|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 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 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 officially part of the Eurozone.
- 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.
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)
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:
Territories 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.
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 between a Schengen Agreement country and any non-Schengen country will result in the normal border checks.
Do note that not all European Union countries are members of the Schengen Agreement or have implemented it, while some countries from outside the Union actually 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 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 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 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.
Coming from outside of the EU
You're legally allowed to import from outside the EU 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's half these amounts or nothing at all.
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
There are no restrictions on moving goods for personal use between EU states. Duty must however still be paid on goods that you wish to resell. For example, bringing 1,000 bottles of red wine from France into the United Kingdom might be regarded by the customs officers as not realistic for personal use only, and they will ask you to pay the appropriate duty or face confiscation of the goods.
The euro (€; EUR) is the common currency of many countries of the European Union. One euro equals 100 cent, commonly referred to as "eurocent".
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. The other 10 countries of the EU retain their national currencies. When a EU country decides to adopt the Euro, there is a period during which both local currency, being phased out, and the Euros, remain legal tender. Be aware of the temporal ramifications of such periods not to be left with the phased-out currency when it is no longer possible to use it for payment – the last country to adopt the Euro, Latvia, had a transition period of only two weeks in January 2014. As of April 2014, no country in the EU is undergoing currency transition.
It's not a good idea to accept any of the obsolete currencies. Even in the cases where it still is possible to change them into euro, it is a lot of hassle.
The Euro notes are completely generic, having no identifying national features. A €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.
Do note that low-value eurocent coins have been phased out in several countries. For example, retailers in the Netherlands and Finland by law do not accept 1 and 2 eurocent coins, and all payments in cash will be rounded to the nearest 5 eurocents. You will not be given change in 1 and 2 eurocent coins in those countries either. In other countries, e.g. in Germany, the coins remain in circulation and you can both pay with them and receive them as change - potentially leaving you with a handful with worthless coinage if you visit the Netherlands afterwards!
Value added tax
All purchases made within the European Union are subject to value added tax (VAT), although non residents can claim this amount back under certain circumstances. The VAT will be refunded for goods that you are taking back to your home country, as long as you produce the goods to customs officers when leaving the EU.
In many countries, your 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.
Transferring money within the EU
The EU has a directive for the 'Free Movement of Capital', and therefore there are no restrictions in transferring funds between banks in different EU member states. In addition, if the Euro currency is used then the transfer will be considered domestic and no additional charges can be applied. 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.
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.
Travelers 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.
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.
Air passenger rights
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 on an EU airline
These rights include:
- Ticket Price: You may not be charged a higher price for you ticket regardless of your nationality and the location of purchase
- 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 when 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
Rail passenger rights
You are covered by the same set of passenger rights when traveling by rail between any two EU countries. These rules do not apply when traveling by rail domestically inside an EU country, or traveling to or from a non-EU country.
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 mot be proven
Dialing 112 from any phone will connect you to all emergency services wherever you are in the EU.
If your mobile phone operator is based in the European Union, then the Eurotariff which dictates the maximum cost applies wherever you travel in the EU (Prices from July 2014):
|Outgoing voice calls (every minute)||€0.19|
|Incoming voice calls (every minute)||€0.05|
|Outgoing texts (every SMS message)||€0.06|
|Online (data download, every megabyte)||€0.20|
If your mobile phone operator is based outside of the EU, then these maximum tariffs are unfortunately not valid.