Everything you need to know about the EU's digital COVID-19 certificate

City of Dubrovnik
The EU digital COVID certificate comes into effect today ©WitR/Getty Images

Summer travel is underway in Europe as the European Union officially launches its digital COVID-19 certificate. If you're planning a trip to or within Europe this summer, here's what you need to know about using your certificate to get there.

What is the EU digital COVID-19 cert?

The certificate is an EU-wide approach to facilitate free movement (one of the fundamental rights of EU citizens) across the bloc during the pandemic. It tracks citizens' COVID-19 status; indicating if the holder has been vaccinated or has tested negative for the virus, or has recovered from infection. Individual countries will issue their own certificates through a recognized health official. Each hospital, testing center or health authority has its own digital signature, and all of these signatures are stored in a secure database in each country and verified across the bloc in a technical system, or "gateway".

Mock-up of EU digital COVID certificate
The EU digital COVID cert comes in digital and paper format ©EU Commission

How does it work?

The digital certificate is stored on a mobile device, and citizens can also request a paper version. Both will have a QR code that contains essential information, as well as a digital seal to ensure the certificate is authentic. Once they hold the certificate, every EU citizen or third-country national legally staying or residing in the EU should be exempt from free movement restrictions, including quarantine and additional testing "unless they are necessary and proportionate to safeguard public health".

White tavern buildings on the coast in the Little Venice part of Mykonos Town
Greece is an early adopter of the EU digital COVID cert ©Pawel Kazmierczak/Shutterstock

Is it free?

Yes, the cert is free of charge.

What countries are issuing it?

The regulation governing the digital COVID certificate comes into effect on July 1 but member states have up to six weeks to implement it. Some countries, including Denmark, Spain and Greece have already trialled it and most EU countries are ready to comply today with the exception of Ireland. Ireland is expected to introduce the certificate on July 19 after suffering delays due to a recent and unrelated cyber attack on its health service. The certificate is also available to non-EU members of the European Schengen zone, including Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

What vaccinations are approved?

EU countries will accept vaccination certificates for vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), including the Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. However, member states may decide to accept travelers who have received another vaccine, such as those listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) for emergency use. As of July 1, seven EU countries are accepting India's Covishield vaccine as eligible for travel. They include Austria, Germany, Estonia, Slovenia, Greece, Ireland and Spain. Iceland and Switzerland have also approved the jab, according to the BBC.

Rear view of couple looking at arrival departure board at the airport
Summer travel could be back in Europe by July ©Westend61/Getty Images

Can children get a cert?

The EMA has approved the use of the BioNTech Pfizer vaccine for children between the ages of 12 and 15. Non-vaccinated children may need to present a negative PCR result to travel to certain countries but generally children can present a negative test result or recovery certificate. The EU commission has ruled that children under the age of six are exempt from any testing requirements.

Do I have to sign up to the EU digital COVID-19 cert to travel?

No, the certificate is not required for many, but is designed to make travel easier. If the country you are traveling to requires recovery, testing or vaccination documentation, you can present your approved health certificate without signing up to the program.

Can I use the digital COVID-19 cert if I'm traveling to Europe from outside the EU?

The EU digital COVID cert is only available for EU citizens and residents. The Commission is currently working to make sure that the certificates are compatible with health systems in countries outside the EU but, for now, once you have valid proof of vaccination or recovery you should be okay, depending on where you are traveling from.

If you are coming from a country classified as green by the EU's traffic light system, generally you do not need to show proof of vaccination, recovery or testing to travel there, as per EU recommendations, though some countries may require it so check ahead before traveling. The list is reviewed every two weeks and currently includes most EU countries, the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Rwanda, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo among others. You can see the full list here. The last update was on June 30.

If you are coming from an amber country, you will need to show proof of vaccination, testing or recovery to bypass quarantine. A certificate from an authorized health authority from your country of origin will suffice. The UK is among the amber-listed countries and travelers coming from there can present their NHS vaccination or recovery cert, or take a COVID test and upload the results to the National Health Service (NHS) app, depending on the requirements of their destination. Portugal, for example, requires full vaccination status from UK travelers. If you are coming from a red-listed county, where the risk of infection remains high, you cannot travel to the EU for non-essential purposes.

Ultimately member states have the last say on their border controls and will decide whether they will accept proof of vaccination to waive travel restrictions for third-country citizens. Always check the latest travel advice before planning your trip.

Introducing Europe

This article was originally published on March 18, 2021 and updated on July 1, 2021.

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