A guide to the EU's Covid travel pass: Digital Green Certificate could allow holidays by summer

The plan for the certificates could allow freedom of movement across Europe by mid-June

Visitors look out over the city skyline and the Chain Bridge at night in Budapest, Hungary, on Tuesday, March 9, 2021. Prime Minister Viktor Orban severely tightened curbs, closing schools and nearly all retail outlets from Monday. Photographer: Akos Stiller/Bloomberg
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Travel throughout Europe could restart this summer with the launch of a digital certificate.

The European Commission confirmed plans this week for a vaccine certificate for travel to be in place by mid-June, in time for the high tourism season across the continent.

The EU-wide "Digital Green Certificate" will provide proof of a Covid-19 vaccination, negative test result or recovery from the virus, and is designed to allow people to travel more freely across EU member states.

The plan would open up travel during a time when Europe is facing delayed vaccine distribution. However, it is not set to be a requirement for travel, and unvaccinated travellers will still be able to visit other countries where regulations allow. The plans could also still face opposition from some members states in the EU.

“With the Digital Green Certificate, we are taking a European approach to ensure EU citizens and their family members can travel safely and with minimum restrictions this summer," said Didier Reynders, the EU Commissioner for Justice, on Wednesday.

What is the 'Digital Green Certificate'?

Passengers check in at Hamburg Airport, Germany, for flight Eurowings EW 7588 to Palma de Mallorca on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Due to sharply falling Corona infection figures, the German government lifts travel restrictions for Mallorca, Spain's most important tourism island. (Markus Scholz/dpa via AP)
Under the EU's plan, travellers in possession of a Digital Green Certificate will be able to move freely across Europe. AP

The EU "Digital Green Certificate" will cover three types of certificates – vaccination certificates, test certificates and certificates for people who have recovered from Covid-19.

Each will be available in a digital form, and travellers can also request a paper version. All versions have a scannable QR code to access information, and a digital seal to prove authenticity.

Key information such as name, date of birth, date of issuance and a unique identifier will also be included on the certificates, but no personal data will be exchanged or stored by EU states, says the EU commission.

Why does the EU need digital certificates?

The 'digital green certificates' will have a scannable QR code and a digital seal to prove authenticity. Courtesy European Commission
The 'digital green certificates' will have a scannable QR code and a digital seal to prove authenticity. Courtesy European Commission

The certificate scheme has been designed to help people travel freely across the EU during the pandemic. It is not designed to be a necessity for travelling in Europe, but is set to make moving around the continent easier for EU citizens.

The plan is to get rid of problems and delays faced by travellers moving across the EU in the absence of a standardised approach to testing, vaccination and documentation.

What vaccines will be recognised?

A health worker holds a vial of the Moderna vaccine, during a COVID-19 vaccination campaign at the Nurse Isabel Zendal Hospital in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, March 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
A health worker holds a vial of the Moderna vaccine, during a Covid-19 vaccination campaign at the Nurse Isabel Zendal Hospital in Madrid, Spain, on Wednesday. AP

Travellers who have had any Covid-19 vaccine can get a digital vaccination certificate.

However, EU countries will only be obliged to drop movement restrictions for those holding certificates for vaccines that have been approved by the EU, including:

  • Pfizer-BioNTech, approved on December 21
  • Moderna, approved on January 6
  • Oxford-AstraZeneca, approved on January 29
  • Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, approved on March 11

Countries can decide independently to extend the rules to accept other vaccinations that travellers may have received, such as the Russian Sputnik V, CureVac AG or Novavax's NVX-CoV2373.

Who can get the EU 'Digital Green Certificate'?

FILE - In this Wednesday, July 29, 2020 file photo, passengers, wearing full protective gear to protect against the spread of coronavirus, push their luggage to a check-in counter at Zaventem international airport in Brussels. The European Commission expressed its astonishment Monday, March 8, 2021, following the decision by Belgian authorities to prolong a ban on all non-essential travel as part of measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)
Passengers wear full protective gear to protect against the spread of coronavirus, at Zaventem international airport in Brussels. AP

The certificates will be available to all EU citizens and their families, whatever their nationality. It would also be issued to non-EU nationals who reside in member states or Schengen Associated States (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland) and to visitors who have the right to travel to other member states.

Nationals or residents of Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican, may also be eligible for the certificate as part of the plan, especially if they have been vaccinated in an EU Member State.

How do I get it and how much will it cost?

The digital pass will be issued free of charge and will be available in both English and the national language of the issuing country.

Concrete rules on how these will be issued have not yet been set out, but each country will have their own rules. It's proposed that hospitals, test centres or local health authorities will be involved in the distribution.

What countries will the certificates be valid in?

Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, gestures as she speaks during a news conference in Brussels, Belgium, on Wednesday, March 17, 2021. The European Union will propose a certificate that could ease travel for those who have taken EU-approved vaccines as well as others, like the Chinese and Russian shots, that have only received emergency national authorizations. Photographer: Thierry Monasse/Bloomberg
Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president. Bloomberg

The "Digital Green Certificates" will be valid in all EU member states, and open for Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland according to the plan.

When travelling, every EU citizen or third-country national legally staying or residing in the EU and holding one of the certificates, will be exempted from free movement restrictions in the same way as citizens from that country.

If countries want to opt out of these rules and require travellers holding these certificates to test or quarantine, they will have to notify the EU commission and justify the decision.

Can people who do not have the digital pass still travel in Europe?

Yes, the certificate is not a precondition to travelling in the EU, but is designed to make free movement easier for EU citizens. It is not a necessity for travelling around Europe.

Those who have not yet been vaccinated can make use of the "Digital Green Certificate" to prove the results of testing, which is often required to travel to countries in Europe.

A tram and automobiles travel near skyscrapers in the financial district in Luxembourg, on Monday, March 15, 2021. More than 60 financial firms have established operations in the Grand Duchy due to Brexit, according to Nicolas Mackel, the head of Luxembourg for Finance. Photographer: Olivier Matthys/Bloomberg
The certificate is not a pre-condition to travelling across Europe. Bloomberg

Will 'Digital Green Certificates' be recognised outside of Europe?

The EU Commission says it is currently working with the World Health Organisation to ensure that certificates issued in the EU can be recognised elsewhere in the world.