Documents you will need for non-EU citizens
You will need a valid passport.
There are 34 countries whose nationals do not need a visa to visit the EU for three months or less. These include Australia, Canada, Croatia, Japan, New Zealand and the United States. The list of countries whose nationals require visas to travel to the United Kingdom or Ireland differs slightly from other EU countries. If in doubt, check with the nearest consulate of any EU country.
If your visa is from a country fully applying the Schengen rules, it automatically allows you to travel to the other Schengen countries as well. Moreover, if you have a valid residence permit from one of those Schengen countries, it is equivalent to a visa. You may need a national visa to visit non-Schengen countries.
The euro is the legal tender for around 329 million people in 16 EU countries: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain. EU countries not using the euro are Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The eight countries that have entered the EU since 2004 are committed to adopting the euro when they are ready.
The symbol for the euro is €. The euro notes are identical in all countries but each country issues its own coins with one common side and one side displaying a distinctive national emblem. All the notes and coins can be used in all EU countries that have adopted the euro, including many of their overseas entities, such as the Azores, the Canary Islands, Ceuta and Melilla, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Madeira, Martinique, Mayotte, Réunion, and Saint Pierre and Miquelon.
Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City have adopted the euro as their national currency, which also gives them the right to issue a certain number of euro coins with their own national sides. A number of countries and territories use the euro as their de facto currency such as Andorra, Kosovo and Montenegro.
In European countries outside the euro area, many hotels, shops and restaurants, particularly in tourist areas, accept payment in euro as well as the national currency, although they are not legally obliged to do so.
Cash and cards
Thanks to EU rules, withdrawing euro from a cash machine costs you the same anywhere in the EU as it does in your own country from a cash machine that does not belong to your bank. The transaction fee for making a debit or credit card payment in the EU in euro is the same as in your own country. Charges may of course differ between banks.
Within the EU
There are no limits on what you can buy and take with you when you travel between EU countries, as long as it is for personal use and not for resale. Taxes (VAT and excise duties) are included in the price you pay and no further payment of tax can be due in any other EU country.
Tobacco and alcohol
To determine whether tobacco and alcohol are for personal use, each country can set guide levels. In other words, if you carry a larger quantity of these goods, you may be asked to prove that they are intended for personal use and to justify their purchase. The guide levels may not be lower than:
1 kg of tobacco
10 litres of spirits
20 litres of fortified wine (such as port or sherry)
90 litres of wine (of which, a maximum of 60 litres of sparkling wine)
110 litres of beer
For a limited time, some countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom) are maintaining a limit of 200 cigarettes brought back from Estonia and Lithuania and some countries (Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Sweden and the United Kingdom) are restricting travellers from Bulgaria and Romania to 200 cigarettes.
Coming from outside
If you enter the EU from outside, you can bring with you goods free of VAT and excise duties for personal use within the limits set out below. The same applies if you come from the Canary Islands, the Channel Islands, Gibraltar or other territories where EU rules on VAT and excise do not apply.
1 litre of spirits over 22% vol. or
2 litres of fortified or sparkling wine
4 litres of still wine
16 litres of beer
There is a higher or lower limit depending on the country you are visiting and a country may choose to only apply the lower limits to land and sea travellers.
Higher limit Lower limit
200 cigarettes or 40 cigarettes or
100 cigarillos or 20 cigarillos or
50 cigars or 10 cigars or
250 g tobacco 50 g tobacco
Other goods including perfume
Up to a value of € 300 per traveller or € 430 for travellers by air and sea is allowed. Some EU countries apply a lower limit of € 150 for travellers under 15.
Help for consumers
As a consumer, you are protected by basic laws no matter where you are in the EU.
- EU laws on food labelling enable you to make informed choices about what you are buying. You can check the list of ingredients for any that are associated with allergies or intolerance. There are regulations about what products can be called ‘organic’ and rules on the use of nutrition and health claims on foods.
- The unit price of products — the price per kilo or per litre — must be given by supermarkets to make it easier to compare prices.
- Cosmetic products have to indicate how long they can be used after opening. Look out for the open jar symbol. Sunscreen products should now have clearer labelling, including a standardised indication of UVA protection, standardised terms for describing levels of protection and no misleading terms such as ‘total protection’.
- EU law offers protection on package holidays and timeshare property schemes.
Respecting the environment
You can make your contribution to tackling the problem of climate change by tracking your carbon footprint on your mobile phone while on your travels. Download mobGAS (mobgas.jrc.ec.europa.eu) free and calculate how much impact your daily activities are having on the environment and get practical tips on how to reduce that impact.
Look for the Flower, the EU Eco-label, on everyday consumer goods from soaps and shampoos to shoes to help you find greener products. You can also use the Flower to find an environmentally friendly hotel, bed and breakfast, youth hostel or campsite. The Flower tells you that the tourist accommodation or camp site limits its energy and water consumption, reduces waste and makes use of renewable energy sources.
A valid driving licence issued in an EU country is valid throughout the EU. In some countries, in addition to carrying a valid driving licence, you will need to have your vehicle registration document with you.
Wherever you are travelling in the EU your car insurance policy will automatically provide the minimum cover (third party liability) required by law. This also applies to Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. If you have comprehensive insurance at home, check that the cover extends to travelling in other countries.
A green card is not obligatory when travelling in the EU but it serves as internationally recognised proof of insurance and it makes it easier to settle claims arising from an accident. If you do not take a green card with you, you should carry your certificate of insurance.
Your insurer can give you a European accident statement form, a standard document that makes it easier to make a declaration on the spot if you have an accident in another country.
In all EU countries, seat belts must now be worn in all vehicles, including tourist coaches and minibuses. Children must also have appropriate child restraints in cars and lorries and, where possible, in other vehicles as well.
Using a mobile phone while driving greatly increases the risk of an accident and it is either explicitly or implicitly forbidden in all EU countries.
The maximum permitted blood alcohol level varies between 0.2 mg/ml and 0.8 mg/ml although some countries do not allow any alcohol in the blood while driving.
Remember to drive on the left side of the road in Cyprus, Ireland, Malta and the United Kingdom and that in some countries, such as Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Portugal, you normally have to give way to traffic coming from your right.
Creating a single European market in air transport has meant lower fares and a wider choice of carriers and services for passengers. EU measures from 2009 will improve the performance and safety of the European aviation system and will mean safer, greener and more cost-efficient flights.
Air passenger rights
As an air passenger, you have certain rights when it comes to information about flights and reservations, damage to baggage, delays and cancellations, denied boarding, compensation in the case of accident or difficulties with package holidays. These rights apply to scheduled and chartered flights, both domestic and international, from an EU airport or to an EU airport from one outside the EU, when operated by an EU airline. The EU also maintains a list of airlines banned from operating in the EU and using EU airports. Disabled or elderly passengers are now entitled to free help on aircraft and in EU airports so that they can travel as easily as anyone else. Travellers can compare prices of air travel as a result of EU rules to ensure that the price given includes all taxes, fees and surcharges.
If you have a complaint, first contact the airline or organiser of the package holiday. If they fail to fulfil their obligations then you should complain to the competent national enforcement body. Call the Europe Direct freephone number 00 800 6 7 8 9 10 11 to get details of the relevant authority.
In order to ensure a high level of security throughout the EU, common rules and standards have been laid down on such things as screening of passengers, cabin and hold baggage and aircraft security checks. There is an agreed EU list of items that are not allowed in the cabin on flights from EU airports and a list of articles banned from the baggage hold. Check also on the latest restrictions on carrying liquids.
The EU has 210 000 km of railways with extensive international passenger services. There are 5 000 km of high-speed lines in several countries with trains reaching speeds of up to 320 km/h and the network is being extended.
International rail passenger transport is set to become more competitive from the beginning of 2010 when any licensed, certified rail company established in the EU will be able to offer international rail passenger services.
Rail passengers’ rights have been reinforced and improved with better information, rights in the event of delay, missed connections and cancellations and assistance for the disabled and the elderly.
Access to healthcare
As an EU national, you can get free or reduced-cost healthcare if you are suddenly taken ill or have an accident during a temporary visit to any EU country, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland. Only publicly-funded health treatment is included in this scheme and each country has its own rules for public medical provision. In some, treatment is free, in some you pay part of the cost, in others you have to pay the full cost and then claim a refund. So keep all your bills, prescriptions and receipts.
A European health insurance card simplifies procedures, cuts red tape and helps to speed up the reimbursement of costs. If you do not yet have a card, get it from your local social security or sickness insurance office. Some countries incorporate the European card on the reverse side of a national card and others issue separate cards.
You may want to take out travel insurance as only some EU countries pay the full cost of medical treatment. Illness or an accident abroad may mean extra travel, accommodation and repatriation costs, for which you may want to be insured.
Take your prescription with you if you are carrying prescribed medicines. Do not exceed the quantities needed for your personal use during your trip, as large quantities of drugs can create suspicion.
There are, in general, no immunisation requirements when travelling in the EU. However, there are requirements or recommendations for certain of the EU’s overseas territories. Check with your doctor before you go.
Strict standards are set for bathing water throughout the EU and the overall water quality is improving. An annual European Commission report gives useful water quality information for holiday-makers on both coastal and inland waters across the EU.
If you see a Blue Flag on a beach or at a marina, you can be assured that it has reached specific standards on water quality, safety, services, environmental management and information. Over 2 700 beaches and marinas in the EU were awarded a Blue Flag in 2008/09. This voluntary scheme is run by the Foundation for Environmental Education.
Europe is rich in languages. The main language families in the EU include Germanic, Romance, Slav, Baltic and Celtic. The EU institutions have 23 official languages but there are many other lesser-spoken ones.
Many Europeans speak at least one other language as well as their mother tongue and over a quarter of the adult population speak at least two foreign languages. However, during your travels in Europe, try using a few phrases of the local language when talking to local people. Start with a good morning:
There is just one prefix for making international telephone calls anywhere in the EU. It is 00.
The country codes are:
- A Austria 43
- B Belgium 32
- BG Bulgaria 359
- CY Cyprus 357
- CZ Czech Republic 420
- D Germany 49
- DK Denmark 45
- E Spain 34
- EST Estonia 372
- F France 33
- FIN Finland 358
- GB United Kingdom 44
- GR Greece 30
- H Hungary 36
- I Italy 39
- IRL Ireland 353
- L Luxembourg 352
- LT Lithuania 370
- LV Latvia 371
- M Malta 356
- NL Netherlands 31
- P Portugal 351
- PL Poland 48
- RO Romania 40
- S Sweden 46
- SK Slovakia 421
- SLO Slovenia 386
You can use your mobile phone anywhere in Europe and in many other parts of the world thanks to the EU’s GSM technical standard. Mobile phone users abroad have enjoyed significant savings of around 60 % thanks to the EU roaming regulation which sets limits or ‘Eurotariffs’ on international roaming rates for voice calls. The cost of sending a text from abroad has also been substantially reduced and now costs no more than 11 cents (excluding VAT).
Operators are free to offer cheaper rates so look out for the best deals. Customers now receive an automated message of the charges that apply for calls, texts and data roaming services such as surfing the web or downloading movies. A mechanism for protecting consumers from ‘bill shock’ in data roaming services will be available from March 2010. Customers will be able to specify in advance the maximum they want to spend for data roaming services and a default cut off limit of € 50 per month will be applied as from July 2010 if the customer does not specifically opt for another amount.
An EU website (ec.europa.eu/roaming) lists the Eurotariff offered by operators in all 27 EU countries and has links to their websites. Tariffs for sending text messages or using data services can also be compared.
Postage stamps can only be used in the country in which you buy them, even when priced in euro.
All Europe has 220–240 volt, 50 cycle alternating current. Cyprus, Ireland, Malta and the United Kingdom have square three-pin plugs but, in general, all other EU countries have two-pin plugs. These may vary but you should be able to use your appliances, such as hairdryers and shavers, anywhere. Adaptors can usually be bought in airports and tourist resorts.
Things to do
There is a dazzling choice of things to do and see in Europe. The EU supports and contributes to many cultural projects and events across Europe every year. One of these is to designate a cultural capital of Europe. Essen in Germany, Pecs in Hungary and Istanbul in Turkey share the title in 2010. ‘Essen for the Ruhr’, a metropolis in western Germany, is hosting a myriad of projects throughout the year to celebrate architecture and urban development, the performing arts, literature, history and creative industries. Pecs, the historic university city in southern Hungary, has a colourful line-up of festivals, art exhibitions, classical, folk and pop music, theatre, dance, film and literary events. 2010 in Istanbul, with its ancient mosques, palaces, museums and bazaars, is alive with special cultural projects from fashion shows and costume exhibitions to Turkish Makram music concerts, Tangoweek, Ramadan festivities and an international puppet festival.
Choosing a time to travel
Europe’s weather is generally temperate. This table shows average minimum January temperatures and average maximum July temperatures in the capitals of the EU countries.
Average min. Average max. (figures in ºC)
Daylight saving time begins across the EU on 28 March 2010 when clocks are moved forward an hour and it ends on 31 October 2010 when clocks are put back an hour. The dates for 2011 are 27 March and 30 October.
Travelling with a cat or dog is now much easier with the new EU pet passport available from any vet. All cats and dogs must have a passport containing details of a valid rabies vaccination. Until at least 30 June 2010, Ireland, Malta, Sweden and the United Kingdom also require proof that the vaccination has been effective.
In addition, treatment for ticks and tapeworm is required for entry into Ireland, Malta and the United Kingdom. Finland and Sweden require a tapeworm treatment.
An animal has to be identified by an electronic microchip. A clearly readable tattoo is also acceptable until July 2011, except if you are taking your animal to Ireland, Malta and the United Kingdom where a microchip is already required.
If things go wrong
Single European emergency number: 112
To contact the emergency services in any EU country from any phone, fixed or mobile, dial 112, free of charge.
Loss or theft
Report any theft to the local police. You will need to enclose the police report when making your insurance or compensation claim. Cancel any lost or stolen credit cards immediately. If your passport has been stolen, report it to your country’s consulate or embassy as well as to the police. Remember that if you are outside the EU you can get help from the consulate or embassy of any other EU country if yours is not represented.