What the new EU guidance on Covid vaccination and travel means for your holiday


With half term fast approaching and families are already planning Easter breaks, a simplification of rules for holidays to Europe would certainly be welcome.

As things stand, some countries admit vaccinated travellers without a test, while others still require one. Some countries won’t accept unvaccinated British teenagers at all, while others welcome them test-free. Some countries accept UK proof of recovery certificates, while others don’t. Some countries require UK arrivals to have had three Covid jabs, while others welcome those who haven’t had any.

Today, however, the European Commission has issued fresh guidance aimed at making the rules across the bloc more consistent.

Among its recommendations are the following:

  • A nine-month validity for vaccination certificates (after the second dose of a two-dose vaccine or the first dose of a single-dose vaccine).
  • Restrictions based on the vaccination or recovery status of an individual, rather than their country of origin.
  • Persons without an EU Digital Covid Certificate to be required to undergo a test carried out prior to or after arrival.
  • Accept non-EU vaccination and recovery certificates deemed equivalent to the EU Digital Covid Certificate.

On the face of it, the recommendations promise greater clarity for visitors to EU countries. Those who have had two jabs ought to have restriction-free entry for at least nine months. Everyone else ought to be able to travel with a negative test or proof of recovery. 

The reality is rather different. This is simply guidance – each country is free to set its own rules. Indeed, a number have already issued tighter vaccine-related entry requirements, including Spain, Italy, France, Austria, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. Things should open up in the coming weeks and months, but travellers shouldn’t expect too much consistency.

Below we answer more questions about the latest EU recommendations.

Is the NHS Covid Pass the same as the EU Digital Covid Certificate? 

No, but the two have been linked so that all EU nations should recognise the UK’s proof of vaccination for entry to the country and to access venues where a Covid passport is required. The EU’s version is proof of one of the following: 

  • Been vaccinated against Covid-19
  • Received a negative test result
  • Recovered from Covid-19

The NHS digital Covid pass does include proof of recovery from Covid. However, this can only be used for return to the UK. You cannot register a private Covid test for travel on the NHS app. The app also shows a booster jab within five days of the user receiving it. 

Does this mean no tests if you’re fully vaccinated? 

In theory it should. Yet some countries are requiring a test in addition to, or in place of, proof of full vaccination. 

Greece requires all arrivals to have a negative PCR or antigen test as does Portugal (which is also open to unvaccinated arrivals). 

EU countries which require both proof of vaccination and a negative test for entry and to avoid quarantine (this varies depending on age), include: Belgium; France; Germany; Italy; the Netherlands. 

Which countries are following the guidance? 

The Netherlands, for example, has committed to the nine-month window for vaccine validity, but is still going further for countries outside the EU. It still imposes quarantine on travellers from high-risk countries or areas – which includes the UK. From February 2, quarantine will not apply to any traveller who has received a booster in the last seven days or more. Boosted Britons will therefore not face self-isolation on arrival. The Netherlands quarantine rules apply to all travellers from the UK aged 13 and over. 

Booster jabs have only been offered to those aged 16 or over, although three months must have passed since the last dose. Children over 13 but who have not yet turned 16 will not be able to visit the Netherlands quarantine-free until the UK is removed from the country’s “very high risk” list. 

Over-12s who have tested positive for Covid awaiting the second dose of a two-jab vaccine must wait for 12 weeks after the positive test to get the second jab, unless they are at high risk from Covid.

See more information on vaccine validity for individual EU nations in our country-by-country guide.

Some countries are also stipulating boosters for entry, which the validity period effectively does. However, the EU Commission says: “On the basis of new scientific evidence on this issue, the Commission may, if needed, propose an appropriate acceptance period also for vaccination certificates issued following a booster.”

Spain, for example, has brought in booster requirements today.

How long will the EU require vaccine certificates for entry? 

The regulation on the EU Digital Covid Certificate will apply for 12 months from July 2021. The Commission will present a report to the European Parliament and the Council three months before the end of application of the regulation. 

Does it affect paperwork for travel to EU countries? 

No, the entry, health or passenger locator forms of specific member states do not relate to the EU Digital Covid Certificate. Most require some kind of paperwork to be filled out before arrival, typically giving details of where you plan to stay, your travel history and/or your vaccination or test status.

Who can access the NHS Covid Pass for travel? 

The digital version, which is accessed through the NHS app, is available to adults and teenagers aged 16 or older. From February 3, it will also be open to 12-15 year olds. The NHS Covid Pass letter is already available to this age group. However, parents must request this and it can take up to seven working days to arrive. 

Proof of recovery – which some countries permit for entry as an alternative to full vaccination, or in place of a recent jab – is only available via the digital version of the Covid pass. 

Which EU countries have domestic Covid passports? 

Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain 

Which EU countries have difficult entry rules for (or are closed to) teenagers? 

Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Where can I find the rules for a specific EU country? 

Telegraph Travel has a guide to the entry and Covid passport rules for many EU countries. You should also check the Foreign Office advice page for your destination ahead of booking a trip and before travel. 

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