross-Europe cycling routes, linking local infrastructure into long distance touring routes.
The euro (Symbol: €; ISO 4217 code EUR) is the common currency of many countries of the European Union. One euro equals 100 cent.
The euro has not been adopted by all EU countries. The 18 of the 28 countries in the EU that have replaced their own national currencies are commonly called the Eurozone. Some other EU countries are due to replace their currencies with the euro over the next few years. Three countries (Denmark, Sweden, and the United Kingdom) currently have no intention of adopting the euro in the foreseeable future, however some shops accept both local currency and euros.
The notes are completely generic, having no identifying national features. A Eurozone €10 note will be exactly the same from Portugal to Latvia. Coins on the other hand, such as the €1 coin, will have a national symbol on one side that identifies them with a country within the Eurozone. Although they look different they can still be used in exactly the same way in any country within the Eurozone, for example a €1 coin with a Greek symbol can be used freely in Spain.
It's not a good idea to accept any of the obsolete currencies. While several countries' banks will still change them into euro, it's a lot of hassle and there is no guarantee that this will be possible everywhere or on short notice. You should also expect to have to give your personal details to the bank as a precaution against money laundering. You're very unlikely to come across any of the old currencies, in any case - and if you do, they might make great souvenirs.
Throughout Europe, automatic teller machines are readily available. They will accept various European bank cards as well as credit cards. However, be prepared to pay a fee for the service (usually a percentage of the amount withdrawn, with a minimum of a few euro). Read the notices on the machine before using.
The emergency number 112 works in all of the EU and will handle any emergency. Some countries have specific numbers for some emergencies, but 112 will be able to either handle the call itself or transfer it to the right authority. The call is toll free and should be connected even when the phone is otherwise locked. Calling 112 with a mobile phone without a SIM card is possible, but a few countries handle these calls differently, Germany and UK ignoring them altogether.
The European Health Insurance Card gives access to most medical care on the same terms as for local residents. This includes necessary treatment of chronic conditions, but not any "medical tourism" expenses. The card is available for free or for a nominal fee to people covered by the public health insurance in the EU, the EEA countries and Switzerland and will be valid in these same countries. 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.