|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 (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 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.
|Country||Eurozone?||Free Movement?||European Time zone1|
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 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.
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. The countries are also free to introduce border checks inside Schengen temporarily, such as when arranging events feared to attract violence.
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 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, 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.
Note that 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.
If you are an EU citizen then there is no restriction in travelling anywhere in the EU. Note that passports may still be required, since passport free travel (known as the Schengen agreement) is not implemented by all EU countries. Where passports are not required, either that or an official ID card is still usually required.
Staying abroad for an extended time (more than three, six or twelve months) has implications on e.g. social security. Staying abroad for studies or work usually changes your status immediately. Also those having unemployment allowances should check the procedures before going abroad.
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
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
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 they are for "personal use". Note that the authorities simply have to suspect that the goods are for resale in order for this to apply. 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, unless you can give a reasonable explanation.
Note that 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.
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.
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.
Customer protection for travel issues
The EU is creating a common framework for travel between all the member states. Implications for issues you may face when travelling are cover under the Cope section.
The euro (€; EUR) is the common currency of many countries of the European Union. One euro equals 100 cents, often 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 June 2015, 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 country-specific details see individual articles.
Any banknote will be exactly the same from Portugal to Finland, while there are some identifying national features such as the first letter in the serial number and a printing code, they are not very apparent. 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. There are also commemorative coins, with the national side looking different than on other coins from the country, also legal tender everywhere.
Do note that 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
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.
Most EU countries use debit cards as the primary method of payment. If you have a Euro currency debit card then you will not pay any additional charges when using the card in another EU country to:
- Withdraw cash from an ATM
- 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.
Note that 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
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. 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.
Health coverage for EU Residents
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.
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
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.
Note that 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.
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
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
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.
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
Bus passenger rights
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:
- Cancel your journey with a refund as well as be provided with a free journey back to your initial departure point
- Request alternative travel arrangements to your destination
Additionally you may be entitled to:
- Accommodation overnight to a maximum €80 if required (Except when delay is caused by severe weather)
Ship passenger rights
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)
- Cancel your journey with a refund as well as be provided with a free journey back to your initial departure point
- Request alternative travel arrangements to your destination
If you experience a delay arriving to your destination for more than 1 hour and is not caused by bad weather, then you may be entitled to compensation worth between 25% and 50% of your paid ticket price.
Dialling 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.
Note 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.