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COVID-19 GREEN PASS

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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TRAIN TRAVEL

Yes, train travel across Europe is far better than flying – even with kids

Hoping to do his bit for the planet, perhaps save some money and avoid spending any time in airports, The Local's Ben McPartland decided to travel 2,000km with his family across Europe by train - not plane. Here's how he got on on and would he recommend it?

Yes, train travel across Europe is far better than flying - even with kids

Summer 2022 has seen the return of people travelling across Europe en masse whether for holidays or to see family, or both.

But it’s also seen chaos in airports, airline strikes and more questions than ever about whether we should be flying at all as Europe bakes under consecutive heatwaves caused by the climate crisis.

But are there really viable alternatives to travelling 2,000 km across Europe in a short space of time – with young kids?

The predicament

We needed to get from Paris to Portugal, or to be more precise the western edge of the Algarve in southern Portugal, for a week-long family holiday.

We didn’t have that much time to spend travelling there and back so the dilemma was how could we get there, fairly quickly?

“We” in this case being a family of four including two children aged 5 and 7, one fairly easygoing mum and a dad (me) who increasingly comes out in a rash when he goes near an airport.

Normally we’d have flown – as we did when we went to the same region of Portugal in October – but the stories of airport chaos, delays, cancellations, strikes and never-ending queues around Europe at the start of the summer made the prospect of taking the plane far less appealing.

Then throw in the climate crisis and the growing feeling that we, as a family, need to make an effort for the cause.

So the thought of flying, during what forecasters say was one of the hottest Julys on record in Europe and as rivers dried up and wildfires burn, just didn’t feel like an acceptable option – to me anyway – when there are alternatives.

There was the option of driving from France to Portugal, as many French and Portuguese nationals living in France do every summer. But driving nearly 2,000 km there and back for just a week’s holiday with two kids strapped in the back for hours on end would have been asking for trouble – either a breakdown or lots of meltdowns.

So that left taking the train. But would it be viable?  Would something go wrong as my colleague Richard Orange had warned on his own rail trip across Europe with kids this summer?

READ ALSO: What I learned taking the train through Europe with two kids

Planning the route

With the help of some really knowledgeable European rail experts like Jon Worth and information from the excellent The Man in Seat Sixty-One website we looked at the various rail routes through France and Spain to southern Portugal.

One problem was the line from southern Spain to the Algarve no longer runs which meant the best we could do was get to Seville and then hire a car.

At one point the best option looked like a night train (fairly cheap with a whole cabin reserved for the family) down to the Pyrenees (Latour-de-Carol) and then a local train to Barcelona before onwards travel to Portugal.

But in the end we settled on the direct train from Paris to Barcelona, spend the night in the Catalan city before taking the train the next day to Seville and picking up the car.

READ ALSO 6 European cities less than 7 hours from Paris by train

It would be mean Paris to Portugal in two days – or to be precise 7 hours to Barcelona, one night in a hotel, before a five-and-half-hour train journey to Seville and a three-hour car journey. It was the quickest way without flying, as far as we could see.

We were about to book the tickets when friend who was travelling by rail through Europe mentioned the Interrail option.

I did Interrailing as an 18-year- old and it was a great way to spend a month travelling around Europe (and Morocco) but had never thought it could be an option for a quickish trip to Portugal and back.

But Interrail has changed a bit since 1996 and indeed since 1972 when it was first launched for under 21s.

Now it offers passes that can be used for 4, 5 or 7 days a month – perfect for travel to a few destinations in a short space of time.

And, this was the clincher – Interrail passes for under 11s are free if they are with an adult.

Well almost free, because in certain countries like France and Spain you still need to pay for seat reservations for anyone travelling.

But the cost of the passes for two adults, plus seat reservations were cheaper than just booking direct trains and much cheaper than flying (more on costs below).

The high-speed train from Barcelona to Seville. Photo: The Local

The Upsides

Let’s start with not having to wake up at 4am and arrive at the train station three hours before the train leaves just to check in a bag and then spend the next three hours queuing in various lines – bags, passport, security, boarding etc..

We arrived at Gare de Lyon around 30 minutes before the train left and boarded without queuing and the train departed on time.

Compare this with having to get a taxi or the RER train to Charles de Gaulle airport and then still find yourself in Paris three hours later as you queue to board. (I know this is not always the case but this summer the advice was to arrive three hours before your flight to check in bags.)

Plus there was no luggage limits on the train and no having to empty your bags at security because you left an old roll-on deodorant at the bottom of your bag.

Although rail stations in Spain do have airport style x-ray machines to check all luggage, they were very rapid and didn’t result in any long queues.

Add to this comfortable seats with leg room, a bar you can walk to and spend hours watching the beautiful French and Spanish landscape whizz by.

You arrive in the centre of town – in our case Barcelona – so there’s no need to get public transport or taxis to and from out of town airports. 

Spending a night in Barcelona was a great way to break the journey – albeit a bit expensive (see below).

And it all ran pretty much on time. Over five train journeys in four days we had 15 minutes of delay. Spain’s high-speed trains were fantastic.

To sum it up: when flying your holiday only really begins when you arrive at your final destination because these days the day spent travelling is one big headache, but with the train the holiday begins as soon as you leave the station.

It’s just far, far more relaxing.

heading back to Barcelona Sants station after a night in the Catalan capital. Photo: The Local.

The Downsides

But what about the kids, you say?

Yep this can be an issue. Travelling for 7 hours on a train is not easy with two young kids but if you come prepared and can think of 75 different ways to occupy them from drawing and playing cards to I-spy and “count my freckles slowly” then it’s possible the journey will be tantrum free. (Playing hide and seek on a train with 12 carriages isn’t advisable.)

And kids adapt, so the following day’s five and half hour journey from Barcelona to Seville was a breeze because they settled into the pace of life and by that point had worked out the code to get into my mobile phone.

One complaint was how long the TGV train took to get along the southern French coast. Does it really need to stop at Nimes, Montpellier, Beziers, Agde, Sete and Perpignan? Can’t local trains serve these stations and the TGV just head straight to Spain?

Another little gripe was the train food. Whilst buffet cars on SNCF and Renfe trains are great for a coffee or a beer they don’t really offer a selection of healthy meals, so you need to come prepared. We weren’t and spent a lot of money on crap food and drink during the trips.

But if you know this in advance you can bring whatever you like onto the train, with no nonsense about 100ml limits on liquid.

Cost comparison

Working out cost comparisons are hard and anyone looking to do a similar trip will need a calculator at hand. 

It’s hard to do a direct comparison between flying and taking the train because so much depends on what the prices are when you book, the route you want to take and how quickly you want to travel and whether to go first class or standard.

But for us at the time of booking (roughly two months in advance) flights from Paris to Faro were about €1,500 for four people, train tickets booked directly with SNCF and Renfe (not interrail) for four people were around €1,200 (this probably could have been much cheaper further in advance), whilst the Interrail option – 4 day passes plus seat reservations was around €810.

So on the face of it travelling by train, especially using Interrail passes, was cheaper – but then add on the cost of two nights in hotels in central Barcelona and there was no real financial benefit of going by train.

But then it was never all about money – what price on not having to spend three hours at Charles de Gaulle airport?

How easy is it to Interrail?

Interrail proved a great option for us, even though it was only a relatively short trip. It’s more suited to those looking to do multiple journeys through various countries, perhaps at a slower pace. But the kids being free was crucial for us, so other families should definitely explore the option.

The one downside to Interrailing through France and Spain is the requirement to book seat reservations for the high-speed trains.

Whilst this sounds fairly straightforward we couldn’t do it through the Interrail app or website so had to be done with Renfe directly. For most countries you can reserve seats through the Interrail app (more on this below).

With SNCF it required a lengthy phone call because we reserved the seats to make sure there were some available before getting the Interrail passes.

For Paris to Barcelona the reservations cost €34 for standard class seats or €48 for first class.

With Renfe it was more complicated although much cheaper (Around €10 to €12 a seat). We were told on the phone that to reserve seats with Interrail you have to do it either at a Spanish train station or by phone but only if you can pick up and pay for the reservations at a Spanish train station within a certain amount of time.

Neither of these were possible when booking from Paris back in May/June. But the helpful website Man at Seat 61 recommended going via the man behind the AndyBTravels website, who charges a small fee. A few emails were exchanged and our reservations for Barcelona to Seville arrived in the post a few days later. 

Renfe and SNCF could make it easier for Interrail passengers.

The Interrail mobile pass on the the Rail Planner app was very easy to use. It was just a case of adding the days when we were travelling and then adding the specific journeys.

This brought up a QR code for each trip but the ticket controllers were always more concerned about the seat reservations we had on paper.

But all went to plan.

 

Conclusion

Those days spent sitting drinking coffee, orange and beer (in separate cups) starring out of train windows at fields, hills, mountains, villages, beach and train platforms were part of the holiday.

I’d say that if you have a day or two to spare then travelling across Europe by train instead of plane is well worth it – yes, even with two young kids.

They might even thank you for it one day if we all help avert a climate disaster. 

Advice

It’s hard to give advice because each person has different requirements that need to be taken into account – whether number of passengers, time needed for travelling, destinations, cost etc.

But plan ahead and do the research to see what’s possible.

One bit of advice if you need to travel quickly is try keep connections to a minimum or give yourself plenty of time to make them.

My colleague Richard Orange had problems on his trip from Sweden to the UK via Denmark, Germany and Belgium because of delays and missed connections.

Useful links and extra info

You can explore Interrail pass options and prices by visiting the Interrail site here. The site offers plenty of info to help you plan your trip and reserve seats on trains if necessary.

The fantastic Man in Seat 61 guide to train travel across Europe is a must-read for anyone planning a trip. It has pages and pages of useful up to date info and can be viewed here.

It also has loads of information on how to use an Interrail pass and calculations to see whether it’s the best option – if you need help with the maths. The page can be viewed here.

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