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TRAVEL: How does the new EU Covid certificate work and how do I get one?

From Thursday July 1st the EU's much talked-about Covid certificates will come into use. How do you get one and will they really make travel around Europe easier?

TRAVEL: How does the new EU Covid certificate work and how do I get one?
A picture taken on June 16, 2021 in Brussels shows the screen of a mobile phone bearing a EU Digital Covid certificate. Photo: Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

What is the EU Covid certificate?

According to the EU the digital Covid certificate “will facilitate safe free movement of citizens in the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Essentially that means no quarantine measures or need to supply negative Covid tests before or after travel.

The idea is that the document – which can be on paper or stored electronically on smartphones – will carry proof via a QR code that the holder has either:

  • been vaccinated against Covid-19
  • recently recovered from the virus (meaning the holder has antibodies in their system)
  • recently tested negative for Covid 

This proof can be shown to whoever requires it, whether border police or airline, rail officials. EEA countries (Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein) plus Switzerland will be part of the scheme.

The certificates will be free and come in both English and the national language where they are distributed.

It’s worth noting that the Covid certificates are not compulsory for travel within the EU, but those who travel without it will likely be subject to whatever requirements are in place around testing and quarantine.

When will it come into use?

Some countries across the EU have already been using the certificate although there has been doubts and confusion over whether border police in these countries actually recognise it.

But from Thursday July 1st it will be rolled out across the EU and Schengen area and possibly after that non-EU / Schengen countries like the UK and the US will become part of the scheme to allow for smooth travel between those countries and member states (more on this below).

So it will mean the entry rules are the same for all countries within the EU/ EEA /Schengen area?

No, that would be way too simple. (To check which rules countries have in place for the EU Covid certificate click HERE)

What the pass does is provide a single certificate or code that can be read anywhere within the EU/Schengen zone and tells border police or transport company employees your vaccine status or most recent test result.

However, it is up to individual countries to set their rules of entry and there are some differences throughout the Bloc.

For example, some countries count you as “fully vaccinated” only two weeks after your second dose, others will accept vaccine proof from a first dose.

When it comes to testing only some countries accept self-tests, while there are differences in how recently you need to have taken a test – 72 hours or 48 hours.

So you still need to look up the rules of the country you are travelling to, and check that your test/vaccine status complies.

How can EU residents get the certificate?

Member states are in charge of issuing the certificates so getting hold of one is a slightly different process in each country.

Access to the pass depends on where you were vaccinated, not what passport you hold, so if you live in an EU country and were vaccinated there, you should be able to access the pass using the certificate issued by your country of residence.

Most countries have developed smartphone apps to store the certificates, but the EU has also helped countries develop other software where the vaccine certificates can be stored. 

Whilst the full EU Covid certificates are meant to prove negative tests and recovery in most countries they are so far only set up so far to prove vaccination. As of July 1st only negative test results with QR codes will be accepted for travel.

These vaccination certificates are obtained in different ways depending on the member state, but most are handed out after vaccination or online via an e-health portal.  But beware those certificates given after inoculation might not be suitable for travel.

In some countries like France, people are given a vaccination certificate with a QR code after inoculation. But these certificates need to be converted into an EU Covid certificate, complete with a different QR code, via the online e-health portal. The new QR code can then be scanned and uploaded onto the French Covid app.

It takes only a minute but needs to be done prior to travel.

Here’s more information on how to get the certificate in these countries: France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, NorwayDenmark, Sweden, Austria

How does it actually work?

Let’s let the EU explain: “The EU Digital COVID Certificate contains a QR code with a digital signature to protect it against falsification. When the certificate is checked, the QR code is scanned and the signature verified.

“Each issuing body (e.g. a hospital, a test centre, a health authority) has its own digital signature key. All of these are stored in a secure database in each country.”

The basic information the QR code will contain once it’s fully up and running is as follows.

  • For a vaccination certificate: vaccine type and manufacturer, number of doses received, date of vaccination;
  • For a test certificate: type of test, date and time of test, place and result;
  • For a recovery certificate: date of positive test result, validity period.

How did the EU set this up?

The European Commission built a “gateway” through which all certificate signatures can be verified by border officials across the bloc.

While the EU did not create its own app or software to store the certificates, as many had expected, the European Commission did help member states develop national software and apps “to issue, store and verify certificates and supported them in the necessary tests to on-board the gateway.”

So what will this mean for travel in reality?

The EU’s hope is that the certificates will help smooth travel around the Bloc. France’s briefing document on this is headed ‘this summer, only the virus will not be able to travel freely’.

The EU states: “When travelling, the EU Digital Covid Certificate holder should in principle be exempted from free movement restrictions: Member States should refrain from imposing additional travel restrictions on the holders of an EU Digital COVID Certificate, unless they are necessary and proportionate to safeguard public health.”

This is easier said than done and since the beginning of the pandemic EU member states have shown they will go their own way when it comes to introducing border restrictions or indeed relaxing them. Finding common ground has been difficult throughout the pandemic.

We just have to look at the current split between Germany and tourist-reliant countries such as Greece and Spain. While Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel wants all EU member states to impose quarantine measures on arrivals from the UK, countries such as Greece and Spain have so far resisted. 

Germany’s concern is caused by the threat of the Delta variant in the UK, which has caused new infection rates to spiral – although hospital and death rates remain low.

The EU acknowledges that the threat of the Delta variant or indeed any other variant that may emerge could scupper the Covid certificate scheme. It accepts that in such a case freedom of movement may come to an abrupt end once again.

“In such a case – for instance as a reaction to new variants of concern – that Member State would have to notify the Commission and all other Member States and justify this decision.

So what about non-EU/ Schengen countries?

There has been talk since the scheme was announced that there would be agreements struck between the US and the EU to allow for similar frictionless travel for arrivals.

The EU recently added the US to its white list for travel, essentially paving the way for the return of tourists. But the list is only a recommendation with countries deciding at a national level what their entry policy is when it comes to borders.

Countries like France have already taken a lead and opened up their borders to travellers from the US and Canada by adding the countries to its own green list.

Italy is also allowing arrivals from the US, Canada and Japan under the terms of its version of the ‘green pass’ scheme.

If the US and the EU reach an agreement to extend the Covid certificate scheme it is still not clear how it would work in practice for travellers from the United States, who mostly don’t have vaccine certificates with QR codes on them.

And the UK?

Things are more complicated here due to the spread of the more contagious Delta variant in the UK. As mentioned above there is a split between member states about what to do with the UK, which still requires arrivals from EU countries to quarantine for 10 days and take PCR tests after arriving in the country.

However the latest reports suggest that talks between Brussels and London are progressing in the right direction and that travel between members states and the UK could become possible but only for fully vaccinated travellers.

The idea is that the UK’s NHS app which contains vaccination certificates will be compliant with the EU’s own “gateway” to allow for mutual recognition of inoculations.

A spokesman for the French health ministry said on Thursday that because the UK’s vaccination certificates comply with World Health Organisation format they “will eventually be compatible”.

Member comments

  1. We went to the vaccination centre today and asked for a new certificate. It was printed quickly but you need to take your Données télétransmises à l’Assurance Maladie document with you.

  2. What if you have had your double doses from outside the EU (say USA or UK) but are residents in an EU country. Wonder if they will issue the pass or if it’s a EU thing for EU vaccinated people only?

    1. It all depends for the moment on where you were vaccinated rather than where you live. But things may change..

  3. I am the dependent of an S1 entitled pensioner and the ameli account is under his insurance id with me „ayant le droit„. We have both had both vaccinations but download system only shows the certificate for the insured. I had to phone ameli to find out how to get my own. The help desk don’t seem aware of the issue. Seems a bit of a flaw with the system.

      1. As long as the insured entitled pensioner can produce his/her Vitale card, any French pharmacy can access the vaccination database and produce the needed certificate for the pensioner’s dependent. I can confirm that this works since my wife is dependent on my French social insurance and she now has her certificate which was not available for her via Ameli since there was no separate account registered in her name.

  4. I’m fully vaccinated and live in a state and county in the US in which there is nearly zero cases of covid. There is no reason it should be this complicated for me to travel to Italy. Figure it out bureaucrats already.

  5. How can I travel this July to Italy through France? My husband and I are fully vaccinated more than a month ago, and we can get the NHS app with the certificate. My mum came to stay six months with us. She is from Argentina, but has been the last six months in the US and got her two doses of Pfizer there (plus Covid afterwards, but very mild, thankfully!). She got a paper certificate that has no QR code. Now, she will be coming with us on the Eurotunnel. Will her certificate work? BC she cannot get the NHS certificate nor something else from the US as she is not American but Argentine…. Thanks for any response.

  6. I was fortunate to have my 2 jabs early but now my 6 month COVID Certificate expires on Aug 20.
    When I checked if I therefore needed a third jab (!), I was told not possible. So what happens after the 6 month validity?

    1. My Covid certificate was due to expire but I now find it has a longer “expiry date “- I think it happens automatically

  7. I am in Umbria having arrived from UK on 24 June after a negative Covid test in the UK which I had to have in order to travel. I am required to get a Covid test to be released from quarantine after 5 days here. Our efforts to get the test have got nowhere. We are told by the Umbrian authorities that only an official test which they must arrange is valid. But no test is forthcoming. I am not allowed to organise a test myself. Also the officials tell us that the five day quarantine has no meaning, in other words they are under no obligation to organise the test after 5 days. Not only has the response been it adequate, officials have been rude and unpleasant.

  8. FYI California residents – fortunately, there is already have a system in place that allows you to get a QR code for your vaccination cert (https://myvaccinerecord.cdph.ca.gov/). It’s still a bit buggy – on first submit, it could not find my record but submission of a simple trouble-shooting form quickly resolved that; however, now it only has record of my second shot. They seem to be aware of that because an auto email includes instructions regarding having only partial records – another trouble-shooting form is in process.

  9. I am hoping to drive to Italy from the Uk.Do I need to have a COVID swab test before I travel.Will a digital certificate showing my result be acceptable to the Border Control.

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TRAVEL NEWS

‘Double processing time’: Austria and Germany fear non-EU travellers face border delays

Germany, Austria and another of other countries in Europe's Schengen area admit they fear delays and insufficient time to test the process ahead of new, more rigorous EU border checks that will be introduced next year, a new document reveals.

'Double processing time': Austria and Germany fear non-EU travellers face border delays

Schengen countries are tightening up security at the external borders with the introduction of a new digital system (EES) to record the entry and exit of non-EU citizens in May 2023.

The EES will enable the automatic scanning of passports replacing manual stamping by border guards. It will register the person’s name, type of the travel document, biometric data (fingerprints and facial images) and the date and place of entry and exit. The data will be kept in a centralised database on a rolling three-year basis that is re-set at each entry. 

What the EES is intended to do is increase border security, including the enforcement of the 90-day short-stay limit for tourists and visitors. EU citizens and third-country nationals who reside in a country of the Schengen area will not be subject to such checks.

READ ALSO: Foreigners living in EU not covered by new EES border checks

But given its scale, the entry into operation of the system has been raising concerns on many fronts, including the readiness of the physical and digital infrastructure, and the time required for border checks, which could subsequently cause massive queues at borders.

A document on the state of preparations was distributed last week by the secretariat of the EU Council (the EU institution representing member states) and published by Statewatch, a non-profit organisation that monitors civil liberties.

The paper contains the responses from 21 member states to a questionnaire about potential impacts on passenger flows, the infrastructure put in place and the possibility of a gradual introduction of the new system over a number of months.

This is what certain the countries have responded. Responses from Denmark, Spain and Sweden do not appear in the report but the answers from other countries will be relevant for readers in those countries.

READ ALSO: What the EU’s new EES border check system means for travel

‘Double processing time’

Austria and Germany are the most vocal in warning that passport processing times will increase when the EES will become operational.

“The additional tasks resulting from the EES regulation will lead to a sharp increase in process times”, which are expected to “double compared to the current situation,” Austrian authorities say. “This will also affect the waiting times at border crossing points (in Austria, the six international airports),” the document continues.

“Furthermore, border control will become more complicated since in addition to the distinction between visa-exempt and visa-required persons, we will also have to differentiate between EES-required and EES-exempt TCN [third country nationals], as well as between registered and unregistered TCN in EES,” Austrian officials note.

Based on an analysis of passenger traffic carried out with the aviation industry, German authorities estimate that checking times will “increase significantly”.

France expects to be ready for the introduction of the EES “in terms of passenger routes, training and national systems,” but admits that “fluidity remains a concern” and “discussions are continuing… to make progress on this point”.

Italy is also “adapting the border operational processes… in order to contain the increased process time and ensure both safety and security”.

“Despite many arguments for the introduction of automated border control systems based on the need for efficiency, the document makes clear that the EES will substantially increase border crossing times,” Statewatch argues.

‘Stable service unlikely by May 2023’

The border infrastructure is also being adapted for collecting and recording the data, with several countries planning for automated checks. So what will change in practice?

Austria intends to install self-service kiosks at the airports of Vienna and Salzburg “in the course of 2023”. Later these will be linked to existing e-gates enabling a “fully automated border crossing”. Austrian authorities also explain that airport operators are seeking to provide more space for kiosks and queues, but works will not be completed before the system is operational.

Germany also plans to install self-service kiosks at the airports to “pre-capture” biometric data before border checks. But given the little time for testing the full process, German authorities say “a stable working EES system seems to be unlikely in May 2023.”

France will set up self-service kiosks in airports, where third-country nationals can pre-register their biometric data and personal information before being directed to the booth for verification with the border guard. The same approach will be adopted for visitors arriving by bus, while tablet devices such as iPads will be used for the registration of car passengers at land and sea borders.

Italy is increasing the “equipment of automated gates in all the main  airport” and plans to install, at least in the first EES phase, about 600 self-service kiosks at the airports of Rome Fiumicino, Milan Malpensa, Venice and in those with “significant volumes of extra-Schengen traffic,” such as Bergamo, Naples, Bologna and Turin.

Switzerland, which is not an EU member but is part of the Schengen area, is also installing self-service kiosks to facilitate the collection of data. Norway, instead, will have “automated camera solutions operated by the border guards”, but will consider self-service options only after the EES is in operation.

Gradual introduction?

One of the possibilities still in consideration is the gradual introduction of the new system. The European Commission has proposed a ‘progressive approach’ that would allow the creation of “incomplete” passenger files for 9 months following the EES entry into operation, and continuing passport stamping for 3 months.

According to the responses, Italy is the only country favourable to this option. For Austria and France this “could result in more confusion for border guards and travellers”. French officials also argue that a lack of biometric data will “present a risk for the security of the Schengen area”.

France suggested to mitigate with “flexibility” the EES impacts in the first months of its entry into service. In particular, France calls for the possibility to not create EES files for third-country nationals who entered the Schengen area before the system becomes operational, leaving this task to when they return later.

This would “significantly ease the pressure” on border guards “during the first three months after entry into service,” French authorities said.

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